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Jericho Ridge Community Church (Archived)

Stones of Memory & Witness

“Stones of Remembrance”
Message @ Jericho Ridge Community Church – Sunday, Sept 13, 2015
Text: Joshua 4:1-8 // Series: 4 Significant Stones

They left the Acacia Grove and stood at the edge of the rivers’ raging waters. It was obviously too wide, too deep to cross on their own. That they knew for certain. But there was talk in the camp that God was going to do a great wonder amongst them this day. But come on… Was it really possible for this many people to overcome this big of an obstacle?

 

A few of the older generation remembered and retold the stories from long ago of how God had opened a way through the Red Sea – stacking up the waters on the right and on the left. But that was an entire generation ago and it seemed to some unlikely that anything that spectacular was going to happen to them. After all, they told themselves, “that was then… and this was now.” It had been a long time since the days of the great deliverance from slavery, the signs and wonders against the Pharaoh and the horses and riders of the Egyptian cavalry being thrown into the Sea. Perhaps God’s movement amongst them should be relegated to the history books. The stuff of myths and memories… not even worth remembering in the face of present struggles. The water just too deep.

 

Joshua was speaking now. It was hard to make out his words but he’s calling the people listen. “Come and listen to what the Lord your God says. Today you will know that the living God is among you… Look the ark of the Covenant, which belongs to the Lord of the whole earth, will lead you across the Jordan River!” (3:9,11). Think of it, friends — the God who formed the entire earth is crossing the Jordan with you as you watch! Now take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man from each tribe. When the soles of the feet of the priests carrying the Ark of God, Master of all the earth, touch the Jordan’s water, the flow of water will be stopped—the water coming from upstream will pile up in a heap.”

 

Murmurs of skepticism ripped through the assembly. The optimists where hopeful, but the realists and pessimists were skeptical that anything could stop such a raging torrent. But the people left their tents to wait and see if they could indeed cross the Jordan, led by the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant. The Jordan always overflows its banks throughout the harvest season but when the priests got to the river and their feet touched the water at the edge, the flow of water stopped. The waters stood still and rose up in a heap…—a long way off—at Adam, which is near Zarethan. The river went dry all the way down to the Arabah Sea (the Salt Sea). And the people crossed, over to Jericho. And there they stood; those priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant stood firmly planted on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground. Finally the whole nation was across the Jordan, and not one wet foot.”

The account of the Israelites and the Jordan River is a perfect place to begin a fall sermon series which we are calling 4 significant stones. Throughout the Bible, stones serve both a symbolic as well as often a literal purpose. So as we move into this fall, we’re going to explore some of the places in the Bible where we find stones piled up. Altars. Monuments of memory to God’s saving work and power. We’re going to give these four stones names and we’ll see that these four things form the bedrock of community life together in a community of faith like the church. Let me tell you what I mean.    

 

Stones can be an identifying marker: telling you where you are. Think of white rock, there is a large stone painted white and if you see someone in a photograph, you know right away where they are at. So next Sunday, Dr. Ken Thiessen with be with us and preaching and asking us the question as a part of our Summit weekend “Where is Jericho Ridge at today?” A stone of identity.

 

Also in the Bible, stones could serve a function not just of telling you where you are, but helping point out where you should go. So on Sept 27, we’ll be looking at our trajectory as a church and asking “where are we headed?”

 

On Oct 4, we’ll wrap up the series with a focus on community / family. I Peter 2:5 picks up on this image of stones and says that we are all together being built like living stones into God’s family.

 

But let’s look at our text for today and our stone for today – a stone of memory / witness. Turn with me in your Bibles to Joshua 4:1-7. I began with the last part of ch 3 and I’ll be reading from the New Living translation. [3 Scripture Slides]

 

Stones of memory. Stones of witness. Stones that mark a significat event in the history of these people. As I read Joshua 3&4, I began to wonder we don’t use stones to mark significant events in our lives today, do we?

 

Turns out, sometimes we do. For example, 17 years ago when I wanted to signal a foundational shift in my relationship with Meg, from girlfriend to fiancée, I did it by giving her a precious stone. An engagement ring. That ring not only marked a moment in our relationship, but it also was a public statement to the world of our love and our intention to marry. Some things still need stones.

Another example. Last week, we were over on the Island to bury Meg’s grandfather. We buried him beside his dear wife, Meg’s Gran, Win. I took a picture of her tombstone because it speaks of her life. Not just of her roles, and the dates, but also of her character & her relationship with God. It is a stone of memory but it is also of stone of witness. It declares something.

