Joining in God’s Miraculous Work
7 The Lord said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses. 8 You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” 9 Joshua then said to the Israelites, “Draw near and hear the words of the Lord your God.” 10 Joshua said, “By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: 11 the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan. 12 So now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13 When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.”
14 When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. 15 Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, 16 the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.
There is a movie that came out a few years ago called Midnight in Paris. It stars Owen Wilson as a writer named Gil who writes terrible scripts for modern day action films. He hates his job. Gil thinks that writing and culture in today’s world is far beneath what it once was. He pines for the past. On vacation in Paris, he goes walking one night and discovers that at midnight he is transported back in time to 1920s Paris.
And there he meets his heroes of the past, the people he thought actually were creating something magical and new – Cole Porter, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and Salvador Dali. And at first, he thinks that this is the best place and best time to be. This is only time when something really amazing was happening. He thinks this is the Golden Era.
But the more time he spends with these heroes of his, the more he realizes they are just like him. They are flawed and imperfect people. They doubt themselves. They fight and argue. They also, just like Gil, think that they are in a worse time now. Than in the past. They look back to the Paris of the 1880s with Toulouse-Lautrac, Paul Gaugin, and Edgar Degas, and think that is the time when something great was really happening. That was the Golden Era. And as Gil travels even further back in time to the 1880s , he finds out that the artists of that era would just look back even further to Victor Hugo and Alexander Dumas, and that they in turn would look back to Voltaire and Rousseau and so on, forever and ever, thinking the Golden Era is always in the past, always before our time.
Every generation doubts itself and thinks that they cannot do what those esteemed people of the past have accomplished. They think greatness and wonder and awe is all behind them. It’s the past where real miracles and wonders are done, not the present.
In our passage for today, Joshua and the Hebrew people are thinking the same thing. They are the second generation of those who have escaped from Egypt and gained their freedom. And the first generation has just died, including Moses, their great leader. Through Moses, they know God has done miraculous acts of wonder and awe – appearing in a burning bush, sending plagues upon Egypt, parting the Red Sea, raining manna from heaven, giving them the Law on Mt. Sinai.
But that was then, and this is now. That was Moses, and now he is gone, and it is just us, regular, ordinary people who are left. Like Gil, they believe the Golden Era is over. They believe it is Moses and people of the past – Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, who could do wonders. Not themselves. Not us regular people. Not us here and now today.
We as the church often think that way too. We believe God did miracles in the past. We look at the saints and leaders of eras and years before us, and we know God used them to teach and serve, heal and lift up, love and comfort. We know that through those people new churches and hospitals were created, mission outreaches were started, children were welcomed and loved, transformations of grace and power were happening throughout our world.
But we think, “That was then. This is now. That was those people. Now it’s just us. And who are we? Surely, God we can’t do today what they did back then.”
But God has a different message. God says, “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
And right before our passage, God tells Joshua and all the people of God, “Sanctify yourself. For tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you” (Joshua 3:5). For tomorrow, the Lord will do wonders among you.
And God does. The Hebrews may not have Moses or Abraham or Jacob with them. But they have the Lord. And God tells Joshua to grab twelve men, have them pick up the Ark of the Covenant, and ask them to walk into the Jordan River. And when they do, the waters will part.
If I am Joshua, I’m saying back to God, “But Lord, these men aren’t Moses. They can’t part the Sea. They are just ordinary priests from every tribe. They don’t have the same power and ability to do miracles like that.”
But when Joshua hears these words from God, he knows something important. He knows that this power to part the sea and do wonders doesn’t come because we are worthy or perfect or holy in ourselves. It comes through God, who is still with us. It comes from the Spirit who continues to speak and invite. It comes through faith, even as broken and imperfect as we may be. God doesn’t need us to be Moses or Abraham or heroes of the past. God just needs us to step out in faith.
And that is just what the Hebrews do. Even in the springtime, as the waters of the Jordan River are rushing at full speed from the winter’s thaw, these 12 men carry the Ark of the Covenant and step into the water. Like Peter stepping out of the boat, they don’t quite trust themselves, but they trust in the one calling them.
And as their feet touch water, they see that God is still at work. The River parts and the entire nation of Israel crosses through dry land. God’s presence is not just in the past. It is also here and now.
And the same is true of our church today. We may think the Golden Era of the church was way back in the 1950s or the 1890s or the 1560s. We may think that we can’t do what they did back then. But God has a different message. “For tomorrow, the Lord will do wonders among you.”
I don’t know what the future of Stone House Presbyterian Church looks like, but I believe it includes the wonders of God. I believe it includes you all being a part of God’s miraculous work. Maybe it will be in new ways we worship and praise God and hear each other’s stories. Maybe it will be in new ways we love our neighbors and reach out to our community. Maybe it will be in new ways that our children and youth hear the Good News of the Gospel and know that they are loved by God and made for a purpose. Maybe there is a vision and a message =that God has upon some of you here in this room, and it is just going to take us getting our feet water and jumping in the water.
Whatever it is, I don’t believe that God is finished with us yet. We may view ourselves as ordinary people, but God sees us saints, able to be filled with the Holy Spirit and charged with carrying out life-giving miracles. I see it in many of you already. I see it in how kids meet a loving and playful and funny God at VBS, preschool, and Discovery Time. I see it in the women’s small group that is discovering new patters of prayer, silence, and meditation. I see it in the Mobile Food Bank, Burnt Ordinary, Motel 6, and the backpack drive for youth. I see it in the gifts of our praise band. I don’t think many previous generations of Presbyterians had a washboard player lead their worship. I see it in you all, as you leave these doors and continue to teach your kids songs and stories, and look for ways to love your neighbor as yourself.
The miracles of God may look different today than they did in Joshua’s day. But miracles are still happening in our church and in our world. God is still making a way.
I wonder how we will be viewed in forty or fifty years from now. I wonder if we keep living out our faith what those in future generations will say about us. Maybe as imperfect and messy as we are, people may look back and say, “Now that was the Golden Era of the Church.” If they do, my hope is that they won’t say, “Well we could never be like them.” But instead they will say, “Well if God can use them, then God can use us.” May our work and faith and life carry on from generation to generation.
“For tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”
For tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you. Amen.