Be Strong, Courageous, Unafraid, My Son

“Be Strong, Courageous, Unafraid, My Son”

1 Chronicles 28:14-18 (28:20) – July 8, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

King Solomon's Temple at Jerusalem

An older father, giving the gift of encouragement and advice to his younger son. We have seen this sort of touching scene play out, over and over again. In books, on television, in movies. This is like a pep talk from a wonderful motivational speaker, only even better.

King David is aging, and he knows his time is short. God has already chosen David’s favorite son Solomon to be the next king, among all of his sons. (And, he did have a number of sons, from a number of different wives.) What is more, David calls together a large crowd of the leaders, nobles, and executives of Israel for an important royal address.

What is the backstory here? How did this grand scene with a cast of hundreds of the leaders and administrators of Israel come about?

For that, we’ll need to step back and consider King David. He was considered a man after God’s own heart. He wrote a good portion of the book of Psalms, the song book of the Bible. He truly had a relationship with the Lord. But—God did not want David to be the one to build a special Temple for the Lord in Jerusalem. Can you imagine? Why? Why was that?

King David had also been a warrior for years, and had either killed or ordered the killing of a large number of people. The Lord God communicated in no uncertain terms to David that he was not supposed to be the one to build the special Temple. It would be up to David’s son Solomon to build the special house of the Lord. That was by order from God most high.

Can you imagine the scene? All the people, gathered for this grand motivational speech at the end of David’s life. He had been collecting the best of everything for use in the construction of such a fine structure, for years. All for Solomon’s use, and all for the glory of God. Remember, this was a dearly beloved wish of David’s, to see God’s Temple built in Jerusalem.  

David had it all. In his prime, he was a skilled warrior. David also was a fine musician—he played the harp and wrote songs; he was incredibly attractive, and he was a natural leader of men. What was not to like about King David? Or, to look at him from another point of view, King David must have been really intimidating, certainly for young Solomon. And probably for most of all the leaders and administrators of Israel.

Why do coaches, teachers and other motivational speakers give those rousing speeches? To encourage and hearten their listeners, of course. King David must have known that Solomon needed encouragement, and even reassurance.

As an important note, King David also wanted to let everyone know for sure that Solomon was his chosen successor. Just in case, even after the death of David, he wanted everyone in the kingdom of Israel to understand that fact—even though there were a number of sons of David, including several with eyes on the throne and the king’s succession.

Let’s focus on Solomon, specifically. Sure, he had already been anointed as king, and David his father had already made his views on the succession crystal clear. Can you picture Solomon, standing there next to his father?

He must have been young and inexperienced. Plus, his father David was putting the extensive plans and provisions for the Temple into his hands.  What a remarkable position to be in.  His father David is at the end of his life, and the young, inexperienced Solomon is offered both detailed plans for the Temple plus letting everyone know—for sure—that Solomon is the one God wants to follow the aged David,

Let’s take a closer look at the provisions for the Temple. David made it absolutely clear to everyone listening that everything Solomon would need would be given to him. Reading from our scripture passage today again, “10 Consider now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house as the sanctuary. Be strong and do the work.”

11 Then David gave his son Solomon the plans for the portico of the temple, its buildings, its storerooms, its upper parts, its inner rooms and the place of atonement. 12 He gave him the plans of all that the Spirit had put in his mind for the courts of the temple of the Lord and all the surrounding rooms, for the treasuries of the temple of God and for the treasuries for the dedicated things.”

Imagine how meticulous the Temple plans of King David were. The brief excerpt I just read was only scratching the surface. I get the feeling that this kind of explanation and planning might have been right up the young man Solomon’s alley. From several situations that are mentioned about the heir apparent, after he has succeeded to the throne, I suspect Solomon might have particularly relished the level and amount of detail in the plans.

There is another important focus in this passage. I could preach a whole sermon on this aspect of David’s instruction and command to his son. However, let us just mention the charge that David gave: “in the sight of all Israel and of the assembly of the Lord, and in the hearing of our God: Be careful to follow all the commands of the Lord your God, that you may possess this good land and pass it on as an inheritance to your descendants forever.” In other words, be faithful to God! Follow the Lord all the days of your life! This is a solemn command, just as much as the rest.

