Thursday, November 10, 2011

New Book, Same Scene?

Our Old Testament text for this week moves us into the book of Joshua--Joshua 3:3b-17--while our Gospel text brings us closer to the conclusion of our year-long commitment to hearing stories from the Gospel of Matthew--Matthew 25:14-30. The Psalm from which our Call to Worship will be drawn is also worth reading--Psalm 107.

After two months journeying with Moses through Exodus and Deuteronomy, a new day has dawned in the life of Israel. For the first time since leaving Egypt, they have a new leader, Joshua. They are about to enter a new land, the land God had promised them as part of God's covenant with them. "New" seems to be the key word here.

Yet...the scene before them doesn't look all that new. To get out of the wilderness, they must cross a body of water--just as they crossed one to enter it. This passage is rife with echoes of the crossing of the Red Sea that we spent time with in Exodus 14, and though this is a different generation than those who made that crossing, they have heard the story so many times that they feel like they were there in flesh. The Jordan River--even in flood stage--will be nothing compared to that crossing, with a whole sea in front of them and an army at their back! They can handle this, hands tied behind their backs.

Joshua can see this confidence among the people. They've lived in this region for a while now--they know the way across this river that has been their lifesource. Heck, some of them actually HAD crossed this river before, at some designated fords that made getting across less than intimidating (see Josh 2:7). They were ready for this; it was nothing they hadn't seen before--they could find their way. was different, and the way was not as obvious as it initially seemed. Thus this crossing begins with these instructions in Joshua 3:3-4: "When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place. Follow it, so that you may know the way you should go, for you have not passed this way before."

The Israelites are ready to be independent--to spread their wings and fly, to show all that they've learned. They are ready to not just be wandering, clueless slaves but people connected to a land, charged with decision making and responsibility. And, in some senses, God is ready for them to grow up and be this, too.

But this does not mean that Israel knows where it's going and can leave God's leadership, God's miraculous provision, behind. What lies in front of them may look familiar, but it's a whole new chapter in their story--they are going to need God's presence to guide them each step of the way. Get ahead of that guidance, and the flood waters could very well swallow them up, no matter how prepared and smart and worldly they feel.

New book, apparently new scene, same story. As Adam and Eve tried to ingest God's knowledge, as the citizens of Babel sought to build their own skyscraper to heaven, as the Israelites tried to store up manna for the day God didn't come through, we don't want to admit how dependent we are. But since the scene before us is always new, how can we hope to move forward unless our ever-providing, leading, and knowing God goes first before us?

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