November 1, 2020 Sermon

All Saints Day
On All Saints Day, we remember all those who have gone on to glory before us. As followers of Christ, we grieve our losses but not the same way that people who have no hope grieve. Looking back on the lives of people who were faithful, helps us to be faithful, even when things seem hopeless. Our reading from Joshua is an example of remembering God’s faithfulness in the past, and how it helped the ancient Israelites and now, helps us to live into the hope of the future in the kingdom of God.

Leader: Come give thanks to God!
People: God’s steadfast love endures forever!
Leader: With holy hands, we are protected!
People: God turns wastelands into beautiful gardens!
Leader: Give thanks to God!
People: God’s steadfast love endures forever!


Opening Prayer
Father, we come to you this morning in gratitude for all the ways your grace has touched us. We celebrate the simple things, a cup of coffee, friends, a sunset. We pray that we will never again take for granted being able to come together to worship you, a hug, a handshake. Oh God of light, you see us as we are, our perfectly, imperfect selves and you love us all the same and invite us, over and over, to meet with you, to trust you, to surrender to your providential care. You are the creator of all, the keeper of promises, the power that uses ordinary things to accomplish your will. Amen
Prayer for Illumination
Prepare our hearts, O God, to accept your Word. Silence in us any voices but your own, so that we may hear your Word and also do it; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Old Testament Reading Joshua 3:7-17

And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses.  Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’”

Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.  This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites.  See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you.  Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe.  And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”

So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them.  Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge,  the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho.  The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground

Epistle Reading 1 Thessalonians 2:9-12

Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.  For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children,  encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

Gospel Reading Matthew 23: 1-12

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:  “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.  So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.  They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long;  they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues;  they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.  And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.  The greatest among you will be your servant.  For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

This is the Word of God for the people of God
Thanks be to God.

Joshua was the real deal. He had been an aide and companion to Moses from his youth. When the Israelites turned away from God and Moses, Joshua remained a loyal servant to both. He was not involved in the worship of the golden calf and he was one of the only spies sent into the promised land ahead of the people, who returned. At the end of Moses’ life, God chose Joshua to lead the people into the promised land.

The Israelites have wandered, fought, wandered some more. Now they are about to finally move into the promised land. They might have been relieved, maybe rejoicing. They break camp and make the fairly easy trip to the Jordan river only to find that it has flooded! Normally the Jordan river is about 100 feet wide and 3-10 feet deep in the area where the Israelites crossed but it was harvest time so it was wider and deeper and turbulent. This is all approximate, but it gave me a picture in my mind of the Israelites, full of hope and excitement. A long awaited promise about to be fulfilled.

What do they see? A rushing, flooded river. There is undergrowth that is now covered with water, trees, all kinds of things to get snagged on. The current is rushing. They were there for several days so you know they had to be discussing it among themselves. What about our older folks? What about our sick people, our children? What about our possessions? Their initial excitement has been dampened because the goal that appeared to be within reach, just became impossible to reach.

We can relate to these poor folks and put ourselves in their place. How often have you faced a “personal Jordan”? You can see freedom but it is unreachable. How often have you felt like you were stuck and God’s promises felt like they were on the other side of a very deep and wide chasm? We want to walk by faith. We want to have hope, but we are lost in our own wilderness.

We can’t cross the chasm on our own power. What did Joshua and the Israelites do?

Joshua listened to the Lord. He took his eyes off the chasm and he focused on the ONE who could part the water.

Joshua brought others along with him. He shared his faith with the people and his life testified to that faith.

Joshua trusted God, even as he was looking at what seemed like an insurmountable obstacle.

Joshua obeyed God, even when he could not see the outcome, even when things looked hopeless. 

There was beautiful symbolism in the instructions that were given. They were instructed to carry the Ark of the covenant ahead of the people. Why would this be important? Hebrews 9:4 states that the Ark contained “the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant.”

 The stone tablets were a symbol of God’s relationship with the Israelites, that they were set apart. The manna is a reminder of God’s provision. The dead stick that grew leaves shows God’s ability to use whatever He will to display His power. Covenant, Provision, and Power.

The top of the Ark is described in Exodus 25:17-22  “Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover.  Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends.  The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover.  Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you. There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.

Psalm 80:1 Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth

The cover of the Ark was gold and God would meet them between the Cherubim. It was called an atonement or the mercy seat. This gives us a picture of a foreshadowing of Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, who died as an atonement for our sins.

God would go before the nation into the promised land, and with God’s Covenant, Provision, and Power, the people would follow. 

This news is as the letter Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, encouraging, comforting and urging all of us to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. In our reading from Matthew, Jesus is speaking to people who have grown up, knowing the story of Joshua and the crossing the river Jordan into the promised land. They know about the mercy seat. Jesus speaks of another seat. The Moses seat. This was a special chair of honor in the synagogue, reserved for the one who taught with authority. This teacher had the same authority as Moses, to interpret the law. Jesus told the people to be careful to do everything the teacher said, but not what the Pharisees do. There is such a glaring contrast to what Paul said in his letter about them not being a burden to anyone – In Matthew, they (the Pharisees) tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. 

I have been watching a show called Anne with an E on Netflix. It is loosely based on the Anne of Green Gables books. Something will happen and the character will have what seems like an over the top reaction. Then there will be a flashback, as the character remembers a specific incident from their past that explains their reaction to the present situation. I told my husband one night as we were watching, that I wished we had those little flashback film bites when people act in ways that surprise us so we could understand them better. 

What expectations do we place on others and how they live out their faith without knowing how life has molded them? Do we encourage and comfort? Or do we add to their burden.

James 1:22 reminds us to “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only. Otherwise, you are deceiving yourselves.”

Reading and saying the words is not difficult. Doing what the Word says is not always so easy, or even so clear. Especially when we are faced with obstacles that seem beyond our human ability to overcome. What do we say when someone else is dealing with something that seems like a wild raging river to them? Do we quote scripture to them and tell them to just have faith? 

Humility, Trust, Obedience, Covenant, Providence, Power, Encouragement, Comfort.

Those are the words that lead us through these texts today. They describe the enduring love that God has for us and they give us a picture of how we can better love each other, the way we are loved. They help us to see past words, past the facade that we show the world, past just reading our bible and bring us into closer relationship with God and with each other. 

The reading from Joshua tells us that there will be obstacles in life that we have no control over. We can trust God’s covenant, providence, and power. The reading from Thessalonians reminds us that there may be criticism, but we can be encouragers and comforters because we are called to live lives worthy of God. Remember Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. The reading from Matthew tells us that the greatest thing we can do on this earth is to serve God and others because Jesus Christ served God and all of us.

If you can’t see the other side of the river, let God take the first steps and follow Him and that is how we all cross the Jordan river into the promised land. 

Amen

Pastoral Prayer
Father, we ask that for those who have endured loss, that you wrap them in the grace of your comfort. For those who face hardship, we ask that you help them to rest in your providential care. For those who feel helpless, we ask that your power and glory be made manifest in their lives so that all can testify about you. We thank you for all that you have done, are doing, and will bring to completion, in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ who taught His disciples to pray.

Benediction
Leader: God reminds us that He is always with us!
People: We lift our voices in praise!
Leader: Through God’s grace we are formed!
People: All who humble themselves will be exalted! Amen

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