Joshua 4:1-24 – Remembrance

When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Pick twelve men from the people, one man per tribe. Command them, ‘Pick up twelve stones from right here in the middle of the Jordan, where the feet of the priests had been firmly planted. Bring them across with you and put them down in the camp where you are staying tonight.’”

Joshua called for the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one man per tribe. Joshua said to them, “Cross over into the middle of the Jordan, up to the Lord your God’s chest. Each of you, lift a stone on his shoulder to match the number of the tribes of the Israelites. This will be a symbol among you. In the future your children may ask, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ 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.”

The Israelites did exactly what Joshua ordered. They lifted twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, matching the number of the tribes of the Israelites, exactly as the Lord had said to Joshua. They brought them over to the camp and put them down there. Joshua also set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan where the feet of the priests had stood while carrying the covenant chest. They are still there today.

Meanwhile, the priests carrying the chest were standing in the middle of the Jordan. They stood there until every command that the Lord had ordered Joshua to tell the people had been carried out. This was exactly what Moses had commanded Joshua. The people crossed over quickly. As soon as all the people had finished crossing, the Lord’s chest crossed over. The priests then moved to the front of the people. The people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh crossed over, organized for war ahead of the Israelites, exactly as Moses had told them. Approximately forty thousand armed for war crossed over in the Lord’s presence to the plains of Jericho, ready for battle. The Lord made Joshua great in the opinion of all Israel on that day. So, they revered him in the same way that they had revered Moses during all his life.

The Lord said to Joshua, “Command the priests carrying the chest containing the testimony to come up out of the Jordan.”

So, Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up from the Jordan.” The priests carrying the Lord’s covenant chest came up from the middle of the Jordan, and the soles of their feet touched dry ground. At that moment, the water of the Jordan started flowing again. It ran as before, completely over its banks. The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month. They camped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho.

Joshua set up at Gilgal those twelve stones they had taken from the Jordan. He said to the Israelites, “In the future your children will ask their parents, ‘What about these stones?’ Then you will let your children know: ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’ This was because the Lord your God dried up the water of the Jordan before you until you crossed over. This was exactly what the Lord your God did to the Reed Sea. He dried it up before us until we crossed over. This happened so that all the earth’s peoples might know that the Lord’s power is great and that you may always revere the Lord your God.” (CEB)

I like coffee. I like coffee mugs. I like buying a coffee mug from places I visit. Although it drives my wife nuts, the mugs serve as a continual reminder of a certain place or event I have experienced. As we journey with the Israelites in the Old Testament book of Joshua, we experience with them the significant places and events of their taking the Promised Land. God did a miraculous work by causing the Jordan River to congeal so that the Israelites could cross over on dry ground in entering the land.  Once they were across on the other side, God instructed them to take twelve stones, one for each tribe, and pile them up together.

Crossing Over the Jordan River by Yoram Raanan

The purpose of the heap of twelve stones is made clear in the story and had a twofold purpose: to educate future generations inside Israel that God kept the promise to bring them into a land of abundance; and, to educate those outside Israel that God is mighty.

It is important to be tethered to the past and aware of why and how we are here. Yet, there are many families and faith communities in which the children know little about how God worked in previous generations. So, having tangible reminders of God’s past actions serves everyone to remember, and especially enables children to know the past actions of God. Just as people ask me about why I have certain coffee mugs, so having reminders of God’s grace in prominent visible places serves to aid kids and others to ask why those mementos are there.

It is good to have reminders of faith and the faithful people who influenced us around our homes, places of work, and communities so that others may know the redemptive acts of God, that the Lord keeps promises. And it is a whole lot more important than a coffee mug.

Almighty God, we praise and magnify your holy Name for all your servants who have finished their course in faith and patience. May we remember them and their service well. We humbly pray that, at the day of resurrection, we and all who are members of the mystical body of your Son may be set on his right hand, and hear his most joyful voice: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Grant this, O merciful Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen

Psalm 34:1-10, 22 – Taste and See That the Lord is Good

Welcome, friends! Click the video below and let us consider how God’s goodness comes to us.

