Summary: This sermon was preached at a church celebrating their 164th anniversary. We must not forget the blessings of the past because they serve as powerful reminders that whatever we face now or in the future as individuals or as a church, God is able.
A friend of mine, pastor out at Long Church, was late to one of our weekly lectionary meetings. When he got there, he showed us a picture on his cell phone that explained why he was late. About a dozen goats had gotten loose in the church cemetery. Three of them were standing on tomb stones.
Our first reaction was to laugh but there was something unsettling about seeing those goats standing on head stones. It seemed sacrilegious or disrespectful somehow. Now, to be fair to the goats, these were just rocks and stones. The letters on the tomb stones meant nothing to them … but to us, they are sacred memorials. It’s not about the stone itself, is it? It’s about the person who lies beneath it. The stone is a way to help us remember a loved one, a family member, a friend who is no longer with us. These head stones … these grave markers … bring back memories and reminds us that the folks buried there once existed and were a part of our lives … and because of their memories, they are still a part of our lives, part of us today.
There are things that God wants us to remember, to never forget. Such as the time when He liberated His Hebrew children from 400 years of bondage and servitude in Egypt. God told them to set a day aside as a “day of remembrance.” Do any of you recall what that day is called? “Passover.” “You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord, throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance” (Exodus 12:14). The festival of Passover officially starts when the youngest person at the table asks the question: “Why is this night so special?” And, once again, all around the world, God’s people retell and remember the mighty things that God did for His Hebrew children.
When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the Law … capital “L” … he built an altar … a memorial. Exodus 24:4 says that Moses “rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel.”
As the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, Moses issued a final warning: “… beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 6:12). And, so that they would never forget, God commanded them to build two very interesting monuments … one in the middle of the Jordan River and one just outside of the Canaanite city of Gilgal.
The Jordan River represented a border between the wilderness and the Promised Land … between where they had been and where they were going. When the Israelites first came to the Jordan River, it represented a barrier to blessing. On the other side was the Promised Land … a land flowing with milk and honey. The Israelites refused to pass through the river because the Promised Land was also flowing with Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites … all very powerful people … but not more powerful than God, amen? And so, they were turned back and the Jordan River became a symbol of impossibility and a memorial to their doubt and fear, their failure and their shame.
But God didn’t want it to be a symbol of impossibility or a memorial to their doubt and fear, their failure and shame, did He? Forty years later they stand on the banks of the Jordan River once again. This time, God intends for it to be the River of Possibility that borders the Land of Blessing. And to remind them of how it was going to be possible for them to claim the Promised Land … the land that God had promised them … God shows them who is going to go before them … who is going to be with them … the same God that defeated Pharaoh … the same God that went before them in the wilderness.
That same God would go before them and be with them. The very instant that the feet of the priests carrying the Ark touched the raging waters of the Jordan River, a miraculous thing happened. The water sopped flowing immediately and the Israelites literally walked through the river into the Promised Land. The river didn’t stop flowing until when? Until the priests and people moved forward and took a step of faith … a very powerful and visual way for God to tell us that we have to step out in faith first. Faith, if it is to be faith, must come first. It would not have taken much faith to cross the Jordan River if God had built a bridge across it first. But it took a lot of faith for them to step into the rushing waters of the Jordan not knowing what lie beneath the water or if they would make it to the other side. You see that, don’t you? When we respond in faith, God responds with power, amen? The reason so many people live on the wrong side of the river is because they are waiting for God to stop the water before they attempt to cross it … and are forced to wander aimlessly in the wilderness because they never step into the River of Possibility and discover the power and faithfulness of God.