Capture the Moments

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S (Scripture): Joshua 4:4 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.”

O (Observation): As God’s people pass through he place where the Jordan River has been pooled up to allow God’s people to cross, Joshua commands one person per tribe to grab a stone from the middle of the river bed. These stones would become a memorial at Gilgal. The children will ask what the stones mean, and the families will share the story of God guiding them across (or through) the Jordan River!

A (Application): Memorials are great for sharing significant markers in the life of a people or family. In my family, this usually takes the form of pictures. We use Google Photos to back up our photos, helping us to hang on to special moments in our lives.

When I was in 6th grade, my family moved from New Jersey to Georgia. I made myself a time capsule. I was supposed to wait for 10 years or something like that to open it. It was a good reminder of where I was in life and helped me to see how I’ve progressed and changed.

What are you doing to mark important moments? My wife made a wonderful collage of pictures in the shape of a heart for our 15th wedding anniversary. I got her a “40 reasons we love Kelly” poster for her 40th Birthday. Things like this remind us of specific moments in our lives.

Spiritually, I wonder how well we do this. Baptism and Confirmation certificates. A baptismal candle. Pictures. Maybe we can take time to capture these moments. To put up a “stack of stones” to help remind us to tell the story of how God was and is at work in our lives.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to tell the story of your action in our lives. Amen.


Looking Backwards to Look Forward

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S (Scripture): 1 Peter 2:4 Now you are coming to [Jesus] as to a living stone. Even though this stone was rejected by humans, from God’s perspective it is chosen, valuable. 5 You yourselves are being built like living stones into a spiritual temple. You are being made into a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 Thus it is written in scripture, Look! I am laying a cornerstone in Zion, chosen, valuable. The person who believes in him will never be shamed.  7 So God honors you who believe. For those who refuse to believe, though, the stone the builders tossed aside has become the capstone. 8 This is a stone that makes people stumble and a rock that makes them fall. Because they refuse to believe in the word, they stumble. Indeed, this is the end to which they were appointed. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. 10 Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

O (Observation): Peter lets God’s people know that they have hope in Jesus Christ, because Jesus has set them apart for God’s work in the world.   Rejection may be part of the results of the work, but they are to press on, since Jesus has already given them mercy to carry on.   

Many will not believe, but God’s people are to carry on and to share how God brought each of them from darkness into the light.  

A (Application):  At a recent retreat I attended, Pr Mark Hanson – former Presiding Bishop of the ELCA – taught us about “cairns.”   A cairn is a human-made pile (or stack) of stones.   The purpose of cairns is diverse, but he highlighted this purpose: to mark a significant moment in history.   

Jacob sets up a pile of rocks when he sees angels ascending and descending in a dream.  Joshua and crew were instructed to set stones in the middle of the the riverbed of the “temporarily dammed Jordan River” when they crossed into the Promised Land.   These cairns mark significant life-giving moments in the history of God’s people. 

In what seemed like a moment of defeat, a rock was placed in front of a tomb.  What was a marker of death became a marker of true life!

Seeing a cairn in this light can serve two main purposes: as a memorial, or as a sign pointing to a new future.   If seen as a memorial, we lock in the past and focus on nostalgia…a yearning for what was…idealizing an unattainable past.   If seen as a sign pointing to the future…we open up some wonderful possibilities!

When a cairn is seen as a sign pointing to a new future, we move from simple nostalgia, to memory that builds confidence for the present and future.  Looking back in order to look forward.  This brings us hope.  We can look back and see where we’ve been, and we can look at those markers and see how God was active in our lives.  That gives us hope for the present and future.  

After all, we are LIVING stones.  We can share stories of where we’ve been.   We can focus on where we are going.   We can be the markers for future generations.   And so we begin, anew, today!

What stories from our past will give us confidence that we can weather the storms of today???

