Scripture: Joshua 1:1-9, 3:14-17
This morning, I want you to think about those moments in your life when you “crossed over”.
Now, I’m not talking about some kind of out of body experience where you died and got to visit heaven for a few hours.
Rather, I’m talking about the transitions and experiences in our life that change us, upend us, that mark a significant shift in who we are and how we approach life. Often, they are moments when we leave behind an old version of ourselves and step into a new identity or live more fully into who God created us to be. But no matter what, usually we can point back to this point in our life, this decision, this event where we crossed over from the old into the new.
In my life, I’ve experienced these “crossing over” moments at many points - when I got on that plane to move to Washington DC from Oklahoma after college, when I said “I do” and married my wonderful spouse, when I became a parent, when I said “yes” to God’s call on my life, when I began to put “old bay” on my fries.
Of course, there are also those “crossing over” moments of pain and loss which are not by choice - divorces, separations, the loss of a child or spouse or parent, the ending of a job, tragedy, illness, or deep sadness. We cannot be the same after them. We must learn to accept them and enter into uncharted, unfamiliar territory.
While it may not always seem so, these “crossing over” moments are sacred. They are liminal spaces, where in the uncomfortableness, excitement, conflict, and pain, our life takes us into places we never we could have imagined going. And it’s why in church we often pay special attention to these moments, to the best of our ability. We honor births and deaths, beginnings and endings, joy and grief, questions and answers, welcomes and goodbyes, beauty and chaos. Somehow, we recognize, God shows up in when we “cross over”.
In the beginning of the Book of Joshua, the Israelite people are preparing for their own “crossing over” moment. They have camped on the eastern side of the Jordan River and have come to the end of a long journey that took them 40 years through a brutal wilderness. And on the other side of that river, a new life awaits them, a life that God had promised to their ancestors.
That promise began with Abram in Genesis 12, when God said get up and go to a land that I will show you.
That promise continued in the call to Moses in Exodus 3 when God sent Moses back to Egypt to tell Pharaoh to let my people go and lead them through the wilderness to this Promised Land, a land promised to be overflowing with milk and honey.
Even later, we learn that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, and in that moment, God affirmed Jesus as Son, sent by God to lead the people in claiming a new identity, a new community, a new mission.
In the early church, Christians would prepare for and baptize by studying scripture and praying until that day they too were dipped into baptismal waters. Afterwards, before receiving their first communion, they would be given milk and honey to drink, an image of the Promised Land.
So, this “crossing over” is significant and rich and powerful in it how would shape not only Joshua and his people - but how it would shape generations of faithful to come.
After Moses had died on the edge of the Promised Land, God commands Joshua and the people to get ready to cross over into this new land, and drawing from imagery and language straight out of the book of Deuteronomy, God promises to be with the people and not fail them, even in the midst of the hardship and conflict and chaos to come. The people in return are to be obedient, embody the commandments of the law, and trust that the God of their Ancestors would help them complete this journey.
Continually throughout the Old Testament and especially in Joshua, God reminds the people that they have history. God has been in their story for a long time, and God doesn’t forget the promises that are made, no matter how much time has passed. The relationship between God and the people is real. Theologian Norman Habel points out that in Joshua, the relationship is not really with the land they are going into - “the relationship is with their God and not with the land. God is the giver. God can take back what has been given.” The Lord is the one who makes this “crossing over” possible.
In the second part of our reading in chapter three, to emphasize this point, God shows off a little. The people had spent three days preparing to cross the river, and miraculously, as the Ark of the Covenant is carried forward, the waters part for the people. As the families and tribes of Israel cross over, they cross over on dry land. Kind of like God was saying, I got this. Trust me.
Water throughout the Old Testament is often used to represent chaos. Anyone who spends anytime out on a body of water knows that water is to be respected. It is powerful, deadly, and uncontrollable. But God, Alpha and Omega, can hold the chaotic waters at bay, making the path straight and clear for those prepared to become someone new. The people march across and begin to receive the promise God has for them.
A challenge for all of us - as individuals, as families, and even as a church when we hit a crossing over moment - is reminding ourselves that we too have history with God. A core piece of our Christian faith and wisdom is the idea that God has been working in your life from the beginning. Sometimes, it takes many years and some incredible experiences to be able to look back and see the way God worked. But God is present there, showing up in the lowest moments when you didn’t know where the next meal was coming from and in the greatest moments when life seemed to click. Even if you don’t consider yourself a faithful person or a believer, God has history with you. Even when you mess things up, God has history with you.
