Jun 28 - Memorial: Have I Ever Walked On Dry Ground?

Memorial: Have I Ever Walked On Dry Ground?

June 28, 2015

Joshua 3-4

June 28th, 2015
Joshua 3-4

Maybe you heard about a guy named John who had a really horrible memory.  One day John ran into a friend whom he had not seen in a long time.  He greeted him and said, “Hey guy, do you remember what a bad memory I had?” His friend answered, “Yes John, I certainly do.” 
“Well, guess what? It’s not bad any more. I went to a seminar that taught us how to remember things. It was a great seminar, and now I have a wonderful memory.”
His friend answered, “That’s great John! What was the name of the seminar?” 
“Well,” John said, “wait a minute, umm, what’s the name of that flower with a long stem and thorns and a smells really good?” 
“Do you mean a rose?” His friend answered.
John replied, “Yeah, that’s it. Thanks, buddy.” He turns around and yells, “Hey, Rose, what’s the name of that seminar we attended?”

People are forgetful.  But they want to remember, at least an event or a person that is significant to them.  They want to remember the times of great loss – often people that they have lost.

Taj Mahal – was built back in the 1600’s over a 22 year period on orders of an Indian emperor as a mausoleum for his favourite wife; 

Lincoln Memorial – dedicated in 1922 to the memory of who some people consider to be the greatest president the US every had; 

The grave of a 16 year old girl who died of TB in 1867 (Freiburg, Germany). Her sister commissioned the statue.

People don’t just want to remember times of great loss, but also times of great sacrifice.

Cenotaph in front of the legislature in Victoria, one of 76 cenotaphs in Canada, the most prominent being the National war memorial in Ottawa.  What is it that we say on Remembrance Day?  Lest we forget.  

People don’t just want to remember great loss and great sacrifice, but also great victories.

Arc de Triomphe in Paris, constructed from 1806 - 1836 to commemorate the military victories under Napoleon I; 

Titus’ arch in Rome – to commemorate the successful siege and destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.  The famous relief on Titus’ arch is the return of the army that destroyed Jerusalem, carrying the golden menorah from the temple.  

Every portrait drawn, every photo, many statues and busts, … they all call out to remember those portrayed.  I always feel a bit melancholy when I see old portraits or photo portraits where those depicted on them have long been forgotten, despite their best attempts.  

Christians also have certain celebrations or images that remind them of some things that God has done on their behalf.  Often we don’t remember or think about the great loss, which is our separation from God due to our sinful behaviour – the things we do and say that we know are morally questionable or ethically wrong.  

Thankfully, we do take time to remember Jesus’ great sacrifice, whether Jesus is depicted on the cross … not an image to be prayed to, but a visual reminder of the great sacrifice on our behalf … or as we celebrate communion each month.  

The great victory and the associated great hope of life eternal, is not only celebrated on Easter, the time we remember the empty grave and the risen Messiah – but also, as the apostle Paul tells us, a promise of an ongoing existence beyond this mortal coil.  

The great commitment, which Jesus called “repentance” – a turning away from living life solely for ourselves to living it in obedience to God, which includes “loving others,” – and the associated empowerment by the Holy Spirit to do just that - is what we remember and proclaim when we get baptized.  

Our passage this morning deals with the crossing of the Jordan River.  The Jordan River has provided inspiration for countless songs, hymns, and stories, including the traditional African-American spirituals.  

If you can read some of the lyrics on the overhead, you realize that crossing the Jordan has been spiritualized to indicate death.  The Promised Land, eternal life, awaits on the shores beyond.  However, many songs became popular because they were understood to speak of the hope of freedom by escaping slavery and crossing over to the Northern States or even Canada.

Last week, Byron left us with the nation of Israel as they were making their way through the wilderness … 40 years of wandering in a relatively small area – particularly if they were confined to the Sinai Peninsula.

Yyou or I could walk from the Nile Delta to Beersheba in about 10 or 11 days if we walked at a moderate pace for 8 hours a day.  From north to south, the size of the peninsula is less than 300 km, it’s like walking from here to Campbell River, which can be done comfortably in 7 days, given 8 hours of walking a day.   

Given that the Israelites had women, children, and a considerable number of grazing animals with them, and given that they took the longest route around the peninsula, they would still have been able to travel to the Jordan River in less than 2 months.  

For them to remain on the Sinai Peninsula for 40 years, they would have had to crisscross back and forth 500 to 1000 times.  To my mind they must have made their way through the whole of the wilderness areas on the Arabian Peninsula as well, to the Persian Gulf and perhaps beyond, but that is pure conjecture.

