in the Jordan, the water flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap Joshua 7:13 (NIV)
THE NATION FINDS COURAGE
Over the past few weeks we followed the people of Israel as they made their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. Last week, Moses, the one who led them during the forty years in the wilderness, died and went to be with God. A new leader took over in the person of Joshua. These were two very different leaders. Moses was like the Prime Minister who made sure that everything was governed properly. But Joshua is the soldier. It will be under his leadership that the people of Israel conquer the Promised Land and make it theirs by claiming the promise that God had made years earlier with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
And so once more they stand at a crossroads. They are moving into a new stage in the life of the nation. Up until now, they have avoided conflict. When they were challenged by other nations, they had always turned away. But now they are being called to move forward to conquer the land that is before them just across the Jordan River. What are they going to do?
This is an interesting passage to consider as we worship today on Remembrance Sunday. Remembrance Sunday, by the way, is always the Sunday before Remembrance Day unless, of course, Remembrance Day falls on a Sunday, in which case they are the same day. On this day, we remember those who sacrificed themselves – sometimes giving up their own lives – so that we can live and and worship in freedom.
Like Israel, there have been times when we, as a nation, have been called to cross the river and enter the fray. That has happened many times in this country. During the War of 1812-14 our ancestors fought off and defeated American aggression. Many significant battles from that war were fought right here in Essex County. And then our ancestors travelled west to put down the North West Rebellions. At the end of the 19th century, we turned our attention to the Boer War in South Africa. And then it was on to WW1 and WW2. Korea followed shortly thereafter. Everyone my age remembers what happened next. It was the Cold War as the world’s superpowers pointed nuclear weapons at each other. During this same time period, Canada led the way when it came to peacekeeping in various parts of the world. With the fall of the Soviet Union came a brief peace and then we were into the Gulf Wars. Most recently, after the terrorist attacks of 9-11 Canadians fought in Afghanistan which from 2001 to 2014 was the longest continuous conflict in the history of this nation.
Canadians have a reputation around the world as being a peaceful people and I think there is some truth there. But we’ve also never been shy to enter the fray when our rights and freedoms – or those of any other people – are threatened. While we are a peaceful people we have also shown ourselves to be a nation of warriors. And our success at warfare has been recognized by our allies and enemies alike.
But before entering any of the conflicts in the past, we as a people, have also always thought long and hard before sending our soldiers, sailors and airmen into harm’s way. That is as it should be. Nations should never enter conflicts just for the fun of it; the stakes are far too high. Lives will be lost, families left to grieve, entire communities devastated. There is a cost to war. There is always a cost to war, usually paid in the blood of some of our brightest and best. And we must know that the fight is worth the sacrifice.
As the people of Israel stand on the shores of the Jordan River looking across at the Promised Land, they know that there is a military conflict before them. If they engage in this campaign, sons and daughters will die. Families will grieve and the nation will mourn. They must have wondered if the cost would be worth it. They no doubt hesitated wondering if it was the right thing to do.
There are, of course, two problems. First of all, how are they even going to get there? Between them and the Promised Land is the Jordan River and, as we will later learn in Joshua 3:15, this is the flood season. This often quiet meandering river is bursting its seams in a rushing tidal wave of water. How are they ever going to get over it?
That’s the first problem. The second one goes back decades. It has to do with the giants who inhabit the land. Remember that Israel was called to conquer the Promised Land thirty-nine years earlier but refused to because of the scouts’ reports of giants in the land. The people were afraid of the giants and so turned back from doing what God had called them to do. And so here they are again. What will they do? The giants are still there.
TAKING THE FIRST STEP
God, being aware of their anxiety, acts in Joshua 3:7-8 (NIV) which says, “And the LORD said to Joshua, ‘Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant, “When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.”‘”
God understands the anxiety of the people and in response gives them a sign that this campaign into the Promised Land will be successful. All God asks them to do is to take a first step. “Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant to go and stand in the waters of the Jordan.” That’s it. That’s all God asks them to do. Take that very first step into the water. He doesn’t tell them why. That will come later. But before anything else happens they have to find the courage to take that first step.
