October 26, 2014

Deuteronomy 34:1-12
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

“Moses or Joshua?”

The words of the psalmist, and some of the songs based on them have been running through my head all week: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God… Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.”

It has been quite a week in our country. Two soldiers were run down by a car, and one of them killed on Monday in Quebec. Another soldier was shot as he stood guard at the War Memorial in Ottawa. A young man who was clearly mentally unstable ran into the Parliament buildings and began to shoot. MPs, journalists, and tourists barricaded themselves in rooms until he could be stopped.

And then we watched and listened to the reaction over the next few days. We saw politicians hugging each other. We heard about bystanders helping and encouraging the injured. There were certainly some words of anger and fear, and the suggestion that this occurrence might change our country in a significant way. But mostly, we heard expressions of courage and determination to stay strong and to stand together. Prayers were being lifted up from every corner of our country, and from every culture and religion, for the loved ones of those who were killed, and for peace and safety for all.

I came across a tweet from the CBC that quoted one of my favourite Presbyterian ministers, Mr. Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood. Mr. Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” And my sense is that many Canadians this week did just that. While many people in the midst of the crisis tried to be the helpers, many of those who told the story did not focus on the terror or the fear or the uncertainty, but they looked for the helpers and told us their stories.

For us, as people of faith, whether we are standing in the midst of the crisis or watching it unfold on TV, our greatest help and strength is our God who has been our dwelling place in all generations. Just think of the refrain that we sang with our responsive reading of Psalm 90 this morning: “O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come. Still be our guard while troubles last and our eternal home.”

When we practiced that refrain on Thursday evening this week, one of the choir members commented that it’s the hymn we so often sing on Remembrance Day. As we remember soldiers, civilians, medics, peacekeepers, and so many people before us who have put themselves in harm’s way to protect the innocent, we place our trust, as they did theirs, in the God who has been our help in ages past and who will be our hope for years to come.

But in order for that to be the case, we have to both embrace the faith of those who have come before us, and we have to do our best to pass it along to those who come after us. This morning’s readings highlighted that theme of passing on the faith from generation to generation. We heard about Moses passing the figurative torch to Joshua as the next leader of the people of Israel, and we heard the reflections of Paul and his colleagues who tried so hard to share the good news with the people of Thessalonica that they were not only sharing the gospel, but they were sharing their own selves with these sisters and brothers who had become so dear to them.

As I was reflecting on these readings earlier this weekend with a group of parish nurses, clergy, and lay pastoral caregivers, I asked them a question, and I’ll invite all of you to consider it this morning as well.

Think about the story of Moses and Joshua today. Moses has been on a long journey through the wilderness, forty years of challenge, guiding and encouraging the people and teaching them God’s ways. Forty years of waiting, and hoping, and walking, trusting that God’s promise would be fulfilled, and the people would eventually find the Promised Land.

But then, finally, looking out over the land God prepared for them, Moses dies, and it’s up to Joshua to take over and lead them into the next part of their journey with God.

And so I ask you to consider today… Are you Moses? Or are you Joshua?

Now, I’m not suggesting that if you are Moses, that you are about to die tomorrow. Nor am I suggesting that you are unequalled in all the land for all the signs and wonders that you have performed.

But perhaps you are like Moses if you’ve been on this journey of faith for a while. You’ve come to know God, and tried day by day to follow Jesus with your life. You’ve probably been through a few challenges along the way. You’ve experienced pain and grief, and some hardships as well. And you’ve discovered… sometimes in the moment, and often as you looked back, that God never left you in those times.

If you are like Moses, you have a sense of purpose in your life, and your goals go beyond your own personal accomplishments and successes, but they have to do with bringing others along with you towards joy and peace and blessing. If you are like Moses then you know that God has an important ministry or mission for you to accomplish, but you also know that it’s not all about you. You know that others have come before you and that others will follow after you, and that God will be present with them too, to guide and direct, challenge and bless them. If you are like Moses, then you will probably get a glimpse of the Promised Land – of the Kingdom of God that God is preparing – but it won’t be up to you to usher it in completely.

If you are like Moses, then you may be working on preparing others to continue where you will one day leave off. You’re concerned not only about having faith, but about sharing it with those who will come after you. You are less worried about how you will be remembered, and more focused on sharing the gift of faith that you received so freely. If you are like Moses, then you will not be able to do everything, but you will do your part for God’s mission and then you will trust it to be accomplished.

But some of you may feel more like Joshua. Perhaps the younger people, especially. But it’s not strictly an age distinction.

Yesterday someone told me about a retreat he attended at which the retreat leader read the same scripture verse every morning – Joshua 1:2 which comes just after the chapter from Deuteronomy that we heard this morning. The Lord speaks to Joshua, Moses’ assistant, and says, “My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites.”

If you are like Joshua, then up until this point, you may have been relying on older, more experienced leaders, and you’ve just been following along. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… As a follower of Jesus, you have been learning and growing, coming to worship, figuring things out, maybe assisting in a few small ways, but leaving the leadership to others who are more experienced, or who look like they’re more gifted, or who seem to have more time.

But if you are like Joshua, then your time is coming soon. If God’s mission for the world is to be fulfilled, if all people are to be reconciled to God, and if peace and unity and love are going to prevail… then God has a part for you to play in bringing about the completion of the Kingdom of God.

The Moseses are going to die. They’re going to be gone, but that’s not going to be the end of God’s mission. It’s going to be up to you Joshuas to carrying the torch and lead the way.

I don’t really know where I fit. Some days I feel like a Moses when I’m teaching about Jesus, or baptizing a child, or training or commissioning someone for a particular ministry. Other days I feel like a Joshua when I’m visiting with a retired minister or elder, when I’m burying a saint of the church, when I hear the faithful stories of times past and consider what may lie ahead for the church. I feel the heavy responsibility of the torch being passed to me and those of my generation. The gospel has been entrusted to us, and we must pass it along with the kind of dedication and commitment that Paul and his colleagues showed when they proclaimed the good news to the Thessalonians.

But whether we feel like Moseses or Joshuas, or perhaps a little like each, we must remember that the Lord has been our dwelling place in all generations. From everlasting to everlasting, the Lord has been and the Lord will be our God. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

As so many leaders shared messages of hope and encouragement this week, the Moderator of the 2014 General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada also wrote a short message and shared it on our national website on Wednesday.

Part of the message from the Rev. Dr. Stephen Farris included this encouragement: “As I write this message, it is reported that Parliament intends to resume the nation’s business today. I applaud this decision. To carry on with what one is called to do is always a proper response to evil. May God enable our legislators to serve well as they do the people’s business.

“As always, it is also time for us in the church to be about our business. Let us be very clear about what that business actually is. It is to follow Jesus. It is to repay no one evil for evil and, so far as it is possible for us, to live peaceably with all people. It is not to be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good, to relieve the needs of the poor, to stand with those who are oppressed and always to point to the hope that lies in the gospel. Doubtless we shall often fail in this task. But it is better to fail in following Jesus than to succeed at anything else.”

Moseses and Joshuas of St. Andrew’s, let us today be determined to be about the business of following Jesus in this place and in this time. Let us place our trust in God who is our refuge and strength, and let us hope in God’s faithfulness to work with us generation after generation until God’s reign of peace and joy and justice is complete. Amen.