7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:7-9
Hope will not stop the coronavirus from spreading.
Hope will not protect you or your family from getting it. Hope will not find a cure. When people talk about “hope,” there is often a misunderstanding of what it is and what it can do. As Rick Page once said to me, quoting from his book, “Hope is not a strategy.” Hope by itself won’t solve the current crisis, but we need it, perhaps more than we need any other thing to get us through. Because while hope isn’t a strategy and while hope isn’t a solution, hope is the fuel that will power us to the end. Hope will be what carries us to the next thing and the next thing and the next things when we run out of things to believe in. When we run into a brick wall and can’t seem to find a solution, hope is what will enable us to keep searching until we find the hidden door that leads us to the next level. Hope is the fuel for our soul. It’s a good thing for us God has it in abundance!
I can only imagine what the Israelites were thinking as they walked around the walls of Jericho.
If you don’t know the story, God tells his prophet, Joshua, that God is about to deliver into the hands of the Israelites the Promised Land! The land of Canaan is to be given to the Israeli people which meant that God will be with them as they conquer the land. Today, the land of Canaan encompasses Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and parts of Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. But this wasn’t going to be an easy task. Cities like Jericho were fortified and for the people of Israel to launch an assault on a fortified city would have been a blood bath. So God instructs Joshua how to tear down the walls to give the Israelites the chance to break through. Did God tell them of a secret underground tunnel they could use to sneak into the city? No. Did God tell them of a weakness in the defensive strategy of the people of Jericho? No. Instead God told them to walk around the walls of the city once a day for six days and then on the seventh day to walk around it seven times and blow a horn and the walls will fall. Imagine being a solider in the Israeli army and being told you were going to conquer a city by simply walking around a wall and shouting at it. You might have thought Joshua had finally gone off the deep end. But God had done so much for the Israeli people already that they had faith in him as a prophet of God and that gave them hope that this too would work. And that hope gave them the fuel to do the impossible. And the walls came tumbling down.
We are in the midst of our own time in the desert.
A time of anxiety. A time of insecurity. A time of testing. To be clear, God did not create the coronavirus to test us. There are people out there who will say outlandish things like that, but that comes from a deep misunderstanding about who God is and how God works in the world. Rather, whenever the people of God are going through tough and difficult times, it is a test of our faith. And right now, we are in the middle of that desert. Nothing around us as far as the eye can see. No idea about where our destination will ultimately be or what it will look like or how long it will take to get there. I feel myself glued to the TV screen or to NPR, waiting for the next press conference to tell me how something else has changed in my life. I keep getting messages from every company I’ve ever given my email address telling me the twenty ways they are doing their part to protect me and I keep thinking, you mean you didn’t wash your hands when you served my food before? My heart sinks to think of all the people living alone out there who are in isolation and just need someone to talk to or hold their hand or give them comfort during this time of increasing loneliness. And like a desert, it seems to be without end.
But we are a people of hope.
God shares with us so many stories of inspiration through the eyes of his people. We read in Genesis about God promising Abraham he will be the father of many nations and indeed though his sons, he has. We read in 1 Samuel about David being chosen by God to defend the nation of Israel and when there seemed to be no hope left at all, David defeated the champion of the Philistines in a single blow. And in John’s Gospel, Jesus shared with us all that even in death we have hope because he goes before us and prepares the way for our return home to God. But if all we had were stories from 2000 years ago, it would not be enough. If our only evidence of hope came from people who were long gone, it would not be enough. But thankfully, God’s work in the world didn’t stop with Paul and the apostles. Even the Bible doesn’t cover every story of God’s amazing work in and through his people. John wrote, “30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
The story of God lives on in each one of us.
Gone are the days of the burning bush as cool as that would be. It’s not likely that we’ll get to cross the River Jordan because the waters part before us. Instead, God is made real in the love we share for one another. We become God incarnate in the world today, Christ embodied in human form. In every kind word, in every prayer, in every act of kindness, God is made manifest. And one day our time in the desert will end. One day, we will come together once again and this time of testing will be over. But until that time, we do what we can, wherever we can, to be God incarnate to a world that needs us more than ever. Paul wrote a passage in his letter to the believers in Rome about how they should behave to reflect their love of Christ. He wrote:
10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. – Romans 12:10-13
That sounds like a pretty good prescription for what we should be doing in these trying times. The doors to our building might be closed, but the church is open! Let us take these words of Paul to heart and continue to be devoted to one another and to honor one another. Let us continue to be enthusiastic for the work of God in the world and to join in however we can. Let us be patient in this time of affliction, let us be faithful in prayer, and let us be joyful in the hope that we have. And above all, let us practice hospitality to the Lord’s people who are in need.
We have devoted our time and energy this Spring to fighting hunger.
And even though being “sheltered in place” is hampering those efforts, we are going to continue to do our part. Especially now, when people are out of work, unable to pay their bills, and having to choose between medicine, food, and rent, helping to fight hunger is more important than ever before. So if you’re out and about running essential errands and want to drop off food for the Alameda County Food Bank, feel free to drop it off outside the church doors and I’ll put it in the two huge drums we have in the entryway. Or you can donate directly to the church and I will go and buy canned goods and food on a grocery run to fill up the barrels. Just let us know that the money is to be used for the Alameda County Food Bank and 100% will go directly to help our efforts. We’re also sponsoring a team in the Berkeley Virtual CROP Walk! This is a wonderful organization under the Church World Services banner dedicated to fighting hunger and poverty worldwide, and you can help out in two ways. First, you can donate money to our team by going online to Berkeley CROP Walk and looking for Team BMUC or by following the link in our events page or on our website. Second, you can take a selfie of yourself walking and post it on Facebook on the CROP Walk page and let them see your virtual support.
We’re also looking for ways to keep connected, especially with our elderly folks in the church.
Join our K.I.T. Team (Keep In Touch) by volunteering to call or write to those who would enjoy a friendly voice or a handwritten note. Lee Marrs came up with this idea and we’re sort of running with it in a bunch of different directions. Our Congregational Care Ministers wanted to be sure to keep in touch with those on our care list, and we thought we might need to expand that list. So if you’d like to help us, just let me know and I’ll make sure to put you on our team. Or if you know of someone we should include who would like a phone call or letter, please let us know that, too. And for those of you on social media, we’re going to be starting a Wednesday Night Social Hour on ZOOM as a way for us all to stay connected regularly. Open to anyone who wants to join, I’ll send out a link every week to remind you all, but I hope you’ll come just to chat and check in so we can see how you’re doing. My wife Cassie thought it would be fun to do something like this to help us stay in touch and to let each other know what’s going on.
In this challenging time, it’s going to take more effort to be the people of God.
We’ll have to be more creative. We’ll have to be more intentional. We’ll have to reach out in new and different ways. But it’s important for us to continue to be the hope for the world by being the Body of Christ in the world today. Because hope is the fuel; that will get us through this crisis. Hope is the fuel that will push us through in those days when it gets lonely or frustrating. Hope will help us fight when our bodies are tired or sick. Hope will see us through. Let us be the hope for the our own little corner of the world today.