This past weekend for our virtual service I shared with you thoughts from Joshua 3 about how sometimes when we are forced to come to a stop before a place of restoration and transformation it isn't evidence that God has left us, but rather, God is up to something in the midst of it. We only had time to cover the first 5 verses, so I wanted to share the final verses and offer some thoughts on that. So, may God's Word below inspire you as it has me.
"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.17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground."
A few years back I first came across this funny video about how every Christian song is made. It all comes down a simple formula: "Three chords, simple rhymes, vague struggles = hit song." and don't forget "more water references" -- boom, say no more. Think about some of the songs you might recognize in the Christian music industry with lyrics such as "His grace rains down on me." "and like a flood his mercy comes." and "living water cover me, flood me with your love." (wow two in one!)
I think there are plenty of reasons to consider why water is a positive image when we think of God. Baptism for one is relatively obvious, but water is also purity, and water is life-sustaining, and in light of COVID-19, water (and soap) is life-saving. These types of attributes are ones we would commonly give to God - why then does Joshua say where God is the waters "stopped flowing" and that the people "crossed on dry ground." Is God the God of Oceans or of drought? Well, let's digest that some.
My uncle served in the army during the height of the Vietnam war where he sustained a number of injuries. I talked with about his experiences one Christmas gathering and asked him what the worst part of Vietnam was, he paused for a moment, chuckled, and said. "Wet socks. You'd put a dry pair on and by lunchtime they were wet again. Absolute misery." I don't think one needs to fight in a war overseas to agree with the sentiment that wet socks just aren't fun. So the drying of lands isn't always a bad thing. But it would be a bad thing if the water never comes back.
Joshua says that the waters of the Jordan, a place I described as being a place of restoration, healing, transformation in my message, is high during this time of the year for the harvest. God dries up the waters so the people can cross and then once the people are safe the ark crosses the river and the water comes back. It can be tempting for the ark, the church, to just come to stop with the closure of live services. The mandatory stay at home orders can be mistakenly thought of as a reason to not still be the church for the world. But if the ark doesn't keep progressing than the waters will not come back and if the waters don't come back than the harvest will dry out and we all go hungry.
So let's continue to be the church and below are a few ways in which we can while still being conscious of the social distancing recommendations:
1.) For the Month of March, we have raised funds for United Methodist Committee on Relief, also known as UMCOR. UMCOR is famous for their disaster and relief efforts when a natural disaster occurs such as a hurricane or more recently the tornado that struck Nashville, TN. UMCOR is less known for its research and advocacy efforts around things such as creation care and sustainability, global health, and hunger and poverty. COVID-19 affects the poor and marginalized disproportionately higher than anyone else and lack of medicine or high-quality hospitals prevents those most vulnerable from receiving the treatments that a middle class or upper class developed country person might easily get with a co-pay. Therefore, UMCOR builds hospitals and has relief funds set aside for those that cannot afford treatment. We encourage you to read more about UMCOR (https://www.umcmission.org/umcor) and consider giving to UMCOR by writing UMCOR in the memo line at www.chagrinfallsumc.org/giving
2.) Last week our outreach team set up two collection bins outside the church to gather extra personal hygiene supplies for our friends at the Chagrin Falls Park Community Center. The response so far has been overwhelming! In just three short days we had to take our first shipment over. Let's keep that positive momentum going. If you have any extra toilet paper, Lysol, Hand Sanitizer, bottled water or anything else listed on the first picture please drop them off in one of the bins.
As we continue to camp out next to the Jordan River in our quarantine experience, let's continue to be the light of God's redeeming hope for those who might feel like their Jordan has dried up. We are praying daily for your hearts to be lessened of any anxiety and for strong health to rest upon you. Until we meet again, may the God of oceans and ever-flowing grace and of dry socks (ha!) be with you and yours.
Nick Gliha, Associate Pastor