And let us worship together with heartfelt thanksgiving.

May the peace of God stand guard over all your thoughts and feelings in Jesus Christ through the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

All Saints Day

All Saints Day by Vasily Kandinsky, 1911

In all times and every place throughout history God has specialized in taking imperfect or broken people and transforming their lives. On the Christian Calendar, November 1 is the day each year to remember the saints who have gone before us. This day is meant to be a way of not forgetting the people, friends, and family, as well as long-dead historical saints, who have made a significant impact in our spiritual lives.

All Saints Day is much more than a focus on extraordinary persons; it highlights the work of ordinary Christians who faithfully lived their lives and persevered to the end. We give thanks for the gift of how they daily lived their faith. We also remember that all believers in Jesus are united and connected.

Remembering is a prominent theme in Holy Scripture. Over a hundred times we are told to remember God’s covenant with people and redemptive actions on their behalf; to remember the needy and those less fortunate; and, to remember the significant persons who influenced us in our journey of faith.

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.  Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7, NIV)

The saints of the past are an inspiration to us in the present. They serve us as a model of faithfulness in persevering in our Christian lives. Through biblical stories of very human persons being used of God, as well as reading biographies of godly people who were dedicated to God in service, we gain motivation and patience until Jesus returns.

Who were the people in your life that went out of their way to communicate God’s love to you with both words and actions?  Who were those persons who labored behind the scenes in prayer so that you and others would know Jesus? 

If any of those persons are still around, and you know where they are, remember them. Drop them a note. Express to them a simple thank you for their influence in your life. You will not only encourage that person – it will help you remember and re-engage with something in your life you may have forgotten or have just taken for granted for too long.

Gordon McDonald, a Christian pastor and writer, at the passing of a lifelong mentor, recalled his loyalty and the crucial counsel he gave in a crisis: “He was there when, many years later, my life fell apart because of a failure for which I was totally responsible. In our worst moments of shame and humiliation, he came and lived in my home for a week and helped me do a searing examination of my wife. I will always remember his words: ‘You are momentarily in a great darkness. You have a choice to make. You can—as do so many—deny this terrible pain, or blame it on others, or run away from it. Or you can embrace this pain and let it do its purifying work as you hear the things God means to whisper into your heart during the process. If you choose the latter, I expect you will have an adventurous future modeling what true repentance and grace is all about.’”

We truly stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us in faith and patience. We will continue to persevere and thrive in faith when we remember them and allow those here in the present to journey with us along this road of faith.

Today is an intentional day of remembrance. We remember answered prayer and salvation. We recollect the people who gave us the life-giving gospel message in both word and deed. We remember the death of Christ and recall that he said he is coming back.

All Saints Day by Kandinsky, 1913

It is sage to recall events of rescue and pull them forward into the present so that all God’s worshipers can taste and see that the Lord is good. This is exactly what the Apostle Peter did for a church which needed to recall and remember the mighty acts of God:

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:2-5, NIV)

Our memories are accessed through symbols and with taste and sight. God uses symbols as a means of revelation. For example, when the Lord wanted to demonstrate the ugliness of sin and the cost of forgiveness, he told the Israelites to kill an animal and sprinkle its blood on their clothing and on the altar. It sounds awful. Yet, the worshiper never walked away from the experience scratching his head and wondering what it was all about because he encountered and tasted the drama of sin and redemption. His senses saw it, felt it, smelled it, and tasted the meat from it. 

Symbols have the power to access other parts of our being in knowing God. We are more than thinking beings; we are also emotional and sensory creatures. We need ordinary events, like shared meals, that include symbols and rituals. Every year faithful Jews gather to remember and re-enact the Passover – the story of how they were enslaved in Egypt, oppressed by Pharaoh, and set free by God. To this day pious Jews still remember the Passover by eating and drinking together and telling stories.