40 years is a long time.  40 years of complaining – are we there yet?  We are hungry.  The food in Egypt was so much better.  We are thirsty.  We’re tired of water and milk … why wasn’t pop invented yet?  40 years in which all men of military age grew old and died.  

When the nation finally reached the Jordan River to cross into the Promised Land, Moses dies, and Joshua takes his place.  His first task is to undertake and lead the invasion of the country on the other side of the Jordan River.  

But his authority needed to be established.  For that to happen, God had something special up his sleeve.  He tells Joshua that the priests, who were designated to carry the ark of the covenant, should be the first to enter the river Jordan, and when they do, the river would stop flowing and the whole nation would be able to cross on relatively dry ground.  I’m beginning to read in Joshua 3:14, when the crossing begins.

3:14 When the people broke camp to cross the Jordan River, the priests carried the ark of the covenant at the very front of the nation.  15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage throughout the harvest time.  As soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing.  

We may not think that going down to the shores of the Jordan River is much of a task when we see it today.  However, the Jordan River today is not nearly as wide as it once used to be, since lots of water has been diverted daily from both the Sea of Galilee as well as the Yarmouk River (since 1964).  

At the time of Moses, during the spring floods, the river was likely around 100 meters wide – today it’s just a fraction of what it used to be – one of the reasons why the Dead Sea is shrinking so drastically.  

I would think that those priests who would enter the river first, would have to trust in Joshua’s leadership, and count on God’s presence, as they walked into the waters of the swollen river.

By the way, strategically speaking, what would make more sense, is to send a fighting force across the river and perhaps allow the women and children to stay behind until the army could determine just how successful the invasion would be.  

However, most of the nation, with the exception of the families of the tribes who would stay on the east side of the Jordan (Reuben, Gad and a portion of the half-tribe of Manasseh), crossed the river.  

In essence, they committed themselves … there was no second plan, no back-up plan.  They weren’t planning on going back, even though they could not be sure of what would happen … they simply had to trust God that this is the right thing and that they would be successful.

And unlike the past 40 years during the wandering in the wilderness, not a voice of dissent is heard, not a murmur, not a complaint - possibly because all of them could see that the Jordan River dried up and that the priests carrying the ark of the covenant stood on dry ground in the middle of the riverbed.  

God is at work.  God is doing something.  And sometimes we too can have times when we see God at work.  Against all odds, a prayer has been answered in the affirmative.  We have experienced the infilling of the Holy Spirit with great emotional upheaval.  All of a sudden, we understand Bible passages and how they apply to us, when previously it was like a foreign language.  We no longer are controlled by an addiction.  We have a vision or a dream that bowls us over.  We experience joy or sense of peace that has eluded us for most of our lives.  Our hardened heart is softened so that we act in compassion even though previously we had convinced ourselves that we are only to look out for our immediate family.  Physical healing takes place.  We experience God’s presence during a time of deep mourning or great suffering.

Whatever may have happen, we know that this isn’t of us, it isn’t happenstance, it isn’t our imagination … it is real.  And it speaks of God’s presence and his activity in our lives.  

But unfortunately, those moments fade into the past, barely if ever remembered as the daily problems of living and making a living preoccupy our thoughts.

The water piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah, that is the Salt Sea (= Dead Sea) completely drained off.  

The flow of the river must have been blocked, possibly by a landslide, some time before the priests stepped into the flooded banks so that it was dropping rapidly as the last of the waters coursed by the nation until only pools of water were left.  

Historically, landslides have dammed the Jordan River repeatedly, sometimes for several days.    Most recently, in 1927, when the Marl cliffs collapsed right around the same location where the town of Adam used to exist.  In that instance, the Jordan River was completely dammed for 21 ½ hours.  

So the people crossed over opposite Jericho.  17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of YHWH stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

4:1 When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan River, YHWH said to Joshua, 2 “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests are standing fast, and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you are staying tonight.”    …

4:19 On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan River and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho.  20 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. 

We don’t know where Gilgal was.  The word itself means “circle,” or “stone circle,” a circle being the shape of a camp.  So Gilgal is not necessarily a name of a village.  Gilgal is the place where the nation camped after it had crossed the Jordan river – and it must have been close to the river, East of the fortified town of Jericho.  

We are told that the crossing happened on the 10th day of the first month (Nissan).  In only 4 days, the Israelites would celebrate the feast of the Passover at Gilgal (Josh 5:10).  On this day, the 10th day of Nissan, the Passover lamb was to be chosen by each family unit (cf. Ex 12:3).   

21 Joshua said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?” 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.  23 For YHWH your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over.  YHWH your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over.  24 He did this so that all the people of the earth might know that the hand of YHWH is powerful and so that you might always revere YHWH your God.’”

