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Worship Service begins at 10:30 AM
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Be Strong and Courageous - August 3, 2014

Joshua 1:1-9
Matthew 28:16-20

As we conclude our exploration of the Scriptures used at the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference in June, we come to Joshua 1. This passage was read at the Closing Worship.
For many years at that service, the Bishop read the appointments of all the clergy in the conference. Clergy donned their robes and marched in. Some called it the Penguin Parade. The Bishop then charged pastors and lay people to go back to our local churches to carry on with ministry in the name of Jesus Christ.
It was, for me and others, a deeply moving and powerful time as we heard the Bishop's commission. On the other hand, it made for a long service, after a full week, with many miles to travel home. So in recent years we have read the appointments two districts at a time at other points during the conference. I understand why. I'm now on the team that makes that decision. And a piece of me still longs for the charge from the Bishop at that closing service. Whenever it happens, the Bishop essentially tells us all, "Be strong and courageous."

The reading from Joshua contains a charge or commission. Just as many United Methodist Churches at this time of year are in transition with new pastors coming so Joshua and the people of Israel were in transition. They were about to embark on a new stage in their journey together.
Moses was dead. For forty years he had led them, first out of Egypt and then as they wandered in the wilderness. God had promised them a land flowing with milk and honey, in other words a place of fertility and abundance. Now, at last, they were ready to claim that land. "Be strong and courageous," God charged them. Joshua became their new leader. "Be strong and courageous," God told him.
Scholars now believe that the Book of Joshua was actually written, not at the time of their entry into Canaan, but centuries later. A new king had begun to reign in Judah. Their sisters to the North had already been conquered by the Assyrians. Josiah, the new King, was trying to reform Judah spiritually and to reclaim that lost territory. By remembering their original conquest of the land he hoped to build legitimacy for his plan. By remembering the original charge he hoped to build energy for the work ahead. "Be strong and courageous."
The lesson we read from Matthew is usually called the great commission. It too comes during a time of transition. Jesus is about to ascend into heaven. No longer will he be present with them in bodily form. It is up to the disciples to carry the ministry forward: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you." These are the disciples' marching orders.
The first chapter of Joshua sounds idyllic. Read through the rest of the Book, however, and it gets tougher. As the Israelites take possession of Canaan, they have to displace the people who are already there. Those people resist. There's a lot of smiting and smoting. It's tough reading.
Thirteen year old Rachel came to see me after she read Joshua. She was disturbed because God is the one who orders the Israelites to kill all of the Canaanites. "I thought God was nice!" she wailed. I understood her struggle. Those passages are hard to swallow.
The Conquest of Canaan was relived in our own country as European settlers took possession of lands where native peoples had lived for centuries. Manifest Destiny believed those European immigrants had a mission to redeem and remake this continent in their image. It is painful now to read how native peoples were slaughtered, sometimes with guns and other times by intentionally exposing them to diseases like smallpox. "I thought Americans were nice!" we wail.
At the Opening Worship service of Annual Conference we learned of another time of conquest. We met at the Puyallup Fairgrounds which were used as an assembly center for Japanese Americans being sent to internment camps during WWII. As a people they lost billions of dollars of property. Our Bishop shared how his grandmother died in a camp for lack of basic medical care. It's not easy to hear those stories.
At the start of a new year of ministry together there is always a bit of tension for pastors and churches. Even in cases like ours when we've been together for a long time, we feel that tension. Some folks were hoping for a pastoral change. Others are relieved it didn't happen. I am personally delighted to be your pastor for another year. Part of the challenge before us is how we will go forward in ministry. United Methodist Churches have a history of handling conflict by moving the pastor. That seldom solves the problem. We have the chance to actually work through problems. Our primary task is to continue to grow in faith and mission.
Marching orders come inherent with tension. Still they come. "Be strong and courageous." That charge is repeated three times in four verses in our reading from Joshua.
"Be strong and courageous, for you shall put the people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them." The promise went back generations to Abraham.
"Be strong and courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law." They were going into a land where they would be different. They needed courage to stay true to their faith.
"Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."
God is saying to Joshua and all those years later to Josiah, be prepared for tough times as you claim the promise. So often we think that if something is God's will it should be easy. Everything should fall into place. The reality is different. Moving into God's promise is far from easy. According to Jesus it sometimes means dying, or at least letting go of life as we know it.
Living into God's Promise calls us to have the courage to face our own failings and those of others. Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we act in ways that are hurtful to others. "I thought Christians were nice!" we wail. Most of the time most of us are nice, but occasionally we say hurtful words, fail to notice someone's need, or unwittingly dismiss another. Once in a while we disagree in truly disagreeable ways. I've been guilty of all of that, as have others. We are all human.
Living into God's Promise calls us to have the courage to do the hard work of reconciliation. That starts with telling others directly how they have hurt us. It continues as both parties sit down together and talk through a solution. It is completed when both parties find within themselves the strength and the compassion to forgive each other.
As we begin another year together let us talk openly when there have been moments of hurt or disagreement. Let us work together to resolve conflicts, both those of an interpersonal nature and those as a community of faith. Let us discern God's calling as we move forward in faith and love. Let us focus on our purpose together as disciples of Jesus Christ.
"Be strong and courageous." I think Jesus would add, "be compassionate." Grounded in the traditions of our faith, from the Ten Commandments to the Greatest Commandment, we can move onto new ground together as Moscow First United Methodist Church. Together we can make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
"Do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord is with you wherever you go." "Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
God is with us as we go forward together. With God's help we can be strong, courageous, and compassionate.

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    Starting August 18th, 2019 Sunday Worship go back to our regular worship time at 10:30 am Sunday mornings.

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The First United Methodist Church of Moscow, Idaho takes as our mission to be the body of Jesus Christ, ministering to a community which draws strength from its diversity. Our mission centers on the worship of God, expressed through varied forms of prayer, preaching, music, and ritual.  See more...