1 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying, 2 “My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites. 3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses. 4 From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory. 5 No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous; for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them. 7 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. 9 I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” 10 Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, 11 “Pass through the camp, and command the people: ‘Prepare your provisions; for in three days you are to cross over the Jordan, to go in to take possession of the land that the Lord your God gives you to possess.’” — Joshua 1:1-11
Stories continue in our time to be the ultimate benchmark in transporting our minds to places we have never been and often will never go in real life. It is a chance to make new friends, to imagine what life could be like if…, and to take a journey we might never take. The Bible is filled with stories…all kinds of stories. From love stories, to stories of bravery and courage, and even stories of great sadness. It is these stories that we look to for answers when we seek nourishment along our journey of faith.
You may be wondering why I chose this as the first sermon series I am doing here at Wood’s, and it is simple. I could do a sermon series where I introduce myself over the course of a few weeks, but that wouldn’t be who I am. I want us to focus on this journey we are on together. Don’t worry over time you will learn more about me, but if we are to journey together let us look at stories, let us look at how God works in these stories.
Last week we looked at new stories, and how God is always at work beginning new stories. God began a new story in the work of creation. God began a new story by calling Abraham. God began a new story by sending Jesus Christ to be the example of love for generations to come. God began something new when he established Wood’s church, and God began a new thing when he brought me here to be your pastor. God is constantly doing new things and we are called to respond to those new things with an embracing surrender to give God all that we are and answer the call to follow the newness.
However, what happens to that old story? Does it stop? Does it die? Does it continue?
I think at some level there is always an end. There is always something that has to end for something new to start, but I think the way God continues the stories that have ended shows more about God than does the beginning of new stories.
Hear me clearly there are definite ends to stories, but as we will find out in our scripture today God works in those endings to continue the work that has been done since the very beginning. Today we look at how God does continue stories in God’s own way. So let’s see what we learn from our scripture.
Our scripture places us at an interesting point in the Exodus narrative. Moses has passed away and a young man named Joshua has been appointed by God to take Moses place as leader of the Israelites.
So before we dive to far in lets remind ourselves of how the Israelites got where they are.
As we find out in the book of Exodus the Israelite were enslaved in Egypt and God seeks to free them. Therefore, God chooses Moses to confront Pharaoh and free the Israelite, who are God’s chosen people. Out of this freedom comes the Israelites wandering. First they are wandering to get to the promised land. However, because of certain things they do they are forbidden from entering the promised land for 40 years. Therefore, they wander in the wilderness for another 40 years. As the Bible transitions from the book of Deuteronomy to the book of Joshua we come to the end of that wandering. Moses’ death is the sign of the end of the wandering generation and Joshua is the leader who will bring the people into the land that God promised.
In our scripture today we see the new story occurring. Look along with me at verse 1 and 2 the story writer writes,
“After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying, “My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites.” (Joshua 1:1-2)
So the new story has been set. Moses has died and Joshua has taken leadership over the people of Israel, but look what also happens. God does not negate the work that God has been wanting to do for all of this time. In a time of transition God does not simply erase the old narrative to make room for the new one, but God gives grace to the old narrative and creates a new narrative by continuing parts of the old one. God continues stories, as we see, the same way stories are begun. God does them on his own terms, but God shares those terms with those whom follow him…as long as we listen.
The people are led by God…still. The people are being led into the promised land…still. However, now it is Joshua, not Moses, who will be bringing them there. So our question today is how does God continue stories? How does God do something new while also preserving what has already happened and what has already been promised?
God does this by doing exactly that…by preserving the promise, but also continuing forward. Not living in the past, but learning from it. Not necessarily doing what has always been done, but learning how we can do it better.
Just as last week was a new story, we are also continuing a story as well. We are continuing the story of Wood’s Church. This is a story that God has been working on for a long time. Each of you sitting out there are continuing stories as well. However for our continued stories we must recognize how they meet up with our new stories.
You see we as the church don’t often like new things. We like to continue doing what we have always done. It is comfortable, it is known, and it is what we have always done, but let me stand up here and tell you a continued story does not mean continuing to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. In fact Albert Einstein said that was insanity. (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/alberteins133991.html)
Rather a continued story is where the narratives of our past meet the narratives of our future.
When we allow these two to function harmoniously we live in this time where our new stories are our continued stories, where our beginnings are our endings. We get to a place where we can be comfortable with what is coming next because we know not only how God has looked after us in the past but we know that God has magnificent plans for us in the future. The worst thing we can do is to permanently reside in those continued stories, but the best thing we can do is to learn from continued stories. Take what has happened and what was been learned, and put it into those new stories that God has planned.
SPOILER: The Israelites make it into the promised land, but they did not make it there doing the same things they had done the previous 40 years as they wandered the wilderness. They had to trust that God would continue their story while creating a new one all the same.
Last week I asked you what your new stories are, what was God trying to do new in you?
This week I want you to reflect on you story as a whole. Where have you been? What have you done? Most importantly what have you learned? And how can you take all of that and bring that into your new story to help you with where God is calling you?