Sermon: Wet Feet and Faith


Joshua 3:7-17

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

Matthew 23:1-12

Two of the least attractive, but most important members of the human body are the feet.

Without our feet most of us would not be able to function very well, would we? But have you ever thought about how we use the words foot or feet in more colloquial ways?  We talk about people being footloose and fancy free;        how it’s important to put our what forward? our best foot;

how if we’re not careful what we say, we may put our … foot in our mouth; on the Sunday closest to All Saints’ Day, we remember the saints who have gone before us, and we pledge to follow in their … footsteps.  If we’re klutzy and always tripping over ourselves (as I often do),

people say we’ve got … two left feet; if we procrastinate, then we’re … dragging our feet. And if we chicken out of doing something, people say that we’ve got … cold feet, which is also what my wife says that I have, when I climb into bed on particularly chilly nights.

There’s only one idiom I can think of for wet feet, and it is an apt one.  To get your feet wet is to experience something for the first time, especially something that involves taking a risk. For example, investors are encouraged to get their feet wet by buying just a few shares at the start.

But the subject of today’s sermon is wet feet and faith, and believe it or not, there is a connection between the two.  We find the connection in today’s story of Joshua and the people of Israel on the threshold of the Promised Land, a story of wet feet and faith.  Previously in the story of Moses, after leading the people up Mt. Nebo, and showing them the beautiful Promised Land below, Moses dies, and Joshua becomes his appointed successor.  In today’s lesson Joshua finds favor in God’s sight, and then God instructs him on what to do about crossing the Jordan River, which now looms before them.

A word first about the Jordan. At some times of the year it isn’t much of a river; in fact in some places it’s so narrow you could almost jump over it.  But in the late spring, after the winter rains

and the melting snows of Mt. Hermon up river, the Jordan swells into a raging torrent, and at some points it’s very, very wide. Now, we need to remember that the people of Israel have been out in the hot, arid desert for forty years.  They can handle sandstorms, swarming locusts,

and the like, but raging rivers, turbulent waters that hide in their seething, swirling darkness who knows what perils? No way are they going to cross that river!  It is too big a risk.  I imagine that they are frightened by the prospect of crossing the Jordan, and so when they do take the plunge, when they do take the risk of stepping out into the waters, they are not only overcoming their fears, but demonstrating a great faith in God, who has promised to protect them.  In spite of their fears, perhaps they also remember      what happened forty years earlier when Moses led them out of Egypt and they crossed the Red Sea, a remarkably similar event.

Like that escape from bondage to freedom, this crossing is also very symbolic. Here, like then, the people are beginning anew.         God, represented by the ark of the covenant, is literally and figuratively in the center of the action, in the midst of the miracle.  And both events involve a charismatic, divinely anointed, servant leader.  Under God’s direction, Joshua organizes the crossing, orders the ritualistic sanctification,     and oversees the movement of the ark.[1]  But in contrast to Moses and his miraculous staff, Joshua does not take an active part in the actual miracle itself.  God is now the manifest maker of the miracle, and Joshua, only a humble servant, who helps to bring about God’s will.

His style of leadership is similar to that described by Jesus many generations later, which we heard in our Gospel lesson. True greatness is found in being of service to others, in matching deeds to words, and in practicing what one preaches.  As a slight aside, this is the same kind of leadership crucial to our civic society.  The call for us to live as people of faith extends to the ballot box as well.          I hope throughout our nation this week we will elect leaders in all levels of government      who will lead by serving the dreams and hopes we have for a just society and a peaceful world.  Be sure to vote on Tuesday!

Back to the Jordan River.        Hidden in our passage is the phrase dealing with wet feet.  The priests who are carrying the ark come to the river, “and the feet of the priests bearing the ark

[are] dipped in the edge of the water . . .” Then, the waters of the river rise up in a big pile of water,         with the ark of the covenant in the middle, and the people are able to cross over.  Only after the priests have stepped into the raging current are the waters restrained.  It seems like for the miracle to take place,      these folks have to take the first step.        And when you think about it,

this is what faith is all about, isn’t it? Faith is taking that first step, wading out into uncharted waters, and getting our feet wet!  Faith in God isn’t something we own, like a possession; it’s a process, a way of living, acknowledging that God lives in us.  Faith isn’t something we grasp, but something that grabs hold of us.  We come to believe and have faith in God’s love for us in the same way we are assured that the sun has already risen, not only because we see it, but because by it we are able to see everything else.[2]

Faith means getting our feet wet first, taking that first step, but when the river is raging, that first step can be darn right risky, can’t it? That’s why we sometimes use the phrase leap of faith; the step can literally be a leap into the unknown, and a very risky leap.    The Christian writer, C.S. Lewis, put it this way: “You never know how much you really believe anything

until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to [tie] a box.  But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice.  Wouldn’t you then first discover

how much you really trusted it? … Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.”[3]  For the Israelite priests, carrying the ark into the water required more than simply taking the first step.

