“There be giants in the land” by Vicky Hanjian

“There be giants in the land…”

Numbers 13:1-3a;17-33

Matthew 28:5-10

Chilmark Community Church

June 30, 2019

Perception is a really curious human phenomenon. There is the old cliché observation that if four people witness an automobile accident, there will be four different descriptions of what happened – each person believing that they saw accurately. Moses sent 12 men, representing each of the 12 tribes out into Canaan to scout out the land and bring back a report about what they found.   

They were supposed observe whether the land was good, what kind of people lived there, whether there were settlements?  Or were there armed fortresses? Moses asked them to bring back some produce so he could see what the land produced – whether it was fertile or not.  It is clear that this was not an espionage assignment – too many men were going and Moses would not have risked losing so many leaders in a spy operation.  It seemed like a prudent thing to do – to scout things out before making a huge leap into the unknown.

The men returned with mixed perceptions about what they saw.

The majority report, on their return, was full of dire warnings – “Yes – – the land IS flowing with milk and honey and look at the fruit we brought back – – it takes two men to carry the bunches of grapes we found.  BUT the people who live there are strong and the towns are big and fortified – and we saw giants there.” 

Their report instilled fear in the people when they heard it -and they took up their 40 year long chant – “we would have been better off back in Egypt” – -“it would be better for us if we had died there or at least if we had died in the wilderness.”  It seemed as though they had learned nothing from their 40 years of sojourning with God and Moses.  At the slightest provocation, their fear took over and they yearned for the security of the good old days which weren’t that great, but which were familiar and predictable.

As a church community, Chilmark Community Church is on the brink of yet another “crossing into Canaan ” – – into a land that God will show you on the other side of July 1st.    Next week, you will welcome a new pastor who will lead you in new and unfamiliar ways.  Most likely you will spend a period of time adjusting to one another, discovering which expectations are realistic and which ones need to be moderated.  There may well be a lot of mixed perceptions as part of your conversations as you begin a new life with a new minister. 

I have no doubt that you will be the welcoming congregation you have always been as you and Ernest Belisle find your way together into being God’s people in a new land of relationships.

But that does not make the transition easy.  There seems to be  an unspoken, unwritten  expectation, I think, that churches will be able to weather the anxiety and stress of  changes in leadership gracefully and without a lot of questions about what comes next. In the Methodist tradition, congregations are asked  to place a lot of trust in the “scouting party” – the SPRC – and in the District Superintendent.  It is actually quite natural to wonder about the giants in the land.

Among the men who returned from the scouting party there was also a minority report from Caleb and Joshua – they stood up in the community and  said  -“Hey -wait a minute – -“The land through which we passed to scout, the land is very, very good.  “If the Lord favors us, He will bring us to this land and give it to us, a land that is flowing with milk and honey.  And there is this curious admonition:

“…. do not rebel against the Lord… do not fear the people of the land, for they are our bread, their shade has turned from them and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them.

The Hebrew is translated in a number of ways – the idea is that “these possible enemies are like our bread -we will consume them”   In the desert regions where the story takes place shade was scarce and it was sought out as protection for both humans and animals in the heat of the day.  Joshua and Caleb report that whatever protection the perceived enemies enjoyed has disappeared.  Joshua and Caleb had a different perception of the possibilities in Canaan.  They were ready to move forward into the land.

While some of the scouts felt like powerless grasshoppers in the face of the giants they perceived, Joshua and Caleb saw possibility in the place where God was leading them.

On the threshold of any transition, there may be appear to be giants in the land – – sometimes they come in the form of  unvoiced anxieties that come with another substantial change in the life of the Chilmark Church.

And even though the report of your “scouting party” has come back in a pretty positive way, there may still be a   chorus of anxious inner whispers that ask “How will things change?” “What will be different?” “What if we don’t get along?” “What if they don’t like the parsonage?”  “What if the island is too rural?” “What if he picks hymns we don’t like?” “What if we don’t understand each other?” “What if he doesn’t love us?” “What if….?  What If…?” “What if…”  Giants in the land.

As we reflected on what  a new appointment might mean for Ernest and his family, we thought that perhaps they might be having the same inner wonderings about the giants they might encounter when they get to the Vineyard – “Will we and the congregation be good working partners?”  “Will the school system serve us well?”  “What will it be like to adapt to living on an island?” “Can we afford to be there?” “Will our son make new friends?” “Will we be able to get the medical care we need in an emergency?”  “And what about all those tick borne diseases?”

There were consequences for the Israelites who feared the giants in the land.  In their fear, they demonstrated to God that they were simply not ready to take responsibility for their future yet.  Their distorted perceptions  of slavery were a safer bet.  They did not get to enter the land.  Those who were able to listen to  Joshua and Caleb followed them and the adventure of the ages began as Israel established itself in the land.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary  encountered the same fear of “giants in the land” at the empty tomb.  With the crucifixion, they were plunged into a strange borderland without Jesus’ leadership and friendship to guide them and they were afraid.  But they were not left to stay in their anxiety about what would come next. The minority report came in the words of the messenger at the tomb : He’s already gone on ahead of you – – go to Galilee and you will see him there – – they start to run in both fear and joy – – and Jesus greets them on the way.

So -perhaps that is what is in store for Chilmark Community Church -whether we use the metaphor of entering the promised land or running along the road to Galilee as a new ministry begins here – – in either or both stories, the truth is the same.  When change is inevitable, it is the presence of God with us on the road into the new land that guides and protects and informs and keeps us whole. 

Our prayer for you as you move forward is that you will be blessed with the knowledge and assurance that the Presence of God and the power of the Holy Spirit  go before you and accompany you.

May you enter the land with excitement and joy as you greet your new pastor and knock out those pesky giants together. And, along the way, may you meet the Risen Christ and enjoy the power and the newness of what comes when you enter this new land with courage and optimism and trust.  AMEN

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