A Sermon for 5 November 2017 – All Saints’ Sunday
A reading from Joshua 3:7-17. We’re returning this Sunday to the story of the Israelites in the wilderness. Well, just as they are leaving the wilderness. Listen for God’s word to us.
“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.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks to be God!
If random people on the street were approached, what do you think they would say when asked: What are you carrying with you? . . . Most all Americans over the age of 13 would answer: my cell phone. Many adults who have a home and a car would say: my keys. And my credit cards or some other form of currency. Young mothers, with and without their little toddlers, likely would be carrying some sort of wet naps and diapers and a favorite toy for distraction when the little one melts down in the long line at the grocery store. While men might turn out their pockets to show you their wallet or breath mints or safety knife – whatever men keep in pockets; some women might be carrying a purse that includes in it everything except the kitchen sink. If anything, children might be carrying a fist-full of dandelions freshly picked from the cracks in the sidewalk or some other hidden gem discovered along the path.
We can answer the question differently, like: what are we carrying with us –emotionally. Of the past. Memories that comfort us – especially those of the saints of our lives we honor here today. Regrets that haunt. Anxiety that grips us as we try to go about life in this busy world today. We’re seeing almost daily that many Americans are carrying tension – a general unease in our bodies from the barrage of critical news. Some of us who are extra sensitive might be carrying a little depression about all the violence against each other we keep seeing, and the horrors of the natural disasters our world has been living through these past several months.
On television the other night – I think during one of those World Series games; I saw a rare commercial. Have you seen it? It begins with people jumping out of their cars to help push a broken-down vehicle off a busy, backed-up street. A man who appears to be rushing to work up an escalator, stops to help a woman of a different race get her baby stroller up the escalator too. As all sorts of scenes continue of diverse people helping each other, the narrator says: “It would be great if human beings were great at being human. And if all of mankind were made up of kind women and kind men. It would be wonderful if common knowledge was knowledge commonly know,” the narrator says, as some bullies in a school knock books out of a smaller boy’s hands, while a girl steps forward to protect him. A smile flashes across the face of an elderly woman who looks like she’s telling stories, while a younger woman stands behind her brushing her hair. The narrator continues, saying: “And if the light from being enlightened, into every heart was shone. It would be glorious if neighbors were neighborly and indifference a forgotten word. It would be awesome if we shared everything and being greedy was absurd.” If you’ve seen the commercial, you too might have found tears welling in your eyes just 40 seconds into this ad. The final punch: “It would be spectacular if the Golden Rule was golden to every man. And the good things that we ever did were everything that we can.” Another woman’s voice comes in to say: “Treating others like we like to be treated has always been our guiding principle.” As the final shot shows the name of the hotel chain being advertised, the screen reads: “We live by the #Golden Rule” (https://www.ispot.tv/ad/w6rw/marriott-human-the-golden-rule#). . . . What if more of us carried that: the guiding principle that We live by the #Golden Rule? Helping others no matter our differences. Protecting the weak. Truly being neighborly and accepting and generous. A world of people who carry within the Golden Rule that can be seen in action daily. Indeed, what we carry can make all the difference.
As the exodus of the Israelites finally comes to a close, their priests carry the ark of the covenant into the Jordan River. We may not be as familiar with this part of our faith ancestor’s story as we are with the escape from Egypt through the Red Sea. The day Joshua was their new leader and the power of the LORD God stopped another body of water, so that the people could cross over from their wilderness wanderings into the land promised as their home. The Jordan River flows the eastern length of the Holy Land – originating in tributaries beyond the Sea of Galilee as far north as Mount Hermon, and flowing south into the Dead Sea. From their spot in the desert, the only way into the Promised Land was through the Jordan River. It likely sounded like a crazy plan. Choose one man from your tribe. All twelve together then, grab hold of a corner of the ark of the covenant. Those twelve were to walk right into the Jordan, that likely was a mile wide during the time of harvest when its banks overflowed. “And trust me now,” says Moses’ successor, who was so new he likely was still wet behind his ears. “God’s gonna stop the mighty Jordan from flowing. On dry ground we’ll all cross over – the men, women, children, and herds of animals too.” The priests are instructed to wade into the water. Pay no attention to the possibility of snakes and sink holes. Stop then, and stand still. Soon the waters shall be cut off from the north to stand in a single heap. After all, they’re carrying the ark of the covenant.
The ark of the covenant was a gift of the wilderness. Like an artifact of faith, it got built at God’s instruction to house the tablets of the law given Moses on Mount Sinai. Covered in gold with a solid gold throne for God on top of it, it was made portable from the start. Placed in the exquisite tabernacle tent with an extra screen around it for added protection. The ark was carried all through the wilderness as the people journeyed in stages from their slavery in Egypt to their new home. In the day when the cloud of God was on the tent of meeting or at night when the fire could be seen in the cloud; folks remained in the camp. The glory of the LORD was filling the tent, infusing the ark, enveloping all the holy accoutrements made for the ritual approach of God. The Presence of the LORD, the God of all the earth, was fully in their midst. Like a travel guide waiting to tell them when next to fold up camp to move on. When the moment came – when the cloud rescinded from the tent; the ark and everything else would be packed up and moved to be set up at the next spot along their way. Symbols of God dwelling in the midst of a people on the move, it all traveled with them as they went. . . . Imagine the scene then near Jordan, as those twelve men take up the ark of the covenant. Its gold gleaming in the autumn sun – they set foot into the water. In a sense, they were carrying the very Presence of God. The box-like structure that reminded them of God’s promise to be their God as they did all they could daily to be people putting into action the ways of the LORD.
As a people of God today, we don’t carry around the ark of the covenant any longer. It was destroyed the first time the Temple in Jerusalem was sacked. Later in the story, to remind the people that even without the tangible object; the Presence of God, the LORD of all the earth, remained in their midst. As a comfort, the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed that God would renew the covenant. It needed it, after all; as the people hadn’t lived up to their end of the bargain. (Jeremiah 31:31-34). This time it wouldn’t take a moveable ark to remind us. Rather, we would carry within the promise of the LORD. Not on tablets of stone, but on our hearts would be written the ways of God. In our insides. So that wherever we go in the world, together or apart, God shall be our God and we shall do daily all we can to be the people of our LORD. The promise resides within. The Presence of God steadier in us than the beat of our own hearts. . . .
It’s another thing we carry – God in us. In our daily hustle and bustle it might be easy to forget. Like the priests at the Jordan, holding a power mightier than they might have imagined, we carry a Presence powerful enough to stop rushing waters. Like the cloud-covered symbols of the tabernacle showing when God’s time to move has come. Like a little piece of God lodged in our insides. The spark of Divinity, the Spirit of the Holy, the Breath of the Living God of all the earth, is in us. Take that in for a moment: that the LORD God wants to be in us – living and moving and experiencing the world through our particular bodies. Being seen by others through us as we help others no matter our differences. And protect the weak. And truly are neighborly and accepting and generous. . . . May our actions answer what we carry. May our hashtag be seen! We carry the Presence of God within.
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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