We come, finally, to the assurance God has given to Solomon, and by extension, to all of us. “20 David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. God will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished.”

Just like a skilled motivational speaker, David hits on facing and overcoming natural fears and anxieties. Plus, he also focuses on assuring his son of God’s caring, enabling presence. As commentator Leslie Allen says, “The Lord is David’s own God. David is testifying that God had seen him through every problem and would be there to help Solomon to the end.” [1]

“Be not afraid or discouraged!” This is on top of “Be strong and courageous!” After the clear unequivocal statement of God’s presence being with David his whole life long? What a tremendous encouragement and reassurance this must have been to Solomon, especially since David his father said those things in front of all the important people in Israel.

What is this summer sermon series all about? We are taking a look at different aspects of the “Be Not Afraid” passages. Yes, the aging David was giving his son a much-needed boost of encouragement, as well as reducing fear and anxiety. When anyone has a huge task looming over their heads, fear and anxiety naturally enters the picture. Solomon had two huge tasks ahead of him: that of taking over as king, and of building the Temple.

As we can see from the example of Solomon, fear of huge tasks can be disabling. Fear and anxiety can cause us to trip up, even to freeze. David has a remedy for this kind of paralyzing fear: do the work! This matter-of-fact strategy helps many people conquer their fears and overcome anxiety. This apparently was just the ticket for Solomon. And, this is a great suggestion for anyone facing a really big task.

Hear the words of David: be strong! Be courageous! Be not afraid! And then, we can celebrate. For, our God will be with us, even to the end of the age. Amen, alleluia.

[1] Allen, Leslie C., The First and Second Books of Chronicles, New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. 3 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1999), 463.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

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Joshua Called Courageous!

“Joshua Called Courageous!”

Josh 1-9 be strong, poster

Joshua 1:1-2, 5-9 (1:9) – June 17, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Do you know what it’s like to be a second fiddle? Someone’s assistant? Someone to back up the real leader, or director, or president? Always there, just in case, always ready to step in, in case of emergency, but never really, fully in charge? I do. I’ve been in that faithful, dependable assistant position a lot, for a number of years.

It can be a relief, not having to be the top person in charge. Remember, President Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here.” With the second fiddle, the buck definitely would not stop at the assistant’s desk. He or she would be able to pass it on.

All the same, imagine Joshua, the newly designated leader of the nation of Israel. His predecessor, the strong and dynamic leader—or, director, or head of the Israelite nation—Moses, had been in charge of the nation for over forty years. Israel had been wandering in the wilderness all that time. Joshua had been Moses’s right-hand man all of that time, too. By all accounts, Joshua was a faithful, dependable assistant and second-in-command to Moses, for decades.

What kinds of things must have been going through Joshua’s head, after the death of his leader, probably even his mentor, Moses? I cannot imagine the shock and grief at his leader’s death, plus all the huge weight of the responsibility for the whole nation of Israel, now resting squarely on Joshua’s shoulders. What on earth does he do now?

As the book of Joshua begins, we hear the words read to us today, where the Lord God meets with Joshua. Not with Moses, as had happened a number of times in years past, but with Joshua, instead! Joshua is the one having an up-close-and-personal encounter with the Lord!

This is a first-hand encounter with the God who led Israel through the wilderness for forty years. Pillar of cloud by day, pillar of fire by night, manna every morning, for forty years. We’re talking an extraordinary God, here! Power beyond understanding, magnificent glory, works miracles on a daily basis. That’s the God who meets with Joshua.

Joshua probably did not feel at all up to the daunting task of primary, solo leadership. However, God knew better than Joshua. “Joshua was prepared by faithful service in small things, in being Moses’ assistant. Dr. Alan Redpath tells of a motto over a kitchen sink: “Divine service is conducted here three times daily.” [in the washing of dishes] The motto is true, and great men and women are prepared by faithfulness to the small things.” [1]

We see that God has encouraging words for Joshua: “Be strong and courageous!” And, “Be not afraid!” That is why many biblical scholars think that Joshua had an inferiority complex. The Lord needed to give him a leadership pep talk!

