Twelve stones at Gilgal
4 When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Pick twelve men from the people, one man per tribe. 3 Command them, ‘Pick up twelve stones from right here in the middle of the Jordan, where the feet of the priests had been firmly planted. Bring them across with you and put them down in the camp where you are staying tonight.’”
4 Joshua called for the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one man per tribe. 5 Joshua said to them, “Cross over into the middle of the Jordan, up to the Lord your God’s chest. Each of you, lift up a stone on his shoulder to match the number of the tribes of the Israelites. 6 This will be a symbol among you. In the future your children may ask, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ 7 Then you will tell them that the water of the Jordan was cut off before the Lord’s covenant chest. When it crossed over the Jordan, the water of the Jordan was cut off. These stones will be an enduring memorial for the Israelites.”
Thoughts on the passage:
How do we mark special moments in our lives? Some of us do it with photographs and pictures of where we have been and what we have done. Some of us do it with mementos and keepsakes, like a sea shell from our beach vacation or a Mickey Mouse hat from our trip to Disney World. Some of us do it with stories and legends that we tell and retell over and over again, like the time that Dad got us lost going to Grandma’s house or the fateful Christmas where the oven broke. There are lots of ways that we do it, but the reality is we all find ways to mark those important moments in our lives.
Today in worship we are honoring two different groups of people, mothers and graduates. Moments of graduation and moments of becoming a mother are some of the most powerful moments people have in their lives. They also share a common trait of being a transition into a next stage of life. Once you give birth to a child, your identity changes and the next stage of your life is defined by your new role as a mother. The same is true to a lesser extent for graduation. While it is a ceremony that marks the end of an accomplishment, the is a reason that it is often celebrate as “commencement” because it is the start of something new as well.
Our story today marks an important moment of transition as well. It is the story of the Israelites as they travel across the Jordan river and into the Promised Land. This moment marks the culmination of years wandering in the wilderness as they fled Egypt. It also marks the beginning of something new as they move into this new land and a new relationship with God. They have been seeking to live into a new relationship with God for years and now, entering into this land that has promised to them, they must learn to fully trust and depend on God.
There is a lot of significance to the transition that is occurring as the people cross the Jordan. Years ago, the people had sent spies across the river into the Promised Land and they returned with stories of giants. In fear, the people despaired. Their lack of trust in God prolonged their stay in the wilderness as they struggled to place their whole trust in God. The parting of the Jordan also brings with it memories of how the people passed out of Egypt and God parted the sea for them.
To mark this historic passage, the culmination of a generation’s struggle to trust in God, the people are directed to bring with them stones. These stones are then placed together to build a monument. Now, for years to come, people can point to the pile of stones and use it to tell the story of how they came to trust in God and how God delivered them. This deliberate act of building something and having something physical will help anchor the memories of the people, not just for one generation, but for generations to come so that their children, grandchildren, and beyond will know about God.
Last weekend, I went back to Glenwood to run in a race. Glenwood is the town where both Zoe and Bryce were born. While I do not need to be in Glenwood to remember their births, being in that physical location certainly is helpful. Bryce was born by an emergency c-section. While it was not a super-rushed event it was not a planned event. What this meant was that there was not a lot of time to get ready. In order for me to be present for Bryce’s birth I needed to suit up in scrubs. Since it was a Saturday and we were in a hurry they had me use the locker room for the male surgical workers. There is a small window in that room that looks out from the second story of the hospital over Lake Minnewaska. I can still remember pausing to take in the view as I tried to calm myself in the midst of that moment. Now, when I go back to Glenwood, I can look up to the second story of that hospital and remember the moment again.
Whether it is the birth of our first child or our graduation from school, it is good to mark those special moments in our lives. These moments are passages from one state to another. They mark a shift in our identity. When we don the cap and gown we go from being a student to a graduate. With the birth of a child we take on a new role of parent, one that will never leave us. When we have those stones, literally or metaphorical, it helps us to point back and remember, both what we were before and what we have become since.
What are the stones we have for our own faith journeys? What are the tangible reminders, the photos, and the stories we have of how God has been at work in our lives? I often tell you my stories of when I have experienced God. When I look for worship liturgy it is in a Book of Worship that was given to me at my commissioning service. A certificate on my wall marks my ordination and every Pentecost (and other times) I drape myself in a red stole that was made for my ordination classes and ties me not only to my call to ministry but to those who knelt beside me on that day nine years ago. These are some of my stones and my reminders of God’s presence and God’s call in my life. What are your stones?
One of the things I am not sure we do enough of is the building of monuments and reminders of what God has done in our lives. We do a good job of bringing our kids to church. Our teachers do a great job of teaching our kids the stories of our faith. What we often fail to do is to tell the kids how God has been at work in our own lives. We do not point to the pile of stones and tell them of our own faith journey and what God has done for us. We do not pass that legacy on to the next generation.
Today we are celebrating our graduates, and yet one of the sad truths is that too many of our graduates leave the church after high school or college never to return. We celebrate Mother’s Day and yet the sad truth is that for too many of our adult children, this is one of the few times they come back to church. There are lots of reasons that people leave the church. We cannot fix all of the problems that cause people to leave. What we can do is make sure we are telling our stories. We can make sure that the legacy of what God has done in our lives does not end with us but is told by those that come after us. We mark the special moments in our lives and then point back to those stones and say this is a time when God was at work in my life, let me tell how God delivered me.
Questions to Ponder:
What are the ways that you remember special moments, is it through stories, or pictures, or something else?
What moments in your life have you experienced God to be at work?
Who do you need to tell your story to?
God you have walked with us through the wilderness. You have parted the waters and led us into the Promised Land. Even in the midst of our fears and our doubts you have been there. Help us to remember your presence in our lives. Help us to find those stones we have so we can point others to your presence and your unending love for us. Amen