What Do These Stones Mean?
What Do These Stones Mean?
May 29, 2011
by Rev. William “Buck” Day
We now have the opportunity to turn to our Scripture on this Memorial weekend, so I thought this would be a very appropriate Scripture. So we will look at an Old Testament story of the Israelites crossing the Jordan. So we will look at a couple different passages of…a video that we are going to watch right now, and then I will get up and talk.
(Start of video of a couple men and a young boy skipping stones on a lake.)
Man 1: You know there is a story about a guy named Joshua.
Boy: From the Bible?
Man 1: Yeah. Yeah, that’s the one. God told him to build a memorial out of stones.
Man 2: And the stones were to be a reminder of this great thing that God had done.
Man 1: So we know it is not the same thing but we were wondering if we could remember your dad with you… Remember all the great things he has done.
Man 2: So this stone here, this one is for remembering our great friend.
Man 1: This stone is for his part in keeping my kid safe at night.
Man 2: You got one?
Boy: Not yet.
Man 2: O.K. This stone is for him being the reason I know anything at all about the Bible.
Man 1: Yeah, me too, actually. This stone is for dragging us to church that first time.
Man 2: This stone is for freedom to worship and his sacrifice for that.
Man 1: This stone is for not letting his best friends stay mad at each other.
Man 2: You know, he loved the simple things—the things like people getting to speak their mind or having dreams and pursuing them. This stone is for defending those things.
Man 1: You know, you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.
Boy: I want to.
Man 2: O.K. buddy, just take your time then.
Boy: This stone’s not just for my dad, but for all the people like him who help protect their country.
Man 2: I’ll skip to that one.
(End of video)
Well, they referenced the story about Joshua, so let’s go ahead and read that now. Chapter 4 of Joshua, we are going to read 1 through 7 and we are going to read 19-24 if you are following along in your Bible.
When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua: ‘Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, and command them, “Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.” ’ Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe. Joshua said to them, ‘Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, one for each of the tribes of the Israelites, so that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, “What do those stones mean to you?” then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial for ever.’
Then moving on, starting in verse 19:
The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. Those twelve stones, which they had taken out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal, saying to the Israelites, ‘When your children ask their parents in time to come, “What do these stones mean?” then you shall let your children know, “Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.” For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we crossed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, and so that you may fear the Lord your God for ever.’
God’s word for us today! Would you join me in prayer?
Lord we thank you, that your hand is mighty. It is mighty to save and it is ever faithful in walking with us. So Lord we ask this day that you would quicken our hearts to hear what your Spirit has for us this day. We ask it because of Christ. Amen.
Well, Memorial Day has its roots in the Civil War and it was borne of human necessity. For, deep inside of us, there is a fundamental desire to make sense of this life; our place in it and in the world; to understand what we have been given and what we are to do with it and what we will actually pass on to the next generation.
Abraham Lincoln understood that as he was pondering his thoughts in the fall of 1863. His deepest fear at that point in his life was that he actually might be the last president of the United States, for the nation was embroiled in self-destruction that he called “a great civil war,” testing whether the nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. He began his remarks with these words as he stood on this battlefield near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 19th of that year. The speech that we all have come to know as the Gettysburg Address actually might be considered to be turned into the first observance of Memorial Day, for Lincoln’s purpose on that day was to dedicate a portion of the battlefield as a cemetery for the thousands who were living and had died and had consecrated that soil with their blood.
Lincoln said “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to the cause which they gave the last full measure of devotion …that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom.” Well, the next year a young teenaged girl by the name of Emma Hunter was gathering flowers near Boalsburg, Pennsylvania. She was going to the cemetery there to place those flowers on her dad’s grave. Her dad was a surgeon in the Union Army and had died. At the same time nearby Mrs. Elizabeth Meyer was also taking flowers and putting them on the grave of her son Amos. Amos had died on the last day of the Battle at Gettysburg. In the process of doing that, Emma took some of the flowers that she had and she walked over and she put them on the grave of Amos. And Mrs. Meyer, as she saw that, she took some of her freshly cut flowers and she put them on the grave of Dr. Hunter. As a result both women felt a little better. They felt a lightening of the burdens that they were carrying as they took this act of honoring each other’s losses. They agreed that they would again meet the next year at the same time; only this time, they would visit all the graves that had no one to honor them and honor them in a proper way.