When Pastor Gordon and I began an interim, emergency pastorate in 2014 here at St. Luke’s Church for three months, this was a familiar job for me. Gordon and I had done it before, in an interim position at another UCC church in 2007. I was Gordon’s assistant. I was playing second fiddle to a seasoned, self-assured pastor who had many years of experience under his belt. When Pastor Gordon left St. Luke’s Church in June 2014 and left me as solo pastor, I was experiencing some of the same feelings that Joshua probably felt. How on earth am I going to lead these people? Yet, with God’s help and the help of several seasoned professional pastors and clergy, I weathered that storm of low self-confidence and low self-esteem.

Joshua faced a huge, new, daunting task, to be sure!

What is one of the most important things the Lord says to Joshua, when giving him the heavenly pep talk? “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. 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.“ Reading and meditating on the Word of God on a regular basis is of primary importance to God. Moses did these things. Joshua must have seen Moses read and meditate on the Word of God, countless times, and I suspect he joined in, as well.

Let’s break down God’s words to Joshua in these verses, and take a closer look at what God is telling him to do. “Joshua must take great care to observe the law. God’s Word and Joshua’s commitment to it would be the pillars supporting his success. Joshua did not only need to read God’s word. It had to be on his lips (“shall not depart from your mouth”), in his mind (“meditate in it day and night”), and he had to do it (“observe to do according to all that is written”).” [2] Regular, even daily insights into God’s Word, the Bible, can help us think the way God does, behave in the way God does, and have compassion on the people God does.

Even though you and I are not facing such a huge task as Joshua, today, what we face can be daunting to us. Sometimes, we can be anxious, fearful, afraid, even stressed out, angry or confused. We might need encouragement and support from God, too. What is a daunting task, to you? How can God’s words to Joshua be helpful and encouraging to any of us, today?  

Pray, seek the Lord, and talk to other, trusted Christian friends. The helpful, encouraging answer will be there. The Lord can—and does—inspire and encourage each of us as we face new and daunting tasks in our lives, day by day. What a tremendous promise to celebrate!

Remember God’s words to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous!” And, repeated again and again throughout Scripture? “Be not afraid!” Be that way. God said so!

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/joshua-1/   David Guzik Bible commentary on Joshua 1

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

 

Compassion and Babies

Exodus 1:15-21(1:20) – June 18, 2017

Exod 1 Pharaoh and the Midwives, Golden Haggadah, Catalonia, early 14th century, British Library,

“Compassion and Babies”

Who doesn’t love babies? Babies are sure to put smiles on the faces of many, many people, all over the world. Chubby little hands and feet, delicate ears, nose and mouth. They are adorable when they smile and yawn, and little angels when they are asleep.

I realize there are some people who are not wild about babies, but these are in the minority. Could we focus on one particular person who did not like babies at all? Our Scripture reading today from Exodus tells us a good deal about him. Starting at verse 8, “Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us.”

Joseph and his brothers had been dead for many years—perhaps centuries. This king of Egypt did not remember anything of the marvelous things that Joseph did and the wonderful miracle he helped bring about, assisting all of Egypt and the regions surrounding to survive a great famine that lasted seven years. No, as far as the Pharaoh was concerned, he had forgotten all that history in the mists of a far-off past.

The King of Egypt had grown afraid of the numerous descendants of Jacob, who were growing more numerous and prolific all the time.14 The Egyptians made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.” In other words, the Egyptians were using these newcomers to their land as servants, even as slaves.

But, this hard labor—forced labor—was not enough. Pharaoh and many other Egyptians continued to be intimidated by the Israelites. When enough was enough, the Pharaoh called the two midwives to him, the ones who helped the Israelite women to give birth, and gave them a terrible command. He commanded genocide.15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.”

I suspect everyone here can guess what the midwives’ reaction is to this terrible command. Horror, shock, and revulsion, followed by refusal and resolve.

