First Mennonite Church
March 1, 2015
“Object Lessons of Faith”
Joshua 4: 1-9; 19-24
Memorials are set up as ways to immortalize important persons or events. Memorials certainly take various forms and shapes, from the majestic Taj Mahal and Lincoln Memorial to simplest form of an award. I wear a wedding ring as a memorial of my marriage covenant with Lilian going 19 years this month.
In the Bible stones altars were commonly built as memorials of encounters with God. Abraham built several stone altars as memorials wherever God appeared to him (Genesis 12:7; 13:18; 26:25; 33: 20). Jacob did the same.
The passage for today narrates the crossing of the Jordan River as the Israelites entered the Land of Canaan. The Israelites arrived at the bank of the Jordan River at a time when it was flooded. But God instructed Joshua what to do and he in turn instructed the people what they should do. The priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant were to lead the people across the river. As the soles of the feet of the priest touched the water of the Jordan, it withdrew and thus created a dry path through the river. It was a similar even as what happened when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea.
After all the people had crossed the Jordan, God instructed Joshua to send twelve men to retrieve a stone each, from the dry riverbed. With these twelve stones Joshua was to build a memorial. This stone-memorial was to be a sign among the Israelites. God told Joshua the purpose of the memorial: “When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those 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.” God wanted that the generations to come to also know the works of God on behalf of his people. God knew how inquisitive the mind of a child is. The stone memorial would likely lead children to ask questions to their parents.
We all have heard the warning: “The extinction of faith is just a generation away.” If we do not teach or lead our children in the ways of the Lord, their likelihood of continuing in the faith is reduced. And in the case of Joshua, God wanted the stone memorial to serve as a talking point between parents and their children. God wanted this memorial to become a constant reminder to everyone, not about the leadership of Joshua, but about the presence, faithfulness and deliverance of Yahweh to his people.
All of us who are parents know there was a time when our children seemed to have had an unending list of questions. Why is the grass green? Why do we have to pray? What is cholesterol? Where is God? And how can Jesus also be in our heart? Why do you have “white hair?” By nature, the mind of a child is inquisitive. Young children come to a point in their young lives when there is whole lot to explore and inquire about. And in part they satisfy their need to know by asking their parents. It is at that age that we parents must take the opportunity to shape, guide, and prepare the heart of our children with the spiritual foundation they will need to build upon for the life of faith.
It could be that we who are parents do not realize how much of what our children know is what they on their own initiative have sought to know by asking. I am sure you, like me, have found that at times when we hear our children talk among themselves you hear “that’s what Daddy says” or “Mommy says so.” Time will come when they will discover the world by themselves. Time will come when our children will have a mature faith of their own, but the seeds of faith need to be planted in their early lives. Tell your children your personal stories of God faithfulness to you. Tell them of His protection to you in the various situation of danger. Tell your children of God’s provisions in times of need. Tell them of why you help the needy. Tell them why you do certain things or refrain from doing certain activities.
When Jasmine started middle school, she found that the school had dances, which parents were not allowed to attend. At first, every time there was one of such event she would ask us to let her go. We explained our reasons why we do not think it was good for her to attend such events. Now she does not ask and in fact tells Madeleine why those activities might not the best for them.
Our children learn from watching us parents. Our children see how dad and mom do things together. Children learn from what happens in church too. As the younger ones are witnessing what is happening today, they might later ask you what the meaning of baby dedication is.
The story is told about a woman whose three sons chose to become seafaring men. Once as she entertained a visitor, this woman began to express her grief and puzzlement wanting know why her sons chose to go to the sea. The visitor who was sitting by the table asked the mother since when has she had a wall painting hanging in her house. She said, “Oh, for many years, even before our children were born.” “There is your answer,” the visitor said. Hanging on the dining room wall was a painting of large sailing vessel cutting mightily through the open ocean. Its sails were in full billow and the captain poised confidently on the deck of the ship with his spy-glass surveying the horizon. Morning, noon and night, three times a day when the woman’s children sat for their meals, there was that picture silently shaping their interest and ultimately their lives.
What pictures, Bible verses or paintings do you have hanging in your living rooms? Do they provide some kind of guidance? As for Ahrean and Catherine, I know they love tractors and anything related to farm life.
The context of worship has various memorials
Holy Communion is one of those memorials in the context of worship. I do not mind serving the Communion elements to children. I know some congregations do not serve the bread and wine of Communion to children. But I believe that if children participate also in this Christian ordinance it can lead them to inquire more about it and thus provide a teaching moment. Holy Communion is the Memorial of what the Lord has done for us.
Baptism is another memorial. It is both an illustration and a proclamation. Baptism illustrates what has happened in our lives. We die with Christ and are raised up to a new life. Baptism is also the proclamation in which we tell each other in the body of Christ that we are equal. Through baptism we announce that there is no master or slave, no Jew or Gentile. All worldly stratification is abandoned and we become brothers and sisters in Christ.
The cross is the most obvious of all Christian memorials. Time will come when August will begin asking questions. What does this mean Mommy? Why do we do that Daddy?
Dear Catherine and Ahrean, the two of you are the most important spiritual memorial August will have to learn from. As you dedicate Baby August to the Lord today, the invitation of the apostle Peter can be appropriated you. The apostle Peter says, “Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Of all the stone memorials August will learn from, inquire about, and have as witnesses of God faithfulness and presence are you his parents. The two of you must, therefore, strive to become and always be living stones built upon the Living Stone, which is Jesus Christ. You are God’s dwelling place. Your life of service to God and to others; your lives as channels of God’s grace and presence will shape and guide the life of August to the knowledge of the Lord. May God richly bless you so that you may fulfill your calling and blessing of being the parents of August Donald Evenson. Amen!