Two Kinds of Memorial audio (4MB)
Lately, when I look in the mirror, there are a few things that bother me.
I notice that my top lip has a particular dip in it that is exactly like my mother’s. I also have a slight overlap in my front-two teeth just like she does.
I’ve noticed that I have the exact same forehead as my Dad’s Mum, and that my hair is starting to resemble my Dad’s long frizzy hair that he had in the 70’s.
And sometimes, when I’m being cheeky, I do this thing with my mouth that my grandmother on my Mum’s side does.
And it’s not only when I look in the mirror. Every now and again I catch myself in the middle of a passionate speech about something that is only moderately important, and I notice that I’m overreacting and I think, “I just sounded exactly like my Dad.”
And when I’m at kid’s club and eighteen kids arrive, and Annette has to leave suddenly, which means I have to cook … I noticed myself kind of panic and rush around in a manner that strongly resembles my mother.
And the problem with all of this, is that it totally ruins the promise I made to myself as an adolescent, that I was not going to be like my parents … that I was going to be my own person.
I’m realizing that we are all, whether we like it or not, a product of our family background. And I mean, the examples I’ve just given are pretty trivial. What about the more serious stuff, like patterns of behaviour. We often find ourselves caught up in behaviour that is generational. Even though we vow not to be like our parents we end up just like them. It’s interesting that we use the language of ‘cycles’ of violence and abuse in the home … of generational alcoholism …
None of us are born as a clean slate. We come with a history … oftentimes a history that we sense in our spirit, but that we don’t fully know about. I was talking to a woman yesterday who’s younger brother said to her, “I always had this feeling that something was missing in our family and I could never explain it.” It turns out, that when he was a baby he had an older sister who died in tragic circumstances, and the parents had decided that they would never tell him about her. So, he had a sister who he never knew about … but somehow, he could sense it.
A couple of years ago I was watching an interview on TV with a young woman who was conceived by an anonymous donor. This meant that her mother who raised her was not her biological mother. And by law, donor children do not have the right to know the name or identity of their donor parents. And this young woman was angry about it. And during the interview she began to cry tears of anger as she said, ‘who decided that I can’t know anything about my family history? What if there is a history of breast cancer on my mother’s side? This might be information that could save my life!’
She was angry because she didn’t know where she came from … her family’s story had been stolen from her at conception … and she said that it is as though there is a part of her that she can never understand because she doesn’t know the stories that went before her.
We like to think of ourselves as self-determining. But in fact, our identity is never entirely up to us. We are shaped by what has gone before.
Jewish people know this very well. Jesus knew this. This is why at a Passover meal with his friends he commanded them to remember him. Because Jewish people understood that the generations are connected, that blessings and curses even can flow from one generation to another, just as the sin of Adam has been passed on to each one of us …
And this is why God commands them to remember their history, and to teach it to their children. And he gives them specific ways of doing this. In today’s story, after the Israelites passed through the Jordan river, God gave instructions to the people to set up twelve stones out of the river, as a memorial that he had parted the waters for them to pass through. They then celebrate the Passover, a reminder that God had delivered them out of Egypt.
And God says this at ch 4:21
“When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan on dry ground. For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we crossed over.”
This is a command that we need to take seriously as a church … and especially for those of you who are parents …
God wants us to teach our children the stories of their family history – (that is the stories of God’s family). That’s why he gave us the bible. We are not to be in the dark about it. We’re not to have cycles of behaviour, patterns of thinking, that we can’t link back to our ancestory. This matters to God.
Of course, today, we have two important rituals that we use to remember Jesus: baptism, a practice which began in the Jordan river, featuring in today’s bible story; and communion, which originally occurred in the context of a Passover meal.
Some Christians aren’t too excited about these kind of symbolic rituals … and I have to admit, a bunch of rocks stacked on top of each other, strikes me, and I’m sure God will forgive me for saying this, as a slightly boring symbol that lacks a bit of imagination. I’d be surprised if the children even noticed it, but anyway … in this way, some people might say, well what does baptism and communion really matter in the end? The most important thing is that you can accept that the bible is God’s word and that Jesus died for you.
Well, let me ask you something?
Hands up if you know the names of your grandparents.
Keep your hands up if you know the names of your great grandparents.
Keep your hands up if you know the names of your great great grandparents.
Keep your hands up if you know the names of their parents …. Etc …
The thing about us human beings is we have short memories. It’s a sobering thought to think that in a few generations from now, we will all be forgotten.
The take home message for us today is … don’t let the stories of God’s people be forgotten!