We need both words and sacraments. Therefore, holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas involve both verbal expressions of gratitude and love, and particular actions of kindness and gratitude in giving gifts and sharing food. Together, it all connects us to God, to one another, and to a history of God’s people. Jesus met his disciples in the Upper Room to celebrate Passover together. Jesus energized their time together by filling it with words and symbols of care and redemption. Jesus told the disciples about his upcoming death and provided symbols which reinforced the words. 

“Take and eat – this is my body…. Take this cup – drink from it, all of you” (Luke 22:7-20). Rather than analyzing the bread and discussing the wine’s vintage, the disciples simply ate and drank. They tasted real food and drink. They also tasted real spiritual food. It is one thing to speak of God’s presence, and it is another to experience that presence through an ordinary shared ritual of bread and cup.

God is good, all the time; and, all the time, God is good. Jesus is our Emmanuel, God with us. Christ is present with us through our ritual of fellowship and food. When the sixteenth-century Reformer John Calvin was asked how Jesus is present to us at the Lord’s Supper he explained, “Now if anyone asks me how this takes place, I shall not be ashamed to confess that it is a secret too lofty for either the mind to comprehend or my words to declare….  I rather experience it than understand it.”

The taste of real bread reminds us of the physical incarnation of Christ, and Christ’s humiliation and death. Drinking from the tangible cup reminds us of the bodily sacrifice of Christ, the drops of blood which Jesus sweat in Gethsemane, and the beatings, floggings, nails, and crown of thorns that caused the bleeding. Tasting the bread and cup when celebrating communion reminds us that our sins are forgiven, we are united to Christ, and we are united together. 

There are historical events which happened and are forgotten. Then, there are past actions which linger with continual results into the present. The incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification of the Lord Jesus are past redemptive events which continue to exert powerful force into the here and now.

Saints throughout church history moved the message of Christ along and demonstrated for us that the past is alive in the person of Jesus Christ. Along with them we proclaim that Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ is coming again. And God has something planned for those who have gone before us, along with us, so that together we will experience the perfect righteousness of Christ forever. (Hebrews 11:39-40)

Believers are encouraged through word and sacrament to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ until he comes again. So, let us respond to God’s wooing invitation to eat and drink, to taste and see that the Lord is good through faith, hope, and love. For God is our refuge and strength, our ever-present help.

Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 – Remember and Learn

My friends, I beg you
    to listen as I teach.
I will give instruction
    and explain the mystery
    of what happened long ago.
These are things we learned
    from our ancestors,
    and we will tell them
    to the next generation.
We won’t keep secret
    the glorious deeds
    and the mighty miracles
    of the Lord….

God made a path in the sea
    and piled up the water
    as he led them across.
He guided them during the day
    with a cloud,
    and each night he led them
    with a flaming fire.
God made water flow
from rocks
he split open
    in the desert,
    and his people drank freely,
    as though from a lake.
He made streams gush out
    like rivers from rocks. (CEV)

This is a psalm designed to recall historical events for the theological education of ourselves and the next generation. Through passing on eventful stories from the past to future generations, God’s people continue to remember and realize robust divine action in the world. In recalling stories of care and deliverance, God’s commandments are kept. Putting trust in a powerful and benevolent deity brings assurance and encouragement.

Using the psalter as a means of recollecting past events is a sage way of edifying God’s people and living into the command of the Law, according to Moses:

These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Deuteronomy 6:1-12, NIV)

Since psalms are meant to be recited repeatedly throughout one’s spiritual life, doing so inoculates the worshiper from faithless rebellion and counteracts temptations toward trusting in idols. It is a preservative, giving life, purpose, and wholeness. Regular spiritual consumption of the psalms provides a pattern of instruction which molds and maintains the soul so that, when hard situations arise, the supports are there to hold up under the adversity.

The life that is truly life, and life for those who come after us, comes through intentional remembrance and learning. Today’s psalm is a fitting invitation to set our hope in God, remember God’s wonderful works, and keep God’s commands.