The Book of Joshua tells us that after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, feeding on manna and worshiping in a tent, the people were now about to cross the Jordan River to the land promised to them by God. Before crossing the Jordan River, Moses passed the torch of leadership to Joshua. Moses then disappeared into the mountain wilderness to his final resting place, where God alone would bury him.
When the people were ready for the final crossing, God told Joshua to pick up 12 stones, carry them over and pile them up on the other side, “And when your children ask in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’…then, ah then, you shall tell them what the Lord has done for you.”
Thus, a few years hence, when their children will be playing along the banks of the river, and they will see the stones, they will ask, “Why these stones?” And then, the parents will tell them these stones are witnesses to God’s deliverance and salvation, a memorial to God’s gracious care, a reminder of God’s steadfast love.
For Joshua and the generations that followed him, it was the Exodus, that great act of deliverance from slavery in Egypt which is re-enacted every year in the Jewish festival of Passover–the bitter herbs, the unleavened bread, the cup of deliverance through the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of the houses.
For us today, we have the Lord’s Supper. When we partake of the elements of that Passover meal–the bread, the cup — and say, “Do this in remembrance of me,” these ancient symbols of their deliverance from Egypt become for us the symbols of our deliverance through the death of Christ on the cross.
So today, we build our houses of worship, a place where we can come together to be reminded of what God has done for us. As we share stories of God’s redemption in this sacred space, we pile up stones as witnesses to God’s great love in Jesus Christ so that our children and all the children of the earth will know of God’s greatest gift.
Every time we gather in this sacred space as God’s people, every time we baptize a baby, every time we break the bread together, every time we share the cup of wine, every time we do jail ministry, every time we do our ministry of visiting someone who is sick, every time we do our devotions at the dormitory, every time we have the Galilean fellowship, every time we sing songs of praise with the choir, every time we come together to grieve with a family who has lost a loved one, every time we listen to the sermon or the reading of the scriptures, every time we have our sunrise service, every time we attend a wedding in this place, every time we have a convocation in this place–they are stones reminding us of God’s glorious act in Jesus Christ. And as we remember, we give thanks for what God has done for us.
I am constantly amazed with what God has done in and through this church for 95 years. I am humbled and overwhelmed to step into the stream of this church’s past: the generosity of Dr. Horace B. Silliman for giving the initial amount to start this University, for Dr. Hibbard who, when starting this University, included the Christian teachings in molding the lives of the young; the Larenas who supported the early missionaries, for the pastors before us like Reverend Appleton, Dr. Lauby, Bishop Raterta, Reverend Pak, Dr. Udarbe, Dr. Pantejo who, when people talk of them, would bring smiles on people’s faces, and remind them of their sermons.
I am overwhelmed of the commitment of the people of this church who continue to support the ministries of this church through their time, talent, and money. We see the lives of students transformed because of the ministry of this Church.
As I see faculty and staff giving their time incorporating faith in God in their classrooms and offices, I praise God. As I listen to the choir and individuals sharing their gift of music that God’s name be praised, I am awed at how God works through people. As I hear and see alumni of this University who, because of their experience in this church, have become instruments of God’s grace and love, I give thanks to God.
When you stub your toes on the stones of the various church’s ministry through people here and in other parts of the world, we cannot help but give thanks to God.
When your children ask, “Why these stones?” tell them the marvelous things that God has done through this Church.
So let the stones cry out! They look back and witness to what God has done in the past. Let us celebrate God’s faithfulness for the last 95 years.
At the same time, these stones help us look forward to what God will do in the future through people like you and me. The operative verb in this passage is cross over, the Hebrew word abar. It is used 21 times in the Joshua narrative.
Commentator John Hamlin says: The word emphasizes the decisive nature of this moment in the history of the Hebrew people–the link between the past and the future. The pile of stones on the riverbank symbolized the forward movement of the people on the journey of faith. The very act of piling them up affirms confidence in the hope that there will, in fact, be another generation of children to ask the question. After all, there is still a land to be possessed, cities to be built, a new community to be established…lots of work ahead. They piled up the stones as a bold act of faith, a witness of hope in God’s promised land: believing that the God who had brought them out of bondage, the God who had parted the sea and led them through, the God who had fed them with manna in the wilderness and journeyed with them through their years, would lead them into the future as they “crossed over”.
When our children will also ask us, “Why these stones?” or “Why do we have this church?”, it marks the point of “crossing over”, the movement of the People of God from the past into the future.
You see, it’s not enough for the people of God to look back in memory. The Church is not a historical society. There is nothing more deadly to the life and witness of the church than to be focused solely on the past–preserving old buildings for their own sake, hanging on to old patterns and practices for their own sake, unwilling to risk new ways of being a church.
Of course, we look back and honor the past, but the calling of God always lays out there somewhere ahead of us in the unknown future, and we are called to “cross over”.
Just like the people of Israel, we will have battles to fight and challenges to overcome as we move into this new future on the other side of the Jordan. But we face the future with hope built on the experience of God’s faithfulness for the past 95 years in this church.
Dick Wills, in his book Waking to God’s Dream, says that our prayers should not ask God to bless what we are doing. He says that’s how we usually function. We organize, strategize, get it all planned out, then say a prayer and ask God to bless what we are doing.
However, he said that we should pray to see if we can get in touch with what God is blessing, then to step into that stream, to pile our stones in that river of new life, and to cross over.
These stones call us also to “keep our eye on the future” to cross over and discover the land God has prepared for us.
A stranger visited a church. A week later, the pastor received a letter: “I was overwhelmed with your beautiful sanctuary, the beauty of the worship service, and the fabulous music that was a part of it. In fact, I was so enthralled by the surroundings, I don’t remember a single word you said in your sermon. With all of these, you surely must not care at all for the marginalized or the poor or the needy of the world.” The pastor wrote that gentleman a response in four words, “If you only knew.” Sincerely, Pastor Howard.
I wonder whether we know of the various ministries that we do in this church. Or because we know it, we just take it for granted. Do you know how many students this church is ministering to? How many faculty and staff are we reaching through the devotions and Bible studies in the various departments? How many children are we reaching out through the Vacation Church School or the Sunday School or the feeding program or through Kalauman? Do you know we have a prison ministry? These and several other ministries are done by both lay persons and pastors. The reality is that we are doing more than most of us can imagine.
“When in times to come your children ask, ‘What do these stones mean?’, then you will tell them how the Lord delivered you, so that all the people of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty.” And together we can sing: O God, our help in ages past, our help for years to come, be thou our guide while life shall last and our eternal home.