The Edge of Hope
August 29, 2021 Rev. Drew Stockstill
The Lord said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses. You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” Joshua then said to the Israelites, “Draw near and hear the words of the Lord your God.” Joshua said, “By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan. So now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.” When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.
At the Jordan River, by Yoram Raanan
We are three weeks into our sermon series on Joshua. You remember, after Moses died, God appointed Joshua as the leader of ancient Israel. It was Joshua who would actually lead the Israelites out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land. God told Joshua to be strong and courageous, that God would always be with him. But you may have noticed, three weeks and three chapters into Joshua and we are still just looking into the Promised Land. We’re just on the edge of the promise, at the edge of what has been so long hoped for.
It’s sometimes harder to be at the edge of hope than far from it. Setting off on a road trip, that first hour on the road, it goes fast, but the last hour, when you’re almost there, it takes forever. Counting down the days until high school graduation, the final weeks just creep by. But it’s not just the waiting for something that’s difficult. Waiting for something that’s important takes hope and courage.
I have a friend that is waiting for her baby to come. She’s past due. She texted on Wednesday, “The baby should be here anytime in the next 24 hours.” She’s still waiting. She knows the moment will be here soon and very soon and everything will change, but right now she’s just on the edge of hope.
A sailor was away from his family for six months at sea. He was due to be home in three weeks and he’d finally get to meet his five-month-old daughter. He could barely stand it, he was so excited, when that night he heard over the intercom that because of COVID their deployment would be extended three more months. His heart is shattered. The next voice he heard was the ship’s chaplain praying for God to give them strength, to hold fast, keep hope, God is with us.
Eric Riddick of Philadelphia had been in jail for 30 years for a crime he didn’t commit. He believed one day the truth would set him free. Then one day in June a judge considered new evidence presented by Eric’s mother and by the end of that day Eric was home, 30 years later, at 51 years old, home in his mother’s arms. She shouted as she held her baby, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty! My son is free at last!"
Eric said, "I fought all these years to rectify my wrongful conviction, but my freedom at the time wasn't in season. Today, it's a testimonial that justice is definitely in season." All those years, Eric and his mother worked for justice right at the edge of hope. And when they were finally reunited they sang hymns of praise, praise of God who they believed was always with them, sustaining them at the edge of hope. Eric’s mother said, "They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, this is testimony that it takes a village to raise justice."
Beloved, sometimes it takes a village to keep us going when we’re at the edge of hope. And sometimes we are called to be part of somebody else’s village raising justice at the edge of hope.
When we’re right on the edge of hope, when our strength is failing, when our dream is fading, a sign of hope can give us just what we need to have the courage to carry on: my pregnant friend is texting her village looking for hope. That Navy chaplain prays each night over his ship to give those sailors courage at the edge of hope. Eric’s tireless mother and the village she raised were signs of hope that sustained Eric’s spirit for a whole lifetime behind bars.
When has God sent you a sign of hope that gave you the strength to hold on? Maybe a friend called or sent you a note just to check in. Maybe you heard a song or maybe a dream. Maybe you heard of something good happening to someone else and that gave you the hope to carry on. You never know the way something you do for someone else may be just the sign of hope they need. Maybe they’ve been praying for strength and then you show up and you say, “Hey friend, I’m so glad to see you. Is there something I can pray for?” And you’re the gift for one right at the edge of hope.
The Lord said to Joshua, “On this very day I’m going to let all these people standing at the edge of hope know they are not alone. I’m going to let them know that I am with you, Joshua, so they will trust you.” They were standing right at the edge of the Promised Land they long hoped but the Jordan River was in the way. Not many of them there that day were old enough to remember, but they’d heard the story, of how when their parents were running away from the Egyptian army and they got to the edge of the wilderness but the Red Sea stood in the way. Behind them the army charged and in front of them the waters raged and they felt certain they would die and they gave up right at the edge of hope, right at the edge of freedom. But then Moses raised his arms and the sea split in two and the Israelites cross through on dry land and made it to safety where the Egyptian army could not get them. God was with them then and God is with them now, and God is with us even today, right at the edge of hope.
God told Joshua, “When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” There was only one way to the Promised Land. Sometimes we just have to lean into that which we are afraid of when we’re standing at the edge of hope. Moses didn’t have to get wet in the Red Sea, but God tells Joshua, “There’s no avoiding getting messy. You need to get into the water, show the people they can trust you, get into the river and stand still in the Jordan.”
Brothers and sisters, when we’re at the edge, don’t just cling on to the side for dear life, like a kid at swimming lessons. You belong to God, so go with faith, be strong and courageous. Step in and stand still, and let God hold onto you, in the middle of hope. Sometimes that’s what we’ve got to do, step in and stand still, trust, listen, and wait.
Joshua obeyed God. He got his people up out of their tents and together they went to the banks of the Jordan. The waters were high. The priests were the first to go, and they carried with them the Ark of the Covenant, which held the tablets with the ten commandments and it held Moses’ staff, and the people trusted that God himself was with that Ark. As soon as the priests holding the Ark stepped into that mighty river, the waters flowing down stood still and rose up in a single heap. And all the people stepped into the river bed while the waters towered over them and they crossed into the Promised Land. And while the men and the women and the children and their few belongings made their way across the Jordan River bed the priests stayed with the Ark in the middle, so the people saw it was safe because God was with them, with them in the middle of the river. Those priests stood with the Ark in the middle until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan. God made possible the way of hope.
Some of you read my message on Facebook yesterday. I learned this week that I have been assigned chaplain of the Marine Air Group at Fort Dix, NJ. That won’t change much about what I do here, but it will mean that I’ll be serving the Marines for the foreseeable future. It was a hard week to get that news as 13 Marines died in Afghanistan. Around the country those young, young men and women had a chaplain come to the doors of their mothers and fathers, and young wives, some in the middle of the night, to be with their families as they heard likely the worst news of their lives. And a chaplain is most certainly at the Kabul Airport right now with those who saw their brothers and sisters die, and who stepped into their place to carry on their mission. And that chaplain is leading a memorial service there, and supporting those Marines in their grief, and helping them hold on right at the edge of hope. One small mercy is that chaplain, like the priests in the middle of the Jordan, with the waters threatening to come crashing down, that chaplain is a reminder to those who remain, that God is with them and they can step out yet again, into hope.
Beloved, draw near and hear the words of the Lord your God: “When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, when you come to the edge of your hope, step into hope for God will be with you.”
As the young people go to school…step into hope, because God is with you.
As you begin a new job or go back to work…step into hope, because God is with you.
As you adjust to an empty nest or the loss of a loved one…step into hope, God is with you.
As you deal with health challenges, or healing…step into hope, God is with you.
As you face whatever lies ahead, know that Christ himself has entered into the Jordan River, just has he has entered each of our lives. So, it is with him, and together as a people we step into hope, and come out into the land promised as disciples ready to live into hope with all courage and strength to serve God and the people we meet in need of a sign of promise at the edge of hope.