God is With Us Wherever We Go

Sunday, July 2, 2023
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

Road Trips Through the Bible

Joshua 1:1-9

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

We are beginning a five-week series today called “Road Trips Through the Bible”.

It’s summer. Lots of people on are the move, exploring, resting, gathering with family and friends. So, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of the journeys God’s people went on throughout Scripture and look at some of the ways God uses these journeys to shape their lives and faith.

Any time you travel, you can’t help but see things differently and maybe even reconsider long held assumptions or beliefs. My family and I just got back from a trip to Europe this week. One of the anxieties I had about traveling to Paris was that I only know like five French words – which I used as often as I could, even when it was unnecessary. I just had to try! Everything that I had heard was that Parisians are intolerant and rude to people who don’t speak French. I expected to be scoffed at, ignored, and ridiculed. Our experience was that none of that could have been further from the truth. Wherever we went we found people who were simply living their lives as best they could where they were in the world, and often they extended hospitality and warmth to us as best they could, whether they spoke English or not.

As we journey with God’s people through the Bible this month, perhaps we’ll have opportunities to be surprised by grace, and perhaps even discover some things we didn’t know about God and God’s people. We don’t have to look far in the Bible to find that God’s people are often on the move. The road trips in Scripture were rarely like our summer vacations we take today. They weren’t just a chance to see a change of scenery or get away for a while. When God calls people to get up and go, there is a purpose, a promise, or life lesson behind their going.

Biblical journeys fall into four basic categories: exodus, exile, pilgrimage, and mission. Along these journeys God’s people were shaped and reshaped into the people God called them to be for that time and that place. Their faith practices adapted to new circumstances, their faith called them to do different things and interact with people in different ways depending on the circumstance. Practicing faith even in new places grounded them and reminded them that they were God’s people wherever they went. The same can be said for our faith today. We don’t worship the same way, but we worship the same God.

The Exodus was the road trip out of slavery and captivity and into freedom and the Promised Land. We’ll get into this road trip in just a minute.

Exile was an unwelcome trip the Israelites took out of the Promised Land when the covenant between God and the people was violated. Living in the Promised Land was conditioned by living in right relationship with God, through the Law of Moses. When the people made other things priority, exile was a natural consequence.

Pilgrimages show up in both the Old and New Testament when God’s people venture home to Zion, the Temple, or a Holy Place where God dwells. We hear about these trips in the Psalms, the Prophets, and in stories of Jesus going to Jerusalem.

Mission trips were just that, times when the Spirit led people like Paul and Timothy, and the apostles to intentionally go to new people, cultures, and places to share the good news of God’s love and redemption.

Today’s road trip comes at the tail end of the journey from the Exodus into the Promised Land. Before I go any further, I think it’s important mention a point of origin way back in Genesis. Remember that when God called Abraham in Genesis 12, God promised to bless him with land, and that his descendants would be a great nation. This is the basis of God’s covenant relationship with the people in the Old Testament – a blessing, land, and a great nation which comes with the people’s faithfulness to the living God.

All the while the people were in slavery in Egypt, they wondered if God had forgotten the covenant. They wondered if God would ever hear their cry for freedom. And when God called Moses to lead the people out of slavery, they knew that God had remembered them, though they did not know where they were going. All they could do was trust that God would be with them wherever they went.

As they stood on the far banks of the Jordan River, it seemed that the people who had lived in slavery for hundreds of years in Egypt would finally be free. Moses has led God’s people through 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, and it’s here that God tells Moses that he can see the Promised Land, but that Moses will not enter it. He will die just short of the other side. This next leg of the journey would require new leadership because the journey is not over and there are new challenges ahead. Joshua was appointed the new leader of the people, and as they survey the Promised Land, they realize that this land that God had promised to give them was already inhabited. As God speaks to Joshua for the first time, the Lord says three times to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous.” And finally at the end of the passage, “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

It would not be an easy settlement into this Promised Land. To live in the Promised Land would mean renewing the covenant with the Lord, and ensuring that the Law of Moses was upheld in all the land with ALL the people. The rest of Joshua is a difficult text for modern day Christians to reconcile. In fact, this is a book that many atheists point to and ask, “How can you believe in that kind of God?” Maybe you’ve wrestled with these questions too, when reading the Old Testament. Some of the Bible is hard to reconcile with the way we live today. In this leg of the journey, there is a holy call for destruction and annihilation of foreign people at the hands of God’s people in order to reclaim the Promised Land for the Lord. This is the stuff of holy wars and crusades, parts of our faith history that we’d rather not remember, and certainly not repeat.

As God’s people on the move, we find ways to worship the same God, but not always in the same ways. God’s ways of redemption and relationship also expand as God journeys with us. The name Joshua means “God saves”. The Greek name for Joshua is Jesus. God saves. The two fulfilled the covenant of God in very different ways.

This journey to the Promised Land may have been necessary to renew the faith of the people then, but it hasn’t continued in the same way. Jesus, the one who saves, showed us another way- the way of the cross and self-giving love, the way of peace, the way of God opening the promise to all people, as Christ was raised from the dead to defeat sin and death, and make a way for the whole world to know the love and grace of God.

The good news is that this promise remains true. God is faithful to God’s promise. In the final words of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus echoes the word of God to Joshua, “And lo, I am with you always to the end of the age.” God is with us wherever we go. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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