Holding Onto the Good

Holding Onto the Good

April 26, 2021 • Rev. Rob Fuquay

What do you think when you see a rainbow? Maybe an even better question is how do you feel when you see a rainbow? Does it make you feel happy, encouraged, hopeful?

Rainbows for most people catch attention. If you see a rainbow and there are other people near you, how many of you will go and tell others to look up and see it too? Its just hard to keep to yourself. Now maybe it’s because rainbows are not common. You don’t see them everyday, but I think it’s more than that. Rainbows are encouraging. They are uplifting and interestingly, they usually appear after a storm.

No wonder an ancient Jewish scribe in telling the story of the Great Flood, the storm that lasted 4o days and nights, imagined the clouds finally parting and a rainbow appearing, a took this as a symbol of God’s promise never again to destroy the earth by a flood. The scribe took a natural phenomenon and turned it into a sign. For anyone who feared the wrath of God, who believed that because of the wrongs in their lives, God stood against them, the writer used this image as a reminder that God is not after me. God is for me. God’s promise to me is good. From then whenever people saw a rainbow it would give them something good to hold onto.

Now in this series we are looking at the Book of Joshua to talk about coming out of the wilderness. Why would I go all the way back to the book of Genesis to talk about rainbows? Because that story connects to something the Israelites did in their very first act of entering the Promised Land. They made a reminder to recall God’s goodness, just like a rainbow, because they understood that in the spiritual life we all need reminders of what we believe to be true.

So we pick up the story today right where we left off last week. A new generation of Israelites who were raised in the wilderness are on the edge of the Promised Land. Standing between them is the River Jordan at flood stage. The people are told to follow the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant. They walk straight toward the raging currents and when their feet touch the water, then the river is parted, and all the people walked through safely into the Promised Land.

Think about that for a minute. This generation will now have their own deliverance story to tell. They grew up listening to their parents tell about walking through the Red Sea under Moses. You can just imagine how many times they must have heard that story. Their children probably rolled their eyes every time it was told because they could have said it word for word. But now, they have their story to tell. Now they have their own deliverance. It’s important to have your own story to tell.

Well, once they were safely on the other side of the river, God directed Joshua to have one person from each tribe go back into the river and take a stone from as close to the place where the priests were standing, and return and stack up the rocks. Why? To build a memorial so that future generations would remember. When their children asked, “What do these stones mean?” Now they could tell their story. They could tell what happened there. That way the stones would become a sign.

But what exactly does this sign mean? What are the people to remember? In one sense, quite obviously, they remember that they faced a great challenge there. In remembering their challenge they would recognize for future generations that life is challenging. Life can be hard. But a hard place is not necessarily a bad place. God was there and by turning to God, they found a way forward.

Can’t you imagine whenever parents told their children this story they would really embellish it. Every time they told it the river got wider and the waves got taller. Sort of like walking to school ten miles barefooted and it was uphill both ways! And, of course, the point is not just to say life is hard but that you can survive hard things. Hard places can possess good things.

If you don’t remember that, then all you have is hard. You don’t have to teach children that life can be hard. They will find that out on their own. But if you don’t teach them that there are good things that come from hard places, then all you have is hardness, and the hardness around you can become hardness with you. And you become critical and pessimistic.

Joe Pesci is an actor who stars in a lot of violent movies, most of them about gangsters. But my favorite Joe Pesci movie is one of his least known. It’s called With Honors. He plays a homeless man in Boston who crosses paths with a Harvard student played by Brendan Faser. He’s trying to graduate with honors and the last but biggest hurdle is his thesis paper.

After printing a copy his computer crashes. The only copy is now this one printed version, so he goes to the library to make copies, and on the way stumbles and loses the paper down a steam vent that goes into the boiler room. He finds his way down to this room and discovers a homeless man reading the paper and throwing a page at a time into the boiler. The student begs him to stop, so the homeless man makes a deal. He will give him a chapter at a time for gifts in exchange.

A relationship begins in which the student looked at this homeless person as someone who knows nothing and has little to offer beyond his paper, but gradually discovers this person may be his greatest teacher in graduate school. Take a look at this scene in which the student is getting back another chapter…

I remembered that scene in reflecting on this story of the memorial stones in Joshua and how it teaches that no matter who you are, when you hold onto good things you remember there’s good in life. No matter who you are and no matter what

you’ve been through there are good things worth holding onto. There are good things you don’t want to lose or forget.

