An Anniversary Sermon 2001

An Anniversary Sermon - 2001

Joshua 4: 1-24
Psalm 107: 1-9
Luke 6: 39-49

What Do These Stones Mean to Us?

In the movie John and the Missus, Canadian actor, Gordon Pinsent plays John Munn, the unofficial community leader of Cup Cove, an outport community. There is an explosion in the mine and the mine is closed. The community is then slated for closure, and its people for resettlement by the government of Newfoundland. Munn strongly resists leaving, for, as he says, pointing to the local cemetery, "Why I know every living one of them that's buried in that there graveyard!" The profoundness of the statements is almost lost in its obvious humour. For Munn, his ancestors, who actually appear in shadowed sepia tones and period costume, sitting on the rocks and porches of the community, are real people. He "knows" them even though most were dead long before he was born. It was their work which set up that community and their determination which raised families on little work, even littler money, on the mine, and on the cod. It was that chain of succession from father to son, and mother to daughter that made that community what it was - and, as far as he was concerned, to abandon it was to abandon them and that dream which gave them life.

In the lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures I chose for today we find the people of Israel crossing the Jordan into the promised land. We see the elders being ordered to choose twelve stones, representing the twelve tribes, or founding families, of their nation, and building this altar to Almighty God. Several times in this passage the question is posed, as if it has been asked by a young person, "What do these stones mean?" The presence of these stones gives them an opportunity to tell their children how God had acted in their lives and how, specifically, they had been helped as they crossed the Jordan into their new land. As time went on the experience became removed by each passing generation, but the story and the memory remained intact as the story of God's power was told and retold.

What do these stones mean to you?

We have here a church and a cemetery and this service provides us an opportunity to ask, and to answer that same question, "What do these things mean to you?" We have some clues from the text for today in helping us to answer it. First, you will notice that the text does not talk about how great and faithful their ancestors were as much as it talks about the greatness and reliability of God. The story of Israel's leaving of Egypt and entry into the promised land is framed by the crossing of two formidable bodies of water. These bodies of water frame the wilderness journey, but they are also symbols of barriers which could not possibly be crossed by normal human effort. The whole wilderness story is so impossible, so fantastic, that it is absolutely necessary that God led them, strengthened them and enabled them. The people were formed by this wilderness experience, this leading, this time between captivity in Egypt and Canaan, the land of promise. The stones spoken of in today's passage were seen as representing the twelve tribes of Israel, named for his twelve sons: Ruben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, Nathtali, Gad and Asher.

In this place the names of the early tribes or families are different, being Jones, Rogers, Little, Fenwick, Brown, McWilliam and others. These names represent the life of this community in both the past and the present, but lest our worship turn into devotion for our ancestors instead of devotion for God, we must always remember what it was the people of Israel were taught about those twelve stones, which was that they were a testament to the power and love of their God.

This church stands as a testament to the faith of those who built it and those who came to regular services and those who worked over the years to keep their church open and alive and active. But lest we forget, it is a symbol, not primarily of their strength and perseverence, but of the presence of God in their midst. When we forget that we forge our most important of callings, which is to give praise and thanks to God.

Now, of course, we do not come here regularly to worship. Things have changed and many of us live too far away. Things have changed and there are not enough people to keep all the small churches open and pay the minister and give to missions and all of those other things. But even though this church does not function in the same way, this community, as scattered as it may be, is still called to the same basic task that our ancestors were: the praise of God. The primary way that we as Christians praise God is by our committed discipleship.

Today's passage from the gospel of Luke is one of the many which talk about aspects of discipleship. This passage calls each of us to look first at ourselves and, as they say, get our own house in order, before we start telling others how to live. Often our tendency is to ignore our own faults while picking others apart. Sometimes theirs are much smaller than ours. The community and the person, Jesus says are judged by the fruits of their labours.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if people could look at us and at what we do and give thanks to God for the spirit of love and life and hope that lives within each of us. Wouldn't it be wonderful if when others look at the stones we leave behind, at the mark we make on the community, that they may not praise us as much as they praise the God who called us, who led us, and who enabled us to follow as we did.

It is somewhat sad that this church building is no longer open for weekly worship but it would be even sadder if the stories of faith behind the stones behind the stones were forgotten. I'm not talking about just the stones in the graveyard, but I am also talking about the stones we all leave behind in the lives of those we love, and live with and work with.

Is it the stone of someone who relied on God and on God's grace for strength, guidance and wisdom. Is it the stone of someone who sough to be a faithful disciple. What will those who see what we leave behind say about our God and God's faithfulness.

May we all seek to leave behind stones solid enough to tell of the greatness of our God. Let us proclaim with our lives that God is with us and through God's power we can do all that we are called to do in faith.