In the Old Testament, One of most prominent ways to remember something was to actually create a marker made out of stones.  Literal stones.  Physical stones.  Piled up in a heap. We read about this example in the book of Joshua – crossing the river – they build a monument.  And look at the purpose of these stones is clearly spelled out for them and for us in verse 7 – it is a memorial. But not just a monument to an event of the past. It’s a reminder to tell the story… to actively and purposefully reflect on God’s saving work and influence.

Here’s why we need these kinds of stones; these kinds of markers in our lives. Because we have a memory problem. Doesn’t matter how old or young you are, many of us have a hard time calling to mind God’s work in our lives when we’re not feeling it in the present. We’re so forward focused, so bound and determined to move ahead that we are pitiful at stopping, casting our gaze backward and remembering. This is what Joshua is driving at in verse 7 – he says to them “we are building this altar as a witness to what God has done. A talking point. Because in the future, you will forget this amazing event. You will be busy with other things. The amazement & emotions you feel right now at having just walked across a riverbed on dry ground will not last. You will forget. But when you do, and you come to holiday by the Jordan, your kids will happen upon this altar and they’ll ask you “mommy, daddy… what’s up with the pile of rocks?” What do they mean?” It gives you an opportunity to call to mind & bear witness to the amazing works God has done. These stones will help you remember.

The reason the stones were there was because the problem of memory exists not only for individuals, but also for spiritual communities like the church as well.  

How do we memorialize seasons or events?  We have a potluck and we move along to the next thing.  But there is something missing…  something in that where we lose the weight and the significance of what has transpired.  The journey that God has taken us on / through.  Here at Jericho, we’ve been through what I would describe as the toughest and perhaps the most significant season in our short 10 year history. For many, this has been hard. It’s been hard personally for me. And friends, there’s a few things that can happen when we get into a season of high challenge, either personally or organizationally.

 

One possibility is that we are tempted to blind optimism; to ignore the past and present and rush on into the future – to ignore or minimize reality. Politicians are great at this aren’t they? “nothing to see here…Focus on the next news cycle, please!”  But that’s one of the reasons it is important to Joshua to put up a pile of rocks. Something of substance has happened. Don’t move on without pausing and doing some heavy lifting. You see, Joshua knows what lies ahead of the children of Israel. They have hard work to do to take over the land that God has given to them. He doesn’t say to them “this whole ride is up and to the right, gang. It’s going to be amazing!” He says what we need right now is to remind ourselves that God is with us and for us. We’re not trusting in our own strength and optimism and “can do” attitude… we will pile up these stones as a way of reminding ourselves “what we have in front of us is not going to be easy, but it is what God has for us to do. And so we are declaring that our hope and our trust for the future is in God and God alone.” The corrective to blind optimism is grit. A sense of stick-to-it tivness that has some flint, that has some backbone to it. Faith with some grit mixed into it is something that is sorely lacking in our world today. There’s a tendency to quickly bail out when the future doesn’t look rosy.

Optimists have a tendency to want to skip over challenging seasons. But tough times ought to be time for you to pause and ask good questions. Hard questions.  Questions you don’t often want to think about.  This is hard work and not a lot of fun.  But you can’t move into a future without knowing what the future will look like.  I can’t stand here and call you to a future without a strong sense that that is what the Lord has for Jericho.  That’s what this Friday and Saturday’s summit is all about.  Coming together to seek God and His heart for us as a community. I would expect that if you are a person who has been around Jericho for any length of time, that you will be there to help shape and pray and do the hard work of living into the future together with some grit and some tenacity.

 

If it’s unhealthy to live into an undefined future, it is also unhelpful and unhealthy to live in the past as a critical pessimist – These are the people who say “things were easier / better on the other side of the Jordan, Joshua. We didn’t have the big task of taking the land in front of us. I’m not sure that our army is up for it. I don’t really like the strategy you have to take these cities, Joshua. I mean, marching around and thinking the walls are going to fall down?! Come on!” Pessimism in the camp isn’t a horrible thing. But when you mix together pessimism and criticism, that’s a toxic combination. There’s no grace there for people around you or for the future if you are always stuck living out the past. Friends, staying put in the present and wishing we could re-live the past here at Jericho is an unacceptable response.  Here’s why.  There are people, neighbours, who live to your right and left, above or down the hall or street from you and they are lost and heading into an eternity without Christ.  The most natural thing in the world to do when you are frightened and things are changing and friends are leaving is to hope against hope that everything can stay the same or go back to the way it was.  Unfortunately, the optimist is going to burst you bubble and say that in an urban environment like ours, that’s simply not going to happen.  The level of transiency isn’t’ slowing down.  Yeah, staying on the side of the Jordan is safer, easier, friendlier. But it just isn’t possible. The corrective for this kind of critical pessimism is grace. To remember that “I once was lost, but now I am found!”. To remember that we have been save by grace and we live by grace. It’s impossible to extend authentic grace to people around us when we are critical & pessimistic. Some of you need to repent of that today.

