Joshua 4: 1-9 and 19-24, page 196
When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua: “Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, and 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.’”
Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe. Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take a stone on his shoulder, one for each of the tribes of the Israelites, so that this may be a sign among you.
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 Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.”
The Israelites did as Joshua commanded. They took up twelve stones out of the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord told Joshua, carried them over with them to the place where they camped, and laid them down there. (Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant had stood; and they are there to this day.)
(19) The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. Those twelve stones, which they had taken out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal, saying to the Israelites, “When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which God dried up for us until we crossed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, and so that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”
It’s not quite Halloween, but already, available in the ice cream isle at Kroger on James Campbell Boulevard is Blue Bell’s candy cane ice cream. I’m not complaining, it’s delicious, but it’s still October and it seems like Christmas comes earlier and earlier each year.
When I was 10 it couldn’t get here soon enough. It seemed like the days of December lasted forever and the sooner toy stores provided ideas for my Christmas, list the better.
I assume that’s the point. Stores assume that the earlier they start promoting Christmas the more time we’ll have to think about what we want. And the more time we have to think about what we want, the more we’ll buy. But there’s a problem here. We’re trained to want. Earlier and earlier every year we are trained to gear up for wanting, and when Christmas morning comes, even if we receive everything our heart desires, it’s still hard to turn our brains off wanting.
When I was five, six, and seven – I don’t think it worked this way, but by the time I was 11 something started to change. By the time I was 11, I remember going through all my presents and after unwrapping everything I could see. I’d check under the sofa to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I’d go through my Christmas list in my head accounting for what I received and longing for what I didn’t.
What I didn’t get became the focus of my attention; surrounded by wrapping paper and who knows how many presents, I was busy thinking about what I still wanted.
To stop, look around, and be thankful – that’s what I needed, and it’s too bad I didn’t know how.
That’s the danger in wanting, I think. Once our minds are tuned to wanting it’s hard to shift gears to being thankful. So after longing for freedom during generations of enslavement, after longing for the Promised Land after years of wandering through the desert, the Lord stops the waters of the Jordan and Joshua leads the people in building a monument.
“When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which God dried up for us until we crossed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, and so that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”
‘What do these stones mean?’ It’s a simple question and one I can easily imagine a child asking her mother, because it’s children who ask just that kind of question. When I was a kid we’d drive under the Richard Hunter Memorial Bridge and I’d ask my parents who he was and how he ended up with a bridge named after him. But they didn’t know.
The same thing might happen to you. Driving down 7th Street towards Trotwood, a curious child might look to her right and notice the 20 foot tall stone monument standing on top of the hill and ask her father, “Who was Pop Gears?” I hope you have an answer, but you may not. Today it’s a little more difficult, because while our children ask the same questions they always have, Joshua’s not here to give us the answer.
‘What do these stones mean?’ These stones mean that before you were born there were people who did great things, who gave of themselves, who crossed deserts, who endured hardship, who sacrificed, who survived so that you might have a better life.
‘What do these stones mean?’ These stones mean that all the gifts you take for granted, all the privileges you enjoy, came from somewhere, and to those who gave you what you have, you should be thankful.
‘What do these stones mean?’ These stones mean that entitlement stands on ignorance, while those who know where what they have came from are filled with something else: gratitude.
This country, this city, this church – they are gifts given by people who came before.
The foundation of this sanctuary, the pews you sit in, and the music you hear – gifts given to the glory of God that you and I enjoy.
‘What do these stones mean?’ These stones mean that the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you. These stones mean that just as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, the Lord dried up the waters of the Jordan for us until we crossed over.
Now here are words of gratitude, and it was gratitude that defined the Israelites as they entered the Promised Land – not longing, not wanting anymore – gratitude.
This is the purpose of Stewardship – that in a world of longing for more, in a world where satisfaction always lies just beyond our grasp, the Lord invites us to give thanks for what we have, to give a portion back acknowledging the source of all our blessings.
So it is gratitude that defines us, even during this recession where all around us we are told there isn’t enough.
It is gratitude that defines us, even in a season of asking, hoping, and longing.
It is gratitude that defines us, because we are God’s people, and for us the Lord dried up the waters; the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for us until we crossed over.
‘What do these stones mean?’ These stones mean that you are the recipient of so many good gifts, and it’s time to acknowledge the source of all that you have been given.