Joshua 5.9-12; 2 Corinthians 5.16-21
On your mark.
That’s how the race begins …
We are the people … these are the times.
It’s our race … our moment … no one else to run the race for us … others have run their race long before we born, and to all of them, a debt of gratitude.
From the vast beyond, they say to us:
Thank you; thank you for your gratitude; we’re glad you recognize what we did.
We built something with stone and steel; we built it by the Spirit of God … we didn’t give up, we didn’t give in … by the mercies of God, and for the love of Christ, we raised this Tower to the glory of God - a beacon of love and hope.
We did it for you.
We did it for the world.
We appreciate your gratitude, but we want something more.
We want you to run your own race.
That’s the best gift you can to us.
Gratitude, for sure, then your gumption.
Your determination - to run the race as well as you can.
Here we are dear friends.
We’re on the mark.
And now the announcement: “Get set!” …
In our prayers and with our devotion.
In our meetings together and our plans.
In the strength of our bodies, as best we can.
And if the body isn’t what it used to be, then the courage of our soul.
No greater tower can be crafted, than the tower of prayer.
From God’s call to Abraham and Sarah to the final trumpet of the Book of Revelation.
The race is set.
Always forward, always something new … not forgetting the past, but building upon it … denying the temptation to recreate the past, bring the past back - like Lot’s wife, who turned around to see from whence they had come; she turned into a pillar of salt.
Nothing wrong with salt, but a pillar of salt ain’t going anywhere.
It’s stuck in place and stuck in time.
The challenge any of us face, when times are changing, when one era is ending, to know how to say “Farewell!”
“Farewell!” to what was, and welcome the new.
Even when we haven’t a clue what the new will be like, or where it’ll take us.
In our reading from Joshua:
The people are now, finally, in the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering in the Wilderness.
Moses did his work.
Moses confronted Pharaoh and demanded the release of his people.
Pharaoh said Yes, and then Pharaoh said No.
There was the crossing of the Sea, just in the nick of time.
Pharaoh and his army are washed away.
The people march through the sea - safe and sound.
A pillar of cloud to guide them during the day … a pillar of fire to give them light at night. Manna in the morning, and water from a rock.
Moses on the Mountain … Moses and the Ten Commandments.
But when faced with the Promised Land, they fail to take it.
They’re afraid … Maybe we should go back to Egypt. It wasn’t so bad after all.”
The lure of the past.
The troubling trick of the mind - when we trick ourselves about the past … we remember the best of it, and not all of it … “if only we could regain the past,” we think, “then we’d be happy.”
Churches succumb to this troubling trick of the mind … so do political parties, and entire nations, and folks just like you and me - when the past lays hold of the mind and imagination, it leaves no room for innovation, experimentation; fear takes over and the future dies.
That’s what happened to Israel, as they stood on the threshold of the Promised Land, the first time around. Their spies came back and said: There are giants in the land, and we can’t fight them. In their eyes, we’re as small as grasshoppers.
It was all “fake news” - the people rose up in anger at Moses and Aaron … better dead instead, they cried. Why is God doing this to us? Let us choose a captain who will take us back to Egypt.
So off to the Wilderness God sent them; forty years of wandering, until they could shake off yesterday's dust, set aside inaccurate memories, reject fake news, trust the LORD God Almighty, and get ready to try it again.
In our reading today, Joshua 5 - the second time around … they crossed the Jordan, set up camp, just shy of Jericho.
Joshua said: We’ve got some prep-work to do. Here and now. To get ready for the Promised Land.
Circumcision for one … the cut of the flesh to mark the body. To God we belong, in life and in death … God’s purpose is our pursuit.
The Lords says, “Today, I’ve rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” The past is past … this is now … tomorrow stands before us.
And then the Passover Feast - to remember when the Angel of Death came to do its hard and terrible work - taking the first-born of all living things … but the Angel of Death passed over the homes marked with the blood of a lamb.
To set the captives free.
To right the wrongs.
And clear the way.
To see a brand new day.
That day, the Children of Israel ate the produce of the land.
The manna was no more.
Forty years of wandering - behind them.
Ahead of them, the Promised Land.
Centuries later, the Apostle Paul says to his friends: If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away … everything has become new!
Paul says: in Christ, God was reconciling the world to God, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ.
The high and holy calling of God.
The past is behind us. The race is before us.
On your mark!
Amen and Amen!