In the book of Ecclesiastes, we’re told, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Today, at Melbourne Heights, we have come to the end of a season in the life of our church.
More than two years ago, in September of 2020, we sold our old church building. So eighteen months ago, when we reached a point in the pandemic where we were able to safely resume offering in-person worship services, we became a portable church. And that means that every Sunday for the last eighteen months members of our church have had to arrive early and stay late so that we could set up for our services in a space that is not our own.
And, looking back over the last eighteen months, I think we can all agree that our time as a portable church has been a mixed blessing. We have been blessed to have a space where our church has been able to come together to worship…but we haven’t felt like we’ve had a place where we could plant roots. We have been blessed to see people inside of our church grow in their faith and begin serving the Kingdom of God in new ways…but we’ve also seen other people walk away because being a portable church hasn’t felt like being a real church to them. We’ve been blessed to be able to continue to reach and minister to our community as we’ve struggled to come out of this pandemic…but we know that there is more ministry that God is calling us to do.
But in spite of all the blessings and in spite of all the struggles of being a portable church, as we worship together today, this season in the life of our church is almost over. Next Sunday, we begin a new season at Melbourne Heights as we move into our new church home at 11003 Bluegrass Parkway. And our new church home will give us a place where we can plant roots and settle in. It will give us a place where everything we do as a church can happen under one roof. It will give us a place where we can do the ministry God is calling us to do and to serve the people God has called us to serve.
So, in many ways, as we come together to worship today it feels like we are on the cusp of entering our own Promised Land. But what exactly is the Promised Land? Well, in the bible the term Promised Land refers to the land that God promised to Abraham and his descendants…the place where Abraham and his descendants would become a blessing to all the nations and all the people of the earth.
But for us today, our Promised Land isn’t exactly a patch of ground that God promised to our ancestors. Instead, our Promised Land is a place where we can be the people God has called us to be and to do the ministry that God has called us to do. So for us, our Promised Land is where God will use us to bless our community.
Our Promised Land is where God will use us to bless our community.
But, if you are at all familiar with the story of Abraham’s descendants – who we call the people of Israel – then you’ll know that their journey to the Promised Land wasn’t always easy. And it all started just a few generations after God led Abraham to the Promised Land.
Just a few generations after God led Abraham to the Promised Land, a severe famine struck the land. There was absolutely no food to eat anywhere in the Promised Land. So Abraham’s descendants made the decision to go someplace where there was food. They made the decision to go to Egypt.
And once Abraham’s descendants – once the people of Israel left the Promised Land – it took a long, long time for them to make it back. That’s because after they went to Egypt, the people of Israel were eventually enslaved in Egypt. And they would be enslaved for 400 years. But even after God freed the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt, it still wasn’t easy for them to get back to the Promised Land.
Because even though the people of Israel wanted to go back to the land that God had promised them and their ancestors, once they were there – standing on the cusp of entering their Promised Land – they got scared. The people of Israel heard that there were a lot of big, bad guys living in the Promised Land who were going to beat them up and take their lunch money. And because the people were afraid, the people of Israel got stuck.
And, as the author Shanon L. Alder has put it: Fear is the glue that keeps you stuck.
"Fear is the glue that keeps you stuck."
And that’s what happened to the people of Israel. They were afraid of the enemies that were waiting for them when they returned to the Promised Land. So they got stuck. Their fear kept them where they were. Their fear kept them from being who God wanted them to be and doing what God wanted them to do.
But that's about to change in the story we’re looking at today. So, if you’ve got a Bible close by go ahead and grab it, and turn with me to the book of Joshua. Now the book of Joshua tells us the story of how the people of Israel overcame their fear and got unstuck so that they could finally enter the Promised Land. So we’re going to bounce around through this book a little bit today. And we’re going to start in Joshua 1:10. And here’s what it says:
10 So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: 11 “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.’”
Joshua 1:10-11 (New International Version)
So, in these verses, Joshua tells the people of Israel to get ready because in three days they’re going into the Promised Land. Now, let’s fast forward three days and jump over to Joshua 3 to see what happens next. This time we’ll start reading in Joshua 3:9. It says:
9 Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God. 10 This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. 11 See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you…”
14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho.
Joshua 3:9-11, & 14-16 (New International Version)
And just like that, after being so afraid of the Promised Land that the people of Israel got stuck in the wilderness for forty years, they overcame their fears and they entered the Promised Land. But how did they do it? How did they overcome their fear? How did they get unstuck?
