Ready to Move Forward

Reading: Joshua 5.9-12
Every travelling family has heard an impatient child call, "Are we there yet?" Perhaps those self-same children are the ones who heard an impatient parent call out, "Are you ready yet?"

They are like twin questions, aren't they? "Are you ready yet?" and "Are we there yet?"

The problem is that we - adults and not just our children! - often don't have a clear enough understanding of what is involved in getting ready. And on a long journey the children have no concept of the length of time to the destination. As adults we find a journey much easier when we know it well enough to break it up in our minds into recognisable land-marks.

Baden Powell gave his initials to the Scouting motto, "Be prepared". It's a good motto. It challenges us to think over our activities in advance, to be sure we are ready for all known possibilities.

There are, of course, unexpected situations for which we haven't planned and to which we have to apply our inventiveness. That can usually be handled provided everything else is in order.

Not Quite Ready

Under Moses' leadership, the Israelites had come free from slavery in Egypt. They had crossed the Red Sea. They had received the Ten Commandments and other instructions at Mount Sinai. Their physical needs had been met with supplies of water and with the provision of manna and quail.

An early strategic opportunity to move into the Promised Land of Canaan had been missed because of fear and unbelief. After wandering a further forty years in the wilderness, that generation had now died out. Their grand old leader, Moses, had died at the age of 120 years.

Now under Joshua's command, they had crossed the Jordan River. Although it was in flood at the time, they were able to cross on dry land - a strong reminder of their escape from Egypt.

At the beginning of Joshua 5, we read, "Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until we had crossed over, their hearts melted and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites" (v. 1).

What an ideal time to press forward - they would be unstoppable! Humanly, there was no better time. Yet they weren't quite ready.

This land was theirs, promised by God as part of his covenant with Abraham. Genesis 15 records that "Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness" (v. 6) - words quoted in Romans 4.3, Galatians 3.6, and James 2.23. Then the Lord says to him, "I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it" (v. 7).

There was a solemn covenant sacrifice and the Lord promised, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions… In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here… To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates…" (vv. 13,14,16,18).

Circumcision was to be the sign of this covenant - "For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised" (17.12). With the institution of the Passover, they were instructed that no uncircumcised male could eat the Passover (Ex. 12.48).

This new generation who would go in to possess the land hadn't been circumcised - they hadn't received the sign of the covenant. For this reason, they had also been unable to celebrate the Passover - the celebration of God's deliverance from slavery.

With circumcision they would renew their covenant with the Lord. With the covenant renewed, the Lord said, "Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you" (v. 9). No longer could the Egyptian rumour be circulated that the Lord had taken them out into the wilderness to destroy them. The generation who had disobeyed the Lord were indeed no longer. The new generation now received the mark of the covenant and celebrated the Passover together - the meal that commemorated the Lord's deliverance from slavery in Egypt.

"The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate of the produce of Canaan" (vv. 11-12).

Their place was no longer in the wilderness, but in the promised land. Now they were ready to go forward.

Moving Forward

Are we ready to move forward?

The issues surrounding practising homosexuals in leadership have dominated and crippled our church's agenda for too many years. In spite of the strong Biblical stance which we have enunciated locally, there is no guarantee that the issue will simply "go away". It was suggested to us at the end of last year that we now must "forget sex and move forward in mission". Problem is that "sex" is so much part of our humanity. The "gay agenda" challenges our understanding of the nature of sin and salvation - of the very gospel itself.

In 1977, the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches came together to form the Uniting Church in Australia. They declared their "readiness to go forward together in sole loyalty to Christ the living Head of the Church" and to "remain open to constant reform under his Word" (Basis of Union 1). That was the solemn commitment we made before God - our response to his on-going commission to all the Church.

Like the Israelites on the verge of the Promised Land, we may well be aware of God's many promises. But we also live under "the reproach of Egypt". Our integrity and credibility have been called into question. Even non-church-goers are dismayed. Some go so far as to say that Christians just cannot be trusted.

The Lord calls us to a renewed commitment of ourselves to him. Don't look for someone else - the Lord is calling us! His issue is whether we are willing to "go forward together in sole loyalty to Christ the living Head of the Church", whether we are "open to constant reform under his Word".

He has led us to the edge of the "promised land". He invites us to celebrate again his great deliverance, and to go forward - with him!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill and Ayr Uniting Churches, 21 March 2004
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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