Being able to cross the Jordan was a big deal for the people of Israel. They had been wandering in the desert for 40 years and finally getting to cross the Jordan River marked the end of their time in the desert and the start of their time in the Promised Land. Kind of like the 8 of you who started kindergarten this week, you have known it was coming for a long time and you might have been a bit afraid but also kind of excited for this change to something very new.
The Jordan River was what lay between the people of Israel and the Promise Land. We have gotten a lot of rain this summer and you may have seen flooded rivers or fast flowing water. Well, as they came up to the Jordon it was at flood point with the water high. The people are told to be strong and courageous. The Ark of the Covenant went first, so that God would lead the way showing the path to follow. As the toes of the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant touched the water the river stopped flowing from up steam and the water started to pile up on itself. The priest walked out into the middle of the river, which was now a dry riverbed, they stood there and waited until all the people had gone across safely.
I can imagine the people being amazed at the water stopping for them and also so excited to be heading toward the Promised Land. Today we would stop and take a picture, or better yet get a video that could become a YouTube sensation.
But not being able to take a picture they did what they knew best to mark that moment. 12 men went back into the river and picked up big stones and carried them to the shore. They placed the stones as a marker so they would remember what had just happened. And Joshua their leader said “when your children ask what these stones mean, you will be able to tell them the story of how God stopped the Jordon River and we walked through on dry ground”. The story of our hope being in God and God guiding us.
Our culture and media try to get us to pick up all kinds of ideas and stories. We are told how to be and who to be and shown how we might be rejected if we don’t conform to this. We pick up lots of things and carry them around with us and I wonder what they mean to us.
What are the stories we tell?
What about ourselves do we need to remember?
What do we pick up and carry?
This is the backpack I used in high school and college. But it is not the backpack I started high school with. I was home educated until my last year of high school. So my first day of my senior year was my first day of traditional school. My Mom had ordered this backpack for me but it didn’t arrive until the second week of school so for the first week of school I carried around my childhood backpack which was bright pink and baby blue. Let’s just say I was pretty aware of what I was carrying for that first week because I almost glowed as I walked down the hall.
As we go into new experiences what do we carry with us?
When I was in college and hanging out with a lot of other missionary kids we used to brag to each other about how much emotional baggage we had from being drug all over the world by our parents. But I came to understand some things as baggage and some things as luggage. We all have baggage we drag around with us – I have a box of toys from when I was a little girl that I just can’t seem to get rid of but really is just taking up space in my closet. I also have three quilts, one my mother and I made, one made for me by my grandmother and one that was given to me as a blessing when I first started as a missionary. These quilts move with me in my luggage no matter how bulky they are because they remind me that I am loved, that I am grounded and that I come from a community and family who support me and are cheering me on.
(get text book out)
Sometimes we are carrying around useless books that are never used but are dead weight in our bags. Yet, what are the stones we need to pick up and carry as markers, reminding us of the story of who we are? The stones that help us remember what God has done for us. And what are the things that are just dragging us down and are telling a story that makes us feel less. We have to be careful what we pick up.
(get another book out)
I used to try and carry around books that I knew I needed to read but just wasn’t getting to. I hoped that by having the books with me, touching me I might learn by osmosis. Even though that didn’t work there is something to the fact that what we hold closest to us will teach us and inform the way we are.
(pull out a note pad and folder)
When I started teaching I realized that I had to help my students learn how to take notes. There was so much information coming at them in class and they needed to learn what was important enough to write down and what would be helpful in assisting them to remember things. Maybe some of you share the experience that I had of getting ready for a test and as you look back over your notes realizing that you have some really creative doddles but no real content. As we look back at our stories we need to think about which parts we tell and what we hold on to. Do we take note of the times when God showed up and was active or do we have a lot more stories of when God felt distant and we felt alone. What do we pay attention to, what do we hold on to?
Over the last 5 months since I’ve been back in the USA I have found myself coming away from a number of conversations with people and wondering – what were they so afraid of? When tensions are high politically, racial, and theologically there is good reason for some people to be afraid. But do we want our fear to be the story we tell and the thing we carry. Where is our hope? What is the promise that this new school year holds for us?
The kinds of stories we tell effects us. When we only hear stories that Muslims are dangerous than of course we will approach them with some fear. But when children hear stories about how wonderful they are, then they can go into spaces assuming that they will be loved and welcomed. We have narratives about ourselves that we have learned from our families and our culture. There are ways that we tell our stories that help us define who we are.
In my family we have a narrative of being outsiders, and we are because we have moved so much. But that narrative also cuts us off some times from the very people we long to connect with because we think “they will never truly understand our story and thus never truly accept who we are”. Because of my family narrative of being an outsider we don’t let ourselves become insiders. What stories do you tell yourself about who you are?
(take out pencil and colored pencils)
As we look back through the Bible, which is our story woven with God’s story, we see God, or an angel showing up and often the first words out of their mouth are “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid”. We need this message to be repeated because we can get stuck in our fear, not realizing that our fear is coloring the way we tell our story. Our fear can grow and weigh us down. We need more stories written with colorful hope – praying that God will help us see creatively. Carrying the potential to let God transform our stories and us.
(pull out the erasers and white out)
Sometime we want to block out and erase parts of our stories. The Israelites probably would have preferred to not wander for 40 years before they got to the Promised Land. They would have liked to erase the mistakes they made that got them into that situation. But we can’t just white out or erase parts of our story. I’m not advocating for us shying away from the hard parts. They are part of us and we need to be gentle with our stories.
(pull out a lunchbox)
And last but not least, we need to be fed. What in our stories makes us laugh, reminds us of hope and sustains us. Too often we get so focused on our minds that we forget we are in bodies. We have to pause for snacks every once in a while to let our bodies, minds and spirits catch up with each other.
Often in our lives we have threshold moments. We stand on one side of a door or possibility ready to walk or jump into what is on the other side. The start of the school year is one of those threshold moments as students, teachers and families’ transition from one way of being into something new. The staff and pastors here at church are also standing on a threshold, shifting how we are as a team and wondering what this new reality will look like. We stand with the people of Israel, our feet just about to touch the water waiting to cross over into new ways. We are poised on the cusp of change which can bring feelings of both excitement and fear. What will this be like? What is this new story we are stepping in to?
And as we look to this new start we also put some rocks in place, milestones along the way – this is where we have been and this is the story of faith we can tell to help us on our way. Maybe we need to learn fresh ways but we will need to look back on the things that have shaped us.
When I got to college they said that some things that were cool for kindergartens had become cool again. Things like having snacks, taking naps, going barefoot, and carrying your backpack on both shoulders again. Maybe we have to go back to hearing some of the basics we might tell our kids as we send them off to school – be kind, remember who you are, treat others how you would like to be treated, ask questions-listen well-learn lots.
If you are starting a new school year or just continuing business as usual may what you carry with you sustain you for the journey and not drag you down. May you find space for bright colored dreams of hope, safe spaces to nestle your stories of pain, and enough room in your bag for snacks.
[To leave a comment, click on "comments" link below and write your comment in the box. When finished, click on "Other" as your identity, and type in your real name. Then click "Publish your comment."]