The Sunday Sermon: Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost – November 5, 2017
Scripture: Joshua 4:1-7
We have spent the last week on top of Mount Nebo, opposite Jericho, overlooking our promise. Poised, as it were, before the promise – the promises – of next year. I charged us all to spend last week in prayer, on this mountain, watching over what God has promised for us … for the visions contained in financial budgets and for the hopes we hold even deeper in our hearts. Praying … for the courage and the conviction, the faith, to cross over into what lies before us – the dedication of our pledges for another calendar year, 2018. Our time, our talents, our tithes …
This morning I’m being a bit bold. I’m going to anticipate a positive response for next week and proceed on an assumption: That our trust and fidelity to our own pledge and promise will come, as it has in every year past. This morning, we are being bold as we move down the mountain and across the river to what lies before us.
We’ve already started that move, actually. We got up this morning, got dressed, and arrived here. (We were even given an extra hour this morning, right? God is good … and smart!) We dropped down off the “metaphorical” mountain from where we’ve been praying all week, arriving here in the unseasonable warmth of this first November Sunday morning, and as we crossed through the doors of this sanctuary we made contact with a holiness that destabilizes and transforms us. (You didn’t even know you’d done all that already, did you?!) As you sat down, you completed your “crossing over.” Me, too. We have arrived. And having finished our journey through the book of Deuteronomy, the last of the Books of Moses, we now read from the book of Joshua.
The first two chapters of this writing document Joshua’s commission and describe the preparation for entering the promised land. In chapter three of this narrative, the Israelites, too, set out “early in the morning … and come to the Jordan.” They crossed over the River, with memories of the Red Sea, as the priests, bearing the Ark of the Covenant dipped their feet in the edge of the water. The “waters flowing from above stood still, rising in a single heap far off” and the “people crossed over.” Joshua 3:15-16
As I mentioned just a moment ago, by our presence here this morning, we have crossed over, too. Into what? And what do we now?
Let’s pray …
And now, as prepared as we’re ever going to be, let’s read our scripture for this morning and seek some guidance … Read Joshua 4:1-7
So, I’m not certain, of course, how familiar any of you may be with the opening chapters of Joshua. I trust some study among some of you in a Sunday School class or perhaps in some more personal devotions, but probably not much more. I’ll bet most of you “get the gist,” though. Joshua takes over for Moses, the Israelites cross into the promise land, there’s some “clearing, or cleansing” to be done, but finally, all is settled – the dust and the people themselves – in the land of their promise.
The truth is that the “crowded details” found in Joshua make it nearly impossible to follow a consistent “plot line” in the book. In our quick recap of chapter three and the river crossing alone, we already have multiple themes vying for our attention, such as the “sacred nature of the ark and the priesthood,” the “unity of Israel,” and the “exaltation of Joshua” to Moses’ stature all competing for our attention. If we’re just trying to follow the major story, maybe all we need to know is that they “crossed over!” But …
We’re not just trying to follow a story. We’re not simply reading these passages, following this incredible journey, the Exodus from Egypt through the entry into Canaan, to be entertained. We’re trying to learn something. And just maybe, when we realize that the accounts we have been following are not meant to entertain us, but to instruct us on our own journey, in our own “discernment,” we may just find some clarity. So I turn our attention to a particular detail in our reading this morning. This detail looms large on a Sunday like this one, not only a Sunday where we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, our Communion, but also one on which we remember the “Saints” in our lives, living and past. Out attention is drawn to Those stones …
What do those stones mean to you? Did you ask that question for yourselves when you heard, or read, the scripture with me?
In our reading, after everyone has finished crossing over the Jordan and while the priests are still standing in the middle of the river with the Ark of the Covenant keeping the “waters flowing from above” still, twelve from among the group are selected to go back into the river bed, select twelve stones, carry them on their shoulders, and bring them back to the place where they will camp that night. What does that mean?
For the ancient Israelites, those twelve stones most likely became part of the first sanctuary circle in this new land. But, seeking always to find meaning and direction in ancient words for modern times, we ask, “What might those stones mean to us?
As we sit this morning, West of the mountain on which we stood this past week, on the edge of our own “land of promise,” the mission and ministry, the care and the fellowship, the facilities and the grounds, the staff and the people that are Pewee Valley Presbyterian church, we are surrounded by stones pulled from the river of life that has flowed through this community for the past one hundred and fifty-one years. There are more than twelve stones, of course, that have taken many different forms and have been shared in many different ways within and beyond these walls over those years.
Those stones are the women, men, and children whose lives of faith have shaped our own, though we may never have met them. Those stones are the leadership of the past: Elders and lay folks, Pastors, missionaries, teachers, spiritual guides, everyone who has ever brought us here and those who kept us coming. Those stones are symbols of the love of God in Christ, himself. A love so powerful it can transform and save the world. Those stones …
Our stones are legion. They stand among us, around us, within us, reminding all of us of where we’ve been and where, if our future in this place is to continue, we must go.
This year as we “cross over” together into our promise we must allow ourselves to be transformed. This is not the first time we have done it, to be sure, crossed over. But perhaps this is the first time we’ve done it with this much attention and deliberation. Our crossing this year is one of the key elements in our own history. Just as the Red Sea miracle changed Israel’s status from slave to free, and the Jordan River crossing transformed Israel from a wandering band to a landed people, a new nation, we too have landed. We are no longer be a wandering band, wondering if God will provide and if we’ll respond. Those stones, these stones, mean that God has provided and that we will respond.
Next week is our Dedication Sunday. You have received your annual Stewardship Letter that contained not only inspiration and motivation for your giving this year, but also a pledge card. This simple piece of paper may become a stone from the river of your own life, “laid down in the place where we worship” and pray and live together as we journey with one another toward a promise.
We have a couple of powerful rituals that are a part of this worship service this morning. Not one, but two. This is the first Sunday of the month and as such a morning that we prepare to remember Love incarnate and its call to us. And this is All Saints’ Sunday, a day that we have for several years now, paused to remember other incarnations of love in our lives, the people – grandparents, parents, children, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters who loved us enough to introduce us to the Love our Communion table commemorates. Perhaps more than anything else we do, certainly more than anything else I (or anyone else) say(s), these stones, these memories, these people – Christ and the Saints in our lives – call us to the future of this community and the rest of our lives.
As we begin to sing the second verse of our sermon hymn, For all the Saints, in just a moment, I invite you to come forward with the names of those Saints in your life that you have identified and include them on our board here in front. We’ll keep singing, of course, remembering and celebrating the Saints in our lives, those stones of the past that lead to the future.
Our song is prepared. Our table is set. Let us sing, eat, and prepare for next week, remembering what those stones have meant to us.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / November 5, 2017