Times of Transition

Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church 

March 6, 2016

Joshua 5:8-12

  Our passage today comes at the point when Israel has entered the Promised Land.    It’s a time when Israel recalls who they are and to whom they belong.  It’s a transition, an occasion for religious rituals and feasts.  The fifth chapter of Joshua begins with the circumcision of the men, resuming a practice that had not happened during the wilderness.  Then they celebrate Passover.

Interestingly, there are six major Passover celebrations in the Hebrew Scriptures.  The first is in Egypt, right before they left.  The second is a year later, at Sinai, with the giving of the law.  This is the third celebration.  The fourth and fifth celebrations come with King Hezekiah and Josiah as they try to reform Israel.  The sixth celebration is at the rebuilding of the temple after the Babylonian exile.  Each of these events marks a significant point in Israel’s history.[1]  If you want to play with numbers, the number seven in Scripture is holy.  The seventh Passover could be inferred to be Jesus’ Passover, his sacrificial death as we recall with the Lord’s Supper which we’ll celebrate this morning.

As I’ve said, our morning text comes at a time of transition, the ending of the Exodus and the entry into the Promised Land. There will be no turning back.  God has led them this far, now they are having to do something for themselves. The manna from heaven has come to an end.  The must focus on the future into which God is calling them.  Read Joshua 5:8-12

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All of us go through transitions—as individuals and as communities.   One day we’re happy in school and the next we’re working 9 to 5 (or 11 to 7 in my case, for when I finished college I went straight onto the night shift).  One day we’re enjoying the fruits of our mom’s table and the next we’re eating burnt toast and running eggs prepared with our own hands.  One day we’re going to work and the next we’re retired and trying to figure it out.  One day I’m fit and healthy and the next I snap my quad tendon.  Life is full of changes: always has been, always will be.

The Hebrew people are going through a significant transition.  After 400 years of slavery and 40 years of wandering in the desert, they have finally entered the land promised to Abraham and his descendants.  Now that they’ve come home, two things happen.  They are weaned from God’s daily providence of substance and one again required, as we’re told in the third chapter of Genesis, to make a living from the sweat of their brow.[2]  The second change is that they are able to freely institute religious rituals without being harassed by their masters or prohibited from doing due to their wandering in the desert.  This transition is marked by the reinstitution of circumcision and the celebration of Passover.

Today, the church in America and the Western World is facing changes.  We are having to relearn what it means to be a follower of Jesus in a new and radically different world from which we’ve known.  We have to learn how to share Jesus in a new way that will reach a new generation that approaches life differently than us.  We, too, are facing transitions.

You remember, I’m sure, the story of how Israel got to where she’s at in our reading.  After the Hebrew people were free from slavery, having crossed through the sea that closed up and drowned the pursing Egyptian army, they realized they were in a precarious position.  Yes, they’re free, but how are they to feed a nation in a barren wilderness?  Food’s scarce.  In Egypt they’d filled their stomach on grains and meat but in the desert, the pickings are slim.  There aren’t that many mountain goats and fried cactus for dinner doesn’t go over very well.  There’s this small problem of having toothpicks hidden in the entrée.

But God isn’t going to lose his redeemed people, those who had been purchased for a price in Egypt, so he provides for their nourishment.  There is this bread like substance called manna that falls upon the ground from the heavens.   In the mornings they gather enough for that day, but if they try to hoard any extra, it spoils.  It’s not a commodity to be saved and traded with others.  The only day they can “collect” an extra measure is the day before the Sabbath, when they need enough for two days.[3]

It doesn’t take them long to get tired of eating only manna, so God provides quails for meat.[4]  And so, for forty years, their diet consisted of manna and quail, provided through an ultra-efficient food delivery system, fresh right outside their tents every morning.  Life isn’t hard and they get used to it.

But all good things must come to an end and so it is with the manna and quail.   Upon entering the Promised Land, the Hebrew people hold a Passover feast and from then on work for their daily bread.  God’s ultimate welfare system is replaced and everyone is required to follow a plow or chop weeds.  God provides, but God also wants us to grow to where we can take responsibility and do our part in working within creation.

I’m sure some of you have read Erich Fromm’s, The Art of Loving.  The book may sound somewhat risqué, but I assure you that it’s not a how-to manual of what should happen in the bedroom.  It’s a philosophical treatise on “love.”  Fromm draws from scripture as he writes about “motherly love.”  God creates the world and humanity.  Within the world God provides our basic needs, but God goes further and declares, “It is good.”  This corresponds with “motherly love” by providing for our needs and helping us to experience the joy of life.  With the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey, we have additional signs of motherly love—milk to nourish and honey to remind us of the sweetness of life.  Yet, motherly love is built on inequality.  The infant child is totally dependent on the mother.  Motherly love has to grow and change as the child grows.  If the child is to become a completely separate human being and able to express love to others, the mother can’t continue to provide for all of his or her needs.  In addition to motherly love, Fromm speaks of brotherly and erotic love which, unlike motherly love, exists in its finest form between equals.[5]

God provided for the Israelites in the wilderness in a very special way.  But the free food wasn’t to continue.  For once God provides them with a homeland, they’re required to participate with God as co-creators as they toil to raise their food.  Of course, God doesn’t lead them into the land and abandon them, just as God doesn’t abandon us.  God remains at their side.  Having protected and provided for them during the wilderness, they can now fulfill the role which God had destined for them.

God desires that we mature, that we get to a point that we can be responsible and take care of ourselves and fully participate with him in the role assigned to us.  When God carries us, as he did with the Hebrew children in the Exodus, we learn we are to depend on God.  When God leads us to a new place where we can be productive, we shouldn’t forget that lesson but instead give God thanks for giving us the means to take care of ourselves.

Those of us here at Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church have seen evidence of God providing and being with us.   We have this wonderful facility upon which there is no debt!  This place provides a home for a Christian preschool, the only one on the island and currently it is filled.  We need to do something about that. Right now, there are no open slots in any of the classrooms!  We also provide a home for the Boy Scouts, and I hope some of you picked up a Boston Butt that they smoked this weekend.  Because we are debt-free, we are able to contribute generously in our mission giving and a group from our church has just come back from a hands-on mission in Guatemala.  I hope you have had a chance to read our annual report so that you could see for yourself some of the exciting things happening at SIPC.

But God doesn’t call us to rest upon our laurels.  How might we use what God has given us to continue being a partner with God as we carry out His mission in our community?  We’re fast approaching the Easter season, a time of rebirth that occurs during the spring when the flowers are in bloom and the trees are budding out.  Pray that we, as a congregation, might also experience a rebirth.  Pray that we might enjoy a revival in our community as we bring people to Christ and then send them out into the world to make it a better place.  Our calling is to drawn in people to where they experience Christ, then to send them out to participate in God’s on-going mission.

In a few moments, God will nourish us in this table.  What does God nourish us to do?  At the table, we’re to be filled with the Spirit as we are reminded of Christ’s presence in our lives that gives us the power to live in this world.  This table is a reminder that we inherit blessings from the past, but we live our blessings into the future.  Amen.

 

 

©2016

[1] E. John Hamlin, Joshua: Inheriting the Land (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 36-37.  Text for the other five celebrations in the Old Testament:  Exodus 12:27-29, Numbers 9:5, 2 Chronicles 30, 2 Kings 23:21-23, Ezra 6:19-20

[2] Genesis 3:19.

[3] See Exodus 16 and Numbers 11.

[4] Exodus 16:13 and Numbers 11:31

[5] Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving (1956, Harper&Row, Perennial Library, 1974), 41-44.


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