Stephen R. Clark
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Stephen R. Clark
@stephenrclark

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Oreland, Pennsylvania
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Joined June 1996

 

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Delivered June 23, 2019 | Huntingdon Valley, PA | Huntingdon Valley Presbyterian Church
You can listen to the sermon here:https://www.hvpc.org/sermons/sermon/2019-06-23/memorial-day-redux:-looking-back-remembering-moving-forward

MEMORIAL DAY REDUX : Looking Back, Remembering, Moving Forward

Joshua 4

Call to Worship -- Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ dwell in us richly,
as we teach and admonish one another
in all wisdom,
singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
with thankfulness in our hearts to God.
And whatever we do,
in word or deed,
may we do everything
in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Come, let us worship Christ the LORD!

Readings -- Joshua 4:1-24, ESV

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Joshua+4&version=ESV

Introduction / Preamble

Before we get into today’s sermon I want to mention a couple of things.

First, if you weren’t aware, BethAnn and I were at the 39th annual Evangelical Presbyterian Church General Assembly in Colorado last week.

You, through the Session, sent me. And of course, BethAnn went with me. There were about 1200 hundred representatives from EPC churches around the country. We conducted business and enjoyed workshops on a variety of topics.

We were especially blessed to hear from Andrew Brunson and his wife, Norine. Andrew was the missionary in Turkey who was unjustly detained in 2016 and imprisoned for two years. It was inspiring and moving to hear from him and his wife.

Another highlight was the opening worship service. Put 1200 people, a full choir, a great worship band, and a huge organ in one room -- add the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit -- well, you can imagine the powerful result.

So, thank you for the opportunity to represent you as well as gain a much better understanding of the EPC.

Second, last week was Father’s Day. In the early service Dan talked about how we have several women at HVPC -- wives and mothers -- who come to church on Sundays alone. Their husbands seldom or never attend with them. Yet, these women faithfully attend and serve in various ways.

Dan expressed how sad this was, that the men are absent.

I agree. But it’s not just sad for the women.

I know the men who need to hear this aren’t here, so I’m counting on you who know them to take this message to them. And the message is this: Men, you are missing out on a huge blessing.

While being at the General Assembly last week, worshipping with 1200 people, and hearing Andrew Brunson was a great experience. There was something else that provided an even greater sense of joy.

And that is that I was there with my wife, BethAnn, my ministry spouse according to her badge. I like ministry partner better.

I cannot express to you the depth of the joy I experience on a regular basis as BethAnn and I serve the Lord together here at HVPC. I love being in church with her. I love serving in ministry with her. It’s fun. It’s joyful. It’s an amazing blessing.

So, to the men who are missing in action, let me assure you that there is nothing you are doing on Sunday morning that is going to bless you more, that will give you more joy, than being in church with your spouse. Nothing.


Sermon

We create memorials all the time. We have them scattered around our homes.

I have several coffee mugs I use as pen holders. Each one is special. Each one has a story. Each one is a memorial to good memories! For example, one is a mug from Random House, the publishing company. I love this mug!

Years ago I worked at a small Christian book publishing company in South Plainfield, New Jersey. This was my first time on the east coast. Until then, my life was spent in central Indiana, southern Missouri, and western Ohio. The East, and especially Jersey, was new and a little intimidating.

The good thing was that my co-workers were great at making me feel at home. An older Italian guy, Carl, generously explained that what I referred to as sauce -- the stuff you put on pasta -- was actually called gravy. Linda, who worked in our graphics department, did freelance work for a few big name publishers in New York City, including Random House. She’s the one who got me the mug. I was thrilled when it showed up on my desk.

Although, the thrill was a little muted when, several months later, I learned that she’d actually lifted it from the desk of one of the editors at Random House. At least she washed it before she gave it to me.

Still, I love this mug! It’s like a figurative Ebenezer, a memorial stone of help, as mentioned in 1 Samuel 7:12.

Every time I look at the mug I remember, not just my coworkers and that sauce is really gravy, but I also think of the others I met in New Jersey. Some who became good friends, all who poured themselves into my life to help me meet the challenge of a new job, a new locale, and a very different culture.

Memories and memorials are important. It was just a few weeks ago we celebrated Memorial Day by remembering the men and women of the Armed Forces who served and died in various wars. We also just recognized the 75th anniversary of D-Day. We remember these events to remind us how valuable our freedom is.

Just Plain Rocks

In the passage from Joshua we’re looking at today, stones and memorials figure significantly in the story. And it is an amazing story. About 24 rocks.

