Change: Joshua

Change: Joshua
A Message on Joshua 1:1-9
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Aug. 15, 2021
By Doug Wintermute

Joshua 1:1-9 (NRSV)

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.”

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School starts this week. That in itself can cause some anxiety not only among the students, but also for the teachers, school staff, and even parents. But then you throw in a world-wide pandemic rearing its ugly head up again with a new variant that is much more contagious, and it’s like adding oxygen to a fire already being fueled by anxiety.

We don’t know what’s going to happen. Nobody does. Will schools operate for a while and then be forced by the virus to shut back down and go virtual only again, like last year? How far behind academically will the students be after a year of virtual learning? How can the students who were already struggling academically before the pandemic catch up?

So many questions, and so few answers. No wonder there is a lot of anxiety. It’s like leaving to go on a trip without Google maps or even an old fashioned paper map to go by.

Today as we continue our sermon series on “Change” we will look at someone who certainly faced a lot of anxiousness and uncertainty in his life: Joshua.

Joshua was with Moses during the time Moses led the Isarelites out of Egypt. He was a great leader and became kind of an assistant to Moses.

When the people came to the promised land Joshua was one of the 12 men selected to go into the promised land as spies to check it out and see if it was any good. The 12 did and discovered that yes, indeed, it was good land. But they also discovered that the people that were already living there were strong and had some pretty good defences in place.

Ten of the 12 spies told the people the people inhabiting the land were too strong for the Israelites to be able to overpower. Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, had the faith that the Israelites would be successful because God was on their side. Unfortunately they got outvoted and overruled. God got angry and said because of the people’s lack of faith none of those living at the time the spies brought back their report would enter the promised land with two exceptions: Joshua and Caleb.

So Joshua and Caleb wander with the people in the desert for 40 years until everyone too scared to enter the promised land dies, including Moses. Before Moses dies, though, he places his hands on Joshua and anoints him as leader of the Israelites. Thus Joshua becomes the leader of the Hebrew people and led them as they forced out the inhabitants of the promised land and settled the land.

In the scripture we read today we hear Joshua receiving instructions from God prior to starting the journey into the land that God had promised to give the Israelites. It wasn’t going to be easy as people who have been living in a land aren’t very willing to just turn it over to someone else. No. The people were going to have to be forced from the land by brute force.

But that’s what God commands Joshua and the Israelites to do. But he also reminds them that they won’t be alone. He says in verse 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.”

So Joshua faced a choice: either boldly go where God directed them, or choose not to and continue wandering in the desert. Now remember that Joshua was one of the 12 spies that had scouted out the land 40 years earlier, so he knew the land was good and capable of raising good livestock and crops. He had been there. And he also saw the people and defensive fortifications that all but himself and Caleb thought could not be overcome.

In the scripture we read today where God gives Joshua the instructions for going into the promised land we find one phrase that is repeated several times. Three times, to be specific. That phrase is: “Be strong and courageous.” This phrase is found in verses 6, 7, and 9. (Technically in verse 7 it says “be strong and very courageous” but for our purposes this morning it’s close enough, I think.)

Be strong. Be courageous. Joshua was starting on a journey with people whose parents were described by both Moses and God as stiff-necked. He did not have a specific plan with timelines and flowcharts. He didn’t know all the details of how it was going to work. He just had faith, trusted in God, and made the first step toward doing it.

God’s words to Joshua are good for everyone starting a new school to hear. Well, actually good for everyone to hear.

School can be tough. I was blessed with some superb teachers during my 12 years at Cooper Independent School District. (There was no kindergarten when I started.) They not only taught me things, but more importantly taught me to love learning new things.

I was also blessed with some great classmates. I think there were 52 of us in our graduating class (we were a large class, you know…) But even in the best schools there will be problems, things like bullying.

I know that today teachers and administrators really try to prevent it from happening. They did back in my day as well, but sometimes it happened anyway.

I can remember one kid in school who was a couple of years younger than me. Let’s call him Adam, since we didn’t have a Adam in the class. He was a big kid, much bigger than most of his classmates, and from a family that didn’t have much money. Somehow it was discovered that if you started picking on him he was pretty quick to start crying. For junior high and high school aged boys any weakness is exploited and sure enough, boys started picking on this kid.

Now I know it’s hard to believe but back when I was in junior high (and even most of the time I was in high school) I was a short, skinny kid. I experienced bullying myself, but not to the extent that Adam got bullied.

