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The following is a sermon that was preached at Veedersburg UMC and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, November 2, 2008.  The text for this sermon can be found in Joshua 3:7-17.

God is amazing.  Did you know that?  I’ve seen God do incredible things in the lives of others.  I’ve seen God do incredible things in my own life, but all too often, I forget that God is simply amazing.  Today’s text really hammers home that point.  It is a way of remembering what God has done in the life of the Israelites, but it is also a way of giving assurance that He is not done yet.  It’s almost like one of those television infomercials – “But, wait!  There’s more!”  Let’s start off with a little bit of background to see how the Israelites got to this point, and then let’s look closer at today’s text.

Okay, so buckle in, because this is the 3 minute, Reader’s Digest version of nearly 500 years of Israelite history.  The Israelites moved to Egypt during a period of famine in Canaan.  Joseph, one of twelve brothers, moves his family to Goshen, which is located in the Nile Delta of Egypt.  They were shepherds and needed an area that would be suitable for their livestock.  Goshen would make sense.  So they are allowed to settle there by the Pharaoh.  At this time, there were only about 70 people.  But over the years, the family grew, and as Joseph was forgotten by the leaders in Egypt, the people of Israel were forced to be slaves of the Egyptians.  For 400 years, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt.  At this point, many are more familiar with the story – Moses is born and raised as the son of the Pharaoh’s daughter; he kills an Egyptian and flees to the desert wilderness of Midian; he talks to God through a burning bush, and returns to Egypt to free the people.  Through a series of miraculous events, the Pharaoh is eventually persuaded to let the Israelites go, and then quickly changes his mind and sends his army after them. 

The Israelites hit a major roadblock in the form of a large body of water.  God, however, is amazing and works another miracle, and the Israelites cross on dry land.  They Egyptians, however, are not so lucky, as the Egyptian army drowns in the sea.  The journey stops at Mount Sinai in the Midian wilderness where the Israelites receive the Law, which we commonly call Leviticus and Deuteronomy.  Some spies are sent to see the Promised Land and a majority of them come back with a less than favorable report, which causes the Israelites to not want to enter the Promised Land.  So instead, they end up spending the next 40 years wandering around in the desert.  Moses eventually passes away, and the leadership torch is passed on to Joshua, which brings us to today’s text.

For the second time in their history, the Israelites are faced with an opportunity to enter into the Promised Land, but this time they are not afraid.  For the second time in their history, a large body of water blocks their path to something greater.  At this time of the year, the snows on the mountains to the north would be melting, which would cause the Jordan River to be overflowing.  The Jordan River is a pretty good size during the dry season – about 50-60 yards across, but during this time of the year, the time of the harvest, the river would easily be twice that distance.  It would be a rather daunting task to try to have all these people cross without seriously risking some their lives.  You would think that after 40 years of living in the desert, they could wait until the end of the season when the river is down again before crossing it.  However, remember what I said at the beginning?  God is amazing. 

God’s timing is incredible because it is at the point when the river would be at its most impassable that God leads them across.  And, because God is amazing, He doesn’t just let them hike up their robes, ford the river, and safely make it across; He leads them across on dry land.  Now think about this for a minute, these Israelites grew up listening to their parents tell the story of the Passover, and how they crossed the Red Sea on dry land with the Egyptian army bearing down on them, and now, just one generation later, they are walking across to the land that has been promised for centuries on dry land.  In a way, they are closing one chapter in their history, while, literally, walking right into the next.  That’s the thing about a book, you don’t finish a chapter unless you are working towards the next one.  That is true in life as well.  We don’t close chapters of our lives without walking towards a new one at the same time.

God comes to Joshua, and says, “It’s time.”  It is on this day that Israel will know that God is with them, just as He was with them when they were fleeing Egypt and an overwhelming obstacle stood in their way.  When Joshua goes to the people, do you notice what his first words are?  “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.”  Joshua wants to make it clear that these are not his directions, but that they are the directions of their true leader Yahweh, the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

In verse 10, Joshua gives the Israelites a sign.  He says, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you…” and he goes into a list of difficult to pronounce names.  But did you notice that they aren’t given a sign ahead of time?  The sign is that the waters will stop when they step into the river.  Sometimes we need to take that first step in faith to really see what God is doing.  I know that God has been working in some amazing ways through this congregation.  I know that I have seen God at work in my life, but it’s only when we take those first steps together, when we really get our feet wet, that we are going to be really amazed by what God can do.

The Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of the presence of God in the midst of the Israelites, passes before the people to remind them of who their leader really is.  It’s not Joshua.  While he may be the one in charge right now, and the one that they are listening to, it is the Lord who is really going before them.  And when the priests who were carrying the ark step foot into the river; the Jordan River, whose banks are overflowing at the time; when they step foot into the river, it stops flowing.  Now some have suggested that this is not a miracle at all, but that there was an earthquake in the mountains that cause the waters to stop.  But the timing, God’s timing, cannot be ignored.  Even if God decided to use an earthquake in the mountains to stop the water, the point is that the water stopped when the priests stepped into the river, and, like their forefathers at the Red Sea, the people of Israel crossed on dry ground.

In the story of the Israelites, the crossing of the Jordan affirms their past and, at the same time, points them towards their future.  We find ourselves today at a similar point in our story.  Did you know that, according to the church calendar, today is All Saints Sunday?  This is the day that we remember those who have gone before us.  We look back at, what Hebrews calls, “so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1).  We don’t just remember those who are lifted up as examples of the faith in Scripture, but we look at, as Paul Harvey would say, the “rest of the story.”  Because, you see, the story of the Israelites is not just the story of a few people thousands of years ago.  It is the story of our brothers and sisters in faith who have gone before us.  This isn’t just history, it’s our story.  And our story, the story of the Christian faith, doesn’t end at Revelation 22:21.  It continues through the centuries.  It includes the martyrs of Roman Empire, the ecumenical councils from the 4th century on, the Reformation in the 16th century, the Wesleyan movement in the 18th century, your great aunt Sally from the 20th century.  The story of Christians today is a story that builds on those who have gone before us, no matter how long ago or how recently they preceded us, and it is a story that will continue to build on what we do – here and now, as well as over the course of the next several years.

On this All Saints Sunday, we remember those who have gone before us in the faith.  We look back at the saints who lived among us, who lived as an example of what it means to be Christ to those around us.  At the same time, we look forward.  Like the Israelites standing on the banks of the Jordan River, we remember the key points of our past, but we also eagerly look towards the Promised Land, knowing that if we step out in faith, God will dry up the obstacles that stand in our way.  So, today, we remember our past, but we also look towards our future, knowing that God is amazing.  We go forward with an eager expectation that God is going to do wonderful things – not because there’s a new pastor in town, but because you are willing to listen for Him, and because I am willing to listen for Him and because whenever two or more are gathered in His name He is present, and with God, nothing is impossible.  God is truly amazing.

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