The Joshua Generation, Nov. 13, 2011

November 13, 2011

The Joshua Generation

Dear Joshua,
It is good to have you and your baby buddies, Emily, Sarah, Eleanor, Berkley, Sarah, James, and Conor, as part of our congregation. We love having you here, even when you talk back to the preacher, even when you make noise or disrupt things and make it hard to hear; even when you cry. (We don’t mind if you go in another room to do some of these things, but we’re willing to put up with some disruption because your voices, so fresh from God, remind us that our mission as a congregation includes all generations, including, maybe especially including, generations least represented in our midst.
I wanted to talk to you and your buddies today, Joshua, this Sunday in particular, when we remind ourselves about our commitments to the church, financially and spiritually. You broaden our vision and our commitment. You remind us of why we are here. As we prepare for our 135th anniversary of our church, we remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness to us for so many years, and you remind us that it’s important for us that we be here for the next generation as well.
Now Josh, (if I may call you Josh), there’s another reason I wanted to talk to you in particular, as a representative of your generation. It’s because of your name. Joshua is a particularly wonderful and powerful name. It means “God rescues” or “God saves,” the same meaning as the name Jesus, the same name really. Yeshua.
We remember Joshua in history as a great (if violent) man. He was the leader of the Hebrew people right after Moses, maybe the greatest leader the Hebrew people ever had. The tradition says that Moses led his people through the wilderness for 40 years after they escaped from Egypt. Joshua would have been born during that wilderness walk or just before it. Moses died before they could enter the Promised Land and Joshua was the leader who took over and led the people into the Promised Land, Israel, fighting and conquering the people who already lived there.
Today Joshua, great Black preachers like Otis Moss senior and junior, and Jeremiah Wright, like to talk about the Joshua Generation, and I wanted you and your parents to know about why the Joshua Generation is such and important concept to these great preachers.  In one of the last sermons that Martin Luther King preached before he was assassinated, he said, “I have been to the mountaintop and I have seen the Promised Land. I might not get there with you, but we as a people will get to the Promised Land.”
It was an amazing thing to say the night before he died. He seemed to know that he was going to be killed, and he made this promise to us all that even though he was going to die, it wasn’t going to be in vain – that we would eventually reach the freedom for which he worked all his life, that the promise of equality and peace and justice given by his life, would be fulfilled in the next generation.
You see, people immediately knew what he was talking about, because people used to read the Bible and know what it said. They knew he was talking about Moses and Joshua. So when preachers today talk about the Joshua Generation, they are talking about a new generation of leaders who have lived the lessons of the civil rights movement and are ready to claim the promise. They say that a generation of leaders tied up in the fights of the civil rights generation might have had to pass from the scene before this new generation – the Joshua Generation – could claim the mantle and claim the freedom that the previous generation had been fighting for.
I’m sorry to say, Joshua, that the world we bequeath to you is not the one we really wanted you to have, hardly the Promised Land. There were some who hoped that electing the first black president would show that we had entered the Promised Land, that racism has been conquered and everything would be ok. Certainly, Barack Obama, Michael Nutter (mayor of Philadelphia) and a group of other black leaders are thought of as part of the Joshua Generation – young enough to not have been part of the civil rights movement or to be stuck in bitterness or anger over what happened to the Moses generation. These leaders have shown a different leadership style and an ability to transcend past definitions of political categories, but very few people would claim that they have actually gotten us significantly closer to the Promised Land.
In fact dear Joshua, every generation hopes that they will leave to the next generation a world better than they’ve found it. Even when they accomplish this goal, it’s pretty hard to see it, and at any rate, it’s hard to imagine getting to a final product. There is always more to be done. We have brought you into a pretty harsh world Josh, where more Black men are in prison than going to college, where inequality and injustice is growing rather than shrinking. And frankly, Josh, the next generation – whether you want to call it the Joshua generation, gen x or y, or whatever – doesn’t look any more ready to take on the fight than the previous generation. They are have very little sense of community or common purpose, spend way too much time watching TV or playing computer games, act much of the time like privileged, spoiled brats, not taking responsibility for their partners, their children, or themselves.
It’s hard for us old folks to hold out hope to you, Josh. And yet we do. We certainly want to. One of the pieces of hope that I want to hold out for you, comes this scripture reading.  When you read it, Josh, I want you to notice that the Moses generation did not hand the Joshua generation a golden key to get into the Promised Land. Joshua had to fight to get in. Joshua had to fight incredibly hard to get into the Promised Land.
And that’s what we expect from you, Josh. We expect you to fight to bring as much of the Promised Land, as much of the American Dream into reality for all people as you possibly can. Each generation has to fight to make that dream, that promise real. Nobody gets it without a struggle. I’m hoping that your generation will not have to fight for the Promised Land as violently as the Joshua did. In fact, I can imagine that kind of violence could ever lead to the kind of land we dreamed about. But you can fight for the Promised Land with the same kind of determination, integrity, and commitment to non-violence that Martin Luther King had.
Your generation will claim freedom and an end to oppression not because you were born a little later, but because you are claiming a different way of being, because the Living God claims your life. See, you can’t be claimed by God and act any old way you want to act. I expect you to claim God and act like you are claimed, love God and act like you are loved. I have a lot of hope that your generation will break through some of the old categories. So many of your generation have multi-racial families and multiracial heritage. I don’t think you will be as susceptible to divide and conquer strategies as previous generations. In the meantime, may we all find ourselves converted again and again to the power of God’s generosity and hope.
In the end Joshua, I’m just glad to have you be part of who we are – because God loves you as you are and God claims you and all your generation to be a blessing, to work for all people to hear and claim and receive the Promise, to hear and claim and receive the Dream. I look forward to seeing how that Dream claims you. I look forward to seeing how that Promise plays out in your life! God bless you Joshua. May God’s grace allow you always to live into the power of your name.
This is God’s good news.

356 Pues Si Vivimos (When We Are Living)