July 16, 2023
• Rev. Dr. Jevon Caldwell-Gross
[How do we fill the empty spaces in our lives? We’ve tried to answer that question in this sermon series by by looking at different spiritual practices like paying attention or rest and restoration. Todays spiritual practice takes us to Joshua 3.
The Israelites had been in the desert for 40 years. Their lives are in a much needed transition. Think about it. Joshua has just been assigned as their new leader after the death of Moses. They were on the edge of moving into the promised land. They were a nomadic, wandering people moving into a permanent living situation. However, this wasn’t something that just happens overnight. It took them 40 years to evolve into who God needed them to be. They needed this experience. They needed time to learn, grow, figure out who they were, and how to live as Gods people. But now it was time. It was time for them to keep moving. They had squeezed every ounce of what they needed from their wilderness experience. After 40 years they got what they needed.
Let’s be honest, the wilderness was never supposed to sustain them forever. Were they supposed to eat Manna for the rest of their lives? Considering who they were and where God was leading them, they could not stay in wilderness. That is the story of faith that’s often hard to grasp my friends. Considering who you are and you can’t stay in one place too long. (Slide)
This is not a geographical indictment. I’m not saying quit your job or get a different spouse. Nope! What I am saying is that being parched doesn’t just refer to a depletion of energy but when your cup has been at the same place for long time. For some people when they are stuck they might as well be depleted. They feel exactly the same. The needle hasn’t moved. It’s what happens when couples stop growing. It’s what happens when our faith doesn’t evolve. It’s what happens we get professionally predictable. Are their areas of your life or faith where you feel stuck? (Slide) Where have you stopped growing? Where have you stopped learning? Does it feel like you are in the Same place year after year? Nothing more to learn. Been there done that? Switched to autopilot. And let me just say this, it’s a not a bad place, it’s just maybe you’ve squeezed everything you could out of what God needed needed you to experience. Maybe what was supposed to sustain and feed you and fuel you in one season won’t sustain in the next.
Think of it like this. It’s why the Bible often used the analogy of sheep and shepherds to describe our relationship with God. Because naturally sheep were prone to overgrazing. They would eat from the same pasture day in and day out until there was no more to be had. Ironically, what was once a place of nourishment became a site of starvation. So the role of the sheep was to consistently lead them to places that could sustain them.
So God’s answer to some seasons of being parched and stuck is an invitation to explore new things. Explore new pastures. It’s God way of moving us from a place of comfort. Away from what we know. Joshua tells the people to get ready to move out tomorrow and place the ark of the covenant as a signal and sign of Gods leading because “ they have not gone this way before.” This is going to be new to them. They haven’t grazed in this pasture previously. But if this is going to work,there has to be a part of them that’s curious about tomorrow is going to bring. There has to be something inside of them that’s still curious about who they can become and what God will do. After 40 years of being in one place, they are still curious…
It leads me to believe that Faith always requires a healthy level of curiosity (slide). Curiosity makes people wonder. It makes people ask questions. Curiosity made Abraham tell his family they were moving to land God would show them because he curious. The disciples were minding their business but were willing to drop everything and follow this carpenter because they curious about about what he could make them into. Curiosity moved people. Curiosity helped people answer the call the God had on their lives. It’s why we were able to do and see certain things in our lives. We were curious! But often, somewhere along the way, something kills our curiosity. We approach situations…We approach people….We approach the most important things in our lives as though we don’t any more to learn.
One of my favorite TV shows recently has been Ted Lasso. It’s the story about an American football coach hired to coach a soccer team in London. He was set up to fail but wins the hearts of everyone through his humor and timely wisdom. In this one clip we are about to show you, he’s playing darts with Rupert, the former owner of the team who's been hovering over the team and his ex wife who now runs the club. So they make a bet that that if Ted wins, Rupert longer comes into the club house. If Rupert wins he gets to chose the line of Ted’s soccer teams for the next two games. And the game that Rupert wants to play is darts because surely Ted doesn’t anything about darts. Take a look. (Video)
I think many of our problems in the world stem from the belief that we think we know everything about everybody. We stop being curious. We stop being curious about other people. We stop being curious in our relationships. We stop being curious about our faith. It’s why we end up parched. We would rather graze in the barren fields of assumptions rather than remain open to new experiences.
So I think God invites us to new experiences and is the one leading us to remind us we don’t have it all figured out all of the time. Let that sink in. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You don’t have have all the pieces together. You don’t have to know how it ends or how something is going to work out.
Because they haven’t gone this way before, it pushing them away from certainty to a place of curiosity. Where your curiosity dried up? (Slide ) Maybe our prayer in this season is for God to revive our curiosity. To revive the wonder and the excitement about what God wants do with our lives. To spark the need to for each of us to side the need to know everything and the willingness to be curious. Try something new. When was the last time you tried different worship service? Read a different author. Try a new food. Be curious. Be curious again about your faith. Be curious with the people God has placed in your life. Be curious…
Here’s why you hav a to remain curious and develop the habit of trying new things. This is not a love for shining new objects. It’s not just a need to move on to search for the next thing. That’s not the reason. Joshua tells them that you haven’t gone this way before. This will new for all of them. We are all going to try something together and here’s what going to happen, tomorrow the Lord will do some amazing things. That’s it right there! There’s a tension between the acknowledgment of a new experience and the affirmation of Gods amazing activity.