As a nation, we have stood in that same place wondering whether or not we had the courage to take that first step. The problem with a first step is that it starts a journey and when we are talking about a possible journey into war, we don’t know how it will end up.
That is a decision that Canadians have made many times. In the past hundred years we have taken those first steps into Europe, not once but twice. During WWII we also stepped into Asia and Africa. And then we stepped into Korea. And later, we stepped into peacekeeping roles in Germany, Cyprus, The Golan Heights, Bosnia and the former Czechoslovakia. More recently, we have stepped into two Gulf Wars and finally Afghanistan. In the near future, we may be stepping into Latvia which appears to be our next mission. But as a nation, we have always made those steps tentatively and judiciously, as well we should.
Not only have we made those first steps as a nation, individual Canadians have also taken those first steps. My grandfather, as a sixteen year old, lied about his age when he stepped into the recruiting office in 1899 and found himself in South Africa fighting the Boers. My father stepped into the recruiting office in Hamilton in 1941 and found himself in Halifax in the navy. I did the same thing in 1984 and those first steps began a thirty one year journey that took me places I never dreamed of going and allowed me to have some experiences that changed my life, sometimes for the best, sometimes not so much. I now have three children who have also made their first steps into military service. John is now a sergeant with the Governor General Horse Guards. Andrew was a corporal when he had to release because family, work and education left him without enough time to continue. Rebekah is the newest Gilliland to take those first steps into military life and is a brand new recruit with the Windsor Regiment as a bandsman.
The neat thing about my family’s story is that it is echoed in countless other families throughout this great nation. Every day, young men and women venture into recruiting offices across the country to consider signing on the dotted line and giving the crown a blank cheque that includes everything up to and including their lives. That’s a very humbling thought but it all begins with that first step.
God invites the people of Israel to trust him enough to take those first steps into the Jordan River. It is one step toward the Promised Land. It is also one step toward the giants. But what would happen next?
GOD OFFERS A PLAN
We learn about that in Joshua 3:12-13 (NIV) where Joshua says to the Israelites: “Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. And as soon the priests who carry the ark of the LORD – the LORD of all creation – set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut of and the stand up in a heap.”
Now we know what to expect. Joshua tells the people that when the priests step into the raging river, its waters will stop flowing and heap up upstream. This sounds impossible and yet it is what they are called to do.
But then again, in times of conflict, the odds often seemed stacked against us. The amazing thing about Canada’s soldiers, sailors and airmen is that time and time again, they have chosen to step up despite the odds that were stacked against them.
This community still remembers Dieppe. As far as we know there is only on Essex Scottish Regiment veteran left from Dieppe. His name is Everett Maracle and we didn’t knew he existed until just this past summer. But on the morning August 19, 1942, he was one of 553 young men who landed on Red Beach. Their task seemed impossible and yet when ordered they left the relative safety of the landing craft and ran into the heavy enemy fire that awaited them. We all know the results of that day. Only fifty-one men made it back to England, the rest being killed or captured.
In the aftermath of the battle, everyone realized that the battle was lost before it had ever started. The odds were just too stacked against the raiders. But we also know that the lessons learned in that raid had a significant influence on the success of D Day two years later.
But the amazing thing is that despite the odds against them, those men of the Essex Scottish and the other Regiments stormed ahead. Civilians sometimes have trouble understanding that but soldiers get it. It’s not that they can even put it into words but they get it and they understand. The odds, you see, don’t make any difference. It’s the objective that is important and the bigger picture of Dieppe was the freedom of Europe against the Nazis. That was their incentive, to free the world from oppression.
THE PEOPLE CROSS TO FACE THE GIANTS
The objective of the Israelites was the conquest of the Promised Land. We discover how that began in Joshua 3:14-17 (NIV) which says, “So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.”
