Stone Gatherers
2008-10-30 by Dave Davis

How much of the text do you read? How much more of the story do you tell? When it comes to preaching Old Testament narratives, all of us wrestle with the questions. The practical questions of time and how much the listeners can absorb are real. If we’re honest, most of us can’t retell an Old Testament story with the skill of Walter Brueggemann. But there is so much more to this story of crossing over the Jordan. My hunch is that on any given Sunday, especially on a communion Sunday, the role of the ark bearers provides more than enough grist for one sermon. We all have to save something for next week, or the next sermon, or the next sermon on crossing the Jordan.


But this Sunday I will keep going into Joshua chapter 4. The twelve stone gathers are tugging at my imagination. More to the point, it is the role of remembering and telling the next generation of God’s faithfulness. The Sunday closest to All Saints’ Day and a celebration of the Lord’s Supper both point to such remembering. I have also been thinking all week about the role of the community of faith in this volatile election/economic cycle.


After the entire nation had crossed over the Jordan, Joshua appointed twelve men, one from each of the tribes of Israel. They were instructed to go back into the middle of the Jordon, as the waters were still all heaped up, and each take a stone. They were to take the stones from right from below the feet of the ark bearers and they were to carry the stones over to their respective camps. Each was to pass before the ark, take a stone, and then carry the stone up on the shoulders back to camp. Each was carry a stone like the priests where “shouldering” the ark. Each was to bring the stone right into the center of camp, the center of community, the center of life. Each stone was to be a sign. And in good liturgical fashion (like Passover and the Shema), the stone carriers were to tell their children about the time the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark and the whole nation crossed over on dry land. They were to tell their children about what God had done.


V.9 tells of Joshua setting up a memorial of stones right in the middle of the Jordan. In my NRSV that verse is parenthetical. It doesn’t seem like a comment to be set a part or considered as an aside. In fact, the faithful probably remember Joshua’s twelve stones more. It would seem that the memorial there in the Jordan would be more important than one stone sitting around each camp. But it’s those “scattered stones” I think about.


The preacher can do a whole lot with the stone signs. From rocks and stones starting to cry out in the gospels to stones stacked up along the way for fellow pilgrims to children having a favorite rock sitting on the shelf, there is no shortage of stone imagery upon which the preacher can build. But not to be lost in the Jordan’s crossing, is the stone sign being carried back to each camp, to each tribe, to each community. Just as the ark bearers carried the presence of God knee deep into the waters of life, the stone bearers went right into the center of camp life and dropped the sign that tells of God’s faithfulness and points to God’s leading, God’s protection, God’s plan. In every community, to every generation, there will be sign.


My guess is that every pastor/preacher is worried about budgets and stewardship and families in the congregation who are struggling right now. But if there is one place where we should gather and there would be no fear no panic, it is when the church gathers for worship. Maybe we are called to be stone gathers of sorts, proclaimers of the Gospel who carry the sign of God’s faithfulness right into the vortex of life, amid the tumult of the waters. We drop the sign, we point to God with us, we remember God’s faithfulness.


As with the economy, so it is with the election. As with every Presidential election, there will be much to remember, much that our children will study for years to come. But what do we want our children to remember about these days and the church’s role and the faithfulness of God. There is so much about the election that demands our attention, including the role of faith and the faith community. When our children ask in time to come, what will we say about this part of the journey?


If the church is the body of Christ, if the community of faith is the hands and the face of Christ in the world, if the church in its witness points and embodies the very presence of God, then, it would seem, that we become the stones. Through our collective discipleship, our words and our actions, we remember the faithfulness of God. In every camp, in every community, in every generation.


This will be my last post…..blessings on your sermon writing and our shared call to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sunday Before the Election
2008-10-29 by CJ Teets

Go to HOMEPAGE and Share It! to read Ron Allen's thoughts on preaching during this election season.

Also, check out the new material for All Saints' Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Advent in UNLECTIONARY.