I can vividly remember being present one time when a group of boys started picking on Adam. I did not participate in the bullying, but I didn’t do anything to stop it, either. I just sat back and watched it happen.

I knew it was wrong. I knew that the right thing to do was to step up and intervene on Adam’s behalf and tell the boys to stop it. But the boys doing the bullying were much bigger than me, and I was afraid that if it did step up and tell them to cut it out they would then turn their bullying on me. And that scared me. A lot.

So I did nothing. I watched the bullying happen and did nothing. I didn’t try to stop it, I didn’t go tell a teacher, I didn’t speak up. I did nothing.

Now all these years later, that is one of the biggest regrets of my school years. Fear won out over action. I was scared and fearful.

I realize that I should have taken to heart what God told Joshua: Be strong and courageous. I wish I had remembered those words from a sermon or from Sunday School. But I didn’t, and as a result I was neither strong nor courageous.

God calls each of us to be strong and courageous. Whether it’s preventing bullying, fighting racism, or even dealing with a pandemic, we are called to be strong and courageous. We are called to overcome fear and be strong and courageous.

We are to stand up for what’s right when we see something wrong happening. Not in a physically violent way (“I’m gonna whup you!!!), but in a Jesus-like way. Don’t let fear keep you from doing the right thing, but overcome fear with the faith and hope that comes from Jesus Christ.

So students, I have a special challenge for you today. As you begin the school year be strong and courageous. With this pandemic once again getting worse no one knows what will happen this school year. But don’t be afraid because of that. Be strong and courageous no matter what changes may or may not take place in the weeks and months to come.

Also be a friend to everyone at your school. Eat lunch with that one kid that seems to be by themselves that nobody seems to like. Don’t bully others, and be strong and courageous to stand up for those that are being bullied (unlike me when I was your age).

Remember that you are at school to learn. So learn! And not only learn, but develop a love of learning. With all the incredible technology today available to you, have an inquisitive mind and use that massive amount of technology to find the answers to your questions.

If you are participating in athletics, be strong and courageous. Don’t be a prima dona saying, “Look at me!” Instead, live by the sportsman’s creed to “Live clean, play hard. Play for the love of the game. Win without boasting, lose without excuses, and never quit.”

If you are in band, choir, drama, ag, or any other extracurricular activity, be strong and courageous. Help those who are perhaps not as good as you in those areas. Be kind and a friend to all. Do your very best. Be a great team member. Learn as much as you can. Practice. Appreciate the sacrifices your parents and family make so that you can participate in those things. Be like Jesus. Always.

If you are in the lower grades that don’t have those kinds of activities I still urge you to be strong and courageous. Respect and listen to your teachers. Be fair and honest. Don’t participate in gossip or drama (which often go hand-in-hand, you know). Be a friend to everyone, especially those who seem like they don’t have any friends.

And for the teachers, administrators, and school employees, be strong and courageous. You are under an incredible amount of pressure and I think it will get worse before it gets better. Remember your call to teach and that you are a role model, for better or worse. Don’t let the paperwork and all the administrative tasks quench your passion for teaching, and don’t worry about the state-mandated tests and the hoops you have to jump through. Remember that God has called you to be a teacher, so work diligently for God and not for human constructs.

For the parents of students, be strong and courageous. Remember that the root of learning begins at home and that you are a teacher as well. Talk to your kids and listen to them. Remember that you are called to be their parent, not their friend. Model the behavior you want to see in them. Emphasize to them the importance of education and to appreciate schools and teachers.

For those who don’t have kids in schools, be strong and courageous. Lift up students, teachers, and school employees in prayer. Volunteer to help if you are able. (Our Mini Methodists after school program is a great place to volunteer, hint, hint…) Show up and support our students in their various activities. Step outside your comfort zone to help out.

And for everyone, be strong and courageous. Just as Joshua followed God’s calling, let us do the same as followers of Jesus Christ. May we remember that God doesn’t call us to do things that are easy, but like Joshua to those difficult things that move us out of our comfort zones.

It is because of our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior that we can be brave and courageous. Let us remember the overwhelming love God has for us, that he gave his one and only son so that we can be reconciled to God. Jesus died because of his love for you.

So let’s have a great school year! And remember, (say it with me), “Be strong and courageous.”

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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