A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sermon (March 24) - "Unbinding Your Soul: Step Over the Line"

Have you ever been on a road trip that you thought would never end? Maybe you had a flat tire or took a wrong turn. Hours, maybe even a day or two were added to the trip time.

The people in the car became impatient. The snacks ran out. Your sister was snarling. You had to peel the back of your legs off the leather seat. You couldn’t wait to get someplace else, anyplace else but in that car.

Forty years. That’s how long Joshua’s road trip was. He and his extended family of Israelites left Egypt hoping for a better life. They had been walking together to a new place to live for forty years. Forty years of being with the same people. Forty years of the same trail mix. Forty years. Are we there yet?

Then, the moment came for Joshua and his family. A chance to move into a new place. An opportunity to live a life he had only dreamed about. A challenge and blessing beyond his imagining.

Joshua and God are looking out on the horizon together. There is the Jordan River. And on the other side of that river is a whole new life for Joshua and his family. All they have to do is cross over the river, just step over the line. And they will enter a whole new world. Looking down at that river, how did Joshua feel? Elated? Relieved? READY? Maybe.

But the text says he was mostly scared. God was about to lead him and all of Israel into a new chapter in their life together. They would receive the blessing of bountiful land. Finally, they could rest from their weary travels and live in peace.

Instead of wandering, they would be settling down. Instead of moving, they would be making a new home. And as much as Joshua and the people had hoped for this, now that it was here, well . . .

They were scared. We know this because in just 9 verses of our Old Testament reading, God has to tell them 3 times to be courageous. God tells them twice that he will be with them. And, God tells them to not be terrified.

Can you imagine? God says, “Here, I have this great life all ready for you!” And they respond with fear?

Seems like no matter how things are going for us where we are, it is scary to leave what we know for a new place. Even if our daily lives are unfulfilling or purposeless we like to stay with what is familiar. So we stick with it. But that’s not what we have to do.

Moments come for us when God says, “I have another option for you. Do you want to trust me?”

Unbinding Your Soul author, Martha Grace Reese writes, “Self-relinquishment is at the heart of (Christian) faith.” Most mature Christians have many moments of this surrender in their lives. Daily surrender keeps us from staying put where we are when we could really be somewhere else with God.

A youth at camp had a Joshua experience. During one of the worship services, she felt this nagging sense that God had something for her to do. It was pervasive enough that she was compelled to go up to one of the adults after worship.

She explained that she felt like God had something for her to do, but she didn’t know what it was. The adult told her that sometimes we need to say ‘yes’ to God before we know what that means. So the youth wrote in her Bible that night: “I say ‘yes’ to you, God. Whatever that means.”

“Be strong and courageous,” God told Joshua. “I will be with you wherever you go.” Today you are invited to say a new “yes” to God.

I have asked Tim Binkley to come and share about a time when he said yes to God.

(Tim Binkley Shares)

Maybe your yes to God sounds similar to the testimony we just heard or maybe it’s more like the experience of the youth at camp who said, “I say ‘yes’ to you, God.  Whatever that means.”

When Joshua and the Israelites were standing on the banks of the river, the Lord was calling them to come to the other side.  They were being called to step over the line.  And because they knew that God was with them, they did, and they finally entered the Promised Land.

Jesus also stepped over the line when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  He knew that he was being called to offer his life by dying on a cross for the sins of the world. Jesus stepped over the line for us.

Today marks the beginning of Holy Week when we relive those final days of Jesus’ life.  We are called to follow him as enters the city of Jerusalem on a donkey, as he goes to the Upper Room on Thursday where he will share a Last Supper and Passover meal with the disciples, and then on Friday through the city streets to a wooden cross just outside of Jerusalem where he will die for our sins. But that’s not the end of our journey because Holy Week will lead us to Easter Sunday and the good news of the empty tomb.

Holy Week is about stepping over the line and taking our faith to a whole new level.  It’s about letting go of the past and moving into the future that God has in mind for us.

This morning, we are invited to come forward to one of the communion stations to receive Holy Communion and remember what Jesus has done for us.  In front of each communion station, you will notice a line that is taped on the floor.  That line is there to symbolize the line that God is calling us to step over so that we might turn from our past and receive all that God is offering us – salvation, new life, forgiveness of sins, hope, encouragement.

Think of this line as your Jordan River. But it is also your place to cross over into more trust in God. Ask God what you need to surrender . . . what you’re afraid of . . . and what might be holding you back. And when you step over that line to receive Holy Communion, may you hear God saying to you, “Be strong and courageous.”

Jesus stepped over the line for us.  What if we step over the line for him?

William Temple was the Arch Bishop of Canterbury in the last century.  In 1931, following a revival service, he led a congregation in the singing of a hymn that is often sung during Holy Week, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”

There are four verses of this hymn and just as the congregation finished the third verse, Arch Bishop Temple stopped them and asked them to read the words of the last verse to themselves.

After he gave them enough time to do this he then said, “Now, if you believe these words with all of your heart, I want you to sing them as loud as you can.  If you don’t believe in them at all, then keep silent.  And if you believe them even just a little and want to believe in them more, then sing them very softly.”

The organ played the last verse and the two thousand people who were in attendance whispered the final verse.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

It is said that the people who were in church that day never forgot that powerful moment.

Let’s sing that hymn together.

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