“Taking the Next Step”
Joshua 5:8-12 “Take the Next Step” 3-27-22
[prayer] “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O’Lord my rock and redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
In Lexington there is a ministry to the poor and working poor called Open Hands. Reverend David Talbert’s original vision was a ministry which does not seek to enable the poor and working poor to continue being homeless. The idea was to help the poor and working poor get on their feet and begin walking through life again hand in hand with Jesus Christ.The idea was to give a hand up instead of a hand out. Through it all the vision for this ministry is “More grace, less judgment.” Everyone is on a journey. Everyone falls down along the way. I sincerely believe the purpose of the Church is to be God’s hands and feet helping one another to stand back up again. This morning’s passage from Joshua chapter 5 is about what happens after we have been given a hand up. What should the next step look like?
The people of Israel had been walking around the desert for forty years. When they first left Egypt they whined and complained because they missed the reliable food and drink in Egypt. Some of them even tried to continue worshiping the little “g” gods they worshiped in Egypt. They wanted an escape from the misery of tyranny in Egypt; however, they were not yet God’s children. They had not left Egypt behind in their hearts. What is the old phrase, “You can take the boy or girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl or boy”? The people of Israel still had Egypt in their hearts. They needed a hand up out of the idolatry and the culture of Egypt.
It took 40 years of wandering around the desert before they finally let go of Egypt, and grabbed hold of God with both hands. There was a movie back in 1984 called, “The Last Starfighter.” In it an important character says, “You’ll get your chance. When it comes you’ve got to grab hold tight with both hands and don’t let go.” The people of Israel now had their chance. Through Moses God had led the people of Israel to the land God promised Abraham all of those years ago. Through Moses God rescued Israel from the hand of Pharaoh in Egypt, brought the people of Israel safely through the Red Sea on dry ground, and delivered Israel from the culture of Egypt. Now it was time to grab hold of the opportunity God had provided. Now it was time to conquer the promised land of Canaan and it would begin with the walled city of Jericho.
This morning’s passage is all about that moment of transition. In an act of obedience to God and as a symbol of finally shedding the shame of Egypt all of the men of the people of Israel became obedient to God’s covenant with Abraham. All of the men were circumcised. The place where Israel camped is called Gilgal because God rolled away the stain of Egypt. On the fourteenth day of that month the people celebrated the Passover. The people of Israel remembered when God spared them and struck all of the first born of Egypt. The day after the Passover the people of Israel ate the fruit of the land of Canaan - the land God promised to Abraham. On that day God stopped sending mana from heaven. The time had come to stop being wanderers. The time had come to take possession of God’s gift for Israel. Now is the time to take hold of that good gift with both hands and don’t let go of the Promise of God.
Central UMC here in Denton is in a similar situation. Before Covid our church was in some decline. Our youth ministry had faded away. We had made a shift away from traditional Sunday school. Things were not exactly where the congregation wanted them to be, but there was very little interest in the work of trying to put things back the way they were. We had a lot of cheerleaders and not enough people willing to work or lead. Then the pandemic hit, and boy were we sent out to the wilderness. Like the people of Israel we were forced to shift, pivot and turn. There is a Greek word, eremos. It means wilderness or solitary place. We were all stuck at home and for many that became a very solitary place. According to Dr. James R. Edwards the wilderness is a place of repentance (turning back to God), and rejuvenation. A good number of people in this congregation really wanted to come back to church. Praise the Lord. People wanted to come back to church. To me it looked like the children of Israel coming to the Promised Land and rededicating themselves to the work of being the hands and feet of Christ.
During the Pandemic we made some changes to our church structure. The food pantry and the community dinner committee merged and formed SGA or Sharing God’s Abundance. The consolidation of these two ministries has helped us to expand the way we serve the people of our community by meeting the need for food. Now the Community Dinners are coming back, but the food bag and food pantry program continues. This is one way the pandemic changed the way we do ministry in a positive way.
Now we feel God moving us in a new direction. In addition to working through SGA God is moving Central UMC to begin “Providing opportunities for families and children of our community to grow and develop a relationship with Jesus Christ.” This ministry is a call to all families in our community. The message of the call is simple. God loves you, and so does the congregation of Central United Methodist Church. We are not going to judge you for not coming to church as often as we’d like. We are going to offer you gratitude for joining us in our journey to grow closer to God. We are providing opportunities for you and your family to join us for fun, adventure and service. This Sunday afternoon I am taking our youth Group to the Mt. Shepherd Retreat Center to learn on their low ropes course. I am please to announce that on Sunday April 3rd we will return to Children’s Church under the leadership of Mrs. Ann Cook. Starting Sunday May 1st I will get us started back with Children’s time during worship and Mrs. Beth Ligon will be heading up getting volunteers scheduled for Children’s Time starting in June. Mrs. Ann Crouse is heading up our nursery team. Which by the way, Mrs. Ann Crouse needs a team of volunteers. Please fill out one of these sheets and drop it in the plate if you are willing to help out.
My sisters and brothers, “Providing opportunities for families and children of our community to grow and develop a relationship with Jesus Christ,” is truly an answer to prayer. Many of you have been praying for a return to the way things were. We as your leadership team along with the administrative council have been trying to figure out what we mean by getting things back to the way things used to be. As we have prayed about it the reply from God has been look around at your community and remember who you are and whose you are. Central was built on ministry to children through the old Denton Orphanage. That was the need then. Today the need comes from people being tired of staying cooped up inside because of Covid. People are looking for places to plug back in and belong. In the midst of that God is telling us to be the church in the community who partners with other churches to provide a community youth group again. That was something Central used to do. Praise the Lord God is bringing that kind of ministry back to Central again. God has told us to be the church in town for young families regardless of where they come from or how much money they have. Reach out to families regardless of age or status. Some of these families may be colorful. God loves them any way. So should we. The truth is we are all sinners in need of grace. Jesus us died for us long before we were perfect. Truth be told we aren’t perfect now. We are still sinners in need of grace. If we can accept that truth then perhaps the statement that works so well for Open Hands in Lexington can work for us as well. Perhaps that is what God is calling us to do. Offer “more grace, and less judgment.” One thing is clear. God has made promises. God has given us the command to go therefore and make disciples. Now is the time to grab hold of God’s promises with both hands, and don’t let go. My sisters and brothers. Now is the time to stand on the promises of Jesus.
In the name of Jesus Christ,