Sermon #….. are we still counting at this point?

I know you’d rather have the protesty updates that I’ve promised.

Tomorrow.  Tomorrow I will blog about the protests and the unrest until I haven’t anything left to say.

Until tomorrow, to hold you over, my latest sermon.  Note that this was perhaps the scariest sermon I’ve ever ever preached.  Which isn’t saying much, I understand, considering I’ve only preached like 10 times in my life, but sort of calling out your church is a hard thing to do.  I may have stuttered during that bit.  Terrifying stuff.

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Joshua 1:1-9

I want to tell you guys about Malala Yousafzai.  Malala is a 16 year old girl from Pakistan that is the youngest nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.  When she was 11 the Taliban militants in her area began banning television, music, girls’ education, and women from going shopping.  During this time, the BBC wanted to have a girl write an anonymous blog about her experiences as a school girl in the area, and her father agreed that she should do it.  She details the First Battle of Swat and other military operations in her blogs.  She also talks about how the Taliban shut down and reopened the girls’ schools.  In 2009, she went public with her identity, after shooting a documentary with her father, and claimed responsibility of the blog.  She then began appearing on tv to publicly advocate for female education.  Gaining recognition, she won multiple awards, and by 2012 was planning to organize the Malala Education Foundation that would help poor girls go to school.

As her recognition grew, so did the dangers to her life.  Death threats were published in newspapers and slipped under her door, and in a meeting held in the summer of 2012, the Taliban leaders decided to kill her.  In October 2012, on her way home from an exam, Malala was shot in the head.

I first heard her story on The Daily Show, a satirical news program, as she was plugging her new book.  I learned about her advocacy efforts and her amazing courage.  When talking about the hit placed on her by the Taliban, and what she was thinking as she thought about the threat to her life, she said, “If he comes, what would you do Malala?  Then I would reply myself, that Malala just take a shoe and hit him.  But then I said, if you hit the Talib with your shoe then there would be no difference between you and the Talib.  You must not treat others that much, with cruelty, with that much harshly.  You must fight others, but through peace and through dialogue and education.  Then I said, I will tell him how important education is, and that I even want education for your children as well.  And I would tell him, that’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.”

Now, I’m not sure what your personal impressions are about the Taliban.  In The States, they are enemy #1.  They are some of the most feared and most reviled group on the planet since the attacks on 9/11.  To hear this young girl, she is only 16 after all, talk about the way that she stood up to the Taliban, is nothing short of amazing.  She knew what was right, she knew the risks that she was taking, but she knew that this issue, the education of women, was paramount.  In the face of great danger, she stood up and said, ‘This will not do.’  Now, I know that she and I hold different faith beliefs, but I am sure that she was called by God to do this great work.  To take this stand and make the world aware of the events happening in her town.

In this passage from Joshua, God is activating him to fill Moses’ shoes.  Back in Deuteronomy, Joshua has already been selected, and ‘filled with the spirit.’  He has already been called and recognized as the next leader.  So in the beginning of Joshua, they have just mourned Moses’ passing for the required 40 days, and I’ve got to say, I’m not sure that I’d want to be Joshua right here.  I mean Moses was a great leader, but he led a difficult people.  Whiny people that wanted to go back to days of slavery because at least there they were fed.  People who made false idols.  People who weren’t totally faithful to God, and Joshua is called to lead them.  If I was Joshua I’d be pretty scared.  He’s been thinking about what this would look like and mean during this mourning time, I’m sure, and now it’s time to go and do the will of God.  That’s scary stuff.

I mean God is telling Joshua in this that they are about to get everything they’ve been dreaming of.  The promised lands.  But that’s not all God’s saying.  In verse 5, where it reads, “No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life,” Joshua is being told that there will be people trying to stand against him.  God isn’t saying that just to let Joshua know that he will in the end prevail and that life will be easy, God is saying, there’s going to be something to prevail against.  That this is going to involve a bit of fighting.  Perhaps a bit of struggle.