It involved trusting that God would not let them drown.

In a similar vein, maybe you remember the scene in one of the Indiana Jones movies, where Indiana comes to the edge of a cliff, and he is dared to step out over the edge of the cliff, even though at that point he can’t see anything below.  Talk about a leap of faith.  Exactly.  This is what faith is all about.  Faith is stepping out and doing what God is asking us to do when we can’t see what will happen in the end, when we don’t have any guarantees that everything will turn out fine.  But, easier said than done, right?

When we hear “risk-taking” does our adrenaline start to flow or do the butterflies in our stomach take flight? I’ll bet for many of us, the butterflies take over.  Let’s face it – the thought of taking a huge risk is simply not as exciting or adventurous as the big screen portrays.  In reality, we find a certain safety in remaining in our comfort zones, protected and secure.  But, as Christians,we are called to step out of our comfort zones, and let God take charge.[4]   Part of faith is practicing what we profess despite the costs, regardless the risks, not knowing what the outcome will be.  As people of faith we may not know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.  And knowing this encourages us to take that first step, trusting that God will be with us even if we get our feet wet, trusting that God will give us strength to face whatever challenges lie ahead.[5]

As we think about the risk of faith, let me share a little story with you. Two women, one older and one younger, were sitting on a park bench one day and got to chatting.  While they were talking they noticed a squirrel jumping from one high tree to another overhead.  As it jumped it missed the branch it apparently was aiming for, but landed, safe and unconcerned, on one a few feet lower.  Not missing a beat, it scrambled back up to its goal, just like nothing had happened.

“I thought that squirrel was a goner,” commented the young woman. The older one replied, “Funny, I’ve seen hundreds of them jump like that, especially when there are dogs around and they can’t come down to the ground.  Some of them miss, but I’ve never seen any get hurt in trying.”  Then she chuckled, “I guess they’ve got to risk it if they don’t want to spend their lives in one tree.”[6]  Do you and I have less nerve than a squirrel?  Let’s think about those little creatures (annoying as they sometimes can be, especially if you have a bird feeder), let’s think about them whenever we have to choose between risking a new venture, stepping out and maybe getting our feet wet, or hanging back and staying high and dry.

One final thought.          Faith may be more like a verb than a noun, or perhaps more like a participle, something you have to keep doing for it to work properly, like pedaling a bicycle.  ow, I’m hardly an expert, but I do enjoy biking, and when the weather is good, I think nothing of riding 25 miles.  I’m not an expert, but this I know: you can’t ride a bike in one spot, standing still

(unless it’s a stationary bike, like at a gym). If you don’t have momentum, movement, you fall off.  At least that’s what would happen to me.  Further, the more you practice riding, the more adept you become.  So also with faith.  We need not only to practice what we preach, but also to practice the disciplines of our faith – prayer, Bible study, regular worship, acts of kindness, works of justice, and so on.  Faith is not something we put on a shelf and ignore, only rushing to retrieve it when a crisis happens.  It’s not something we do only at our convenience, only when it suits our schedule or mood.  We need to immerse ourselves in faith to experience it fully.  And this means taking the first step that may entail overcoming fears or doubts; it means trusting that the same God who brought us to where we are today will be able to work through our faith, safely leading us to the other shore,[7] and to all the tomorrows that lie ahead.  It may mean risking wet feet, but this is surely a risk worth taking.  Amen.

Rev. Kenneth C. Landall

[1] “Rules for the Road,” Homiletics, Vol. 8, No. 4, 11/3/96.

[2] Robert S. Crilley, “Sometimes You Gotta Get Your Feet Wet First,” in Veiled Glimpses of God’s Glory, pp. 49-56.

[3] C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, quoted in Crilley, op. cit.          

[4] Kristen Lockitski, Risk-Taking: Leaps of Faith, 2014 Internet.

[5] Crilley, op. cit.

[6] The Autoillustrator, #3237.

[7] Crilley, op. cit.