Text: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Joshua 4:1-7
Theme: We are wandering nomads until we have a vision and a goal. Then we become pilgrims struggling along the path toward the goal we have chosen.
LIFE IS A JOURNEY! That journey is described in very different ways. In Shakespeare’s play “King Lear”– Lear defines it: “Life is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” On the other hand, Jesus told his disciples, and us, that he had come that we might have life, and have it abundantly. Of the two descriptions, I choose the one that Jesus gave and the one that the entire Bible seems to indicate. God is a God of love and wants his creation to be happy and have good lives.
We do know that the journey of life contains many hardships. It also contains many joys we celebrate. And, it contains many failures as we strive toward our goals. but it also contains many achievements that reward us on the journey. All of these joys, hardships, failures, and achievements are milestones that we reach as we go on this journey we call life. That is true of our lives as individuals and it is true of our life as a faith community we call the church.
In this journey of life we are either nomads or pilgrims. What is the difference? A nomad is a wanderer. Nomads have no goal in mind, they just wander from place to place. A pilgrim journeys toward a known goal.
An important part of life’s journey is knowing our goal or destination. Where are we going? Why are we going there? What difference will that destination make? That is true for us as individuals and it is certainly true for our faith community we call “the church.” “Without a vision, the people perish” the writer of Proverbs wrote long ago. How true both for individuals and for churches!!
Without a vision, a goal for our lives and the life of our faith community we are like wandering nomads. When we have a goal in mind we change from being nomads to pilgrims and our life and the life of our church becomes a quest toward the goal that lies before us.
Moses reminded the Hebrews that in their early history, they were nomads. In verse 4 and following of chapter 26 of DeuteronomyMoses speaks about that in these words: “When the priest takes the basket of first fruits from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God. ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor (Jacob), he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous….the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand…and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” He points to the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham, that wandering nomad, that he would make of him a great nation that would be a blessing to the entire world—a promise repeated to Jacob. Now that goal was being accomplished as the Hebrews entered the Promised Land.
The Exodus from Egypt had led them toward that goal of the Promised Land and the Hebrew people ceased to be “wandering Areamean”—nomads—and at that time became Pilgrims—-making their way toward the goal of the Promised Land.
And when they entered the promised land according to the book of Joshua, Joshua told them to leave behind them at the place where they entered the Promised Land, 12 “Milestones” representing the 12 tribes of Israel where they crossed into the Promised Land—- it was named Gilgal (circle of stones). The story is recorded in Joshua: Joshua 4:1-7]
On Feb. 5, 1994, the Markale Market in Sarajevo was jammed with Bosnians. Hundreds of women, children and men had come for their weekly outing in search of food and goods. Suddenly, without warning, a 120 mm mortar shell hit the crowd, exploding in the midst of the open air market, tearing apart the bodies of 68 people and spewing blood for yards around.
Unable to accept the murder of his anonymous brothers and sisters, a cellist from the Sarajevo Symphony resolved to mark their memory in some way. He decided that each life lost must be marked and honored in some way. The day after the deadly bombing he took his cello and a chair and quietly set them up in the heart of the bombed-out area of the marketplace—the site of so much cruelty and carnage.
Then, without saying a word, he played a short memorial concert, uninterrupted and unannounced, that transformed the scene of horror into a place of harmony and beauty while the crowds gathered and listened as he played. At the end of his concert, he picked up his chair and cello and faded into the crowd.
The same thing happened the next day and for 68 days, as the cellist played a memorial concert for each of the victims who had died in the shelling. He commemorated their lives, not just their dying, and brought dignity and honor to their families. His concerts marked the milestones of each of their lives.
Moses told the people to remember the MILESTONES in their journey from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. They were to remember that even as they wandered in the Wilderness God provided for them—the manna and the doves. He reminds them to celebrate the crossing of the Red Sea on Dry Land The Passover celebration is a remembrance of the Exodus and the freedom from Egyptian slavery.. And Joshua reminded them to celebrate their crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land on dry land. The Circle of Twelve Stones at Gilgal carried from the bottom of the Jordan River that they crossed on dry land, marks the celebration of the entry of the Hebrews into the Promised Land .
The question is this: What are the milestones that we will leave behind individually that shows our pilgrimage on earth? What will we leave that future generations of our families will remember and celebrate? What differences will we have made that are enduring? The same three questions might be asked for the congregations that we serve and have served. What will we leave behind that will be remembered and celebrated long after our names are no longer known? What milestones will we leave to future generations that will be remembered and celebrated? What difference will our lives as a part of a community of faith make that will continue to have impact after we are gone? In other words….
What are we going to pass on through our lives? What is the torch that we will pass on to those who follow us?
There is a story of a father and his young son on a hike in the mountains. The path was not well marked and the footing was treacherous at times. The son said to his father who was leading the way—-“Be careful, Dad, I’m following in your steps right behind you!” In the same way we must “be careful” and…..
Hold high the torch! You did not light its glow—
‘Twas given you by other hands, you know.
Tis yours to keep it burning bright,
Yours to pass on when you no more need light;
For there are other feet that we must guide,
And other forms go marching by our side;
Their eyes are watching every smile and tear
And efforts which we think are not worthwhile,
Are sometimes just the very helps they need,
Actions to which their souls would give most heed;
So that in turn they’ll hold it high
And say, “I watched someone else carry it this way.”
If brighter paths should beckon you to choose,
Would your small gain compare with all you’d lose?
Hold high the torch!
You did not light its glow—
Twas given you by other hands, you know.
I think it started down its pathway bright,
The day the Maker said: “Let there be light.”
And He once said, who hung on Calvary’s tree—-
“You are the light of the world…Go!!…Shine–=for me.