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So… Have you ever been afraid? Not just the time your mother said “boo” to you in the hall at home? Sue and I cherish the game I used to play with Brian and then Noah where I would run down the hall and hide in a room and then as the toddler came to the room, jump out and say “boo” and watch collapse to the floor laughing hysterically. Not this afraid is the stuff of adult realities: afraid it might be cancer, afraid it might mean you’re getting fired, afraid that this time the car is truly dead and no other car is available, afraid that the test you took, you really did bomb! Fear can be a huge motivator, though not always a good one. It is part of that triple emotional response set that includes, fright, flight, and fight. Fear offers up two possible outcoming, depending on how we decide it will affect us. It can either motivate us or it can shut us down! Learning how to recognize fear and how to use it as a part of our lifelong tool kit can transform our future. The story goes that God was speaking to Joshua, son of Nun, who was standing on the east bank of the Jordan river, about to cross over westward into the Promised Land.
Moses, the leader of God’s people was dead, unable to enter the Promised land or to lead the people. But Moses did have an opportunity to explain to the people what was ahead. In Deuteronomy 30, Moses says, “I am 120 years old, and I am no longer able to be your leader. And besides that, the Lord your God has told me that he won't let me cross the Jordan River. Be brave and strong!
Then Moses called Joshua up in front of the crowd and said:
Joshua, be brave and strong as you lead these people into their land. So now, the responsibility of leadership has fallen to Joshua, who had been Moses assistant. And God says to Joshua, just what Moses had said both to him and all of Israel! Be strong and brave! It’s interesting that the Hebrew word, amatz, can be translated as brave, but it can also be translated as courageous. While the CEV in our pews has gone for brave, the NIV uses courageous, and I think that the nuance matters, especially when paired with strong. In times of great trials, in times of great change, what is need is not only strength to get through, strength of character, strength of commitment, strength of faith, but the courage to put them to work. To make bold decisions!
To, as it were, put your foot in the Jordan river. It would really do Israel no good for Joshua not to believe God could get them into the Promised Land, that God could help them, capture all of it, that God could lead him like God had lead Moses. And being strong was great. But what was needed was the temerity to jump into the water. The get up and go to get up and go. In Yiddish, the Chutzpah! The faith and energy combined with perhaps the impudence and gall to believe that God’s got you. I mean what if Joshua hadn’t been willing? What if Joshua didn’t have the faith? Some theologians argue that ultimately that is what did in Moses leadership. He gave up believing that no matter what odds God is facing with his sometimes faith-less people… Yahweh, the God of Israel, was still in charge, and even when God’s people are a complete faith failure, God is still moving his people toward that day of great heavenly reunion. Being afraid in the face of great change and great challenges is normal, and quite understandable.
But giving into that fear is quite unacceptable for the people of God. It flies in the face of the one who has promised us that all things work for good for those who love God. And it runs exactly opposite to the call on God’s people to be strong and courageous. So, facing the challenges of the days ahead, what will you choose? To be afraid? Or to be so confident that God has got you that of you will be said… They were strong and courageous! Amen