Preached FCCW, September 10, 2017 (Church School Kickoff Sunday)
Have you ever noticed how much we use stones of one kind or another to tell our stories?
There are birthstones to mark our coming into the world, and tombstones to mark our leaving it. In between, monuments of marble and granite are erected to that which is deemed noble and praiseworthy in life; while stone and concrete are the foundation of the homes where our actual life-stories unfold.
Our reading from the Old Testament Book of Joshua revolves around stones and the stories they tell. It is the story of a people and their journey. A journey that spans decades and miles upon miles of trackless wilderness. A trek from enslavement in a foreign land to freedom in a country of their own.
At one end of the trip, the 12 Tribes that comprised the Israelite people were led by a man named Moses, but by the end, it was Joshua who was their leader. But, the one constant as they traveled, was God. God parted the Red Sea so they could exit from Egypt. And God parted the Jordan River, allowing them to enter their new home in the land of Canaan.
Once they were safely on the right side of the Jordan, but before God closed the path through the river’s waters, he instructed Joshua to have one man from each of the 12 tribes pick up a large stone from the temporarily exposed riverbed and carry it onto the shore of Canaan. There, to mark the first Israelite encampment on Canaanite soil, they piled the 12 stones in something like a cairn. God said that this small monument would stand as a sign to them. That pile of 12 rocks were at one and the same time a tombstone marking the death of a life of slavery and years of aimless wandering; and birthstones marking their rebirth as God’s beloved community. These stones had a story to tell – one that could not afford to be forgotten.
God said to Joshua, “When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the river were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.”
Twelve stones plucked from the mud at the bottom of a river; 12 stones that had never before seen the light of the day, would form a curious sight to generations to come, prompting them to ask how they got there. Thus, providing the opportunity for those familiar with the story of their origin to share an even greater story. The story of God’s redeeming love for God’s people.
Eventually, the story-telling stones on the Jordan’s banks, became part of an even bigger story. A story that we call the Bible. It, like those stones, is a memorial forever, to what God has done. And what God continues to be doing. Now, when our children ask, “What does this book mean?” the responsibility falls to us, to teach them the story of God’s redeeming love for them.
That is why we take the time each year to celebrate the ministry of teaching this story yet again to another generation. And to express our appreciation and support for those who respond to God’s call upon them as teachers; as God called Joshua, to have those stones carried up from the riverbed so their stories could be heard again and again.
Yet, also to be reminded, that even as the work of raising the stones was shared among representatives of all the 12 tribes, the task of passing on these stories is one that is shared among us all, and not solely the responsibility of Church School teachers. It is a ministry that happens not only in church classrooms, but beyond the walls of the church and in the setting of our homes. It is a ministry that must be reinforced in our homes and families and in our financial support of this mission. Because these are the stones and these are the stories that tell us who we are, whose we are, and what the journey is all about.
So, may the stone that you take from here be set in your home as a tangible reminder and motivator for your participation in this ministry through a commitment to making your children’s involvement in learning the stories of these stones, a family priority; and to engaging them at home in what they learn in church school.
Because these stones represent the most sacred stories of all. Even the very cornerstone of our lives.
© 2017 Raymond Medeiros