Now, the fact is, that the exit from Egypt under extreme duress and the escape from Pharaoh’s army, the whole wilderness journey where God provided what was necessary to survive, and now this event, the drying up of the Jorden, would all have been forgotten a long, long time ago were it not for the narrative account in the OT books.  

However, these 12 stones were a tangible, visual reminder to the very generation that crossed over the river, and their children and children’s children, who may or may not have heard the whole story, that God was at work in bringing them into the land – and to whom they could explain what had happened and not to forget it.  
The purpose of the memorial of the 12 stones which Joshua set up was to evoke questions by those who saw them:  “Who placed these stones here?”  “What were the reasons that they were heaped up?”  

And the answer would be, “These stones attest that God did the drying up, and that we walked on dry ground right into this land.  Remember that!  Every time you walk by these rocks remember the power and goodness of God toward your parents and grandparents.

But notice also, that these visible reminders also are to engender a deep reverence for God.  He is, after all, the most powerful being in the universe.  He is awesome and even fearsome in his majesty and power.   

[There were numerous other times when a patriarch or leader in Israel would set up an alter or a large stone to commemorate something of significance.   

One of those times was over 350 years later from the time that the nation entered Canaan.  The prophet Samuel, who had been the judge over Israel for some time, oversaw a decisive victory against the Philistines.     

Samuel wanted the Israelites to remember how God had given them the victory and so he took a stone and set it up where the battle had taken place, near a town called Mizpah.  He named the stone Eben-Ha’ezer, which means Stone of Help, because, as he said at the time, 

Up to now, YHWH has helped us.      1 Samuel 7:12

“Eben-Ha’ezer” is often transliterated in our English Bibles as “Ebenezer.”]

The stones were a memorial.  Such memorials remind us of God’s Real, Holy Presence and Divine aid.  Memorials help us remember a specific time when God revealed Himself and said: “I am here!” They are tangible reminders of the times when God has done something significant in us or through us or for us.  They are physical, visible, reminders of God’s goodness and faithfulness. They are tangible reminders of God’s work, his presence, his help, his love, and his assistance.

Unfortunately, most of us do not have visual reminders of when God has done something of significance.  And as a result, we tend to never think about those times.  We no longer think about the miracles in our life, or the times God gave us clear direction or rescued us from darkness.  

And so we are caught up perhaps despairing due to present stressors or, more likely, simply becoming distracted, spiritually cold and indifferent to God.  We can even lose our reverence for him.

We must become more aware of God as He works in our life and in the world around us. As we see and hear Him, we must find ways to create memories for ourselves and those we love; 

I will remember the deeds of YHWH; I will remember your past miracles.  I will meditate on all you do and will think about your deeds.            Psalm 77:11-12

If indeed we remember and reflect upon how God was at work, we can't help but thank and praise him, and share with others how good he has been to us. 

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, his love endures forever.                    Psalm 136:1

The question I asked myself as I mulled over this passage is in what ways have you and I set up visual reminders of God's hand in our lives?  To tell you the truth, I don’t think I have ever created or bought something visual, whether it’s a piece of art, or a poem, or an ornament, or even a kept a journal, to commemorate a time in my life where God touched me in a significant way or did something of significance for me.  And I want that to change.  

If you remember something significant that God has done for you, something significant that God has done through you, or something significant that God has done in you, I want to give you the opportunity to make yourself a memorial today if you so wish.  

We have some smooth rocks of various sizes available to you, as well as some fine sharpie markers.  

I would encourage you to pick a rock after the service and either write on it a memorial – one to five words – to describe the time when you saw God truly at work in your life.  

We have a number of clear containers that you can drop your rock into and those clear containers will first be set up somewhere in the church so that when you see the column of rocks each week, you will be reminded of the event that you have written on it.

But perhaps, this is something that you would like to take more time with.  We still have a station toward the creek area from our DWELL service last night.  I would encourage you to actually go there if you have the time and think and pray about what you want to commemorate.

And some of you will need to rush away.  And that’s perfectly OK.  Can I encourage you to simply take your rock home?  You can write on it over the next week or two and then place it in the clear container.  

And if you’re at a complete loss and cannot think of anything of significance to write down, perhaps that is because you are not willing to entrust yourself to God, to step into the flooding waters of your Jordan River in obedience to God.

Maybe you’ve never journeyed with God, never asked him for forgiveness and for his Spirit to indwell you.  Maybe you’ve never considered doing something of significance for Him.  Maybe your journey with God hasn’t even begun.  My hope and prayer is that there will come a time in not the too distant future where all of that will change.  

It would be great, if you can go to the river and get yourself a smooth rock and set up your own memorial to the goodness and majesty and grace and power of God.

Closing prayer