Four weeks ago when we launched this series on change and transition I told you a bit of my story of moving from Fresno to San Bruno. It was a journey marked by both grief and excitement, as the journey of change and transition often is. Saying good-bye was hard. Saying hello was a little scary. And being in a new place was more than a little disorienting.
I spent several months in the neutral zone that we explored last week, the wilderness of ambiguity and uncertainty. It felt a bit as if I had lost my sight and therefore all the cues that make life familiar and comfortable. But after a few months something began to happen.
I stopped by the new coffee shop I had begun to frequent and the barista greeted me by name. I found my way to a meeting the next town over without using my Thomas Guide map (back in the prehistoric days before GPS!). I came to church, and I realized that I knew lots of faces and names. I even knew which key fit which lock! And it began to dawn on me that I had begun to let go of what had been . . . my life in Fresno . . . and had begun to envision and embrace a new beginning, a new life in San Bruno, a life that became quite familiar and quite wonderful.
Today, as we conclude this series on change and transition, we’re going to explore new beginnings, the last major movement of the work of transition. Remember…change is what happens outside of us; transitions are the inward journey of coping and adapting to change. We’ve presented this series because we want to fill your personal toolbox with skills and perspectives that will help you to successfully navigate the inevitable changes of life, but there’s also another reason.
This isn’t just about our individual journeys; it’s also about our journey together as Trinity Lutheran Church. Thriving into the future will require us to navigate the challenges of change, and the more equipped we are to successfully navigate that journey the more God’s mission and ministry with thrive in our midst. And to that end today’s scripture reading from Joshua 1 is helpful.
The story begins with a death. Moses is dead. Moses was the community’s anchor, their connection to God. He had come to the Israelites as they languished in slavery, and he told them that God had not forgotten them; that they would be going home. Moses stood toe to toe with Pharaoh and went 10 rounds, until by the power of God, they were released from their slavery. Moses was George Washington and Billy Graham all wrapped into one. And now, Moses was dead. Now the people were standing on the edge of the Jordan River, the boundary between the wilderness and Promised Land without their leader. Who would lead the people now? What would the future hold? Would the people be willing and able to let go of Moses and embrace a new leader and a new future?
And then there’s Joshua, Moses’ protégé. Joshua would have wrestled with his own grief over Moses’ death but God spoke into that grief about new beginnings. God whispered directions: lead the people, obey my commands, enter the Promised Land, take possession of it and fear no one. And God also whispered promises: I will be with you, no one will be able to stand against you, I will not forsake you. And if we were to read further into the book of Joshua we would learn that Joshua did as the Lord commanded. He led the people into a new beginning in the Promised Land.
It’s a wonderful story, but as is true of so many of the great biblical stories it is also our story. And it has much to teach us about change and transition, and especially about new beginnings. For instance, new beginnings always start with a death of sorts, a letting go of what was, a willingness to release all that was once familiar. That’s hard work.
For Joshua that meant letting go of Moses and Moses’ leadership. For me it meant letting go of the life I had known in Fresno. That took time. But this letting go is an important step because we cannot embrace what God has in store for us if we refuse to let go of the past. Let me say that again, we cannot embrace what God has in store for us if we refuse to let go of the past.
I think some of us have struggled with that important step here at Trinity. Many of you joined the church when Madera was a smaller and more tight knit community. In those days, the church was filled with young families. But both the community and the world around us have changed radically over the years and we’ve been living in transition. Both this new community and new world are filled with opportunity, but we cannot embrace a new beginning until we are willing to let go of the past.
That doesn’t mean that we forget the past, or pretend that it didn’t happen, or somehow devalue the remarkable things that God has done through us in this place. But it does mean that our yearning for what God has in store for us must be stronger than our pining for the past. Is that true for you? As I anticipate changes and transitions this summer, is that true for me? Is our yearning for what God has in store for us stronger than our pining for the past?
Just as God whispered a new beginning into the heart of Joshua, we trust that God will do the same in us. That’s why we will spend an evening together on March 13th at Perkos, sharing dinner, remembering Trinity’s past, and dreaming together about our future. This event is called “An Evening of Historical Reflection.” But it’s more than mere navel gazing or a trip down memory lane; this evening of remembering and dreaming will be an opportunity for us to hear God’s whispers into our life as a church. We all have something to speak into the evolving vision of who God is calling us to be. So, I hope you’ll set aside this evening for dinner and dreaming! It should be a very worthwhile evening.
This is your church. It’s not my church. It’s not the Council’s church. No matter how active or influential, it’s not any one family’s church. You are the Church, and your voice matters. I don’t know what the future looks like, but I trust that it will be good because God is good and God is in our future.
While some people love and embrace change easily, for many others change is troubling, upsetting, disorienting. Sometimes it feels as if you’ve walked into your home only to realize that someone moved all the light switches and furniture! One reason I don’t like sleeping in strange hotel rooms or guest rooms in other people’s houses. I can make it to the bathroom in the middle of the night at my house, but invariably I’ll bang my shin or bash my big toe on the corner of some piece of furniture when I’m away from home. Can you relate?
When we can no longer hold onto the familiarity and comfort of the past, what can we hold onto? Onto what do we cling for security? For peace of mind? Like Joshua, I would suggest we cling to the promises of the One who is clinging to us, the One who will never let us go.
The promises given to Joshua, the promises that provided Joshua with the courage to move forward, putting one foot in front of that another, are promises that are given to us as well, “I will be with you. I will never leave you or forsake you. Nothing can snatch you out of my hand. My rod and my staff will comfort you. My word will guide you. My people will walk with you and I will lead you. Do not be afraid.”
These are promises that sound a lot like those made by another Joshua – someone we may know as Yeshua, Jesus – many years ago to his disciples: “I will be with you. I will never leave you or forsake you. Nothing can snatch you out of my hand. My rod and my staff will comfort you. My word will guide you. Do not be afraid.”
One way Joshua’s community had to live out that stepping out in faith: in chapter 3 when the Israelites had gathered at the Jordan river and were ready to cross into the promised land, God made it clear that he would stop the river to allow the people to cross. However, they had to get their feet wet first before God would stop the river from flowing.
I have great appreciation for our past and I have great hope for our future. But I don’t mind confessing to you that at times I feel a bit lost, a bit disoriented and afraid. I long for a perfectly clear picture of the future and perfectly clear path to follow, but I almost never experience new beginnings that way.
Instead I take courage in God’s promises. I seek to listen carefully to the whisper of God in my soul. I hold tightly to the hands of my brothers and sisters who walk the journey with me. And I put one foot in front of the other, letting go of what has been, clinging tightly to the hope that is ours in Christ, and trusting that God is clinging even more tightly to us. Amen