Well both Emma Hunter and Elizabeth Meyer did return to the cemetery that next year, but they also found themselves joined by nearly all the other people in their town. A clergy man gave a sermon and the community jointly decorated every grave in that cemetery with flowers as well as a flag. It became an annual event in Boalsburg. It wasn’t long after that that the neighboring communities got wind of that and they began to set up what they called Decoration Day. Then in 1868 there was a declaration that was finally put out that we would make this an official holiday, the first Memorial Day for all who died in war or in peace.
Remembering is a wonderful gift. It is a wonderful gift that God gives us for in our memories in a flash we can be a child again, can’t we? We can remember skipping rocks across the water. We can remember walking through a meadow. I remember the first time I got to a par five in two, as a child. We can remember in a flash falling in love, getting married, having our children. All of that we can do through our memories. They are fixed in our minds and they are a blessing, the blessing of our memories that time can not take away. In the midst of that also, memories are also real practical, aren’t they? They are practical because if we didn’t know what a red light means in traffic, we would be in trouble, wouldn’t we? Or if we forgot that a drink of water could quench our thirst when we are thirsty, or if we couldn’t remember what day it was, or our anniversary, or our wife’s birthday, right guys?, we would be in big trouble. So memories are also very practical, very important for us, as well.
Remembering what has taken place in the past is an important act for us as human beings. I think all too often we tend to forget that, we tend to forget where we have been or what has taken place in the past. We are, I think, as a people, pretty forgetful. The good news is that God remembers that. God knows that we are a forgetful people. Think about in Scripture all the places where God had kind of given us something to help us remember a promise. With Noah he gave the rainbow, as a promise that he would never flood the earth again. In Passover, it is a remembrance of how God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. And even this table, communion, is given to us to help us remember that Christ died for us and his resurrection allows us to have life eternal.
Our Scripture today is that same idea. It is all from that same kind of category. It is another opportunity for us to remember; for the nation of Israel has just finally crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land that God had promised long ago, a land that was described as being flowing with milk and honey. It was a land in which God promised that he would drive out all the inhabitants so that they could live securely in that land. Beyond that, it was also Joshua’s great coming out party. God told him that he would make him great as a nation of Israel; just as God had made Moses great, it was now Joshua’s turn. God gives the word and the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant began to walk toward the flooded Jordan River and as soon as their feet hit the ground the water stopped flowing. They walk in the middle of the river and they stand there and then the whole nation of Israel crosses over to the other side. Then, as our Scripture said, “then God commands Moses to send back twelve men, one member from each of the tribes of Israel, to grab a stone;” and did you notice, he said to “put it on his shoulder”—it wasn’t a little guy, it was a big guy—“and to carry it to the place where they camp that night.” So the guys go back, they get it, and they place it in Gilgal. These stones are then set up as a memorial so that they might remember what God had done in their midst that day. God wanted to set that day aside. He wanted to almost stamp it in their memories, so that they could remember what God had done for them on that day.
Those memorial stones helped not only the nation of Israel, but they also help us. They help us in a couple different ways. One of the things that those stones that were set up in Gilgal helped us with is it helps us remember personally. Think about the nation that day, the mass amount of humanity that was ready to cross over. Each of them that day witnessed God’s doing something mighty in their midst. But I don’t know that everyone even realized what was going on at that point, because you think about trying to get the mass of humanity— and they had big families with livestock—they had to get them all together, herd them, make sure they weren’t leaving little Johnny behind, and move them across the river. It was a busy day. They had a lot on their minds to try to get everything and everyone across that river, to say nothing for trying to scramble up out of the river banks to the other side. So I am thinking that, you know what, the miraculous might have gotten lost in the midst of just the physical move of getting across the river.
