Where do we go from here? I think that is the question that the Israelites must have been asking themselves. Over the past few weeks, we have read of the Israelites travel through the wilderness and across the River Jordan. Now they are in the Promised Land. Now what do they do? Where do they go from here? Can’t we stay by the river in the shade of the trees where it is cool and comfortable? Must we leave the banks of the river and move on from here?
I think that the same is true for the church today. How many people come to church because it is comfortable and it offers comfort and protection from the outside world? It seems to me that churches today do not challenge the member to leave the banks of the river but stay in the shade. The message given is for the here and now; there is no thought for the future.
Clarence Jordan wrote, “It is one thing to enter ‘the narrow way’ of discipline and complete dedication to Christ and the kingdom; it is another thing to keep on climbing this upward trail.” (Adapted from Sermon on the Mount by Clarence Jordan, Chapter 13) We see a lot of people who come to Christ full of ambition and enthusiasm. But when things do not go as they should, these are the ones who stop by the wayside. Perhaps that is why churches who preach the current “Gospel-lite” are successful and why they keep growing.
After all, if you don’t mention what comes next or what is around the next corner, there is no reason to give up or stop one’s journey. If the promise of the Gospel is a fancy car and riches beyond belief while you are on earth, why would you even think of tomorrow and what might lie ahead?
I won’t say that many of today’s preachers are false prophets (though I think that Clarence Jordan would do so) but is their message a true message? Yes, these modern day preachers have the right degrees and they are successful. How could you preach success if you were not successful yourself? These modern day preachers are very polished speakers, articulate and easy to listen to. But then again, in this day and age, doesn’t one have to be articulate and easy to listen to in order to gain an audience?
The message that Jesus brought implies that the future will not be an easy one. The Good News that Jesus proclaimed involved sacrifice and effort on our part. We know of the rich young ruler who found out that he could not take his riches with him into heaven; we read that when Jesus started to speak of the difficulties that lie ahead people started to leave.
In telling the story of the ten virgins (Matthew 25: 1 – 13), did He not say that those who think only in the here and now get left behind? It was those who prepared for the future who were welcomed into the banquet, not the ones who lived in the present moment.
And what was the challenge that Joshua put forth in the Old Testament reading for today? Was that not a challenge to move into the future rather than stay in the moment? This chapter in Joshua (Joshua 24) celebrates that moment in time when people stepped beyond chronos and into kairos. They moved from the present moment into the future and the fullness of time through God.
The challenge for the people that day on the plain of Shechem was to reject the present and the gods of now and embrace the future-oriented covenant that God is offering. In his letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 4: 13 – 18) Paul challenges the reader to see beyond the expected to that time when all will share the boundless hope offered by the Gospel message.(Adapted from “A Kairos Community” by Robert Roth, Sojourners, November 2005)
We cannot enjoy the fruits of the Promised Land if we rest on its shores. We crossed the River Jordan but that only is one part of the journey. Now we must move up from the banks of the river onto the higher ground. We see and hear our civilization crashing around us, much as tornados rip through the heartland of this country every spring and summer. We have seen the hopes of many drown in the rains that have accompanied the hurricanes of 2005.
Many years ago, I came across an interesting little book, “The Gospel According to Peanuts” (Robert L. Short, 1964). In one of the chapters, Short showed the strip where Linus built a monstrous sand castle when it started to rain. As the strip concludes, Linus’ work has all been washed away and he is saying that there is a lesson to be learned. As we see from Short’s book the panels from this particular strip are interspersed with Jesus’ parable about the two men who built their houses on sand and rock respectively (Matthew 7: 24 – 27). When the rains came, the house built on the sand was washed away; the house built on the rock stood. And Linus knew that there was a story among the raindrops. Those that hear these words and listened to the words are the ones who built their house on the rock. Those who did not listen to the words are the ones who built their house on the sand.
For us this story, like the story of the ten virgins, is about the future and preparation. Are we prepared for the future? Are we willing to move into the future? If our foundation is strong, if our foundation is built on the rock, then we are prepared and can move forward. The words of Jesus both provide the foundation and the call for action.
Shall we stay on the river bank, building our hope and future on the sand of the river? Or shall we move further down the path that only begins at the river’s edge? Shall we follow Christ, even if the road that we walk leads to three crosses on a far away hill? What have we to fear by following Christ? Has He not said that He would be with us along the way? Has he not said that we need to suffer on the cross for He has already done so, for our sake? Shall we stay or shall we go forward into the future? Where do we go from here?