Thankfully, I don’t have to come up with a good reason because the bible tells us …
The reason is given in Joshua 4: 24
“so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, and so that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”
There are two parts to this:
1. So that we can witness to God’s power
2. So that we may be in awe of God
So, what does this mean, to be a witness to God’s power?
- As Christians we know we are called to witness to the resurrection
- A witness, in a court of law, presents some evidence of what they have seen. What is our evidence that Jesus Christ is risen?
- Well, most of us haven’t seen him with our own eyes, in the way that the first witnesses did.
- So our evidence is the way that we ourselves are changed when we become believers
- but becoming a believer isn’t just between you and God – it involves joining a new family
- Today we have just welcomed two more people into our family.
- And being in a family, whether we like it or not, means that we have a family history. It means that we don’t get to choose everything about who we are.
What happens when we don’t know our family history is that we start second-guessing the patterns we observe. We find we don’t have good explanations for the way things are today.
Let’s go back to the site, where today’s bible story occurs: the promised land … and ask ourselves, what explanation do we have for the way things are today?
- show 4 pictures of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
“The Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart …” (Gen 6:6)
The world is in chaos.
Human beings have lost their identity. The stories go forgotten. Old patterns repeat.
But we know there is more to it … because we are witnesses to what it means to be the people of God.
And it means the chaos needn’t continue, because God has restored our identity. And he’s done this in three ways, which he promised to do.
The Lord said to Abraham that he would:
1. Make a people that we can belong to – Gen 12:2
2. Provide a land that we could call home – Gen 12:7
3. Give us a purpose to live – to bless the whole world – Gen 12:3
Today’s story of the passage of Israel into the promised land, demonstrates, that God has fulfilled all three of these promises.
First, the parting of the Jordan river, allowing the people to “cross on dry ground” (3:17), echoes the parting of the Red Sea. It reminds us that God established his people as a free nation, subject only to his authority and no longer slaves to the Egyptians.
Second, God brings them into a new land, and they are soon to conquer it. But we know how that ends, don’t we?
Our ancestors crossed through the Jordan on dry ground. 1400 years later, many are heading to the Jordan to get wet … to prepare themselves for God’s next act of deliverance, this time from slavery to sin. And one ancestor in particular: Jesus, a descendant of David, is baptized in that river.
In Joshua 4:15-18 the Lord instructs the priests to “come up out of the Jordan.” In Matthew 3:16, it is Jesus who “came up from the water …”. Jesus prepared a new passage way into a new land … the kingdom of God. And his followers today bless the world with the good news of salvation.
In Christ we find our true identity: a people, a place and a purpose. Order is brought out of the chaos.
1. We belong to the people of God
2. Our home is in Christ Jesus; and
3. We are called to preach the gospel
And what are some of the patterns that we observe in our lives as believers?
Sometimes when I look at my family (that’s you guys – the church), I get this feeling that we’re kind of surviving against all the odds. Coz there’s so much going against us in our world, and yet, we seem to keep going somehow.
But I know the story, and it seems, we have a history of that. Against the odds, our ancestors escaped Egypt and God established them as a nation.
And then, sometimes, I kind of get this feeling that we don’t quite belong in this world. Almost like we are waiting for some great big home-coming to happen.
But then, I know the story, and it seems, we have a history of that. Our ancestors wandered in the wilderness, as they too waited for the day when God would bring them into their homeland …
And sometimes, when I see the people of God together, ministering to one another, I get a glimpse of who we were created to be … and it gives me a sense of meaning … as though, maybe my life counts for something …
But then, I know the story … a story in which God ordains every moment … when even as Israel entered Canaan, the cross was in always in sight … and I realize …
“the hand of the Lord is mighty” … and I know I will bow down to him all the days of my life.
So, when our children ask us, why we baptize people in church, we can tell them … “Israel crossed over the Jordan on dry ground. For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea.” (4:23-24)
And, just as he did all this, he sent Jesus into the world, who wandered down to the Jordan River, where he began his journey to the cross, in order to bring us back to God.
And this all means three things for us … and today especially for Rylan and Kai.
Ryan and Kai, we welcome you to God’s family today. Life with us will be full of joy and heartache. As you grow up, you will have many questions. You will wonder who you are and why God has put you on this earth, and why the world is the way it is.
Today, we want you to know that God has fulfilled his promises to you. And this means three things that you can know for the rest of your life:
1. You belong to the people of God.
2. Your home is in Christ Jesus.
3. You were put here to be a witness to the risen Christ and to bring this good news to the poor.
Never forget who you are, or what God has done for you … and long before you … for your ancestors. Remember the stories that went before you, so that you know that the hand of the Lord is mighty … and that he is to be worshipped and adored. Amen.