The people heard the message and they decided to follow and once again God demonstrated that he can be trusted. Everything happened just as he said. As soon as the priests carrying the ark stepped into the water the Jordan River stopped flowing and the people crossed on dry ground.
God has just solved their first problem. The barrier has been breached. They have crossed the Jordan but there is still the problem of the giants. The people must still face them for they are still in the land and must still be defeated. What we discover in the rest of the book of Joshua is just how the Israelites managed to drive out nations larger and more powerful than they despite the continued odds against them. Eventually, the land that God promised through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was theirs.
Our Canadian military personnel still struggle with the same types of things that soldiers have wrestled with throughout the ages. There are still barriers to be crossed and giants to be defeated. Where our military personnel end up next is anyone’s guess but there’s a good chance that it will be Latvia.
But wherever they go, let us
continue to support and pray for them as they put their lives on the line to
protest our home and native land and defend the cause of freedom and justice
wherever they may be.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy God, your ways are not our ways and your thoughts are not our thoughts. You look towards a higher vision and purpose. We often struggle to understand your path for us. When we are unsure of the way, enable us to walk in the confidence of faith. Help us to trust in you for you are trustworthy in all things. Strengthen us by your Spirit that we may touch others for the cause of Christ.
We come to you this day with thanks in our hearts. We give thanks for the men, women and, sometimes, children who gave of themselves and their lives for the cause of freedom, justice and peace.
We offer our thanks for those who died for us. We also pray for those who survived the wars of the past but are still haunted by the images of what they experienced. We pray for comfort and healing for all.
We, also, lift up in prayer the many millions who are living in war torn regions even today. The world is full of refugees, people fleeing political and social violence. The world is full of needless hunger, caused by the greed and power of a few.
In the midst of so much suffering, we find the veterans, the soldiers and peacemakers who put their lives on the line in the hopes of saving innocent people and ending the unnecessary bloodshed. We remember the Canadian military personnel in Afghanistan, Haiti, Golan Heights and a dozen other places around the globe. Protect them and bring them home safely to their families and friends.
We ask for healing for those who are sick or in recovery. Today we pray for Don, Helen, Millicent, Sharon, Lyle, Lou-Anne and Lyle. We take a few moments to remember other people who may need our prayers.
In all things, bless us. In all
things, keep us. In all things guide us, in Jesus’ name.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
November 5, 2017 / Remembrance Sunday
Joshua 3:7-17, 14-25; Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37; Matthew 23:1-12; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
CALL TO WORSHIP
Let us open our minds to God’s teaching and tune our ear to his word.
Let us listen to the stories of the faith of our ancestors and share our stories with our children.
We put our trust in God.
We worship the one who gives us life.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
God of Heaven and Earth, God of the sunrise and the sunset, God of the highest mountain and the deepest valley, hear our prayers as we come before your throne of glory. Declare your message to us and grant us the courage to listen. May our listening turn to action. May our actions touch the hearts of those who need to hear your voice. We put our trust in you knowing that it is well placed in your gentle and caring hands. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Mercy and Light, forgive us for walking in darkness of our own making. Forgive us for not being ready to receive your love. Forgive us when we move in the wrong direction and away from your word. Forgive us and help us to share. Forgive us and help us to shine. Forgive us and help us to shelter those in need. Light a pathway for us to follow, O God of all Creation. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God is patient and kind, gentle and loving, slow to anger and quick to laugh. God’s love overflows the deepest sin. Be assured that, when we repent of our sin, we are forgiven. Through faith in Christ Jesus, we are invited to share in the everlasting life.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
You have trusted us with a great abundance, O God. You have blessed us with immeasurable gifts. Not only do we bring our tithes and offerings to the table. We also bring our whole lives asking that you would sanctify us and our gifts for the work of your Holy Kingdom. Amen.
world seeks light amidst the shadows. Jesus calls us to shine in the darkness.
May we, in our lives, be examples of God’s love.