No More Glamping in Gilgal – Rev. Henry Brinton (audio available)
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No More Glamping in Gilgal
August 15, 2010
I am sure that my sermon title today has you scratching your head, so let me begin with some definitions:
First, “glamping.” This means “glamour camping.” Although camping used to be a rugged activity, it is not always this way anymore. Today, you can buy a Coleman air mattress with a built-in alarm clock and night light. Tents are equipped with lighting systems and auto-roll windows. DirecTV offers a portable satellite and many campsites have wireless Internet.
This is “glamping” — camping that is truly glamorous, with all the comforts of home. It still gives you an experience of nature, but it is one that includes plush amenities, such as air mattresses with built-in speakers for MP3 players. I can assure you that I never saw any of this stuff when I was backpacking with my son Sam and the Boy Scouts!
Second, “Gilgal.” This is one of the first places that the people of Israel reached after crossing the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land. In Gilgal, twelve stones were set up as a memorial to the crossing of the Jordan River.
In Gilgal, the people of Israel were forced to camp. There was no glamping in Gilgal, and this was a rude awakening for many of the Israelites.
You see, for the previous forty years, the people of Israel had enjoyed a kind of glamping experience as they made their way through the wilderness, on the way to the Promised Land. For four decades of wandering, they could count on the gift of manna every day — this manna was bread from heaven that kept them from starving in a harsh and inhospitable environment.
But what happened after they entered the Promised Land? Joshua tells us that “while the Israelites were encamped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year” (Joshua 5:10-12).
Surprise! There is no more glamping in Gilgal. The people of Israel had been offered a certain level of comfort by the gift of manna, as they made their way to the Promised Land. But now, after crossing the Jordan, they begin to eat “the crops of the land of Canaan.”
The thing to remember about glamping is this — it is a means to an end, not an end in itself. When tents are equipped with lighting systems, the goal is to get you out of your house into the wild. When environmental educators give a thumbs-up to campsites with wireless Internet, it is because they want you to go outside and begin to care about the conservation of nature. Glamping is an odd but acceptable means to a very good end.
Same for manna. God provided it to the Israelites so that they could survive their journey across the wilderness and grow in faith along the way. But once they reached the Promised Land, no more manna. Sure, there were probably some people who wanted it to continue — the same types that don’t want to give up their air-mattress MP3 speakers, even after they have been serenaded by the gentle laughter of a mountain stream. But God knows that these crutches have to go, once people are ready to walk on their own.
That’s why “the manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land” (v. 12). Bible commentator Bill Long points out that the word “ceased” is a translation of the Hebrew word shabat, the same word that is the basis of “sabbath.” At the end of the long 40-year journey across the wilderness, the manna takes its sabbath, and the people begin to eat the crops of the land. The extraordinary manna is replaced by ordinary unleavened cakes and parched grain, because the people have learned that they are ready to let go of their plush amenities and begin to camp on their own.
So why is it that our faith so often falters when it seems that God’s gifts have disappeared? We love our manna, just as we adore our soft air-mattresses with built-in alarm clocks, night-lights, and speakers. After enjoying a certain level of comfort — whether it is a stable marriage, a steady job, or a large and adequate church budget — we feel abandoned by God when times get tough and we have to rough it. Anger rises within us when a marriage ends through death or divorce, when a job is lost through downsizing, when cuts have to be made to precious church programs during an economic downturn. We feel robbed, undermined, abandoned. We wonder, “Where is God in all this?”
But maybe God hasn’t left us when the manna disappears. Instead, it could be that the Lord is pushing us forward, into the next stage of the life God desires for us.
Notice that today’s passage begins with the words, “The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.’ And so that place is called Gilgal to this day” (v. 9). The name Gilgal is related to the Hebrew word meaning “to roll.” God is clearly not finished with the Israelites when they cross over into the Promised Land — instead, the Lord is rolling away the past and giving them a new beginning.
Joshua tells us that God rolls away “the disgrace of Egypt,” which could mean many things: the experience of slavery and humiliation, or the sense that God was slow in bringing relief to the people. Whatever its historical meaning might have been, we all know today what disgrace feels like. Feelings of shame, lodged in painful memories. A burden of guilt, from secret sins. A sense of regret, about poor choices and missed opportunities.