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us steadfast in your word.    Point us to past seasons so we can see where you acted with us, for us, in us, through us. Amen. P

The Monuments we Lift Up

S (Scripture): Joshua 4:1 When the entire nation was on the other side, the Lord told Joshua, 2 “Select for yourselves twelve men from the people, one per tribe. 3 Instruct them, ‘Pick up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests stand firmly, and carry them over with you and put them in the place where you camp tonight.’”

4 Joshua summoned the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one per tribe. 5 Joshua told them, “Go in front of the ark of the Lord your God to the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to put a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the Israelite tribes. 6 The stones will be a reminder to you. When your children ask someday, ‘Why are these stones important to you?’ 7 tell them how the water of the Jordan stopped flowing before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the water of the Jordan stopped flowing. These stones will be a lasting memorial for the Israelites.”

8 The Israelites did just as Joshua commanded. They picked up twelve stones, according to the number of the Israelite tribes, from the middle of the Jordan as the Lord had instructed Joshua. They carried them over with them to the camp and put them there. 9 Joshua also set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan in the very place where the priests carrying the ark of the covenant stood. They remain there to this very day.

15 The Lord told Joshua, 16 “Instruct the priests carrying the ark of the covenantal laws to come up from the Jordan.” 17 So Joshua instructed the priests, “Come up from the Jordan!” 18 The priests carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord came up from the middle of the Jordan, and as soon as they set foot on dry land, the water of the Jordan flowed again and returned to flood stage.

19 The people went up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month and camped in Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. 20 Now Joshua set up in Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken from the Jordan. 21 He told the Israelites, “When your children someday ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones represent?’ 22 explain to your children, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan River on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the water of the Jordan before you while you crossed over. It was just like when the Lord your God dried up the Red Sea before us while we crossed it. 24 He has done this so all the nations of the earth might recognize the Lord’s power and so you might always obey the Lord your God.”

O (Observation): God parts the waters again!!!  This time Joshua is at the helm.  The priests carry the ark of the Covenant to the waters of the Jordan River (opposite Jericho), and as soon as they set foot in the waters, the waters start piling up upriver, making it possible for God’s people to start actually setting foot in the Promised Land.     

God’s grace allows for God’s people to work towards the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham generations ago.   

How will they be able to remember this story for generations to come?   Set up a monument.   12 stones – 1 for each tribe represented.    So that one day, a parent can say to a child, “You see those stones there?   They used to be at the bottom of the Jordan River.”  “Why are they up here?  How did they get here?”  And you can imagine how the rest of the story goes.  

Remembrances of God’s promises and the grace God doled out to a people who didn’t deserve what they got…that is the story of old.  And perhaps it’s our story.  

A (Application):  We see statues of soldiers and monuments erected for various historical value.   Church buildings use cornerstones as markers of dates for when a church is established or the building erected.  

We have lots of ways of recalling certain actions, certain monumental moments in our individual and communal lives.  

Jesus also gave us 2 particular monuments that stand the test of time, and are not limited by a geographical location.   We have the sacraments: Holy Baptism, Holy Communion.  

I remind our young ones in our congregation several times a month of the gift of baptism and how it creates a scenario in which all can live out the love of God, equally.   No matter what we’ve done or who we are, God takes us in our baptism and allows the Spirit’s work to be done in us and through us.  

I remind the congregation, regularly, of the importance of Holy Communion.   We come to the table, broken and in need of help…all of us!   We are all a bunch of “fixer-uppers” who receive grace in this sacrament, and encouragement to go and do something in this world that brings love, peace, and hope.  

These monuments – these Sacraments – are made of earthly stuff and transform us from death to life, from brokenness to wholeness, from despair to hope.  When we remember our baptism, let us also remember God’s people stepping into the Jordan, willing and afraid and hope-filled.  When we drink the wine and eat the bread, let us remember God feeding the Hebrew people with manna, sustaining them in their wilderness experience.  

P (Prayer): God, we thank you for the sacraments, signs of your love made real and tangible for us, your grace in our place.  Amen.