Sunday, October 11, 2020 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
What stories will we tell about 2020? How will we narrate our experiences of this extremely stressful year? Social media has used a bit of humor to manage each new horrible headline and event—“So who had murder hornets on their 2020 bingo card? Who had square dancing hurricanes in the Gulf?” There is also a mock-up of the Time Magazine “Person of the Year” cover that features the guy who plays “Chaos” for those insurance commercials. It certainly feels like chaos is in charge this year. But in all seriousness, where will our focus rest as we tell the stories of 2020? These are actually really important questions because how we narrate our lives and the experiences we have in the world shapes how we live. Do we only tell stories of pan and loss and struggle and darkness? Do we only focus on scarcity and absence and despair? Or are we able to also tell stories of perseverance and love and moments of healing and glimpses of light? Can we turn our focus to abundance and presence and hope? Do we only tell stories of HUMAN success and failure? Or can we proclaim stories of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness in the midst of all that is happening around us? Do we narrate our lives remembering how God has met us again and again and again, in large and small ways, and helped us find a way forward when there seemed no way at all?
In our scripture reading this week we have jumped forward by a big leap. We went from Mt. Sinai in last week’s reading, where the people are camped to receive the gift of the Law, to a settled people, in the Promised Land, living and prospering. We jumped from Moses coming down the mountain with the tablets of the Ten Commandments to the leadership of Joshua. Our reading today is Joshua’s farewell speech as the end of his life approaches. This is a critical moment. The generation of people who were led out of the wilderness and began life in the Promised Land are passing away. What and how will they remember their history? What will they carry forward? Moses faced this same dilemma at the end of his life, which we actually will hear in a few weeks (we just keep jumping around). Moses stood with the people at the edge of the Promised Land, about to hand leadership to Joshua. The people before him were a new generation, never slaves in the land of Egypt. What and how they remembered, the stories they would tell one another, and to the next generation and beyond, would guide their behaviors, set their priorities, focus their hearts and minds and souls, and change how they lived. Moses and Joshua, as their appointed leaders, knew they had to start the narrative and focus the hearts of the people.
“Thus says the Lord!” Joshua begins. Joshua has gathered all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He pulls forward the leaders of the people, the ones who will continue his work after he is gone. He puts them down front (so he can make good eye contact). And then, Joshua tells the story. He does NOT tell the story of what Moses did, or what Aaron did. He does NOT tell the story of everything the people of Israel did and experiences. He did NOT focus on human struggle and human achievement, those these things are certainly within these stories. No, Joshua tells the wondrous story of their God…OUR God…who was ALWAYS present, full of promise, acting with and for the people time and time again. He tells the story of a God who was always making a way forward, always creating a way out of no way. “Remember,” Joshua speaks God’s word, “Remember!” God took Abraham, led Abraham, for barrenness and hopelessness to a future with land and family. Where all the world saw scarcity, God created abundance. Remember! God rescued God’s people from Egypt. God sent Moses and Aaron. God opened the waters and created the impossible road forward. God brought the people out of the wilderness and gave the people a land, a land flowing with milk and honey—an abundant land. Look around! See all this beauty! See this sign of God’s love and presence! This is all pure gift!
(There are parts of this story that are very painful and deeply disturbing. Portions of this story deeply disturb us and well they should. We need to take time and make space to discuss the conquering of the Amorites—the Caananites—and the destruction this story sanctioned. This portion of the story and its telling drives home the importance of the ways we narrate and the living and guidance it creates. Too many times these stories have been treated as literal history and sanctions for destructive behavior. As I have pointed out in weeks past, these are histories of identity, designed to focus the people’s attention on the God who provides, the God they can rely on. Though we don’t have time to wrestle with the violence in this story today, let us acknowledge that much of the violence we encounter in today’s world finds its roots in how these stories are told and embraced.)
How do we tell our stories?! Who, what, and most importantly, how do we remember? Can we tell the stories of God’s actions, God’s presence, God’s abundance in our lives? When we look around, do we see OUR stuff, OUR possessions, the work of OUR hands…or do we see pure gift—resources, time, talent—entrusted into our care?
Let us take time each day to ask some critical questions, urgent meditations. Where have you seen God today? Where have you experienced God’s presence today? This week? This Autumn? How has God acted in your life? Through friends, family…strangers? Through nature? Through community? Where did you glimpses of grace sustain you in the midst of this pandemic and isolation, in the midst of worry and fear? Where did God’s presence and promise help you find hope when the headlines screamed of racial violence, political turmoil, hurricanes and wildfires? We need to tell our stories! We need to share them with others! What is that saying, “These are the fabric of our lives.” Our stories shape who we are…whose we are. These stories give hope to those who are wrestling with scarcity and absence and despair. I would LOVE to hear your stories! Send them to me! Let me share them with others! Send an email, make a video, create some art, write a poem, narrative a photograph, be creative!
This is part of the resurrection proclamation that Jesus calls us to make, an echo of Mary Magdalene on Easter morning, “I have seen the Lord!” I HAVE seen the Lord! I saw God this morning in the sunrise, in the joy of two small dogs on their morning walk. I heard God’s voice in the birdsong erupting from a densely leafed tree, in the sound on Friday evening of the accordion being played from a neighbors porch, in the giggles of a child in the stroller. God made a way forward through difficult days through the smiles of staff and church leaders, in the little gifts and notes sent in and left on the porch, in loving emails. God stood against the tide of violence and pain in the ringing voices of protest and marches, in the firm and steady guidance of medical experts, in disaster relief workers offering care on the ground after the storm, in the firefighters on the frontlines of the wildfires. God IS making a way forward! God is making a way out of no way! God calls us to join in the work, to tell our stories of Abundance, or Presence, or Hope!
Let us pray:
God of love and God of power,
grant us in this burning hour,
grace to ask these gifts of thee,
daring hearts and spirits free.
God of love and God of power,
Thou hast called us for this hour! Amen!
(#578 United Methodist Hymnal-“God of Love and God of Power, verse 1)