Tuesday, January 28, 2014

reflections on Joshua (1 of 2)

I didn't see this coming - who would? - and I didn't even really notice at first, but apparently the book of Joshua and Green Lantern: Rebirth are meant to be read together.

I got the Green Lantern volume for Christmas, just a fun, quick read that I thought I could share with some folks. I certainly wasn't expecting this superhero story from a decade ago to be an instrument of the Holy Spirit. Really, who would?
So I started reading that recently.

About the same time, I started reading the book of Joshua, because it had been a couple of years.
And I did not go in with high expectations. I mean, I would have granted that this one might be an instrument of the Spirit - it's scripture, after all - but I also went in remembering that Joshua is a very violent and, at times, very boring book (if you don't believe me, check out chapters 13-21).

What I didn't remember about Joshua was that refrain you hear again and again: "be strong and courageous"; "do not be afraid" (Josh 1:6-7, 9, 18; 8:1; 10:8, 25; 11:6).

Be strong. Be courageous. Do not be afraid.
For some reason, this was absolutely imperative for Joshua and the Israelites as they entered the Promised Land. The Lord needed them to be strong and courageous, to trust him in the face of their enemies, or they weren't going to receive the land.

Now, not long before I started Joshua, I was writing a sermon on Hebrews 2:10-18, and one verse in particular grabbed my attention. It was 2:15: the Son of God had shared in our flesh and blood so that he could "free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death." Held in slavery by the fear of death. That sounded so true, so poignant. But, try as I might, I just couldn't use it in the sermon the way I wanted to. I couldn't find the words to describe the life of 'slavery to fear'. I didn't really know that kind of fear, I thought, and so I couldn't find a compelling and appropriate way to talk about it.

But then the book of Joshua opened my eyes.
"Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (1:9). When I read those words I realized that I did know what it meant to be a slave to fear. The reality was: I was terrified. I was terrified failing, of letting people down, of upsetting someone. I was terrified of falling short of my calling. 

Meanwhile, Green Lantern: Rebirth is a story about the power of fear. It's about how fear can infiltrate your life, make you do things you don't want to do, break your willpower, and take control. Fear, in the story, just happens to be a big, yellow, ancient space-monster. "Please, don't be afraid," pleads one of the heroes, "You can't be afraid..." Or the yellow space-monster will get you.

As sci-fi and fantasy can sometimes do, Green Lantern, beneath the colorful garb and the epic story-telling, had put its finger on the truth of things. The vibrant, imaginative exterior de-familiarizes everything and helps you recognize a simple truth that you may have been numb to otherwise, something you wouldn't have noticed without all those colors and lights: fear - especially when you don't recognize it - will destroy your will and seize power over your life. It will enslave you.

And that's what it was doing to me. I hadn't realized it before, didn't recognize it, but it was wrapping it's tendrils around my life. Fear was suffocating me. I was afraid to trust the Spirit to lead me, to go where I needed to go, say what I needed to say, to minister to people. I was wrapped up in a straightjacket of expectations, mistakes, and guilt, and I couldn't move.

And then it was like God was talking to Nance instead of Joshua. (That's a good feeling - don't imagine that happens to a preacher more often than it happens to anyone else.) 
Be courageous; don't be afraid. That's what I needed to hear. And I could breathe again. Green Lantern and Joshua, of all things, brought me face to face with this poison in my life and with the truth that overcomes great fear: "the Lord your God is with you" (1:9).
And my chains were gone.

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