The children of Israel had made their share of mistakes. Forty years prior to the time of our text they had refused to listen to the Godly report of Joshua and Caleb. Instead they listened to the 10 frightened spies, and become fearful and unfaithful to God's command to possess the land of Canaan. They wandered around in the desert for forty years like a man who won’t ask directions; meanwhile a whole generation passed off the scene.
By this time Moses has died and Joshua is their new leader. A new spy contingent has looked over the land, and this time the people are going to go ahead with conquering what God has already declared is their possession.
It was a new day, a new time to serve. God's people took their heritage that stretched back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
· They carried their memory of Joseph and Egyptian bondage, and also an ark with remembrances of wanderings in the wilderness.
· They carried the taste of manna, supernatural food with which God had fed them for forty years.
· They wore sandals and robes that hadn’t worn-out for generations.
With a kind and gentle hand God had prepared them for a new day. Now it was time to leave the past and enter their destiny. It was time to cross the Jordan River and step into the Promised Land.
To some extent God’s plan can be seen in the way the United Methodist Church does things; just as Moses and Joshua led for a period of time, clergy today are itinerant as leaders for a season.
I might remind us that, just as certainly as Moses and Joshua were different, they led for specific reasons God had chosen. But they both pointed God’s children to the same Promised Land.
Leadership style should never be confused with God’s purposes! Style is simply the difference in human personality, while God’s purposes are eternal, immutable and Kingdom-centered…they have nothing to do with the way a pastor parts his or her hair.
Every pastor you’ve had in this church’s storied 137 year history has been different, and that will be the case when Rev. Dixon begins her ministry here next month. Her leadership style will most likely be very different from mine, as mine was from those who preceded me here. United Methodists are experts at this change of leaders; we’ve been doing it for two and a half centuries.
The question before the house today is…How do you enter the promised land of God’s favor? Notice the spiritual principles Israel observed as God instructed them:
‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” Joshua 3:8b (NRSV)
The kind of "stand" that is represented here is the stand of faith. The priests were told to take the ark into the midst of the river. As their feet touched the edge of the river the waters rolled back as they had forty years prior at the Red Sea. This was a revisiting of the power of God, visible for all the people of God to have their faith strengthened.
Notice that the priests "stood firm" on dry ground in the midst of Jordan (3.17). A firm stand isn't belligerence, it is merely the confidence that God's way is best, and you will do things His way, no matter whom it may please or displease. No matter who may be the leader here, take your stand for Christ.
1When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua: 2“Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, 3and command them, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.’”….When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7then 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 Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.” ….then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’ 23For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over… Joshua 4:1-3, 6b-7, 22b-23 (NRSV
The priests put up a memorial of stones where they crossed over as a sign of their obedience to the Lord. Putting up memorials is a good way to remember where you've been, and what great things the Lord has done in your midst.
Memorials of this nature help us to not repeat mistakes of the past. God's children did not want to act without faith as they had forty years prior.
Notice please that they were very careful to teach their children the meaning of this memorial. Sometimes we are good at teaching rituals without conveying to the world the meaning. That is what is wrong with some liturgy and worship in churches. Everything is done for the congregants in a "holy huddle" while the average pagan, or even the children of the saints look on with puzzled looks.
Teaching the stand has to do with communicating the "God" in the middle of our ritual. Crossing over Jordan on dry land is an exciting event in the life of a whole nation.
· It is like the "shot heard round the world" in Colonial America.
· It is like the wall coming down in Berlin.
· Or like watching the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad being pulled-over by the people with ropes.
No matter who the pastor is here, take a stand for Christ, and teach that stand to your children and the world.
Take a stand, teach the stand, but most importantly…
Too often we let the stones (those things God has done for us, and even our own accomplishments) keep us chained to yesterday. Beloved, God never sanctified sitting still. Notice…
The Israelites…took up twelve stones out of the middle of the Jordan…carried them over with them to the place where they camped, and laid them down there. Joshua 4:8 (NRSV)
Memorials are for seeing. First we see them to remember – then we see them in the rear view mirror. It is impossible to go forward when you only look backward. (You bump into things that way!)
About forty thousand armed for war crossed over before the LORD to the plains of Jericho for battle. Joshua 4:13 (NRSV)
Spiritual warfare is done with the Gospel of peace, righteousness, truth, the shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. The Israelites never lifted a metal sword…it was God who took down those walls of Jericho.
“Command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, to come up out of the Jordan.” Joshua 4:16 (NRSV)
Once you've laid down the memorial stones and taken up the tools of spiritual warfare, there is nothing left but to move out in faith. Scripture (5:1) tells us that when God's people did those things, the enemies' hearts melted. God gave victory to the people who did things his way.
Let me encourage you, people of God... Take a stand for Christ, Teach that stand to the community, and then...Don't stand still -- lay down the stones, pick up the tools, and move up and on for Christ!
Stones were used for many purposes in ancient times.
· They were used to build altars such as the monument Joshua had the priests construct as a symbol of their united purpose.
· They were used to build dwelling places for families to be protected and knit together.
· And, sadly, stones were also used to kill those who violated important laws; they called it “stoning”!
It certainly can be that way in church life also; we are no different than the people who marched in circles in the desert for forty years. Today we don’t use stones much for physical building or monuments, or even executions. But we do have our will, our pride and our tongues, stones with which we can and do destroy each other.
When you came into the sanctuary today you were given a stone. Hold it up before you now, and imagine it as representative of that power each of us possesses to either stone our neighbor or build an altar to God. See that stone as a building block for God’s house of prayer and love.
I want to suggest that we serve communion differently today. When the table is prepared, and prayer of thanksgiving has been offered, let’s lay down the stones before we receive this grace. Come up to the chancel and lay your stone before the altar.
Let this laying down of a stone be a sign and vow before God that this church will move forward, standing for better than pride and selfishness. You will stand strong and be courageous for the crucified and risen King of Kings. Will you do it for Christ’s sake?
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.