July 1, 2012
Deuteronomy 31:1-8; 14-15; 23 (1)
“Strong and Bold”
Rev. Lauren J. McFeaters
In her novel, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou tells the story of her childhood and of her growing up in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Arkansas. Every few months of so, the Reverend Howard Thomas, Presiding Elder of the District, would come and stay at Maya’s home and oh how she detested the Reverend’s visits. She could not stand the man. He was unendingly condescending, ate the best parts of their chicken dinner, and his prayers before Sunday breakfast droned on and on for so long that breakfast was ruined and the awaiting ham, eggs and biscuits were cold and nasty. On one particular summer Sunday, however, the Reverend Thomas took his text from the Book of Deuteronomy. Maya Angelou says,
“I was stretched between loathing his voice and wanting to listen to the sermon. Deuteronomy was my favorite book in the Bible. The laws were so absolute, so clearly set down, that I knew if a person truly wanted to avoid hell and brimstone, and being roasted forever in the devil’s fire, all she had to do was memorize Deuteronomy and follow its teaching, word for word.”
“I also like the way the word rolls off the tongue, (2) she says, “Deu-ter-on-o-my.
Maya Angelou knows the book is not just about governance and law.
The book is not a threat. It is a fortitude.
God’s Word through the Book of Deuteronomy gives strength and endurance; resilience and boldness; and most of all – courage. And such words do not simply trip off the tongue – they go deep into the soul.
For Moses and Joshua, words of courage do not simply trip off the tongue – they go deep into the soul.
What do we know about Moses and Joshua? Although the references are relatively brief and scattered, the books of Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges give testimony to the ways that Moses prepared Joshua to be his successor. Moses was taught and mentored by God. Now Moses is the teacher and mentor to Joshua and in that relationship there are two primary responsibilities: that of Moses to teach and of Joshua to be teachable.
Throughout the exodus and decades together in the desert, God has painstakingly taught Moses that to be wise you must make mistakes and from those mistakes you must fall down, and then you must get up and to try another day.
Moses has done the same for Joshua and Joshua must do the same for God’s people. It is God’s instruction for all of us to recognize teachable moments: to be the teacher, the student, or both.
All of us have had these kinds of teachers in our lives; the ones who shape us through perseverance and painstaking honesty; the ones who lead us toward those “Ah-ha” moments; perhaps in the classroom, perhaps not.
One teacher for me was Ken Crannell who taught me, as an overzealous and chatty student, that most human relationships are formed in the moments between words; that human communication is 5% vocal and 95% non-vocal. He taught me to listen more than speak.
Yo-Yo Ma says Isaac Stern made him the musician he is by teaching him that music had little to do with actually playing the cello. Yo-Yo Ma says Isaac Stern taught him that it’s not the notes that matter; it’s what’s in between the notes, and what it takes to get from one note to another. Music is not made by hitting a key, by bowing a string, by blowing over a reed: music is what’s made in between.
It’s how God teaches and shapes us. It’s what’s between us: God and ourselves – it’s not the doing of our faith, but the being of our faith. It’s what it takes to get from one note to another; and by opening our eyes each day with a knowledge that it’s never going to be about the words we say, but about the actions we take between the words. It’s not what trips off the tongue or the strings; it’s living as those who are never, ever forsaken that goes deep into the soul.
The Moses-Joshua relationship embodies this. Moses brought Joshua everywhere, exposed him to the deeper truths, taught him to listen between the notes; empowered his growth, supported him through difficulty; and most meaningful – introduced him to intimacy with God – the God “who goes before you; will be with you; will not fail you or forsake you. So be strong, bold and courageous.”
Every Moses needs a Joshua. Every Joshua needs a Moses. And throughout it all, one thing continues to take center stage: God is ordaining us to be strong and bold – strong and bold in order to be the courageous people of God.
Karl Barth said courage is fear that has said its prayers. Courage is fear that has said its prayers. And God’s Spirit does not make cowards out of us. Through actions of courage we grow a little taller and move a little farther beyond our limitations. God commissions us to courage. It is not a threat. It is a fortitude. God’s words give strength and endurance; resilience and boldness. Words of courage. And such words do not simply trip off the tongue – they go deep into the soul.
Several months ago as we celebrated the Lord’s Supper, I was standing at the communion table and as the trays were passed, I looked up into the balcony and the Arjona–Avila family was served the tray of bread. The tray was passed: Mom Sara, daughter Camilla, and father Ruben took the tray and passed it to his son Emilio. Emilio is a third grader, so when the tray was passed he had to stretch up to look into the plate. As he looked up and into the plate, he reached for a piece of bread, and a look of joy; pure, beaming joy lit up his face.
It was stunning. He was radiant. From ear to ear, his smile was beaming. That one action went deep into the soul. Emilio’s joy is complete. And so is God’s.
As we come to the Lord’s Table today we are fed the bread of courage and the cup of boldness.
Take and Eat :: For strength and courage.
The body of Christ :: For resilience and valor.
Take and Drink :: For boldness and audacity.
The cup of salvation :: For determination and confidence.
This is God’s gift to you: the gifts of God for the people of God.
(1) Deuteronomy 31:1-8; 14-15; 23: When Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them: “I am now one hundred twenty years old. I am no longer able to get about, and the LORD has told me, ‘You shall not cross over this Jordan.’ The LORD your God will cross over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua also will cross over before you, as the LORD promised. The LORD will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when he destroyed them. The LORD will give them over to you and you shall deal with them in full accord with the command that I have given to you. Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the LORD your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.” Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel: “Be strong and bold, for you are the one who will go with this people into the land that the LORD has sworn to their ancestors to give them; and you will put them in possession of it. It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” The LORD said to Moses, “Your time to die is near; call Joshua and present yourselves in the tent of meeting, so that I may commission him.” So Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves in the tent of meeting, and the LORD appeared at the tent in a pillar of cloud; the pillar of cloud stood at the entrance to the tent. Then the LORD commissioned Joshua son of Nun and said, “Be strong and bold, for you shall bring the Israelites into the land that I promised them; I will be with you.”
(2) Maya Angelou. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Random House,1969, 37-38.
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