Crossing the Jordan

Scripture: Joshua 4: 1 – 9
By Rev. Dr. Jill A. Kirchner-Rose
August 2, 2015

The year was 1975.  The number one hit song of 1975 was “Love Will Keep Us Together” by Captain and Tennille.  Unfortunately, love did not keep them together, but it’s a fitting title for us on this first Sunday as pastor and congregation.  Yes, love – love will keep us together.  In 1975, the number one TV Show was “All in the Family”.   That same year people started avoiding the beaches because of the hit movie, “Jaws”.  Nineteen seventy-five was characterized by  8 Tracks, hip huggers, and bell bottoms.  Politically, 1975 was the year that the Vietnam War ended.  And 1975 was the year in which Redlands United Church of Christ was founded.

My mother shared this story with me.  She was desperately looking for a church for us to attend. She thought she had found the right church for us until she picked me up from Sunday School and I was crying because I had been taught in Sunday School about hell.  My mother came home and prayed.  She said, “God, will you please bring a United Church of Christ to Redlands?”  Her grandfather had been a pastor in the Evangelical and Reform tradition of the UCC and she was familiar with the denomination.  The very next year she heard that Rev. Bruce Van Blair who was forming a United Church of Christ in this town.  This church was an answer to my mother’s prayer and I imagine this church is an answer to many of our prayers too.

We are part of a progressive denomination.  Since 1957, the United Church of Christ has been a “church of firsts” weaving God’s extravagant welcome with social justice.  We were the first historically white denomination to ordain an African American, the first to ordain a woman, the first to ordain an openly gay man.  We were in the forefront of the anti-slavery movement and the Civil  Rights movement.  We believe in the still speaking God – the God who is all-loving and radically inclusive. Yes, Redlands was in need of a United Church of Christ.

This congregation meets that need serving as a prophetic witness in this community.  This congregation cherishes all people, including those who society considers to be the least, the last and the lost.  This congregation is Open and Affirming, participates in Step by Step (a parolee transition ministry) and cares about the growing homeless population in the community.  How grateful I am for the Redlands United Church of Christ!

We are 40 years old this year and it is love, love that has kept us together!  Forty, of course, is a spiritual and biblical number.  Jesus fasted 40 days in the wilderness.  Noah faced the rain for 40 days and 40 nights.  Moses was on the mountain talking to God for 40 days.  The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years; Yes, the number 40 holds particular significance.  It is often a period of testing, tribulation, and trial.  But it always ends with renewal, revival and restoration.  Moses came down the mountain after 40 days with his face radiating and with the 10 commandments under his arms; rainbows arched across the sky after the 40 day flood; Jesus began his ministry after 40 days in the wilderness.  After 40 years, the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and reached the Promise Land.  Forty is a very spiritual number which is why I am so excited to begin my ministry here during this 40th year because it means it is time for us to cross the Jordan River and claim the Promise Land!  The Promise Land I am referring to, of course, is not a geographical place; it is not about conquering others; it is about capturing a vivid, electrifying, invigorating, exhilarating, intoxicating faith. This is our time for renewal, revival and restoration.

In our scripture, we read that the Israelites had come to the Jordan River. Joshua is to lead them across the Jordan River.  There is no river that figures more prominently in the Bible than the Jordan River; it is mentioned 75 times.  Anytime we come across a river in the Bible, it is highly symbolic of spiritual change.  Rivers are the space between “where we have been” and “where we are going” Crossing a river means crossing from the past to the future.   Abraham crossed the Euphrates River and began a new life on the other side with many descendants.  Moses and Aaron led the people out of slavery in Egypt as they crossed the Red Sea.  Now Joshua moves the people across the Jordan River from the rugged wilderness into the Promise Land.  The crossing of a river is a sign of new life and new beginnings.

