July 13, 2014
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
DON’T JUST STAND THERE
We’re having an extended Fourth of July celebration here at church this month. On all four Sundays in July we are talking about our country and what makes it unique. I think we would all agree that we are blessed to be Americans. We are blessed to be free. That was our theme last Sunday. And today we talk about something Americans value greatly. In the immortal words of Larry the Cable Guy, our national slogan might well be “git-r-done”. We are people of action. We don’t just stand there. We do something.
A friend told me about a professor of economics from back east. He was a brilliant man who understood economic theory and could explain it as well as anyone. He took a sabbatical from his teaching responsibilities. Usually that would mean he was going to write a book. But no, in this case, he wanted to take time to start a business. A hot dog stand. He had never experienced first-hand how a business really works. Not just in theory, but in practice. He figured he’d be a better professor with that experience under his belt.
It’s good to be smart. But Americans admire brainpower only so far. We are suspicious of “pointy-headed intellectuals”. We are impressed with “go-getters”. We admire those who do things and build things and get things done.
Our first president is a good example. George Washington was a man of action. Long before he became our president, he was fighting the British. He had met them head on in what is now Brooklyn, New York. That was a mistake. He was greatly outnumbered. He had to retreat or the war might have ended right then and there. They didn’t have much time. They were camped in Pennsylvania. Soon the British would find them. It was winter. They were cold. They were starving. Their situation was desperate. That’s when General Washington did something nobody could have expected. He crossed the Delaware River. He had to break through ice to get across. It was Christmas Day. The British were totally surprised. Historians look upon that victory as the turning point of the war. That we have a United States of America at all is due to George Washington who didn’t just stand there. He did something.
Our scripture today tells of the crossing of another river. The Jordan River. The Israelites had already crossed a much bigger body of water, the Red Sea. But that was 40 years earlier. Ever since they had been wandering in the wilderness, taking way longer than should have been necessary to get to the Promised Land. Now they are there. The Promised Land is on the other side of the Jordan River. All they have to do is get across.
Crossing the Jordan has come to be something of a symbol that can apply to a lot of things in life. We all experience crossover moments. Sometimes we call them moments of truth. We’re leaving something behind. We’re moving into something new. It’s always scary. And it’s always a defining moment in your life. Defined by the fact, let’s hope, that you didn’t just stand there. You stepped forward.
I was inspired by a man who stepped forward at James Gamblin’s memorial service to tell us of a time when he was in the principal’s office. Mr. Gamblin was his principal. He was having serious problems with one particular teacher. Mr. Gamblin told him he had two choices. He could run away. That is, he could be assigned a new teacher. Or he could deal with his problems with this teacher and figure out a way to get through it. Either way, he could very well be setting himself up for the way he would deal with difficult situations for the rest of his life. He said he chose to stay in that class. And Mr. Gamblin was right. That simple choice back then helped make him the man he is today. It helped him become a man who faces problems and doesn’t run from them. That was a crossover moment for him.
It’s a good exercise to list the crossover moments in your life. Some are obvious. Birth. The transition from childhood to adulthood. Graduation. A career choice. Marriage. The birth of children. Sometimes the transition from childhood to adulthood doesn’t happen until then! There are the crossover moments we wish we could avoid but often we can’t. A lost job. A financial reversal. A failed marriage. A health crisis. A legal problem. A child whose problems become your problems. A death. And there are many other crossover moments that are unique to each of us as individuals. It was scary, but it shaped the person you are today. It was hard, but it was worth it.
Or maybe it was scary and it was hard and so you didn’t cross over. You chickened out. You didn’t just do something. You stood there.
The hard part about crossing over is that we get really attached to where we are. It may be a barren wilderness, but at least it’s your barren wilderness! You’re used to it. It’s a hard life in the wilderness, but you know what to expect. You have no idea what to expect on the other side of the Jordan River. I think that’s one reason it took them 40 years. They were scared. And so they were reluctant to go where God had told them to go. Often we are, too. We shy away from growing and becoming and claiming new territory. That raging Jordan River is just too formidable a barrier.
Here is the funny irony. Any of you who have been to the Holy Land know what I’m about to say. The Jordan is not a raging river at all. It’s not a Snake River. It’s not a PayetteRiver. It’s not even a BoiseRiver. You could wade across easily. In some places you could jump from rock to rock and not even get your feet wet. And there’s a lesson here. When we come to our crossover moments, we tend to make the barrier holding us back bigger and scarier than it really is.
Of all our presidents, one who was the quintessential man of action, even more so than George Washington, was Teddy Roosevelt. He spent a lot of time in the North Dakota badlands as a young man. It was his way of toughening himself up. Here’s what he said about the things that were big and scary to him back then:
There were all kinds of things I was afraid of at first, ranging from grizzly bears to “mean” horses and gun-fighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid.
