FIRST RESPONDERS HONORED AT OUR CHURCH THIS SUNDAY
Sermon for March 18, 2018
Texts: Joshua 1:5-9; Psalm 1:1-3; Romans 10:9-13; Mark 10:13-16
Sermon: "Being Strong and Courageous"
Sammy is a big, handsome man. But it isn't his size or good looks that people admire about him. He is smart, too, a champion athlete and award-winning teacher. No, it is not those things people admire the most about him.
Sammy is strong in faith. Sammy has the courage that comes from trusting that in all things God is in charge of his life.
He is not afraid to let down his big, brawny self to touch a child on the shoulder. He is all too willing to look weak by being strong for someone who is powerless and vulnerable.
One morning I watched him as he noticed a little girl coming into church looking particularly downcast. We all knew she had plenty for which to be sad. But Sammy did not patronize her. He simply said softly to her as she walked to her seat, "That sure is a pretty dress you have on this morning."
The little girl beamed at the attention. With his words, Sammy embraced the little girl, wrapped his arms around her and blessed her with his big, calloused hand and soft, loving heart.
Friends, courage may be one of those things that God gives us at birth, like the gift of music or art; or courage may be one of those things that we have to learn as children from adults who themselves have learned what it means to trust in a God that promises to be with us always.
Despite the shock that it gave his disciples, Jesus took the little children in his arms. He blessed them. He set them apart as those in the crowd who needed his special attention because in the time of Jesus, as in our own time, it was not easy to be a child.
Are we giving our children ample opportunity to learn about how to be strong and courageous through the power and presence of Jesus Christ?
Today we have as our guests some neighbors who know something about courage. They may not be able to put it into words. But they know what it means to put on a uniform and take an oath to protect their fellow citizens.
They know that one day at a moment's notice they may have to go into a dark and scary place to save a vulnerable child; they might have to risk their own life to save lives in a violent disagreement between people they don't even know. They might have to go into a flaming building because one child is still inside or one elderly person who cannot walk on her own.
They know that what they do could come right down to life or death -- their own or that of someone else they vowed to protect.
They know a lot about what it means to be strong and to be courageous. I wonder who taught them how to be strong and courageous. I wonder if they learned it when they were children, when some caring adult gave them the gift of courage by teaching them about trusting God.
We see Joshua at this pivotal point in his life, Joshua who grew to manhood in the wilderness, who as a child knew what it meant to want better food and fresher water, who was tired of wandering and longed for a home that could be a real home for a while.
Here is Joshua, now the leader of the Israelites, poised on the banks of the Jordan River. Moses, his mentor, is dead. Aaron, another mentor, is dead. Miriam, perhaps a mother figure to him, is dead. Joshua has been chosen by God to lead the people at last across the river to the Promised Land.
How do you think it felt to be Joshua on that day at the Jordan River? I think you know. And I know that God knew. God knew and God knew what to say. He coached Joshua and encouraged him and made a promise that only God can make: I will be with you wherever you go, God said.
The Bible is filled with God's promises. They are true; they are the truth;. Are we teaching these promises to our children, to all the children in our community?
God promised Moses that he would be with him and guide him through the forty years Moses led the Israelites through the wilderness. And when it was time for the next generation of leadership, God said to Joshua -- "As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail nor forsake you."
And God commanded Joshua: "Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."
What might those words mean to a child who believed them? What kind of life changing event would it be for a child to accept that truth about God -- God's promises, God's presence, God's love that is eternal, from eternity to eternity.
Throughout the Old Testament are stories of God's love, mercy, forgiveness, redemption, and salvation. And then there is God's gift to us in Jesus Christ, the one who came to show us God's face and God's character, God who came to comfort and heal us, encourage us and equip us for discipleship, and gather us together as those called and sent to share the promises with others.
At the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says to the disciples before leaving them: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, 'I am with you always, to the end of the age.'" (Matthew 28:18-20)
I am with you, he says. I am with you. It is the promise of God to Joshua. It is the promise of Jesus to us, to us who are growing old, to us who are just starting our adult lives, to us who are little children who need to know that Jesus loves them and cares for them.
That is the promise at the heart of the Bible. It is the promise at the heart of our relationship with our Holy God -- the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God in three persons, the trinitarian God who is Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. That is the gospel: I am with you.
"I am with you forever, even to the end of time." Jesus promises that we have only to seek him. He will be there.
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be discouraged or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."
Three times in the few verses we read from Joshua this morning, God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous. But the third time, God commands Joshua: I command you, God says. I command you to be strong and courageous.
And as if in response to that command, Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John that he has a new commandment for us: "This is my commandment," Jesus says. "Love one another as I have loved you."
Strength and courage without love might be empty and meaningless.
I have often wondered whether a person can possess true courage without having faith in God. What do you think? What would that courage be based upon if not upon faith that God is in charge, that God will guide the hands and the feet of the one who goes into the dark places to do the work of compassion and love that Jesus calls us to do -- the kind of work our guest heroes are trained to do and called on to do throughout their career.
I wonder if God does not have a hand in the courage shown by children who are suffering neglect, abuse, bullying by their peers. It must be hard sometimes to believe that Jesus loves them; but we must make sure they know that promise and understand its importance in their lives.
The gospel is demanding. But for each demand and each command there is a promise. I am with you. And I will be with you always. I will be there to help you.
A church teacher tells the story of when his sons were small and the family had been on a camping trip. Before the evening meal on the first day, he went with the boys to the camp restroom to wash up for the meal.
He says, "After we had washed our hands, I reached up to the towel dispenser to get a paper towel for each of the boys, but the younger son protested loudly: 'I can do it myself.' Since he was short and the towel dispenser was high, I puzzled what would happen next until he made it clear: 'Come on, Daddy, lift me up so I can do it myself.'"
I can do it myself. We know better -- we, too, first need one to lift us up.
We can reach higher and better with the strong arms of the Lord to lift us up. And he has promised. He will be there to uphold us. I the Lord your God am with you always.
Take a child in your arms today and teach the child that promise. Show the child what it means to trust in God's promises by how you live your life with courage and strength that come from your faith that God will always be there for you.
Thanks be to God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to whom all honor and glory be now and forever. Amen.