The good news of this passage is that God has rolled the disgrace away. It’s gone. Left behind. A thing of the past. Forgiven and forgotten. And as a reminder of this rolling away of disgrace, the place the Israelites are camping is called Gilgal, which means “roll away.”
This is where God wants you to camp today: In Gilgal. Here, your disgrace is rolled away by the power of the Lord’s grace and forgiveness, and you can begin a new stage in the life God desires for you. “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,” says Psalm 32, the song of David linked to today’s reading from Joshua (v. 1). And as the apostle Paul says in Second Corinthians, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (5:17).
Christ meets you at the edge of the Promised Land, and everything becomes new. Your transgression is forgiven, and your disgrace is rolled away. But remember, there’s no glamping in Gilgal. After leaving the wilderness, you have to begin to eat “the produce of the land” (v. 11).
This is not a bad thing. After all, manna from heaven is not the only way that God provides for us. The Lord’s goodness is equally present in the crops of the land — if we have the eyes to see and the hands to harvest. Unleavened cakes and parched grain can be perfectly nutritious, but they require investment of time and effort on our part. They don’t come down from heaven like manna, or appear before us like a fully-equipped glamour campsite. The time has come for us to eat the crops of the land of Canaan — not as easy as eating manna, but equally good for us.
Saint Augustine had it right when he said, “God provides the wind, but [we] must raise the sails.” Our Lord gives us the limitless power of the Holy Spirit, but it is our job to raise the sails of our time and talent to capture this wind and move forward.
This means giving time each week to worship, listening for the guidance of God’s word. Spirituality maturity does not come from the inspiration of a single sermon, prayer, or song, but requires a habit of weekly worship, through all the seasons of the year. As we come out of the summer months, where all of our attendance has been irregular — mine included — I want to challenge you to make Sunday morning worship a priority.
To jump-start the fall season, Jessica and I will be offering a five-week sermon series on being a hospitable congregation, with an introduction on Sunday, September 12. Through the five weeks, we will talk about radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission, and extravagant generosity.
Raising the sails to catch God’s Spirit also means making a commitment to a small group in the church, since life in the Promised Land is not meant to be a solitary enterprise. We’ll be offering small group experiences as part of our fall sermon series, much like the highly successful groups that we gathered during Lent, to explore Christian hospitality. Once again, we want to invite everyone to join a group, and Jessica and I can promise you that your commitment will be rewarded. Actually, you don’t have to believe us — ask anyone who took part in one of the Lenten small groups.
Raising your sails means putting effort each week into some form of service, so that the hungry of our community are provided with the “unleavened cakes” that they need for survival. Our church has a long and proud history of giving generously of our time, talents, and money to mission, and on Sunday, August 29, there will be a discussion of our efforts, led by the Mission Outreach Ministry. Come to this meeting, immediately following worship, and discuss how we currently approach mission, and what we can and should do in the future. This will also be a great opportunity to find out how you can get directly involved in mission activities.
Raising these sails is not always going to be easy. It can feel like roughing it, not glamping. Our efforts to provide quality worship, small group experiences, and mission outreach are made more difficult by a tough economy, and a church budget that is very lean.
But we are convinced that God is giving us exactly what we need to do ministry and mission — everything we need, although clearly not everything we want. Our disgrace has been rolled away by our gracious and loving Lord, and we are now ready for the challenge of hiking into the new life that God desires for us. I would like to invite everyone to return to the Sanctuary today after worship and fellowship time for a Town Hall Meeting — a gathering to talk openly about the life of the church as we enter a new fiscal year and program year.
The Promised Land is waiting. Let’s explore it together, as campers — not glampers. Amen.
Aratani, Lori. “Plugged in to nature, wired to world; pre-pitched tents, high-tech gear aim to entice internet generation,” The Washington Post, August 18, 2009, www.washingtonpost.com.
Long, Bill. “A new start is possible,” Dr. William Long’s Website, March 3, 2007, www.drbilllong.com.