To quickly recap, Joshua had one man from each of the 12 tribes pick up one stone from the middle of the riverbed near where the priests were standing with the Ark of the Covenant. These 12 stones were taken to the side of the river where they were stacked into a memorial.

At the same time, Joshua took 12 stones from the riverbed and stacked them in the riverbed near where the priests stood.

Two memorials of 12 stones each. One in the river. One on the river bank. 24 stones all together. And there is nothing special about these rocks.

Because they are river rocks, they are likely smooth and a little rounded, which probably didn’t make for easy stacking. Neither are they large boulders since they could be easily carried. So, ultimately we’re probably not talking about particularly large or impressive stacks of stones.

So, why did they take the time? What was the point?

Here they are at a momentous occasion in their history, excitement is running high, big things are about to happen, and they take the time to make two piles of rocks. Why?

Because, through Joshua, they HEARD THE VOICE OF GOD tell them what to do. Which was to make memorials with rocks.

Then, with Joshua, they OBEYED THE VOICE OF GOD, and did what they were told.

Finally, standing in the Promised Land, they got behind Joshua and FOLLOWED THE VOICE OF GOD.


Hearing The Voice Of God

So how did they hear God’s voice?

Not to be presumptuous, but kind of like we hear it every week. Like you’re hearing it right now.

Joshua marks a turning point as to how people primarily hear from God. Prior to this time, it was fairly common for God to show up and manifest in some form as he gave direction and instruction.

In the Garden, he walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening. When God decided he needed to take action against Sodom and Gomorrah, the Lord and his angels visited Abraham to clue him in.

When Moses was recruited, God spoke to him directly from a burning bush. And as they wandered in the wilderness, Moses frequently heard from God directly, including receiving the tablets of stone from God. Joshua was right there witnessing many of these events.

Now, something is different. Joshua leans on the written word available at that time, the Torah, the writings of Moses, and on prayer. His prayers and the prayers of the people.

In other words, the access Joshua had to God is the same as our access to God. He heard from God the same way we can hear from God. And as Dan pointed out a couple of weeks ago, this God that we enjoy a relationship with now is the same God that Joshua and the children of Israel worshipped then.

Same God. Same access. Let that sink in a moment.


Obeying The Voice Of God

Once they heard the voice of God, as shared by Joshua, the people obeyed.

This is a big deal.

For the first time in 40 years, there was no smoke, no fire, no lightning or thunder, no booming voice giving directions. Joshua prayed and heard from God. He told the people of God what he heard from God. The people of God acted on the word of God as delivered and did exactly as God directed.

After 40 years they finally get it right!

There is no quibbling, no second guessing, no complaining.

When they left Egypt, before they even got across the Red Sea, and they realized Pharaoh was coming after them, they complained to Moses in Exodus 14:12, “For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” And that was just the beginning of their complaints. But none of that is happening now.

They simply obey.

Before, they crossed out of captivity in Egypt into sifting in the desert.

Now, they were leaving the sifting behind and entering into conquest.

Obedience is essential when entering the Promised Land.


Following The Voice Of God

Just as they finally make it into the Promised Land, it’s time to celebrate Passover. As Exodus 12:14 states about Passover: “This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord.”

As they make new memories, new memorials, they are celebrating and recalling other memorials and memories. God is making them pause to recall and reflect.

They’ve come a long way as a people. Think of the contrast of this time compared to the first Passover. You can read the story in Exodus 12.

At the first Passover, the firstborn of man and beast died. Except, the children of Israel weren’t touched. It was this event that finally pushed Pharaoh to let the people go.

Forty years later, here they are in the Promised Land, at last.

For forty years they followed the voice of God, sometimes reluctantly. Sometimes they were defiant and disobedient, and that cost them dearly.

Now, this new generation is still following the voice of God, but with far more confidence and a better understanding of who God is and how He’s got their backs. They hear, obey, and get ready to battle the forces of darkness.


The Point Of The Memorials

They obediently stacked stones, internalized the memory of what God did, celebrated Passover, and as we will see in coming weeks, moved forward with inhabiting the Promised Land.

You could say, first they rocked...and then they rolled!


So, what was the point of the memorial stones, this Ebenezer of sorts?

The pile of rocks -- the physical memorial -- was not the point. Instead, the stones were to: remind the people of how God miraculously got them across the Jordan, serve as a visual teaching tool for instructing their children about God, and stand as a sign to “all the peoples of the earth” that God was THE God, the one true God, the God above all other gods.

