“An Old New Thing”Rev. Jennifer McClung Rygg Joshua 3:7-17 Year A – Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 26)
When I was in seminary, I did an internship at a church where we spent a month involved in different aspects of church ministry – one month was youth ministry, one was children’s ministry, one was worship, one was senior adults, one was pastoral care, and so on. One of the rotations was building and administration. For that month, one of our assignments was to learn how to lock and unlock the church and turn on the heating or air.
One of my colleagues in the internship program commented to me one day, “I don’t know why we have to do this building rotation; every church has an old man who just takes care of that.” The churches I had been in did not have that; in fact, as the pastor’s daughter, I had spent many Sundays waiting for my dad to lock up so we could go home and eat lunch.
A few years later, I ended up being called as associate pastor of the church where my seminary internship colleague had been raised. As people would tell stories about the church’s history, I heard about the saints of the church, people who had already died but had left a lasting influence.
One of the names I heard mentioned the most was Harold Kay Wilson. I learned that Harold Kay had served as the building manager, locking up and turning on the heating or air and fixing things that were broken. I heard many times, “Harold Kay always took care of that.” As I heard more and more about the things that Harold Kay used to do, and how he had cared for the building for so many years, I finally understood why my colleague had said what he did.
Harold Kay loved and served the church in such a way that young people just assumed that every church had a Harold Kay Wilson. He was so committed to the church that they couldn’t imagine the church without him. I never had the opportunity to meet Harold Kay, but he influenced my life and my ministry before I ever heard of the town or the church where he served. On this All Saints Day, we remember saints of our church who have left a lasting influence.
In our Scripture passage, we hear a story from the beginning of Joshua’s leadership. I wonder what it was like for Joshua to follow the great leader Moses. Surely, he must have heard people say “oh, Moses always took care of that!” and he might have wondered how he was possibly going to do everything Moses had done.
In Joshua chapter 3, God speaks words of promise to Joshua. “I will be with you as I was with Moses,” God says, “You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant.”
This is a new era for Israel. Since they left Egypt, Moses has been their leader. As much as they complained and grumbled against him, he is the only leader they have known. But now that is changing.
You may have heard the expression, often attributed to Mark Twain, “no one likes change except for a wet baby.” I do not know how often Mark Twain changed a wet baby, but as the mother of a 10-month-old, I can say that even wet babies often protest change! Change can be uncomfortable, uncertain, and anxiety-inducing. I imagine the Israelites have their doubts about this new leader, Joshua, and perhaps Joshua himself has some hesitation about taking on such a significant role in Israel’s history.
God promises Joshua “I will be with you,” assuring Joshua not only of God’s presence, but that God will make it clear to the people that God will be with Joshua as God was with Moses. God is doing something new, but God is still God, and God is still with the people.
Chapter 3 goes on to describe the beginning of Joshua’s leadership, which, interestingly, sounds a lot like the beginning of Moses’ leadership. Verses 15 through 17 describe the scene: “When…the feet of the priests bearing the ark [of the covenant] were dipped in the edge of the water [of the Jordan river], the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap…Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.”
Just as Moses’ leadership decades ago began with the parting of waters for people to cross on dry ground, so now does Joshua’s. God seems to be saying to the people “It is still I. It is still ‘I AM’ and I am still with you.” The people may have a different leader, they may be in a different era, these are different times, but God is still God. God is doing an old new thing. God is still in the miracle business. God is calling new leaders, but it is the same Creator, Powerful, Almighty God leading the people of Israel.
God is doing an old new thing.
On this All Saints Day, we remember saints of our church who have gone before us. We give thanks for their leadership, for their faith, for their service, for all of the things that they just took care of, faithfully and diligently. God was with them, and God worked through them in powerful ways.
Though these saints are no longer with us in this world, God is still at work. As Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
God is still at work among us, and God is working through us. God is calling new leaders out of our congregation. Today’s leaders may do things differently than the saints of old. They may have new ideas. They may have different approaches. They may not have been here as long. But God is with them too. This is a new day, but God is still God, and God is doing an old new thing.
We are in a new era. Like the people of Israel, sometimes we grumble about these new times. Things were better back in the old days, we think. At least we had food when we were slaves in Egypt, the Israelites thought. The Times They are a Changin’, Bob Dylan sang in 1964. Times have continued to change, both for the world and for the church.
Statistics and our own experiences show that in many ways, it is harder to be and do church today than it was a few decades ago. The church is no longer the center of community life. When people say they go to church regularly, they might mean a couple of times a month. Going to church regularly used to mean twice a week, at least.
In these changing times when we wonder if the church is still relevant and if the church has a viable future, God is doing an old new thing.
God continues to call, to lead, to work through men and women to bring good news to hurting people.
God is still God, God is still with us, and God is doing an old new thing.
Let us not be afraid to step into the water.
Though we may be uncertain about the future, though we may be anxious about our own abilities, though we may be overwhelmed by the challenges of this world, the God of Moses, the God of Joshua, the God of the people of Israel is our God.
And God is with us.
So, with confidence and faith,
we give thanks for the saints who have gone before us
and we commit ourselves to continue to follow as God leads.
About the writer: Rev. Jennifer McClung Rygg was called to First Baptist Church, Pendleton, SC as pastor on February 5, 2017. She previously served as their associate pastor from 2009 – 2016. Jennifer is married to Travis Rygg from Greenville, South Carolina. They have two sons, Thomas and Caleb.
Jennifer spent most of her childhood in Ecuador where her family served as missionaries. She spent her middle and high school years in Haddock, Georgia, and then attended the University of Georgia, where she majored in language education and graduated in 2004. Jennifer is a 2007 graduate of McAfee School of Theology. Prior to coming to Pendleton, she participated in a pastoral residency program at Milledge Avenue Baptist Church in Athens, Georgia.
Jennifer is the recipient of the 2007 Community Ministry Award from McAfee School of Theology. She currently serves on the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina Administrative Council and Congregational Life Team and is involved with the Alliance of Pendleton Area Churches. She has participated in Leadership Pendleton and has served on the Faith and Values Advisory Board for the Anderson Independent. She has served as pastor for youth events in Georgia and Virginia and has written a children’s camp curriculum for use by multiple churches.
Jennifer enjoys traveling, reading, organizing and spending time with her family.
Scripture and Music:
Psalms 107:1-7, 33-37
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
For All the Saints
Marching to Zion
Ye Servants of God
Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
Now Thank We All Our God
Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts
On Jordan’s Stormy Banks, I Stand
Psalm 84 (Cantique de Jean Racine) Faure
How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place (Brahms)
Souls of the Righteous (T.Tertius Noble)
Sing Me to Heaven (Daniel Gawthrop)
Ride the Chariot (William Smith)
Song for Athene (John Tevener)
Blessed Are They (John Leavitt)
Precious Lord, Take My Hand
How Majestic Is Your Name
Make Me A Servant