That’s a good lesson for our crossover moments. And Theodore Roosevelt is a good example of the kind of person we Americans admire and would like to become. Maybe an extreme example, but he was most certainly a man of action. If you are interested in some serious but good reading this summer, I recommend Edmund Morris’ trilogy on Theodore Roosevelt. If you read just one of the three, read the first one: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. It tells of his early years. How he went from a sickly, scrawny child to a powerful young man who would back down from nothing. A man of guts and action.
He came up with the phrase, “the fellowship of doers”. He was a full-fledged member. He built up his body by exercising twice as hard as anyone else. He took on one impossible challenge after another: he was a rancher in North Dakota, a police commissioner in New York City, assistant secretary of the Navy, he led the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War, he was governor of New York.
In 1900 he was nominated by the Republican power brokers for vice president. It was their way of getting rid of him. He was getting too much done. He was ruffling too many feathers. Vice presidents had no power. Vice presidents were soon forgotten. Teddy Roosevelt was vice president six months when President McKinley was assassinated. One of those power brokers, Mark Hanna, said, “That damned cowboy is President of the United States.”
He was a doer as president. He enforced anti-trust laws, he fought for conservation, he created a national bird refuge right here at Lake Lowell, he regulated the meat-packing industry, he built the Panama Canal.
Here’s my favorite Teddy Roosevelt story: He was getting ready to give a speech in Milwaukee, Wisconsin when he was shot in the chest. He refused to go to the hospital. He insisted on giving the speech. He spoke for nearly an hour, then he let them rush him to the hospital.
Teddy Roosevelt lived those words we used as our Silent Preparation this morning:
It’s not the critic who counts. It’s not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled. Credit belongs to the man who really was in the arena, his face marred by dust, sweat, and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs to come short and short again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming. It is the man who actually strives to do the deeds, who knows the great enthusiasm and knows the great devotion, who spends himself on a worthy cause, who at best, knows in the end the triumph of great achievement. And, who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and cruel souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
Larry the Cable guy was once asked to comment on what these great words meant to him. He said, “Git-r-done!” Actually, I’m just kidding about that.
After forty years in the wilderness, with the Promised Land right there, just on the other side of a very tame Jordan River, there they stood. They were not moving. It was the big crossover moment for the nation Israel, but they hadn’t crossed over yet. The suspense was unbearable. It was their moment of truth.
It’s very interesting how the Bible describes what happened next. It says the waters of the Jordan River parted so they could walk across on dry ground. Kind of like the parting of the Red Sea. It makes you wonder why it was necessary for the waters to part since the Jordan was a small enough river they could have waded across. The Bible actually does answer this question. It says “the Jordan overflows its banks at the time of harvest” (3:15). Apparently it was the time of harvest. The writer probably anticipated that those who had seen the Jordan would be wondering.
But that’s not the interesting part. Here’s the interesting part: The waters didn’t part until they stepped into the water. “As soon as the priests stepped into the river, the water stopped flowing and piled up . . . and the people were able to cross over” (3:15-16). They had to do something first. They had to step out in faith. They could have stood there on the banks of the Jordan River all day long. Nothing would have happened. They could have waited for the waters to part. They could have waited for God to do his thing. They could have worried that they would look real silly stepping in the flooding river and being knocked over by current. They were carrying the Ark of the Covenant after all. It would have been a whole lot more convenient if God went first.
But God doesn’t work that way. It’s our turn first. “God helps those who help themselves.” A lot of people think that’s in the Bible. It actually comes from one of our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin. It expresses well the value Americans always have placed on getting things done.
As we close today, I’m wondering, are you still standing on the banks of the Jordan River in your life right now? Is there a crossover that needs to happen for you, but it hasn’t happened yet? It hasn’t happened maybe because you’re afraid, maybe because you’re reluctant to leave the wilderness in which you find yourself, maybe because you’re waiting for God to do it for you and you have missed the part about you taking the first step.
Before I close in prayer today, we are first going to have a full minute of silence. That’s long enough to make those of you who aren’t praying real uncomfortable! But I invite you to use this brief time to pray about where in your life you need a crossover, and what you are going to do about it. Let’s pray.
I want to thank you God for all the silent prayers that are ascending to you right now. I pray for each person, for each situation. One crossover we all need is to turn our lives over to Jesus. Some of us may have already done that, but we may need to do it again right now. Because maybe we have the action part down real well. We are good Americans. But we don’t have the faith part down so well. We need to be reminded that it’s not all up to us. You are there for us when we reach the limits of our human strength. You are there for us long before that. You are there for us in Jesus, in whose name we pray, Amen.