They were marking their territory. Or rather, they were marking God’s territory. The memorials weren’t about them or anything they accomplished. They were all about God.


The Value Of Right Memorials

Memorializing -- or remembering -- as a way to internalize and truly embrace the significance of a special event is a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Around this church are several plaques that memorialize people and events. There’s one in the bell tower, now the Prayer Room, and in the Boyer.

Some names are visible on a few of the windows. Mostly these indicate a financial gift to the church that had a positive impact.

The piano behind me was given in memory of Stanley Morrison’s wife. I never met Stanley and he is no longer with us. But I’m sure when he was here in church and looked at the piano, he was warmed as he thought about his wife. We are also blessed to have a nice piano, an instrument, a practical tool, that enhances our worship.

Maintaining this piano, a memorial, is a worthwhile endeavor. However, if we only cared for the plaque rather than the piano, that would be foolish.

Likewise, if the children of Israel had focused on the physical memorials rather than what they represented, they would have missed the point.

Notice that they did not build a museum around the stones. They did not set a guard over the stones. They did not hire a caretaker or do fundraising to ensure the stones remained in good shape. They didn’t fight over which of the two piles was more important. And there was nothing special about the stones. They were just ordinary rocks from a riverbed.



In my hometown of New Castle, Indiana, there’s a park named Memorial Park. It was established as a living memorial to those who served in World War I. To me and my friends it was the park with the giant hill where we went sledding, with the lake where we went ice skating, with the pond where we went row boating. It was the park with the nifty log cabin shelters where we held birthday parties and church picnics, and the park where we went to watch fireworks.

Sure, we noticed the cannon at the top of the sledding hill, but we viewed it as just one more playground thing to climb on.

And then there was the Doughboy.

He stood at the front edge of the main wooded area of the park, at the top of a hill that sloped down to the highway. Getting up close and personal with the Doughboy was no easy matter. You had to trek through the woods or along the tree line, uphill.

According to the Henry County Historical Association, the “Doughboy...depicts a WWI soldier in full battle attire, carrying an M1903 Springfield rifle in his left hand while he holds an MK II American grenade in his upraised right hand.” He was dedicated on Sunday, August 26, 1929 and unveiled by Civil War veteran, Capt. James Tyner “for a large crowd.”

Whenever we drove by, we waved at him from a distance, and always checked to see if he was holding his rifle. It frequently disappeared, a prank the older kids in town liked to pull.

To me, the statue was a novelty. To others in town, it was something far more important. This became apparent several months ago when certain city leaders decided it was time to repair, refresh, and relocate the soldier. No one was too upset about the repair and refresh parts. But the relocate part? That got people’s dander up plenty.

Social media exploded with protest. The little hometown paper was busy fielding letters and publishing editorials about the debacle.

Moving the soldier was a sacrilege! Its very location was key to its meaning and purpose! To move it was a desecration to the memory of both the soldiers it honored as well as to the committee who had put it up in the first place.

I witnessed all this from a distance. I read the online posts and my sister filled me in on more details.

Now, the statue is safely relocated next to the park’s main building. It’s well lighted, has a plaque explaining what it’s all about, is surrounded by flags, and is easily accessible and viewable by all. It’s convenient for people to bring their children to see the Doughboy to learn about the sacrifices men and women made in World War I.

To me, it seems a win-win. But for many others, they’re still grousing and will never be happy. Their lives are ruined.

What happened is that the importance of the location where it was displayed became conflated with the meaning and memory behind the statue. Those who objected to the move insisted the meaning and purpose would be significantly damaged as a result.



Churches can become obsessed with memorials, often with fatal results.

In his book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, Thom Rainer explains the downside of memorials, when they lead people backwards by placing more emphasis on the past, to the neglect of the future.

He describes being taken to see a closed church. A former elder still had a key to the building even though it was vacant.

The elder explained, “There is really no market for the property. I’m not sure what will ultimately happen here.” His assumption was that it would merely remain abandoned and neglected.

Using a flashlight, the elder led Thom through the church to a room. He shone the light on the engraved plaque on the door: it was the Lydia Room.

“This is it,” the elder said. “This room was the equivalent of a parlor or bride’s room in other churches. There was great pride about this room. It had the nicest furniture. It got first attention before anything else in the church.”

The elder explained that the room became a focus of dissension. There were arguments over who could use it and how it could be used.