A pastor named Joe has a question in the Parish Solution Forum. Preach on the economy, preacher? Go to HomePage and Share It! to give Joe the Preacher some feedback.

And Dave Davis is "hitting it out of the park" this week with his blog entries! Thanks, Dave!

Ark Bearing
2008-10-29 by Dave Davis

I have been thinking about the two sets of folks that received a significant assignment from Joshua here at the crossing of the Jordan: the ark bearers and the stone gatherers. True, the preacher has to move into chapter 4 to get to the twelve men selected from every tribe who then went out to get the stones, but the remembering part of the story seems as important as the crossing itself. This morning I’m focusing on the priests who carried the ark. Tomorrow I will come back and reflect some more on those picking up rocks.


I wonder if the priests knew the complete job description when it came to carrying the ark. You can picture how it was carried; poles that ran underneath and supported the ark stretching from should to shoulder among the selected priests. At the funeral home, when describing a different task of bearing, they would call it “shouldering the casket.” Ark bearing was a quite a high risk job. The very presence of God inhabited the ark there upon their shoulders. On this particular day they were to step into an overflowing river expecting their toes to hit dry land before their ankles got wet.


Notice that everyone else was told to keep their distance (3:4). That brings us back to Uzzah again in II Samuel, chapter 6. But these ark bearers were told to step off, step out, step in, bearing the very presence of God. John Calvin wrote in defense of the ark bearers, “it was impossible to observe the line of the banks or the ford.” At harvest time, it would have been such a flood condition, Calvin mused “that  the slime spread far and wide.”  Yet, as the first toes started to get wet, the rest of the waters rose into a “single heap.” (3:13)


The entire nation of Israel passed by the ark there in the middle of the Jordan and they crossed over. The people walked over on dry land with the liturgical words of Joshua echoing in their ears; “sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” (3:5)


With his sense of total depravity, Calvin would no doubt agree that the slime of our lives and this world is spread far and wide. Yet, every day we step into and live with the promise that God is with us. We are bearers of the very promise of God. We when step forward wading knee deep into the murky waters of life, God is with us. The ark of the covenant. The ark of Mary’s womb. The ark of the manger. The ark of our lives. The ark of this world. God is with us. And you and I are called to ponder and proclaim the very wonders of God, the wonders God does among us.


On communion Sundays, the elders who assist in serving the elements meet in the pastor’s office before worship. After all the practical stuff about who is going wear is planned, we stop and pray. On many more than one Sunday, I pray that as we serve these elements to the gathered congregation, may we be mindful of being the hands and face of Christ to those who feast on his presence, that together, all of us might then be the body of Christ in and to the world.


Ark bearing. Proclaiming and witnessing and bearing the promise of God with us.

Past is Prelude
2008-10-28 by Stephen Schuette

I can’t help reading both the Joshua and the Matthew texts in the larger context.  Perhaps it came to mind because some of my colleagues are focusing on the Beatitudes for All Saints.  What an opening to the first discourse in Matthew!  And in Chapter 23 as the questions in the temple are finally at an end Jesus begins the fifth and last discourse in Matthew and I can’t help but hear echoes of Jesus’ opening lines from Chapter 5.  You have to admit that Jesus’ teaching has been consistent….not that that makes it any easier for us to fully receive or incorporate into our lives.  From his baptism before that first discourse to the crucifixion that follows this discourse Jesus has pointed to God’s way, a way that is unfamiliar, even alien to us, but is nevertheless the way of the Realm of God that Jesus proclaimed, where the humble are exalted, where the meek inherit the earth.


Likewise the crossing of the Jordan brings to mind the crossing of the Red Sea (and leaning forward, images of baptism as well).  The wilderness is framed with these crossings and in each case the presence of God is manifest in a powerful way.  The journey away from Egypt has finally led to a journey into a new land and both were made possible by the power of God and a “baptism” that functions as a “bridge” to the future.


