Getting your feet wet (06/22/2014)

Read Joshua 3:7-17
Standing there on the river bank, Joshua surveys the landscape, and then turning toward the people, speaks these words: “By this you shall know that among you is the living God,” he tells them, “who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites; the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan… When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark…rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap” (3:10-11,13).
Now, we need to realize that for most of the year, the Jordan isn’t much of a river. It’s more like a ditch in many places. But, in the late spring the waters swell with the rains and the melting of Mount Hermon’s snows, making the Jordan a raging flood — at some points more than a mile wide. Sort of like the Minnesota River flooding this past week and causing the closing of state roads. There is debris, and there is a fast current. It is across such a river that these people must venture. It isn’t impossible, but keep in mind that for a good many years the Israelites have occupied the desert. A sandstorm, even a nest of scorpions, they could handle. Water, though, frightened them.
For the Israelites, walking into these waters means overcoming their fear, and even more importantly, placing their faith in God. You can imagine the priests pausing as they draw ever closer to the water’s edge, looking over at Joshua to see what he’s going to do. I mean, when the people traveled through the Red Sea, Moses at least raised his staff and commanded the waters to part. But this scene is different. Joshua just stands there, nodding for them to move ahead. In fact, it is only after the priests actually step into the rushing current, feeling the mud oozing up between their toes, that the water stops flowing.
And when you get right down to it, that’s really what faith is all about, isn’t it? Stepping out into uncharted waters, getting your feet wet?
Or to put it another way, faith is more than just words in a creed. Faith is more like an awareness that you experience, like a smell or a taste, or like a relationship with a close friend. It’s something you have to enter into before you can fully appreciate it, like the difference between experiencing a 4th of July fireworks in person or, just reading about it in a book.
Faith is that which awakens us to the reality of God’s love, awakens us to the hope of God’s promises, awakens us to the confidence that God is with us to work good in our lives.
There is a Jewish legend of two brothers who were in the flour- milling business together. One brother was single, the other, had a wife and children. But they were partners, and so at the end of every day the surplus flour was divided equally between them. Each would take his share of the flour and store it in his own barn.
After several months, however, the brother who was single said to himself: “This arrangement really isn’t fair. My brother has a family to feed; I just have myself. It’s not right to split the surplus fifty-fifty.” And so, not wanting to embarrass his brother, he began that very night to take some flour out of his own barn, and under the cover of darkness, place it in his brother’s barn.
It was about this same time that his brother said to himself: “This arrangement really isn’t fair. I have the blessings of a wife, and children, but my brother has no one.” And so, not wanting to embarrass his brother, he also began to take flour out of his own barn, and under the cover of darkness, place it in his brother’s barn. Each night they did this — always amazed in the morning at the apparent miracle that the level of flour never went down in their respective barns!
Well, one night it happened: they met in the darkness, each carrying a sack of flour. Realizing what had been taking place all along, and overwhelmed by the profound miracle of their love and care for one another, they embraced with tears of joy.
Now, according to the legend, God looked down from heaven and saw the two brothers embracing, and said, “This is a holy place, for I have witnessed extraordinary love here.” And then God blessed that place and it became the location where Solomon built the first temple.2
It’s a story about love. But I think, at a deeper level, it’s also a story about faith. Before the miracle of God’s blessing can take place, each brother must take the first step. In other words, what constitutes faith in this story is not so much a belief about God’s love as a movement toward that love.
And there is that same dynamic quality of movement in this scripture passage. After all, the Jordan River doesn’t stop flowing until the priests have already waded up to their ankles. And that’s the point. Faith means moving toward that which God would have us do, even if it means getting our feet wet.
Here’s the truth that this story can help us to see: there are times when we have a sense of what God wants us to do with our lives but there is a raging river rushing before us, standing between us and where God wants us to be.
We know what God wants us to do, but the task may seem challenging, or risky. We may fair; we may look foolish. Like the Israelite priests, carrying that Ark into the raging waters of the Jordan, this is a test of our faith. Do we trust that God will help us to complete what God has called us to do? Will we discover, when we make that step of faith, that God is already there preparing the way?
There is a story of a missionary returning home to the United States, who had a two-day layover in Germany. It was in the years preceding World War II and it was late December. The man went for a walk to pass the time and came to a Jewish Ghetto. Appalled by the poverty he saw there, he took what money he had and spent it on chocolates – a sort of Christmas present, he figured, for children who had all but forgotten what it was to laugh, or even smile.
When he telephoned home for more money to travel on to America, his superiors couldn’t believe his request.
“You did what?” they said.
“I bought chocolates for the children,” the missionary said. “It’s Christmas after all.”
“But they’re Jewish” replied the voice on the phone. “They don’t celebrate Christmas!”
“Well, I know that,” he insisted, “but they’re still children, and children like chocolate.”
Once more the voice on the phone replied, “For God’s sake, man, they’re not even Christians.”
There was a long pause. And finally the missionary answered, “Yes, but I am.”
You see, part of faith is practicing what we profess despite the risks; sharing the love we’ve been shown regardless of the costs; extending to others the kindness we’ve experienced, even when we’re not certain of the outcome.
It has been said that faith is always better understood as a verb than a noun.5 Faith is not simply a feeling about God, but moving forward with what God has called us to do. Faith is more than a statement of what we believe…faith is also our actions that are informed and guided by our beliefs.
Today we baptize Megan. The parents and sponsors will be asked to raise this child in the Christian faith, to teach her the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments. It’s good to know these, but faith is more than words on paper. Instead faith, as Martin Luther once put it, is “a living and daring confidence in God’s grace.” And, of course, part of living that bold confidence in God’s grace means moving forward with what God has called us to do even when there are risks involved by doing so. It means trusting that the same God who has brought you this far will bring you through whatever else you experience. Who knows, it might even require getting your feet wet!

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About pastorjohnwaseca

ELCA Lutheran Pastor
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