“The arguments were pretty ugly,” said the elder. “And I don’t think I knew it at the time, but looking back, our focus on this room marked the beginning of our steep decline.”

The elder paused, looked at Thom, and said, “I know [the church] died for a lot of reasons, but the fights over this room are the clearest markers I have that point to the closing of the doors. It seems so silly, so sad now,” he said. “We were fighting over a stupid room while the church died.”



Last month, Dr. Ken Priddy, an expert in church revitalization, spent a weekend with us. He explained what he called the vision triangle which involves content, context, and containers.

Content is the Word of God, the gospel. This is our message. Our reason for being. Why we do what we do. And it is non-negotiable.

Context is our audience; to whom we do what we do. The people here, but far more importantly the people in our community to whom we are called to go and share the Gospel. The lost sheep in need of rescue.

Context is semi-negotiable. This means that we can’t control the demographics of our community. But we can manage how we respond based on who we are as a church, the gifts and resources we possess, the more apparent needs, and so forth.

Finally there is the container. Containers are simply the means and methods we use to take the Content out to the Context. The programs. The way we share the gospel. It’s how we do what we do. This is completely negotiable. For example, while a community church baseball league can be a good thing, it may not be the best container for outreach in a community that favors soccer. Or would prefer a book club. Or is searching for financial peace.

Too often, churches elevate containers to content status. They fall into the mistake of believing that the one way they do something is the only way. That their method is as “holy” as the content. Or how a room has been used for the past 20 years is the way it must continue to be used and furnished, even though the church’s needs have shifted.



With the Doughboy, people who were upset with the move had conflated the content -- honoring those who served -- with the container -- where the statue was placed.

In the story about the Lydia Room, the people in the church became obsessed with maintaining a room based on memories and purposes from the past. They lost sight of their calling to go out to reach the lost and meet needs of the present.



As I said earlier, I have memorials -- mugs -- around my house. But mugs break or get lost. The better memorials are those I hold in my heart and mind.

As I’ve shared before, I grew up in a small Pentecostal church. It was a great church and it was a wonderful way to grow up.

Almost every Sunday evening, at the evangelistic service, there was an altar call. Nearly everyone went down. The women on one side. The men on the other. When I was smaller, I went down, too. Or, rather, was taken down.

Not particularly prone to prayer in my smaller years, I’d sit and lean up against the altar, or simply lay on the floor, as over me -- literally over me -- dad and the other men prayed. Out loud. In earnest.

What an image! What a memory! What a mental memorial!

This image comes to me from time to time, reminding me of the faithfulness of my father, and the wonderful, godly heritage he and those men passed on. It encourages me to move forward in faith.

Other memorials -- memories -- include my mother’s emotive singing of her favorite hymns during the song service. I’ve mentioned it before, that when we sing certain hymns that she loved, I can almost hear her voice again.

Another is my grandmother Clark dancing in the Spirit. You may think Pentecostals are wacky, but there is substance and mystery at work there.

Mamaw would dance around the sanctuary, hands in the air, eyes closed, winding in and out of the narrow rows of seats, praising God and never tripping or bumping into anything or anyone. It was an amazing sight to behold.

My parents and my grandmother have all gone on to glory. The church I grew up in is no longer in the same building. The old church building is owned by someone else and houses a clothing and food ministry. To meet the needs of this new ministry, a lot of reconfiguring took place inside the building.


Yet, these mental memorials. These precious memories are still with me. Unlike a few of my mugs, or the stone memorials Joshua and the twelve men assembled thousands of years ago. They’re gone.

But guess what? The story of those stone memorials and what God did in bringing the children of Israel through the desert and into the Promised Land -- we’re still talking about it to this day! Right now! The story -- the history -- lives on and continues to serve as inspiration for us as we serve and follow God now. Right here in Huntingdon Valley.



There are rooms and items in this church that some insist can’t be changed, can’t be reconfigured, can’t be removed, can’t be replaced. Even though changes are necessary to serve the expanding needs of our church, needs that will always change if we are a truly growing and healthy church.

This building is merely a flexible container to facilitate delivering the immutable content of the Gospel to a needy context, to a community in need of Jesus Christ.

We are not called to serve this building. We are called to hear the voice of God. Obey the voice of God. To internalize and follow the voice of God. And to go!

We are not called to serve memorials, or even to serve memories. Rather, our memorials and memories are to serve us, as goads and encouragement to move forward. To change, to adapt, to grow, and to go!

Our marching orders have been issued and recorded in Matthew 28:16-20:

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

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