This sermon uses the scripture, Joshua 1:1-9.
I am not brave or courageous. In fact, I have always suspected that I am overly fearful, even cowardly. For this sermon I honestly tried to come up with a time when I acted courageously, and I couldn’t do it. However, I remembered plenty of times when I was scared.
In Elementary School, my family went to Washington DC for a vacation. The Hanfs are a hearty bunch and cheap so we walked everywhere in DC rather than drive and pay to park or even more unimaginable take a cab. Walking back to the hotel after the sun had gone down around 9:00 I became terrified that a guy was following us, intending surely to do us harm. It was completely irrational. Fear hounded me the next day as we walked about. If it would have been up to me I would not have even left the hotel.
You would think as an adult I would not be so terrified, but fear still stalks me. I admire those that show little fear. Pastor Robert Graetz was a young Lutheran pastor from Ohio sent to Alabama in the early sixties just out of seminary. He led his all white church in the midst of the Civil Rights movement in Montgomery. Remarkably, that church became a base for volunteers, protestors and organizers despite their initial objections.
On this side of history, we are tempted to think all churches were on the right side of the Civil Rights battle. This was not the case. Now, Pastor Robert Graetz is a hero to those who know his story. At the time, he was a young northern troublemaker who didn’t understand how things were done in Alabama. He might not have been sure how it would work out, but he was sure what God wanted.
He overcame the fears I would have had in a similar situation. People might not like me. They may get mad and leave the church. They may fire me and send me back to Toledo. They may physically threaten me. He overcame all of these fears and he acted. He acted courageously.
Believe me, I understand Joshua’s fear. Moses is dead and now God is turning over everything to Joshua. Joshua had been a great number two, was he going to be able to be a number one? Three times Joshua had to be told to be strong and courageous. Three times. We know this all works out okay. Joshua doesn’t know that. What is terrifying him is he doesn’t know how it will end.
God reassures him by telling him the future is going to work out. God tells Joshua I got your back. I won’t let you down. Just as I stayed faithful to Moses, I will stay faithful to you. The promises I made to Israel, I will keep. Lead my people into the land I have promised and I will make you successful. Trust me, I control the future.
I don’t think even this divine moment that Joshua experienced was enough to overcome his fears or his doubts about his own abilities. However, it was enough to get Joshua moving. It was enough for Joshua to gather God’s people and lead them from the wilderness into the Promised Land. Hearing God’s encouragement was enough for Joshua in spite of his fears and doubts.
What I am afraid of most is not knowing, not knowing the consequences of my actions, not knowing how God wants me to act, not knowing if I am on the right or the wrong side of history. So, I don’t move. I stay in the hotel. I say nothing. I let my fears stop me from leading. God is telling Joshua I have got the ending all worked out. Trust me. God is telling me daily, I have got the ending all worked out. Trust me and don’t let fear stop you from moving forward in my name. If you know how something is going to end, there is a lot less to be afraid of.
Help me remember this, next time I am afraid, will you? Maybe, this is the gift of the church. We can retell the story of the faithful God who keep’s promises. In the midst of our worries, as our world changes, as our lives change, God says I have this one covered. Trust me. Having Moses was good. He was a great leader, but there is a future beyond him and it begins with you Joshua. Be strong and courageous. Can’t you hear God saying that to you when a relationship ends, a job is lost or a loved one dies? Life before was good, but there is still goodness in the future.
Carry your fears with you, they are a part of being human, but trust that God has your future. Don’t let your fears stop you from living life as God would hope. Don’t stay in the hotel. Don’t say no to God because of your worries. God is with us whenever we call on God’s name. Maybe, if we remind each other of this enough, we will all be a little less fearful and strong and courageous as God hopes. Amen