Summary: For a Children’s Day message; twelve varying stones used as visuals to speak of original innocence, sin and accountability, and the redemptive work of Christ.
For centuries, people have raised up stones as a witness. Stone monuments testify as to who they are and what happened among them. Just this week news came of discoveries at the ancient monument of Stonehenge on the Salisbury plain in England. Those great Sarsen stones were raised to honor the ancestors of the ancient Britons who lived there and to bear witness to the grandeur of the seasons. Those great stones meant something to those who worked so hard to put them there.
We too raise up stones as a witness and as a way to remember. Tour in your mind’s eye the monumental core of the city of Washington. The five hundred fifty five feet of masonry that honors George Washington. The temple that enshrines Jefferson and lets us read his words, set in stone for the ages, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Or at the western end of the mall, the Lincoln Memorial, with those penetrating eyes and those great hands, with that spot now marked with a tablet where Dr. King spoke one August day. We remember, we understand, because stones have been raised to help us remember. What do these stones mean? Their message is clear.
Such stones are important, for a people who forget their history forget who they are. A people who do not know their own story have no identity, no direction, and ultimately no hope. We must know who we are; and if it takes the setting of stones one on top of the other to build a reminder, then so be it. That we must do.
That is what Israel did, after they crossed the waters of the Jordan into the land of promise. Joshua insisted that they dredge up twelve stones from the middle of the river, and then that they set those stones in a monument on the banks of the Jordan. When new generations would see them, they would ask, “Why are these stones here? What do these stones mean?” And their elders would teach them, “These stones remind us that it was in this place, across these very waters, that God led us through. God did something here. God led us from danger to hope. This bears witness to who we are. We are Israel. We are the people whom God brought through danger to a land of promise.”
If we forget who we are, if we do not understand our own story, we have no identity, no direction, and ultimately no hope. We too must set some stones. We too must remember our story. And just as Israel used twelve stones, twelve for the twelve tribes of Israel, we today also take up twelve stones to mark out our story. What do these stones mean? Let’s find out.
So small that you cannot see it from where you sit is a birthstone. By tradition, each of the months of the year is assigned a stone, and so it is popular to wear jewelry that shows what month you were born in. I was born in February, so amethyst is my birthstone.
Birthstones are precious and beautiful and small. As infants, we too are precious and beautiful and small. We are the work of God’s hands, and in our innocence we mirror God’s perfection. No little child is tainted with sin. He is not responsible for the mistakes of his parents. She is not somehow predestined for failure because of her parents’ irresponsibility. The birthstone tells us that God has given each child potential and purity. When the Old Testament describes how the vestments of the priests were to be made, it specifies that there will be twelve birthstones on the front of the priests’ robes. Twelve precious stones near the priest’s heart, to be signs of God-given life. Something to celebrate. Let the first stone, this tiny one, reminds us of God’s gift of life and purity.
But now we have a shard, a piece of broken clay. Technically it is not properly a stone, but it’s close. It is made of a certain kind of earth that is heated and hardened and made into pots and vessels. Just last week I preached about the little clay pots that contain the treasure of the Gospel. But this shard, this chunk, came from a larger piece of clay. It is, quite literally, a chip off the old block.
We begin our lives as tiny infants, and it is not long until we learn to mimic our parents and others around us. We speak the way we hear others speak; we walk the way we see others walk. We are impressionable and ready to be shaped. As a chip off the old block, we are just like that Bible passage that speaks of the potter and the clay, or like that hymn that sings, “Thou art the potter, I am the clay; mold me and make me after Thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.”