Some of the reality of this life, is that nothing worth having comes without struggle.  Most of the time, the places that God calls us, the things that God calls us to do, don’t involve sitting on the couch.  They don’t involve watching tv or cross stitching.  Often times God calls us into the hard places.  Malala in the face of overwhelming obstacles, stood up and took a stand, and helped girls go to school.  In this world, doing the good thing, doing the right or Godly thing, isn’t always the easiest, and it rarely comes without a cost.  But God calls us to go there anyway.  God says, I know it will be scary, but know that I am here with you.  Here in these nine verses in Joshua, God commands Joshua to be strong and courageous three times.   Joshua was probably feeling pretty nervous and needed the encouragement.  Joshua was probably feeling a wee bit inadequate, and a wee bit like he couldn’t do the things necessary to lead these people in the way that had been charged to him.  But God says, I’m here, and it will be ok, don’t be afraid.

God is telling Joshua, to not let the fear overtake him.  God is telling Joshua not to be a slave to his fear.  So often we can find ourselves right there in that slave place.  We are faced with the scary thing that God wants, the scary places we need to go, or things we need to do, and we tuck our tails under and run away.  That is being a slave to your fear.  The inability to step out from that, is the reality of chains on your feet.  God is giving us the keys to those chains, God is saying there is freedom from that fear in me, just trust me.

And that’s hard stuff.  This is not the easy Christianity that some think we have.  These scary moments, and how we respond to them, define who we are as Christians.

Ya know, we were talking a couple of months ago about doing some repairs on Halya and Kostiya’s house so that it would be better for them and the baby for the winter.  And for some in this community, that’s a scary thing.  After having such a bad past experience with such projects, and the scars still being so fresh, it’s tough to think about ever wanting to do any kind of construction project again.  And we could say no.  We could say, we’ve been burned once, and we don’t want to put ourselves in that situation again.  No one would blame us.  The thing is, this is the kind of everyday scary place we face.  Here in this place, we don’t fight against the Taliban every day, our fears are not made up of the same stuff as Malalas.  But we still do have real and tangible fears.  I think, for this community, construction projects may be one of them.

I know that I can’t say much about this, I wasn’t here.  I didn’t witness or feel the loss of the accident in the same way that you all did.  I understand, that I just don’t feel the same way, but I’ve got to tell you, you can’t stop going into the places you feel God is calling you, wherever they may be, because you’re scared of what might happen.  Now, I’m not saying that you can go in there unprepared.  I’m not saying that you should go completely unprepared, without acknowledging lessons learned in the past.  I am saying, though, that we are called to help those when we can, we are called to take care of those in this community, and if this is what God is calling us, as a community, to do, then we should really think hard before we give in to our fears.

Fear cannot control your ministry, for this is your ministry after all.  Fear cannot control your lives.  Fear is a crippling force, and when you allow it to win, it will continue to win more and more frequently.  I admit, that I too have let fear win.  That I too have said, “I hate heights, I don’t think I can climb the ladder any higher.”  I too have allowed fear to dictate my moves in life, but in the moments where I felt God’s calling the greatest, I knew I couldn’t let my fears get in my way.  It doesn’t mean that I am any less scared, but it means that I know that I have to step out in faith and trust, that regardless of the things that may happen, this thing that I am doing is greater than the fear.

And friends, God is greater than the fear.  God will lead you to amazing places, some of them scary, some of them will be through the scary, but God will be with you.  God will never forsake you.  The Holy Spirit is our companion for this journey, and He is imploring us not to let fear win.  He is standing next to you championing you.  Telling you, you CAN do this!  I promise you, you can do this!  As we go throughout this next week, that promises to bring a whole lot of uncertainty with the ongoing rallies and people standing up for what they believe in for this country, it is my prayer that you will not let fear stop you from what you know to be God’s calling for you.  Whether that be moving to a new country, leading a small group, or protesting in Rynok Square today, it is the deepest desire of my heart that you will place your trust in God.  That you will choose to go down the hard roads as well as the easy ones as they are presented to you in this journey.  And I pray that as you travel down each of these roads that you would feel the safety and presence of our God by your side whispering in your ear not only the directions, but a chant of, ‘you can do it.’

Amen.

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