What is it that frames our lives?  From where do we get our bearings?  How do we measure progress?   Do we see any ways in which God has been putting us in familiar positions giving us the opportunity to “see it” this time?  And when we’re there, will the water just keep flowing like always so that we are carried along with it or will we see a power at work that is able to help us stand, that will enable us to move against the tides that are around us and inside us?  Both texts push us to claim our identity and our calling.

Remembering, Giving Thanks, and Practicing What You Preach
2008-10-28 by Dave Davis


Here are some Tuesday morning thoughts on three of the lectionary readings for this coming Sunday:


Matthew 23:1-12


Here in Matthew 23 the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders is reaching a climax. Right before the assigned text the Pharisees and the Sadducees give Jesus another one his exam questions. His answer this time is “the Great Commandment.” Immediately after these first 12 verses of Matthew 23, Jesus keeps at them with quite a sermon. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees” is the repeated refrain. As you read through the chapter you can hear the cadence in your mind’s ear. You can almost imagine the crowd joining in on the refrain as if one cue. Of course, the problem is that the intended audience is exactly the scribes and Pharisees who would be catching these “repeated woes”.


In between “the Great Commandment” and “the woes” comes Jesus’ teaching on servant leadership. Of course some business schools think they invented the term “servant leadership.” Students of the gospel know Jesus repeated it often; “first shall be last”, “exalted shall be humbled”, “greatest shall be least.” What makes the often repeated message interesting here in Matthew 23 is that servant leadership is not connected to taking up a cross and following, or even in giving up one’s life in order to save it. What seems to make a servant leader here for Jesus is simply being willing to practice what you teach.


I Thessalonians 2:9-13


I can’t be the only one who thinks these weekly readings from I Thessalonians seem to come in chunks that are to small or abbreviated from the context. For instance the reading for this week in the second chapter makes much more sense if the preacher connects the lesson to either what comes before or what comes after in the chapter. Maybe an option is simply to consider the entire chapter. The first paragraph provides the fascinating metaphor of Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy caring for the community as nurse caring for her children. It is a striking balance to encouraging father metaphor in the assigned reading. The last section of chapter two concludes with the affirmation that the community itself is the hope, joy, and crown of their own ministry. The constant thanks offered in v.13 is given better context when considering the suffering, persecution, and hindrance to ministry described throughout the chapter.


Joshua 3:7:17


There is really no way to preach this wonderful narrative about crossing the Jordan without telling more of the story. Whether preacher sets the scene a bit before reading the text or whether the sermon itself tells more of the story, the listeners will want more! Besides the reading from Joshua for next week comes from chapter 24. So you won’t take away from the coming lectionary readings to expand a bit.


This morning I find myself wanting to think more about the priests who actually bear the ark. There is more of  a picture here for the preacher to paint for the hearers of the word (Jordon River, ark bearing, water standing in a single heap). Remember Uzzah, when we reached up to catch the calling ark he was struck dead! Those priests stood there in the river until the entire nation crossed over. In addition, I am drawn to think of the stone gatherers. Yes, that comes in the 4th chapter. But there role in gathering the stones and carrying one on their shoulders and telling the children when they ask is intriguing. How and what the community remembers is symbolized not in the ark bearing priests but in those who took the stones and were determined to tell another generation of the faithfulness of God.  


Servant leadership from the lips of Jesus has some relevance to the presidential election. I’m not sure it is very helpful to cast the candidates in the role of servant leadership and then raise the matter of practicing what is preached. I’m more drawn to the role of the community of faith in times of transition. On the Sunday closed to All Saints Day, I am drawn to ponder what our forebearers in faith have passed on to us about God and life in the church. Here in the body of Christ, what will be telling our children about these particular days on our journey.


I will be preaching on the Joshua text this week as I continue bring the context of election and economy to my preparation. Part of the context too is All Saints Day and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. But remember, we preachers don’t have to bring it all together in a bow. Our proclamation isn’t the only proclamation in a service of worship. “In Christ we are forgiven” or “You proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again.”


Let’s take breath. We never have to say it all, maybe especially this Sunday.

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