Entering God’s Promised Land
Today we are on the last leg of this Pilgrimage. If you remember six weeks back, on Epiphany, we started this journey towards God’s Promised Land. Over the weeks we have learned and discussed a lot here in worship and in the Bible Study on Monday nights. As we enter into this last sermon, let me recap very quickly where we have been before we can get to where we are going.
The first week, which seems so long ago, we talked about Jesus praying for us in the garden of Gethsemane. There Jesus gives us the vision and mission of his disciples. His mission for his disciples, US, is that we are sent out into the world as representatives of God’s love and in the love of God. This never changes, is always the same, and is always constant. Jesus’ vision is that we are united with his heart, have joy which is found in his love, and grow and be formed by the truth.
In the second week we talked about Israelites hearing the reports from the 12 spies. 10 said that the Promise Land was full of giants and they shared with everyone a vision of perceived reality, one based and found in fear. Caleb and Joshua gave a report from an envisioned reality, or a reality based on faith in God. Then we talked about overcoming the giants in the land. We have to have faith that God can get us through anything. Two weeks ago I preached about asking the right questions and that we need to be asking questions that lead us to God’s Promised Land and not to boost our own agendas. Last week we discussed the invitations of Jesus which move us beyond ourselves and beyond our own walls to the people out there that need to know God.
Today we take the final leg of our Pilgrimage. Today we will be talking about Entering God’s Promised Land. What is interesting is in the story of Moses and the Israelites, Moses never enters the Promise Land. He brings them to the edge and they decided to follow the reality of the ten spies. They show lack of faith in God and because of that, they are sent into the wilderness for 40 years. 40 years later they come back to the edge of the Promise Land. As the waters part in the Jordan the God’s chosen people enter the land he promised to give them. Moses is on a mountain top watching and that is where he dies. He sees the promise land, he watches his people enter it but never does.
Why? Why does Moses, a man of God, who has followed God’s call to lead his people not enter the promise land? That story goes back to Numbers 20. They are in the Desert of Zin and Miriam, Moses’ older sister who watched him in the basket on the river from the reeds, has just died. The people of Israel are thirsty, so very thirsty. They once again grumble against Moses and Aaron and blame them for their situation. Moses and Aaron go to the Tent where God’s presence is and fall down on their faces. God tells them to gather the people and water will spout out of a rock so everyone will have enough to drink. Moses does this and strikes the rock twice and when he does water comes out. Then God tells Moses “You did not trust in me enough to honor me. You did not honor me as the holy God in front of the people of Israel. So you will not bring this community into the land I am giving them.” (Numbers 20:12)
Moses did not trust God enough. Moses lost sight of God’s grace and power. Moses isn’t the only one who battles with this. There are countless people in the Bible that do not trust God and end up paying the consequences. Jonah thinks he knows better than God and attempts to run away but instead he finds himself in the belly of a fish and spat out three days later. Peter is walking on water with Jesus and then sinks as he sees the wind and waves. The early churches all struggle with their faith in God and they seek help from Paul, who writes to them to encourage and build them up.
That is where we get the message today. The churches in Philippi are the first churches in Europe. They are the congregations that made it possible for us to be here today. But in Paul’s absence others were seeking to push their own agendas and so Paul writes them to make sure they understand their purpose and their calling as a congregation of Disciples of Jesus Christ. We see this envisioned reality named by Paul in the first four verses, “Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.”
Once again we hear the echo of Jesus’ second invitation we talked about last week. We are to die to self for the sake of the Kingdom of God. If we want to enter the Promise Land of God then we need to forget about ourselves, our agendas, our desires and concentrate on others. We have to have this type of attitude as individuals and as a congregation to be able to enter the Promised Land God is calling us into.
When I was in High School my Sunday School teacher, Dave, was one of the coolest guys around. He had a Jeep Wrangler AND a Mazda Miata. He had a house on Lake Norman and worked in the South Park area making a 6 digit salary. To a High School youth, he was living the life we had all dreamed of and wanted. Then in my senior year we learned he was giving it all up. Over the years he had started a ministry called, “Operation Warm Up.” It took winter clothes that were donated in Charlotte up to the hollers of West Virginia. Youth would pack up into teams of mini vans and head into the mountains passing out free clothes. My senior year we learned that he was giving up his life here in Charlotte and moving to Gary, WV to live and work with McDowell Missions. He would work for free. This astonished us youth because he was living the life we thought we all desired but in reality he was giving up one life for the one we should really desire. Dave had a better understanding of what God’s Promised Land looked like and it led him to the cold mountains of West Virginia, to one of the poorest places in the United States.
