22 Oct Walking Wet: Dangerous Waters & God’s Deliverance
Walking Wet: Dangerous Waters & God’s Deliverance
Joshua 3:7-17 and Psalm 69:1-3, 13-18
October 20, 2019
M. Michelle Fincher
Calvary Presbyterian Church
This morning we return to our Walking Wet series. We started this series by looking at the story of creation when the chaotic waters became birthing waters at God’s command. Next there were the life-giving waters of baptism. That was followed by the absence of water as we looked at thirst and longing. Today, there is too much water! The people need to cross the Jordan to get to the Promised Land, but the water has overflowed its banks and is too deep to cross safely. It sounds a lot like Exodus 14 that Amy preached on last week when the Hebrews followed Moses out of Egypt, only to be stopped at the Red Sea. Then, God parted the sea, delivering the Israelites out of the hands of Pharaoh. That first water crossing marked the beginning of Israel’s freedom from slavery and their forty years of life in the wilderness. This second story of deliverance and parting of the waters becomes a bookend that marks the end of the people’s wilderness journey. Theologian Jerome Creach, in his book Joshua, says that “the trek through the Jordan transformed Israel from a wandering band to a landed people—a nation.”
This is a story for the ages, a story that the Israelites will commemorate in Joshua 4 by erecting twelve stones, one for each of the Hebrew tribes, as a memorial. In the future when people pass by these stones, they will remember God’s actions in delivering the people across the Jordan. These actions will call to mind God’s covenant with Israel and the fact that God always keeps God’s promises.
But first, there’s the water. The people are standing on the river’s edge, wondering what to do and how they are ever going to get across. Moses is dead, so he can’t lift his hands to part the waters, as he did at the Red Sea. But God is with the Israelites, and God has just made a promise to Moses’ successor, Joshua. “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel,” God says, “so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses” (3:7).
And what does Joshua instruct the Israelites to do? Joshua says, “Draw near and hear the words of the Lord your God” (3:9).
Isn’t it interesting that faced with an enormous problem, the first thing Joshua leads the people to do is to listen. Stand still and hear the words of God, he says. Joshua goes on to tell the people to fall in line behind God, not march ahead of God. The priests will go in front of the people bearing the ark of the covenant which signifies the presence and power of the living God moving ahead of them.
Isn’t this a picture of one of our greatest struggles? When we encounter dangerous waters, it is often not our first instinct to stop and listen. Our first instinct is usually to worry, to devise our own schemes, and to act and react. It is only when our efforts fail that we remember to turn to God. The truth is that God wants to guide us in the path that is best for us—the path that leads us to deep freedom, abundant joy, and wholeness. We will not get there on our own, but only as we seek the Lord and listen for God’s words. But what kind of words?
When Isaiah says to “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow,” (1:17) he is reminding us that our care for vulnerable people is at the heart of what it means to faithfully follow Christ. It’s part of the liberation work that Amy talked about last week. When Jesus says, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44), he is saying that the normal cycle of anger, hate, violence and retribution will not solve our problems and in fact, will only perpetuate more of the same. These are not the attitudes and actions of those who love him.
These words are meant to help us, not hurt us. They are meant to help us learn what it means to live as authentic, fully alive human beings, people who are liberated from the burdens of fear, anxiety, prejudice, and pride. And it starts by listening—draw near and hear the word of the Lord, says Joshua.
After listening, we deal with the dangerous waters of our lives by moving forward one small step at a time. Watch and wait for what God will do, both for you and through you. The help and deliverance that God provides often comes in small acts of healing, protection, and peace.
“When those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped into the edge of the water, the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap” (3:15-16). Notice that the priests just stuck their big toes into the edge of the water, rather than leaping into the deepest part of the river. They watched and waited for God to act, which happened moments later when the waters rose and gathered themselves together. Then the people crossed over on the now-safe riverbed.
We dip our feet into the water when we move forward, one step at a time. “Take the first step in faith,” said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “You don’t have to see the whole staircase; just take the first step.”
In what way are you being asked to step into the water to see what is possible with God? If you’re feeling tension in a relationship with a friend or family member, perhaps picking up the phone to talk to that person is your step of faith. Maybe there’s a coworker or neighbor you distrust and inviting them to coffee might be a faithful first step to get to know them better. It might be that your neighborhood is full of isolated individuals and families, and God is leading you to step out in hospitality. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just the first step. If you take a step toward healing and peace, God promises to be with you.
When encountering dangerous waters, first listen for God. Next, take a first step, however small. Finally, keep your eyes on the future, not the past. Once all the people had crossed the Jordan, “the priests bearing the ark of the covenant came up from the middle of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet touched dry ground, [then] the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks, as before” (4:18). As soon as the Israelites were safely across, the river returned to normal and began to flow again. God’s hand holding back the water was not a permanent barrier, one that guaranteed easy passage forever. Instead, it was a temporary solution to a specific need that allowed the Israelites to cross this one time.
There is a profound truth for us in this, as well. There are gifts we receive, deliverance we experience, and it is, of course, appropriate that we recognize God’s work in our lives in those moments and express our gratitude. But, we’re also to keep moving forward. For example, when we are healed from an illness, we give thanks, and move forward. We don’t expect that we’ll never be sick again.
When we receive the gift of forgiveness, we give thanks and move forward. We don’t have to beat ourselves up for what we’ve done wrong or allow ourselves to be consumed by regrets.
When we receive a new job or a new opportunity, we give thanks and move forward. We don’t obsess over mistakes or hold ourselves to an impossibly high standard.
The Israelites did not set up camp at Gilgal as if their journey and their work was done. They commemorated God’s faithfulness and goodness to them for once again delivering them through dangerous waters, but these first steps into the Promised Land were just a beginning. There would be other challenges awaiting them, new battles to be fought, discernment and listening that would be needed, steps that would need to be taken in faith.
It is tempting and all too easy to try to stay in our self-made Gilgals. We work hard to create feelings of security, a sense of being in charge of our lives, even of being invincible. But the dangerous waters of life inevitably come to us all, washing away our illusion of control which serves as a necessary reminder that our security comes only from the God who walks with us into the future, giving us exactly what we need for each day—no more and no less. Like the Hebrews, we are challenged to walk by faith into the Promised Land, knowing that we will still face risks. But we also know that we are surrounded by the presence and power of the living God.
When we face raging rivers, God will erect a wall of protection so that we are not swept away by our circumstances. More often than not, God does this not so much by changing our situation as by changing us. God takes the very circumstances that seem to impede our progress and reconfigures them in such a way that we are able to move forward. When the Hebrews crossed the Jordan, the water was still there, but God took what was a barrier and turned it into a gateway, allowing the people to pass into the future that God had prepared for them. And God continues to do the same for us.
Thanks be to God. Amen.