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Always Be Ready

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Psalms 78:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Bigfork Community United Methodist Church November 8, 2020, – 23rd Sunday after Pentecost

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say that “hindsight is always 20/20.” Recently I’ve been thinking I can’t wait until 2020 is hindsight.

Funny how our outlook can change so quickly. I got an email from someone this week that had a picture of a coil of barbed wire and the caption said that this is what 2020 would look like if it was a hula hoop.

Another frame said that one day “2020” would be code for everything going wrong, as in when someone asks us how your day was going, we would reply, “It’s a total 2020.” Everyone will know exactly what you mean.

As we have drawn close to the end of the year, America has held a national election in the middle of a pandemic…and both sides lost.

One because the results did not go as far as they had hoped, and the other because they went the wrong way.

So it is good that we have readings this morning that call us to center our souls and ourselves again on our God: what is true, what is noble, what is right, what is pure and lovely…and admirable.

We are all children of God. Let us make the effort in the days and weeks to come to see all of those things in our neighbors…no matter who they happen to be at that moment.

Always be ready…and willing…to do that.

Joshua was Moses’ successor as the leader of Israel. He and Caleb were among the spies sent into the Promised Land as Israel drew near.

Shall we go in or shall we continue to wander? That was their mission.

All the other spies came back and said the inhabitants of the land were too strong and too numerous and the people of Israel could not defeat them.

But Joshua and Caleb came back with a minority report. It could be done. It was the fulfillment of God’s promise of land to Abraham. It should be done. We must do it.

But their dissenting views were not accepted…and Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness…because of the lack of faith.

At long last they finally enter the Promised Land and…as Joshua and Caleb had urged them so long ago… and behold: no enemy can stand against them.

Like George Washington at the end of the American Revolutionary War, he tells his people that it was their God…Washington spoke of it as a ‘divine providence’…who made it possible them to do what they have accomplished.

We enter the narrative when Joshua is very old and what we read this morning is his farewell talk to the people he has led through a time filled with hardship, now at rest… for the moment.

All the enemies have been subdued and the Israelites can finally live in relative peace. But this is not a time to lose sight of their faith or forget who they and whose they are.

The challenges are less visible, but they are just as great. They have done what they have done because they had faith in the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and their God was faithful to them.

He does not want them to slip into forgetting what life was like in the wilderness. He does not want them to become to comfortable in their own will…not God’s…or take too much comfort in what they have already seen accomplished, thinking that it is theirs forever now.

Washington gathered his officers at the end of the Revolutionary War at Fraunces Tavern, on the banks of the East River in what is now New York City.

He told them something akin to that. “‘With a heart full of love and gratitude I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.”

Joshua says something like that, but in a more cautionary way. “Worship the LORD, obey him, and always be faithful.

“Will you worship the same idols your ancestors did? Or since you’re living on land that once belonged to the Amorites, maybe you’ll worship their gods. I won’t. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

It’s like the guy who dies and finds himself at the Pearly Gates. But Saint Peter tells him he gets to decide where he will spend eternity.

Peter shows him around heaven and people are reading great words, playing beautiful music and wrapping themselves in great thoughts.

Then they take the elevator to the other place and there is a big party in progress…loud music, laughing, all kinds of revelry are underway.

St. Peter takes him back to the Pearly Gates and tells him to sleep on his decision. In the morning, of course, he decides to leave heaven and spend eternity in the other place. “That’s just fine, just take the elevator down.”

When he steps out of the elevator it isn’t at all the way it was before. Everyone is dressed in rags. The party decorations are gone. They are all doing hard menial work, and the sound of groaning is in every corner of the place. It is steaming hot.

The guy says, “Hey! What happened? Where did everybody go? Yesterday a great party was going on.” The steward tells him, “Well, yesterday we were campaigning. Today we’ve been elected.”

That is the disappointment that Joshua wants his people to avoid. That is the destiny Washington wants his officers to break free from.

They want their followers to be humbled…not emboldened…by their success. The nobleness and sacrifice that brought you to this day is what you should continue to be and do.

This is a scripture for our time. Maybe it is a blessing that no one has completely gained all they wanted with our votes last Tuesday.

Maybe God has humbled us all at this fragile time so that we will continue to work hard to produce the same greatness that those who have gone before us have bestowed upon us…bequeathed to us… blessed us with.

That is what Joshua is trying to get across to his people. This is not the end. This is not even the beginning of the end. It is only barely the end of the beginning.

St. Paul reminds us and the Thessalonians today that not even all our days are the end of us. They are just the beginning of the rest of what is to come…and Christ is there at the turning point…willing to be with us…if we are willing to be with him.

It will be in death as it is in life, and the great gift God has given us is free will…not to do what is easy… but to do what is needed…for our selves and our loved ones and our neighbors.

What is it that we will be able to say to Jesus when we get to see him…with our eyes or with our spirits? What is our answer to the question he asks us simply by coming to stand before us…to be with us?

When we see him, the scripture says, we will see that we are like him for we will see him as he is. If we are going to be like him then, we must have a big part of him in our hearts.

Do we have him in our words? Do we show him to the world by what we do? Will we be like him then? What keeps us from being like him now?

Jesus himself urges us to always be ready, like the five wise girls who took enough extra oil for their lamps.

We don’t go out just in excitement to see the bridegroom. We bring extra oil to the task…a task like the one America faces now.

We don’t stay home because it is too much trouble to see some special person or thing or moment. We find extra oil and put it in our backpack before we leave our home, and it will sustain us until we have reached our goal…found our destiny…and shared it with the whole world.

It’s like what Yogi Berra said one time about baseball. “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

We have just had an election, but we face the same challenges we have always had. Election Day is not the day to stop doing everything.

It is the time to sit with our God, to thank our lucky stars and those who have gone before us for leading us through the wilderness.

We have earned our freedom as a people, but Washington and Joshua both noted that is was a divine providence that had shown it to us, drawn us to it, and rewarded us for our faithfulness.

We have come a long way from the days of Washington, and even farther from Joshua. But it still ain’t over.

We need each other, and I believe that the world needs an America that will not stop seeking the Promised Land…and a savior in Jesus Christ that will never stop seeking them.

On day we do see him and we shall be like him, for we will then be able to see him clearly…as he is. As we wait for that day, may we always be ready.

O Lord, what is it that you want to do…in this world…through us… and through me…this day?