Daniel Fogarty is another person who decided God was asking him to leave his job as a political campaign manager and to pursue another path. The other path led him to a couple of men who decided they wanted to help poor people in Charlotte. They had come across families who could not afford furniture. These families would spend all their money on rent and utilities so they would have a roof over their heads but nothing to sleep on. These men found out that kids were sleeping on piles of clothes and that the only dresser they had to store their clothes in were plastic garbage bags. Now he runs a ministry called “Beds for Kids.” They take gently used furniture and furnish families houses with them. The cost to the family is only $30 but the results from the children actually sleeping on a bed instead of the floor is amazing. The majority of them increase their grades by one letter grade only a couple months after sleeping on their own bed, some for the first time in their lives.
The Apostle Paul was also understood too well what it meant to live into this attitude of Christ. Paul lived a life that mirrored Christ’s dedication and love. When he writes to the Philippians in verses 5-11 he gives them the attitude of Jesus. Verse 7-8 says, “But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Paul understood this all too well because he was writing this letter to the churches in Philippi while he was in prison. Paul was in prison because he was awaiting trial for preaching the gospel of Christ. Paul is taking the second invitation of Jesus seriously and is willing to do whatever it takes to build up the Kingdom of God.
Philippians 2:5-11 is known as the kenosis [Ken-o-sis] hymn. Kenosis is the Greek word that means self-empting, which makes this the self-empting hymn. It is important to remember this hymn because it is the blueprint for what we as Jesus’ disciples are supposed to live out but also what we as a church are to strive for as the Body of Christ. Jesus made a deliberate choice to walk down the path to the cross. He didn’t have to but his love for us truly gave him one option. Now we are to let our love for him overpower our agendas, desires and ideas and model that same love for the world.
But it is hard to empty one’s self when there is so much pain involved. It is hard to move beyond a past that can consume us, burden us, and hold us back. Moses was held back by his struggles with his leadership abilities. He always doubted, in the back of his head, that he could not live up to what God was asking him to do. That is probably part of the reason that he was not let into that Promise Land. He lacked the faith in God. The thing is God believed in him, God knew he made the right choice when he talked to Moses in the burning bush, and God was going to give him what he needed to succeed. It still meant that he had to work hard, but God was behind him all the way.
We have some things in our past to get over. As the Bible Study meets on Monday nights we have been talking about such things. We have discovered that in our past there has been dysfunction, conflict, and distrust. If you need proof let me show you something. (hold up pictures of what the new church was projected to look like)
What is this? The way some of you are moving right now it is a source of discomfort and it is emotional. This was the plan for a new church project. It was done five years ago. Five years ago this place had two services that averaged about what we have here. Things were hopping and moving forward. People were excited and energized. Then the bottom fell out of the economy and so did the wind in the sails of this vision. I am not showing you this to point fingers. I’m not placing blame, I am only naming a reality in our past we will have to get over. This is a picture that many believed was our congregation’s Promised Land, but we didn’t make it.
Does that mean we give up? Does that mean we stare at this giant in our way and simply go back to Egypt? No, we have to name our currently reality, look to the past and then move beyond it. Here is the good thing (flip board over). What does this look like?
To me this is the picture of God’s Promised Land for us here at Indian Trail UMC. It is full of potential and the sky is the limit for what it could turn out to be. What it is, is not yet revealed. It is not drawn out for us yet. I believe though that there is something God is calling us towards. There is something that can come to light on this board. This is the future of our congregation. All we need to do is simply have faith God can bring it into being and work hard to make it happen.
We have giants to face. We have debt to take care of, a parsonage that needs drastic attention, a fellowship hall that isn’t much better, and many other issues. We are going in the right direction. People are excited. But we need to be in constant prayer with God to figure out what that future should look like. How are we as a congregation living into the mission and vision of our Savoir? What is our mission and vision for us as a congregation? What are our goals? What is our being called to do for Jesus Christ in Indian Trail?
Paul celebrated his struggles because he knew he was living into the Promise Land God was calling him to. When we have an answer all those questions I just mentioned, we will be living into that Promised Land as well. Our journey is not over today, but the hard work is just beginning. The only way we will enter is if we have faith in the one who has brought us this far; the one who emptied himself for our sake, and only demands we do the same for him.
And all God’s people said…Amen.