The Sunday Sermon: Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost – November 3, 2019
Scripture: Joshua 4:1-7
A Memorial Forever
We started this journey in the wilderness, faithfully striking the rock as Moses did to make the living waters flow. For the last two weeks we’ve been listening to Jesus as he has shared his wisdom, God’s Word on the treasures of this world and how they ought to be handled. This morning we re-join the ancient Israelites on a journey that has brought them out of that wilderness, across the Jordan River, and finds them now prepared to step into the promised land.
Joshua is the first book beyond the Pentateuch in our bible. We have moved out of the five Books of Moses. Moses died before the Israelites crossed the river and Joshua now leads them. The first two chapters of this book document Joshua’s commission and describe preparation for entering the promised land. In chapter three of this narrative, the Israelites set out “early in the morning,” arrived at the Jordan and crossed over. We, too, are crossing over as November begins. What’s next?
Let’s pray …
And now let’s read our scripture and seek some guidance … Read Joshua 4:1-7. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
So, I’m not certain how familiar any of you may be with the opening chapters of Joshua. I trust some study among some of you, but I’ll bet most of you “get the gist.” Joshua takes over for Moses, the Israelites cross into the promised land, there’s some “clearing, or cleansing” to be done that raises some ethical concerns when we pay attention, but finally, all is settled – the dust and the people themselves – in the land of their promise. I’ll offend my colleagues in the area of biblical scholarship this morning as I suggest that perhaps that’s a sufficient understanding from which to engage the narratives that follow in this book and in the stories of life together from Judges, to Kings, to Prophets, to Wisdom. I’m not sure it’s crucial that we know much more. Except one thing. And we just heard it.
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” at bay, twelve from among them 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 do those stones mean to you? Did you ask that question for yourselves when you heard, or read, the scripture with me? Those stones … For the ancient Israelites, those twelve stones most likely became part of the first sanctuary circle in this new land. But as Joshua directs them, they certainly became a “memorial forever,”, something to remember this present moment in the future when this present moment is the past. What about us now, looking to the future when the present will be memory?
What might do these stones mean to us?
As we sit together this morning, it’s All Saints’ Sunday. We sit here deep in the midst of our own “land of promise,” the mission and ministry, the care and the fellowship, the facilities and the grounds that is 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-three years. There are more than twelve stones, of course. Those stones, that love, has taken many different forms and has been shared in many different ways within and beyond these walls over the past decade and a half.
We remember more than the men, women, and children who have been in this place, but all those whose lives of faith have shaped our own, though we may never have met them. We think of the men, women, and children who are yet to come and wonder how we may shape their lives, though we may never meet them.
We remember the leadership of the past: Pastors, Elders, missionaries, teachers, spiritual guides, and the love of God in Christ they shared. We imagine the leaders that are to become part of our future.
We think of anyone and everyone who has been touched by this congregation who have never participated in it: Those recipients of the time, the talents, and the tithes of generations past. And we wonder who else may be touched by the stewardship of each one of us here in this time as we consider how we will give this year.
What do those stones mean to you? Our stones are legion. They remind us of all that has been, and all that may be. But they also speak of what is right now.
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 we’re doing it this year with a bit more 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 nation, we too have landed. How will we remember. And perhaps more poignantly, how will we be remembered.
Once again this year, we will remember the “Saints” in our lives, the stones who crossed before us and who are set before us so that we may remember who and whose we are. This year the only pictures on that board are Gary Stoess and Sherry Wheat. They are the only two members who died since last year’s commemoration, and both only within the last two months, Sherry just one week ago today. We remember more from this congregation, the pictures who have who have been on this board since we began this tradition only a decade ago, and the many, many more. They’re not gone. They are in our memories, and most importantly in our hearts. They are our stones, memorials forever, to what is here now and what we are preparing to pledge will be here for at least the next year, but surely much, much longer.
If you haven’t done so already, those of you on the ends of the pews near the aisles, find the small baggie with slips of paper in it and take one out – or two or more. Write the name or names of someone in your life who has brought you here – literally or spiritually – the name or names of the Saints in your life, the stones that remind you as often as you allow it that God is, that you are a part of God, and that Church matters. As the sermon hymn begins in just a moment, you will be invited to come forward and pin that name or those names on this board. (I’ll bring it to the middle and we’ll do this in two lines, down the center aisle, returning along the wall. Keep writing.)
Next week is Dedication Sunday. You will receive your annual Stewardship Letter that will contain a pledge card. This, too, can be a stone from the river of your own life, that we are asking you to “lay down in the place where you worship.”
“What do these stones mean to you?”
A memorial forever of the life we share and the life that may be shared here for centuries to come. May it be so. Let’s sing and celebrate. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / November 3, 2019