The third response is what I am calling grounded realism.    

 

There’s another stone story in I Samuel 7 where the ark of the covenant had been captured by the enemies of Israel, the Philistines. And they have given it because God has freaked the Philistines out by knocking their precious Dagon over. And Samuel had called all of Israel together to turn their hearts back to the Lord. And just as Samuel and the people are worshipping God, the Philistines show up with a mighty army and the people freak out. But the Lord spoke with a mighty voice of thunder from heaven and the Philistines were thrown into such confusion that though they were a small group, the people of Israel defeated their enemies. Then I Samuel 7:12 the test says that Samuel took a stone and set it up called its name Ebenezer; for he said, "till now the LORD has helped us." Ebenezer is means "stone of help." Samuel was setting up a monument of God's help and salvation. Saying “up to this point, the Lord has helped us!”

 

You may have heard that word “Ebenezer” in a song. The first two lines of the hymn Come Thou Fount go “Here I raise my Ebenezer; Here by thy great help I’ve come.” The hymnist is, like Samuel, raising his stone of help as a tribute to God's salvation and grace. “With your help I've come this far; I praise you for it.”

 

Writers and historians W & A Peterson note in their book “the complete book of hymns” that the writer of the hymn was Robert Robinson, who was a leader of a notorious gang in his youth but was wonderfully converted after hearing George Whitfield preach. He later became a pastor of a church in Norfolk. He was 23 when he wrote the hymn "Come thou fount of every blessing." Sadly, he later drifted from the faith. He was once traveling on a stagecoach when a lady sitting next to him was reading a hymn book and read out this hymn and said how wonderful it was. He replied "Madam, I'm the poor man who wrote that hymn many years ago. I would give a thousand worlds to enjoy the feelings I had then." It was indeed true- he even says in the next verse "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it...." (The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories by W. & A Peterson)

Setting up a stone of help, an Ebenezer isn’t a guarantee that we won’t wander… It does serve as a reminder of what to do when we remember that we’ve forgotten. When we have wandered.

 

You see, in the New Testamenet, we are reminded of another place of memory and witness. Where a monument of a very different kind was set up. A place where we can return to when we have wondered. Another hymn writer says it this say “On a hill far away, stood and old rugged cross – an emblem of suffering and shame.”

 

In the book of I Corinthians we told that to remember that event – the say when Christ Jesus gave his life for you and for me to take away our sins. The way we remember is elemental, physical. But it’s not a stone. It’s bread. It’s the fruit of the vine. The bread representing the body of Christ. When we eat this bread, when we drink this cup, “we REMEMBER.” We remember and we also proclaim him as we take the cup, which is a sign a symbol of the blood of Jesus Christ, poured out on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins and your sins.  

 

Friends, today I was us not to just remember in an abstract kind of way. But a concrete, specific way. So under your char, you’ll find a stone. And I want you to take it, and as you come to the communion table, I want you to pile it up. We’re going to make our own monument, our own Ebenezer today. You are going to hold it in our hand and think of one specific thing that you are grateful to God for. Maybe it’s an event, where you say “without God, I would not have made it thus far”. Where has God helped you? Place your stone on the table as you come.

 

So often we forget to say “It is only by your help, God, that I have come to this place.” Take a rock… build a monument of thanksgiving to God’s work. Pick one thing you are grateful for that God has done in your life. Bring that rock up to the communion table – place it on there.

 

Perhaps you are here today and you need God’s help. You need to cry out to Him. Perhaps you want to spend time praying in advance of our summit, perhaps you have a personal or family concern that you want to lift up to God. Betty, Gary, myself and Ann-Marie are available for you as you come.

 

Let’s pray together and as your heart is ready before the Lord, you are invited to come to the table it’s a table of remembrance. And also a table of witness.  

 

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