Joshua 4:1-9 (CEB)
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 up 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.
March 4, 2018
Third Weekend in Lent
“Marking Holy Moments”
In this growing season of Lent, we continue with our Lenten theme of, “Feeding the Root: Nurturing the Spiritual Roots of our Faith.” The season of Lent is our time for self-reflection and taking a closer look at our own lives. By feeding our spiritual roots, we nourish our efforts to care for ourselves and show and share God’s love with others.
We stay in the Old Testament scriptures today and move into the book of Joshua. If you ever have the chance or take the opportunity to read from Joshua, there are some amazing stories of faith in this book. Joshua’s name is an Old Testament form of Jesus and means ‘the Lord is salvation.’ By their names and by their lives, Joshua and Jesus modeled and witnessed to the salvation that comes from God.
Let me give us some background leading up to the scripture passage I will read.
Joshua has been the one chosen by God to lead the Israelite people into the promised land after the death of Moses. Remember, Moses led the people out of slavery in Egypt and through the wilderness for 40 years. Now there is a transition in leadership from Moses to Joshua, who has been groomed for this leadership position.
God encourages Joshua and repeats to him what has been told to him before…Be strong and courageous in leading the people into the promised land. The Israelites are on the edge of the Jordan River, but there is a problem. It is flood season and the Jordan River is out of its banks and looks impossible to cross.
But Joshua continues to listen to God and tells the people that they are going to cross the Jordan River behind the Ark of the Covenant, which would be carried into the river by the priests. The Ark of the Covenant was a large chest layered with gold that contained the two stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments that were given to Moses. The Ark of the Covenant was considered to be like a moving sanctuary that had been with the people through their journey in the wilderness.
So, Joshua has the priests carry the Ark of the Covenant and the people step out in faith and come to the banks of the flooded Jordan River. This is when God intervenes and cuts off the waters that are flooding the river. And just like what happened for Moses at the Red Sea, dry land appeared so the Covenant chest and the people could cross.
This is where we pick up the story.
(Read Joshua 4:1-9)
To nourish our spiritual roots, we have to take time to mark the holy moments we experience. Sometimes it may feel necessary to create a physical monument, other times it might be offering a prayer or a word of blessing.
Joshua and the Israelites created a stone memorial so they would never forget God’s goodness to them as they crossed the Jordan River.
How do we mark our holy moments? How do we take time, as an act of gratitude, to stop and honor the places where God has swept through our lives and shown grace?
Marking holy moments may take many forms. Each time we pour water into our Baptism font, we are marking a holy moment and recognizing God’s presence in worship. By lighting a candle, we can name God’s presence with us. By saying grace before eating, we offer thanks to God for the blessing of our meal. By placing our children’s artwork with intention on our refrigerator, we honor God’s creative spirit that lives within them. By looking into the eyes of our teenagers as they walk out the door each morning and reminding them of our love for them, we claim God’s love moving in their lives.
As we travel, we often see examples of other holy moments memorialized…stones stacked in an unexpected place along a hiking trail, flowers and crosses and pictures by the side of the road or other place where a tragic event or accident may have happened; where a life may have ended or been spared. Other times, it may be memorials with candles and flowers and pictures outside homes or schools or businesses.
Markings need not be fancy or expensive, elaborate or complicated. It only needs to happen with intention.
One of our Grace Café small groups is reading a book titled “Liturgy of the Ordinary,” which offers every day ways to intentionally think about and invite God’s presence and mark moments as holy. Everything from making your bed to brushing your teeth, to checking your e-mail, to losing your keys, to waking up and going to bed.
The author, Tish Harrison Warren says that, “God is forming us into a new people. And the place of that formation is in the small moments of today.”
In other words, Holy moments mostly happen in the midst of the everyday, ordinary events of life. We just need to be alert and intentional in recognizing and noticing the holy presence of God in our midst and somehow mark that moment.
God gives Joshua instructions to pick 12 men from among the people, one man for each of the 12 tribes of Israel. They were to pick up 12 stones from the middle of the now dry Jordan River and bring them to the place where they were camped for the night. The stones became a marker of a Holy, Divine moment.
Joshua also set 12 stones up in the middle of the Jordan River where the feet of the priests had stood while carrying the covenant chest. Another marking of a holy moment…a stack of stones as a sign; as an unmistakable marker that said, at this very place, God showed up and could be seen…a statement that God was here with us.
The laying or stacking of stones was a common practice for people in the Scripture stories to mark as holy the places where they sensed or knew God’s presence.
In the hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, that we will sing in a few moments, the beginning of the second verse has the phrase, “Here I raise my Ebenezer.”
If you have ever wondered what that means or what an ‘Ebenezer’ is, it was usually the physical raising up of a stone or the stacking of stones in a place that was holy. It was a reminder to the people of God’s presence and how God had delivered them from danger. The word ‘Ebenezer’ means ‘stone of help.’
What are the moments, or where are the places you can mark as Holy…where can you say, ‘yes,’ God is here…God is here transforming lives; bringing hope; showing us that there is more good than bad in life; showing us that there are more people that share compassion than those that do evil.
We may not literal mark holy moments with stones, but perhaps we pause for a prayer of thanks, or just pause to say to ourselves, ‘yes, God is in this place…God is in this moment.’
You may have seen the news story this past week, in which sophomore point guard Jordan Bohannon was one free throw away from breaking the University of Iowa basketball school record of 34 consecutive free throws.
As he stood behind the free throw line to make the record breaking shot, he pointed to the sky and intentionally missed the free throw, so as not to break the school record set by Chris Street 25 years ago and three days before he was killed in a car accident.
Chris’ parents were at the game and said the moment pointed to the kind of heart Jordan Bohannon has. That is a holy moment that will be forever marked by a simple, intentional act of kindness.
God is at work in the world and when we see the moments in life that are holy, we need to recognize them and remember them. Part of the call upon our lives as people of faith is to tell others where God is still showing up; where God is providing; where God is being faithful.
An article in the Christian Century magazine said that, “The day the women of the Ritsona refugee camp in Greece wove their first welcome mat, they let out a cheer…The mat was a simple thing; a two-foot-by-three-foot floor covering woven from discarded materials, including parts of the life preservers that refugees had worn on their voyages across the Mediterranean.”
The group of weavers is a mixture of Syrian and Kurdish women. As the women take the life vests that they wore on their harrowing journeys and turn them into welcome mats, they have developed a daily mantra that say, “Just keep weaving.” Each mat marks a holy moment in the lives of women who lost everything when they left their homes.
Perhaps in this Lenten season, as a way of nurturing the spiritual roots of your faith, you could take time to be quiet and think back on your own life…are there those holy moments, where in looking back, it is now clear that God was in that moment…in that place? What are the holy moments that have brought you to this point in your life?
To give you a visual, you could even get a handful of small stones and make a stack…one stone for each holy moment you can name in your life up to this point. You could raise up an Ebenezer.
Can we create enough space in our lives to recognize and mark the holy moments? Can we be intentional about noticing the presence of God in our midst?
In this week and in this Lenten season, I invite you in some way to mark a holy moment; however profound or ordinary it may be.
May the spiritual roots of our faith grow a little deeper with each holy moment marked and remembered. Thanks be to God. Amen.