Do we ever forget things in our own lives? I think we do. I want to say on a personal note, thank you for all of you who prayed for me recently over my diagnosis and testing that I have had to go through over the last month or so. I want to let you know that I have gotten a clean bill of health and that I am doing good (applause). So I want to thank everyone for praying for me. I really appreciate that very much. In the midst of doing that, one of the tests I had to take, I had to be sedated for a while. As I was coming out of the sedation, every time I would half wake up I would look at Les who was sitting across the room waiting for me to wake up, and I would ask her, “Have you talked to the doctor yet?” Then I would go back to sleep. She told me that I must have done that at least a half dozen times. I don’t remember any of it. I think that is how it happens in our minds. That happens to many of us—not because of drugs—but simply we don’t take the time, if you will, to stamp the time of those memories in our mind. We need to do that. We need to time stamp those memories so that we don’t forget them.
Think about, how many of you have ever had an answered prayer? Yeah! If I would ask you, could you tell me what it is? Many times I think we forget (I knew you would remember John). That is one of the reasons that you are sometimes encouraged to write down your prayers, so you can write down the answers so you can go back; and it helps to stamp that in your memory and say, “Look, God answered my prayer here.”
God is at work in our lives and we need to create those memorial points in our lives to help us remember and to give God the glory that he deserves. So memorial stones in our lives, those time stamps, could help us personally, just as it did the Israelites. Those stones that were set up by Joshua were also meant to teach their children. Passing on their faith to the next generation was critical for Israel. The children needed to know the story—the stories of their parents, the stories of their grandparents—so they could pass them on to the next generation. The message that those stories were telling is that the God who led you will lead you. He will take care of you. He will provide for you. He will protect you. He will be there for you as you go through whatever it is you are walking through. Those kinds of touch point memorials are just as important for us, as well.
In our own family lives it is about creating routines in our families that build spiritual connections. It is about taking our own faith seriously and talking about it with our children and letting them see you live out your faith with all of its ups and downs and struggles that we all go through, for all of that contributes to the growth of our children.
There is a story of a little girl who said, “Mommy, you know that vase in the china cabinet, that vase that has been passed down from generation to generation?” The Mommy goes, “Yes, I know which one you are talking about.” The little girl said, “Well Mommy I am sorry. This generation just dropped it.” Sometimes we do too; but we need to pass on our faith.
So the memorial stones are supposed to teach our children in our lives. The memorial stones are also supposed to point to a new beginning. Looking back and remembering is important, but so is looking forward; because as we walk forward we will understand that we do not walk forward alone. Think about Israel. Israel was walking into a new world at that point, a new place. This was the land that God had promised to them. They had heard stories of this place being filled with giants. They were finding out that their God was bigger than any giants that were in this land and their God was also more powerful. So they could walk into this future knowing that they did not walk alone, that God was with them, and God would take care of them as they walked into this unknown new land. And it is no different for you and me. As we remember the places where God has worked in our past, we then can walk forward knowing that we too have that unchangeable God who walks forward with us, who “will not ever leave us nor forsake us,” as Scripture says. And that is true for each of us individually, but it is also true for all of us as a church.
So with that, I want to invite you to reflect on where do you need faith in your life right now? Where do you need a little more faith? Where do you need God to act on your behalf in your life right now? And for us as a church, where is God needed right now here at Faith? Where is that? As you reflect on that, let me close with this story.
I was regretting the past and fearing the future. Suddenly the Lord spoke to me. The Lord said, “My name is I AM.” I paused. He continued. He said, “When you live in the past with its mistakes and its regrets, it is hard. I AM not there. My name is not I WAS. When you live in the future with its problems and its fears, it is hard. I AM not there. My name is not I WILL BE. When you live in the moment, it is not hard. I AM there. My name is I AM.”
Mighty and Holy God, thank you. Thank you that you are here and that you will never leave us nor forsake us. Lord we ask that you would be with us on this Memorial Day weekend and beyond. Lord, allow us to hold the memories of how you have worked in our lives, in our consciousness; so that Lord, as we walk into the future, we can walk confidently knowing that you are with us always. We ask that in your name. Amen.