Ah, the delectable lectionary (see my earlier post)! My spiritual breakfast this morning began with a familiar passage: Joshua 1:1-9, which has become very personal for me over the years (that's another blog entry, I'm afraid!). God seems to use Joshua 1 with regularity to reassure me of his abiding presence in the midst of transitions. A quick recap: young Joshua is taking over the leadership of God's people from newly deceased Moses, a giant of the faith. It's a time of turbulence and uncertainty and great challenges abound as Israel is called to cross the Jordan and go into the land to take possession. With Obama's inauguration right around the corner and with our senior pastor's last sermon preached yesterday, this text seems providential. The drumbeat reassurance God gives is this: "Be strong and courageous! Do not be frightened or dismayed. For the Lord God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9). It's a good word for new leaders and for a people being newly led.
Now get this: the epistle of the morning was Hebrews 11:32 - 12:2, where a long litany is recited, describing God's faithful leaders. It details the famous and the obscure, all of whom led under great hardship and failed to receive the reward. However, as the text makes clear, they led with vision and faith, trusting that the ultimate fulfillment of their leadership lay in God's hands and, indeed, encompassed future generations (that means us!). The big point of the passage is the exhortation at the end, to keep our eyes fixed firmly on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. That's vision! That's proper navigation. That's our strength and encouragement in transition. Jesus (the New Testament Joshua!) leads us into the new places God has for us. His presence is our reassurance and keeping our focus on him is the way to stay steady in unforeseen turbulence.
It couldn't get any clearer with today's gospel lesson: John 15:1-15! It's the famous "vine and branches" parable. Here Jesus reminds us that we are the branches, he is the vine. Our fruitfulness (in life, ministry, witness, service, justice, and more) lies in our abiding in him--our dwelling consciously and by faith in his living presence, our obedience to his commands to love one another and our world. This posture of quiet trust and relational closeness is the key to transitions and to faithful discipleship as we step into new places (and indeed a new year).
One sidebar comment: over the past week or two I've been thinking a lot about Gideon and the ridiculously limited resources God purposely gave him as he took over leadership (see Judges 6-7). I'm going to reflect on Gideon in another post sometime soon. But for now, believe it or not, here's how this morning's Hebrews 11 passage began: "And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon..." Delectable!