According to Dr. Brueggemann, “This narrative plunges [us] into a world of danger, brutality and desperation. It is a world into which a settled congregation does not easily go.” [1] Sure, this Scripture reading from Exodus is definitely not warm and fuzzy.  Many congregations regularly romanticize the Bible, and thus ignore the difficult parts, the ominous conflicts, the slavery, wars, death and destruction.

Imagine, so many powerless little babies, just born into this world. Remember the children’s sermon? Remember how certain people today are powerless, too? Similar to our activity during children’s time, here is a story in the book of Exodus about babies in danger who needed help. The babies couldn’t help themselves, and others—the midwives—came along to be sure they were safe.

Continuing from Exodus, “The midwives answered to God, not the king, and so they let the boy babies live, too. The king called for them, and when they came, he asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” The midwives said, “Oh, king! Hebrew women are so strong—they give birth on their own, before we can even arrive!”

These courageous women defied the direct orders of the Pharaoh. “They feared God more than they feared the new king, and for that reason they refused to participate in the state-authorized killing.” [2] What is more, they give a wonderful reason for not carrying out Pharaoh’s horrible plan: they say that the Hebrew women give birth too quickly! These women are filled with vigor and a liberated power for life, and for life-bearing, too. [3]

The Hebrew women were not the delicate flowers that many Egyptian women supposedly were. Instead, the midwives appeal to what appears to be Pharaoh’s own prejudicial sense of the relationship between physical difference and ethnicity. They insist that “the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them” (Exodus 1:19).

The Hebrew word here for “vigorous” shares the root of the word “life.” The midwives deceive Pharaoh, and at the same time use language that also winks at the reader: the Hebrew women are full of life. [4] Their identity as God’s people resists death. Death is what Pharaoh demands to bring into their powerless lives—but it does not work. The midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, not only defy the King of Egypt, they also show compassion to the Israelite boy babies and their families, as well. Their community grew and became even stronger, and God was pleased with the midwives; their disobedience to the King was faithfulness to God.

According to the king, as Pharaoh, he was mighty, wily and powerful; on the other hand, the boy babies of the Israelites had no power, and neither did their parents.

Do we know what “powerless” means?  It’s to need help from others because we cannot help ourselves. Who else might be powerless? I mean, with less power in our world, or our own lives, or in their lives. Who are some people you can think of that don’t have much power in our world today? How can we help these people? Are there ways we all could show compassion and kindness to them?

This week offers us a story of humankind’s inhumanity to one another, and it is a story that gets played out in every generation. Why are we human beings unable to end our hunger for finding a group to be bullied or ostracized, be it on the playground at our local elementary school, in our neighborhood, or in the land that God promised to the Jews all those generations ago? [5]

It is the same old, same old story. One group of people come to consider themselves superior to another. Perhaps they think they are superior because of their appearance, or because they enjoy a more satisfying lifestyle, or they practice a particular religious faith. Maybe they feel they are superior because they have interpreted the Bible in such a way that they have come to believe God supports their views and lifestyle, and God condemns the views and lifestyles of those who differ from them. [6]

Who in our community enjoys favor and who is scapegoated? How does our church address these problems? Do we speak out? If not, why? Who stands to gain and who stands to lose from speaking out or keeping quiet? Can you put your own story into the story of the Hebrew people suffering under the abuses at the hands of the Egyptians? [7]

Thank God for these midwives, for Shiphrah and Puah. They stepped up, they came alongside of the Hebrew women, and they showed kindness and compassion.

How can we act today with kindness and compassion? How can we come alongside of someone in our neighborhood who is being bullied, ostracized, or even abused?

God willing, we can, and we will! Amen.

 

(A heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

[1] Brueggemann, Walter, Exodus, The new Interpreter’s Bible: general articles & introduction, commentary, & reflections for each book of the Bible, Vol. 1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 696.

[2] Ibid, 695.

[3] Ibid, 696.

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2169  Commentary, Cameron B.R. Howard, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

[5] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/eleventh-sunday-after-pentecost4#notes1

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.