It often feel like the two experiences cant happen together. As if to suggest, I can only experience God amazing activity if I stick to what I know. If I stick with the people I know… but contrary to popular belief there are seasons where we experiences the “amazingness” when we develop the regular practice of trying something new. It give me the discipline of depending on God. It gives me the practice of releasing control and placing my trust in God. And it allows me to experience God, to experience myself, and even experience others in new ways. Everybody wants to experience amazing but are you willing to learn something new? Are you willing to allow God to expose you to different life experiences?
This means that in order to experience the fullness of God and even getting unstuck you may have say one of the hardest words that people have ever said to God. A lot of people struggle with the word. Some people will never progress until they learn how to say it. Some people have to say it with tears in the eyes. Some people have to say it kicking and screaming. Your faith can not exist without the proper use of this word… and the word is yes. It’s not just a verbal response but yes with our actions. The invitation was for them to show up the next day ready to cross a River with extreme difficulty to travel where they had never gone before. This means that that there will be times you will have say to things you would traditionally say no to. I’ve come to realize that one of most difficult aspects of this faith journey is saying, “yes.”
I mentioned this a few years ago, but I think it’s worth mentioning again. It’s one of those things that have along shelf life. Do you remember this book (slide). It was written by shonda rhymes. She’s the writer of some of the lost popular shows on television. From Greys anatomy, How to get away with murder, to Bridgerton. She talks about how her life dramatically changed when she committed an entire year to saying yes to invitations and opportunities she always rejected.
All I’m saying is that there are some experiences that will remained locked away until you say yes. You’ll never see until you say yes. Your cup will remain stuck, remain stagnant, remain parched until we say yes. Maybe this is a season of yes for you. I know it’s scary. I know it’s difficult. I know you’ve never gone this way before, but the good news is that tomorrow God will do some amazing things… If you say yes.
But I know it’s easier sad than done. It’s new. Its challenging. What Joshua is asking them to do is not a walk in the park. Which is a reminder that God never said it was gong to be easy.. Faith does not always come with easy answers. Being fulfilled doesn’t always come easy. Getting what we need to be sustained and nourished isn’t always accompanied by easy paths and easy decisions. This was not going to be simply packing up their things and walking across a peaceful stream of water up their ankles.
With curiosity comes a certain level of anxiety. They were about enter into new territory, with new battles, new customs, new routines, new ways of living. They had not passed this way before. What if it doesn’t work? What they drown? What if come this far and fail?
And right there is where most people stop. It’s why we never try anything new. We would rather starve in familiar places rather than risk the possibilities of what could and could not happen with new experiences
Underneath all of that is a fear of failure. What if we aren’t as good. What if doesn’t work out? What if we have regrets? What’s going to happen when we get into the River? What if the current is stock strong? What will happen with all of our things? Sometimes we can talk ourselves out of the very things we’ve prayed for and what Gid wants us to experience. But your curiosity of what God can do has to be greater than the fear of failing.
I have a confession to make. I’m ashamed to say it. And I promise this is my second to last story about the vacation. What do you notice about this picture. (Slide) how many people do you see in life jackets? Look at happy we all look. Now looks at this picture. (Slide). What do you notice? There are a few people missing. I’m not there. I’m on the sideline taking the picture!
Before I tell you something you need know that as a little kid I almost drowned. I don’t know where I was. I just remember falling into a body of water with a current and my dad coming in to save me. My body remembers this trauma so I have small fear around water. So now that have that context…,
The instructor told us/ or them we went snorkeling, the depth of water went from 15 feet to 50 ft to about a hundred feet. But he said if we weren’t strong swimmers to just stay by the boat. So I put the life jacket on. I went into the ocean. However I can’t swim! And let’s just say, I was noticeably uncomfortable and went back out in the boat to take pictures. I was so upset with myself that I as soon as I got back I started looking at at adult swimming classes. I am determined to get it! Because i don’t want to keep missing out! They talked about all the fish they saw. They talked about how beautiful the ocean was. And all I could was stay on the sideline.
I was embarrassed. I was upset thinking about all of the things I had.
missed out on because I was on the sidelines. But I was reminded of the number of people that will never even try. There are slot of people You might fail. It might not work out. It might not turn out how you expect it. You might have to get back in the bait and try again later. But sometimes the first step of getting unstuck and learning something new is trying. Even if your arms are flailing and it doesn’t look graceful, do it anyway. God can bring us to the edge of many things, but trying is up to you. There are some experiences we will always miss if we don’t at least try. Don’t think about what will happen if you try, think about all of that amazing things that you’ll never experience if you don’t.