Well, as you think back over the story we just read, it seems like it took something pretty exceptional for the people of Israel to get unstuck. I mean for the people of Israel to enter the Promised Land, God had to make the Jordan River stop flowing…and that’s not something that happens every day.
So is that what it takes to overcome your fears? Is that what it takes to get unstuck? Does it take something exceptional to get you moving forward again? And if it does then where does that leave us? If it took a river running dry for the people of Israel to enter the Promised Land then what is it going to take for us to get unstuck in our personal or professional life? Because if we’re all waiting for a river to run dry before we can keep moving forward, we’re going to be waiting for a long, long time.
So, I’ve gotta tell you, I don’t think that getting unstuck requires anything exceptional. I think there is actually something else that happens in the passage we just read that really explains how the people of Israel were able to overcome their fears so that they could move forward.
But to explain what that is, we need to take a closer look at something that’s kind of casually mentioned in this passage…and that’s the ark of the covenant. Now, if you’ve spent much time around the church – or ever watched an Indiana Jones movie – you’ve probably got some idea of what the Ark of the Covenant is.
But just to make sure we’re all on the same page, I want to read you the description of the ark of the covenant that’s found in Exodus 25. It says:
10 “Have them make an ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. 11 Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it. 12 Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. 13 Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 14 Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry it. 15 The poles are to remain in the rings of this ark; they are not to be removed. 16 Then put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law, which I will give you.
17 “Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. 18 And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. 19 Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. 20 The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover. 21 Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you. 22 There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.
Exodus 25:10-22 (New International Version)
So the Ark of the Covenant is a box that’s about four feet long, two feet wide, and two feet tall. The entire thing is wrapped in gold. And there are statues of two cherubs, or angels, that are placed on top of this box facing each other. And the cherubs are placed that way for a reason. In 1 Samuel 4:4, we see what that reason is. 1 Samuel 4:4 says:
4 So the people sent men to Shiloh, and they brought back the ark of the covenant of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim…
1 Samuel 4:4 (New International Version)
Did you hear why the cherubs face each other on the ark of the covenant? They face each other to make a throne for God. So the Ark of the Covenant is more than just a shiny golden box. The Ark of the Covenant is a visual reminder for the people of Israel that God is with them wherever they go.
And this isn’t just something that the people of Israel realized. A little later in that same passage from 1 Samuel, we see that even Israel’s enemies realized that the ark of the covenant meant that God was with his people. In 1 Samuel 4:6, we read:
6 When they [the Philistines – Israel’s greatest enemy] learned that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp, 7 the Philistines were afraid. “A god has come into the camp,” they said. “Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before. 8 We’re doomed! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness.”
1 Samuel 4:6b-8 (New International Version)
So let’s recap everything we just learned about the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was a big gold box that the people of Israel carried with them wherever they went as a reminder that God was with them wherever they went.
Now, let’s think back to the story we read earlier about the people of Israel as they were preparing to enter the Promised Land. As the people of Israel were preparing to enter the Promised Land, they had been stuck in the wilderness for forty years. And they had spent forty years in the wilderness because they were afraid of what was waiting for them when they entered the Promised Land. They were afraid of all of the enemies and armies that were waiting for them on the other side of the Jordan River. Their fear was the glue that got them stuck.
But all of that changed when Joshua told them:
…This is how you will know that the living God is among you…the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you…
Joshua pointed to the ark of the covenant and reminded the people that God was with them wherever they went.
God was with them wherever they went.
And that’s what the people of Israel needed to know to overcome the fear that got them stuck for forty years. They needed to know that God was with them. Or, to finish Shannon L. Alder’s quote that I mentioned earlier in this message:
“Fear is the glue that keeps you stuck. Faith is the solvent that sets you free.”
Fear is the glue that keeps you stuck. Faith is the solvent that set you free. So whenever you’re feeling stuck, whenever you’re afraid to keep moving forward, remember that God is with you wherever you go.
And that’s a message that we all need to hear because we all feel like we’re stuck sometimes. But this message is especially important for our church to hear today. And we need to hear this message because – like I mentioned at the beginning of this message – we are on the cusp of entering our own Promised Land. But as we prepare to move into our new church home there are going to be things that scare us…we can get scared whenever things change. And when we’re afraid we get stuck. And, if we get stuck, we can’t be who God wants us to be. If we get stuck, we can’t do what God wants us to do.
So, as we enter into this new chapter in the life of our church, we have to have faith. Even though there won’t be an ark leading us into our new church home, we have to know that God is with us wherever we go. And if God is with us there is nothing to fear.