As the Israelite priests place their big toes in the Jordan River, the Bible says the water backed up.  The priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant (the ark represents the presence of the Lord) stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while the whole nation passed by.  We are told that the Jordan was at flood stage at that time.  And the Israelites passed on dry ground.  They were not to track any mud with them from the past into the Promise Land.

God then had one man from each of the twelve tribes get a rock from the middle of the Jordan River where the Israelites passed over, so that there were 12 stones in total, and pile them as a memorial in the Promised Land as a symbol of that remarkable day.  If we were to pass by that place today, we may say, “Oh, that’s just a pile of rocks” – but to the Israelites that “pile of rocks” spoke about the liberating miracle of God as the Israelites passed through the Jordan River on dry ground into the Promise Land.

A second stone memorial was built in the middle of the Jordan River where the priests had stood.  So that when the Jordan river was running low in years to come the Israelites would remember the faithfulness of God.

This morning we will be creating a stone memorial / monument as we symbolically prepare to cross the Jordan and enter into our Promise Land.  As we come forward for communion, you are invited to write a word on a stone and place it on the pile of rocks.  It is a word that you would like to bring with you as we cross the Jordan and enter into the Promise Land together as Redlands United Church of Christ.

The word I have written is “Revival”.  This should come as no shock to the Search Committee for during my candidating weekend I preached an entire sermon on “Revival” at Irvine UCC.  And this is what I said.  (My apologies to the Search Committee and to Floyd for repeating myself, but I think it’s worth hearing a second time.)   A “revival” is a specific period of increased spiritual interest or renewal.  Revival is a vital and fervent relationship with God after a period of wandering or decline.  A fervent renewal of a relationship with God.  I want a revival for RUCC.

Our Christian history is filled with revivals since the first century.  The greatest revival historians tell us is the day of Pentecost.  The disciples were hiding, scared and feeling hopeless.  But God sent a mighty wind, called the Holy Spirit, and  Peter got up to preach and 3000 people that day became followers of Christ.  Pentecost was the greatest revival of all time.

The second greatest revival is the Protestant Reformation in 1517.  On October 31st, Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of the All Saints Church.  Among other things, Luther argued again the practice of indulgences being sold. Historians say that the Protestant Reformation was the second greatest revival.

Then there is the First Great Awakening between 1727 and 1750 when George Whitfield, a great pulpiteer and an open air orator, sparked religious fervor as he traveled through the colonies.  Everywhere he attracted huge, emotional crowds.  Yes, it was called the Great Awakening.

The second Great Awakening took place between 1780 and 1810. God poured God’s spirit in a quiet way that shaped such denominations as Christian and Congregational churches of frontier America, that is, two of the predecessor denominations that now make up the UCC.  Yes, we have our roots in revival.  Revival is no stranger to us.

From 1906 – 1915, there was the Azusa Spirit Revival.  A black man by the name of William Seymour led the way.  His worship services were way ahead of their time with interracial mingling – that’s always a feature of true revival.  Yes, interracial mingling in 1906.  Imagine that!

There have been revivals in Africa, Asia, South America, Caribbean, and Indonesia.  You can always tell a revival is taking place when love is abundantly recognizable, change is attainable, progress is undeniable, worship is irresistible and God’s presence is unmistakable.  No we do not need another strategy – we need a revival.  Revival is the community saturated with God!

We come from a long history of revivals.  Have you heard of the revival of the 21st century? Let me ask,  if not now, then when?  If not you, then who?  If not now, then when?  If not you, then who?   We are the ones that we have been waiting for! With the vision of God before us, the presence of God behind us, the plan of God above us, the might of God below us, and the power of God within us, the Promise Land is ours’!  And love…love will keep us together! If I could send out one word for us as we cross the Jordan River, it would be revival!

Hallelujah! Thine the glory.
Hallelujah! Amen.
Hallelujah! Thine the glory.
Revive us again.

(My gratitude to Dr. Frank Thomas who inspired my understanding of revival with his 2009 sermon, “Reviving Us to Wholeness”.)