Yesterday’s sermon from Joshua 5:9-12
On June 29, 2019, the Hendrix family will host the 50th Hendrix Family reunion at Joe Wheeler State Park, just outside of Florence Alabama. I am a Hendrix, however many times, removed and the Hendrix reunion is among my favorite annual events to take part in, whenever I am able to go.
I’ve been able to attend the pre-reunion a handful of times – a Thursday night gathering of family fellowshipping in someone’s resort cabin over potluck staples like strawberry pretzel salad and Hillshire farms little smokies.
The next day is a day of reuniting with family, spent in the café over a cup of coffee or lounging by the pool.
The weekend culminates in a Saturday lunch together in the River Room – classic southern style catfish, green beans, mashed potatoes and rolls and perfect peach cobbler that always runs out. During lunch, the family is encouraged to sit together with relatives they haven’t seen in a while, to share stories together and just be with one another.
We meet new children and spouses who have joined the family, and then the kids are dismissed to go catch frogs with my cousin for the frog races which will conclude the day’s activities, while my dad lines the back wall with a long piece of paper and educates us about our family history.
Throughout the course of about 2 hours, every person in the River Room finds their spot in our family tree, and we have a visual representation of how we are connected to one another. In this, we celebrate newness and we honor the past.
This is not a unique practice to our family. Many families throughout the world set aside time to gather, to remember and to hope for the future, all the way back to the people of Israel.
We have accounts in the scriptures of God telling God’s people to remember their journeys in slavery, in the wilderness; to tell their children why it’s significant that on Passover, they eat unleavened bread and dip parsley into salt water as reminders of their tears. Passover is a rich tradition in the Jewish faith even to this day, as is our celebration of communion in ours.
These rituals tether us to the past while propelling us to the present, and on this 4th Sunday in the season of Lent, our lives once again intersect the people of Israel in a time of wandering, and the wilderness speaks holy truths to us as we quiet our hearts to listen.
The Lord said to Joshua: “Today, I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day. While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal, they kept the Passover in the evening of the 14th day of the month, in the plains of Jericho.
On the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.
Gilgal, the name of the Israelites’ encampment, means “to roll away.” In the footsteps of longstanding Jewish tradition, this meaningful place where God has spoken is given a symbolic name and set apart as a place of worship.
Gilgal is sanctified by the people in the sharing of the Passover together, and in their collective recognition that though they have sinned, God has always been with them. That very day on which they remember the God of their past through the stories passed down through generations, they eat from the bounty of the fertile land promised long ago.
Among the group there is a handful of once or twice removed elders, keepers of the stories told around dinner tables and at bedtime over 4 decades. Most of the group are distant descendants of those to whom the land flowing with milk and honey had been promised.
Though there are many degrees of removal between the individuals in this group, this experience for them, collectively, is deeply meaningful and spiritually significant.
It is a new calling upon the people of Israel, the people of God, to begin afresh; to covenant again with God to repent of sin and follow God’s leading in their lives.
The men among the youngest generations in this group, who were never circumcised, are circumcised and renewed in their hope – that the God who shaped their past through God’s work in the lives of their ancestors will continue to shape their future through God’s work in their own lives and the lives of their children.
They share together in the feast of unleavened bread, this time not with manna, but with cakes of hefty parched grain, each having their fill of bread to parallel the abundance of God’s presence and the fulfillment of God’s promises in the wilderness of their lives.
What is most striking to me in this passage is that the manna stops. Heaven’s sustenance for all those years, stops, and they are invited to taste and to see that God is good, in a new way and in a new land.
God doesn’t stop providing after the promise is fulfilled. God gets creative and generates a new way to provide for them – abundantly.
Our congregation has been through a time of wilderness, beginning at the end of 2018 when we lost beloved members of our community to death. Others have moved away from the area, and others are struggling with poor health.
Their absence in worship and Church at Home is deeply felt, and oftentimes it is hard to hold on to promises of blessing while journeying through a wilderness of sorrow.
Yet, we gather on Sundays in this beautiful space; we gather throughout the week in welcoming homes, pilgrims on a never-ending journey toward remembering and acknowledging that God is good.
God’s sustenance has not stopped, and we are being invited to taste and to see the goodness of God in new ways and new circumstances in the life of our church and in our own lives.
What manna has God replaced in your life with hefty cakes of parched grain?
Do you have a renewed sense of purpose for a new phase of life? Are you coming to grips with a hard diagnosis, or tough financial reality? Are you finding yourself able to trust in God’s goodness, in the midst of a scary wilderness?
These are parts of our journey that we share when we come together.
Sundays are like family reunions. We gather together having not seen one another for up to 7 days, or more. We share joys, sorrows, newness and fears and we do this as members of a family brought together in God’s love.
Sharing our joys and sorrows til we’ve seen this journey through is a hallmark of our faith that spans time and space. In the sharing of life, in bounty and in wilderness, we share in God’s promises to work in us and to invite us to work in God’s kingdom of love; and we are connected to centuries of lives that have been spent doing the same – remembering God’s promises in the wilderness.
God promises us that we are not alone.
God promises us that we will never be alone,
And God promises us that God can be trusted to be faithful: yesterday, today and forever.
It’s the promise of forever that gives us hope to keep going. We may not see the full promise revealed in our lifetime, but our legacy of faith in the eventuality of fulfillment will shape hearts and lives for years to come.
This is the beauty of our faith as Christians – we make paths in the sands of the wilderness for those who come behind us to see footprints far ahead in the distance and to know the hope of God’s promises in the wilderness.
The wilderness of Lent is a time for us to cut away those things which hinder us from fully experiencing the presence of God.
What does your wilderness look like right now?
Whether it’s fear of the unknown, unsettled regrets of the past, illness, loss, or pain; boredom, or a lack of purpose, Lent is an invitation to dig. To uncover.
To face the discomfort and in this to find comfort, grace, new meaning, new purpose, new perspectives on health and healing, new mercies for each day.
By taking this inward journey of reflection, we become primed for celebration when we see the promises of God for us; promises of God with us, forever, being fulfilled.
Whatever your wilderness is, you are not alone.
God has rolled away from you the things that get in the way of experiencing God’s presence and work in your life. You come to this chapel, this Gilgal of worship where your disgrace has been rolled away, to reunite with family and be sustained for the week’s journey ahead.
Thanks be to God for God’s promises, and for a family in which to experience and explore them. Amen