Summary: A message for Covenant Sunday thinking about how the new year can be held back by fear, using Joshua, Caleb & John Wesley to show a better way where the future is seen as our friend..
It is natural at times like the turn of a new year to think about how time passes – well of course it flies!
It is 28 years since Maggie came to power. 41 since England won world cup and 7 whole years have passed since the millennium celebrations.
I remember the first one, you remember the second, and our grandchildren remember the last one!
But for them, the children / grandchildren of today looking forward to 2030 or 2044 is the same as us looking back.
But what on earth will Sutton Coldfield look like in 2030?
What will South Parade Methodist look in 25 years, 40 years time?
Of course even sooner than that, what will the Church look like this time next year? More importantly what will we look like?
It is appropriate to ask such questions for we are people called by Jesus to look ahead not just focus on the here and now. Certainly we are not supposed to focus on the past, but if we are honest many of us find it easier to look back, but that is not God’s way.
As Christians we are called to be a people on pilgrimage, a people journeying through life towards God.
Today the Holy Spirit has focused our attention on the future. Spiritually as we stand at the start of another New Year we look at the experience of God’s elect in Numbers to see what we can learn from their success and failure.
In Numbers the people are on journey which has taken them from Egypt to the brink of Canaan. The land Exodus 3:8 calls "Good and spacious (a) land flowing with milk and honey"
But fear overtook them and they so spectacularly missed out.
The text tells us the story of the 10 who looked at the future and said we can’t. It also tells of the 2 who by faith said we can.
That first problem they faced was one that we face too – fear.
What will it be like?
Will we like it?
Will we fit in?
Will this new start mean we have to change too?
Can’t we just stay the same?
But the huge problem in Numbers is not just fear. This was a content people. Like most people they were happy with familiar, what they knew. They had a deep yearning for the security of past.
Numbers 14: 3 says “Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?”
Now just think about how ridiculous that is, it would be better for them to live in slavery than in freedom in the future God has prepared for them. It is pitiful and stupid and yet it is how so many Christian’s and Churches live. You see it is all about change. The Israelites on this journey to the Promised Land saw the future as the enemy. I wonder do you?
Are you like 10, so content with past/present that will miss the Promised Land?
Of course the reading tells us that not only did they lack faith and the vision to see the future as their friend not foe, they did what so many Church people seem to be so expert at – they gossiped about it!
I truly believe that if there was a world championship of gossiping, Christian’s would get all the medals!
here in Numbers the people’s bad reports & gossip behind the leaders back no doubt, led to the whole people being infected with their pessimism.
In the modern day Church we need to guard against this so much too. Far too often we allow the gossip and bad witness of the few to derail what God is wanting to do now and the future. We need to stand up and say when we see this going on that it is unacceptable behaviour and needs to end.
I know few really relish change (whether they are young or old), but change is what being human is all about. Physically humanity is about experiencing new things, a drive and urge to experience and taste and savour. Now correct me if I’m wrong but those urges don’t or shouldn’t stop when we reach 50 or 60 or 70, do they?
Spiritually the same principle applies. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:18 says "We are being transformed into His likeness with ever increasing glory". As Christians, as Church we can never stand still; it is simply not an option because once we stay in a rut we will eventually find it has become for us a grave.
Yet that is our problem in a nutshell isn’t it? The Church across our land, our own denomination indeed, has stood still and watched while the world has changed and we have seen Church after Church die. You don’t have to travel far to find a Church or Chapel that has been converted into a house, or temple or mosque. I’m told there are even Churches that have become nightclubs. Death is a very real option for the Church too.