Even as you face conflict or experience injustice or have to confront something you did that harmed someone else, God says, “I will not fail you or forsake you.” (Verse 3)
That is especially hard to believe when so much is in chaos in our lives. This past week, our city of Hyattsville was hurting and experience chaos after an officer-involved shooting that claimed a man’s life. Our country continues to experience tumult and chaos as the word impeachment fills up our news cycle. Our world seems to lurch from one crisis to the next, from Kashmir to Hong Kong to Saudi Arabia. And no doubt, in your own life, there are things that are simply out of control.
But as we learn to trust in God’s presence even in the raging chaotic waters, we might too find our feet moving on dry land.
God has a way of parting the waters when we think we are about to go under.
Can we learn to trust that God is standing with us, that God loves us, that God’s promises are true?
Of course, these crossing over moments - for the people of Israel and for us - offer us choices in how we will live. How will we respond to God’s care for us? How will we boldly live into our new identity as God’s beloved? Will we follow God’s way - or will we choose power and success even at the expense of others?
The “crossing over” moments in our lives are often just one more beginning on our journeys, after all.
We can live into the good news - or we can choose other ways.
For example, what is troubling to me about the Book of Joshua is that God’s people experience this incredible moment when God affirms them and leads them into their new life - and then the people take God’s command to possess the land as cause to wipe everyone out. After the battle of Jericho, when the walls come tumbling down by God’s power and not the people’s power, the scripture says, without hesitation or flinching, that the Israelites rushed into the city and killed every, man, woman, child, and livestock. It seems such a troubling contrast from the way of Jesus, who ate with and healed the foreigners and Canaanites of his day.
It’s okay, when we read any part of the Bible, to ask questions. To wonder, did God really mean that? Or what is God really saying here?
Next week, we will do just that as we welcome author and speaker, Mark Charles, to our pulpit and for a special after worship conversation. Here in North America, the stories of the Bible, of God’s chosen people given permission to cross the Jordan and possess the land given to them, has justified many stories of genocide and destruction. Many Christian European settlers and politicians crossed over from the “Old World” and used these passages and others to claim that it was the God-given duty or “manifest destiny” of colonists to expand across the North American continent, claiming land that was not their own and bringing violence and loss to indigenous communities from sea to shining sea. Mark is going to help us go deep and find ways to “cross over” from those old narratives that destroy into new narratives that bring life.
Each day, I believe, God invites us to “cross over” and live more deeply and humbly into the way of Jesus, who said that we must be born again to see God’s reign in our lives. (John 3:3)
When wake up each morning -
When we step foot into our workplace -
When we witness injustice -
When we face hard moments -
When no one is looking - **who will we serve?**
Last week, on Tuesday evening, we welcomed about 160 neighbors and community members into our sanctuary to offer space to voice their concerns, frustrations, sadness, and anger over the officer-involved shooting and death of Leonard Shand, a tragedy that has unsettled Hyattsville. In the midst of tension and chaos, all I could do was to pray for every person there and imagine God somehow enticing us to step out into those troubled waters as a church and as a community. To not run away see where God might be leading us. To truly live into our vision as the church at the intersection.
And it may come as a surprise, but intersections are places where we all have to cross over on our way where we need to be.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if other cities around our country, when they experience such a traumatic event like this, might look to our city and our church and our leaders as a model for another way of moving into the chaos and coming out in a direction a little more aligned with justice and compassion? Maybe God has led us to the river’s edge as a church to challenge us to trust that God will not fail or forsake us.
As a church, our Epiphany process, beginning on Wednesday night, is another invitation to cross over. We will welcome a consultant to begin gathering information about our church and our community, and he will tell us some good and hard truths about how our neighborhood has changed. Later on November 16 & 17, a retreat to which each of you are invited, we will begin to reimagine who we are and how God is calling us to live more fully into our identity at the intersection. There will be some chaotic moments, maybe even tense moments, as we confront our old dreams of what life used to be like and think hard about what life could be like.
But our God is calling us to “cross over” - may we take plunge.
(posted October 8, 2019)