What do you have to hold onto?.......

Go back to the Joshua memorial stones. There’s something even deeper we can take away from this story. Not only does it teach us that hard places can possess good things but it also shows that God’s provisions come when needed, not in advance. The river parted as the priests’ feet touched the water. God showed up at their point of need, not before. That’s an important reminder because often we want God to give us what we need in advance of our problems, but like the old saying goes, “God may not show up when you want, but God is always right on time.”

That was the lesson of the manna in the wilderness. The people were hungry so God gave them what looked like bread every morning called manna. But there was a condition, each tent could collect only what they needed for the day. They couldn’t store it up. It would go bad. They had to trust that each day God would provide and God did.

In fact, to remember that truth, there was one portion of manna God designed not to ever go bad. This was to be kept in a jar placed in the inner room of the temple. It was to serve as a lasting reminder, that just because they have come out of the wilderness this truth remains. God provides for us as needed, and when we trust that, when we live with a confidence that God will show up each day to give me what I need, I can be at ease about the future. So they had this simple reminder to teach that When we are confident of what God has done in the past it lessens anxiety about the future.

My father-in-law was with us for a year during the pandemic. He’s back in Kansas right now. He’s a brilliant man. Incredibly sharp and intelligent but he doesn’t remember things like he once did. And this sometimes is very frustrating to him. So every now and then Susan would sit down with him with a photo album and go through family history and things he did in ministry and remind him of all the good things that have been a part of his life. And he would come away from those experiences uplifted.

When we have good things to hold onto, we’re less anxious about the future.

So what do you have to hold onto today? We have come through a hard and difficult year. In many ways we want to move on and get past anything related to Covid-19, but what are some good things you’ve found this year you don’t want to let go of?

A Pew Center for Research study found that nearly three in ten Americans say the pandemic boosted their faith. Nearly a third of Americans say their faith got stronger this year. In the same study, one-fourth said that the pandemic tightened family bonds. Surely those are things to hold onto. We don’t want to lose that.

We get letters and notes from people every week. They usually come along with their gifts to the church. They say how much they have appreciated the online worship, Pastor

Jevon’s mobile messages, the calls they’ve received. They often the church has been a lifeline to them this year and helped them hold on.

Some people talk about the time the shut down gave them to be together as families, to spend more time with each other.

Some people say that even in the losses they have experienced this year, they have a deeper appreciation for the love and support they received and how it helped them get through.

When we hold onto to the good things we have received, it’s like Joe Pesci said in the movie, “Abracadabra, we’re all back again.”

So what do you hold onto today?

I want you to take out your rock you received along with your marker. In a minute you’ll be asked to write on your rock what you want to hold onto from this year. What is something good God has given you this year you don’t want to lose? What is that one, most important good thing, you celebrate? We’re gong to use this to build our own memorial as we leave today. I’ll say more about that in a few moments, but before we write on our stone, there’s one last lesson to take away regarding the significance of memorial stones. Along with reminding us that there’s good in life, and giving us a peace about the future, memorial stones summon something from us.

For that new generation of Israelites, who grow up in the Promised Land, who would not have known life in the wilderness, these stones would remind them that they have been the recipient of past blessings, and therefore they are called to do something with their blessings. Having good things to hold onto summons us to pass along good things.

Just six months before the outbreak of Covid-19, the President of Ireland spoke at a gathering to commemorate the Spanish Flu, the worst global pandemic in history that happened 100 years ago. It killed 50-100 million people worldwide, nearly 700,000 in this country. He spoke about the importance of not forgetting. He asked, Why do some major historical events occupy the forefront of the collective consciousness, while profound moments, such as the pandemic we are discussing today, sometimes stand distantly behind? And then he seems to answer his question through more questions:

In what ways does the ‘duty of memory’ summon us to do justice to the dead? To what extent are we to allow ourselves to be changed as we listen to the narrative of the other? What is the relationship between memory and history? These are first-order moral questions.

To come through a crisis like a pandemic, to be the recipient of blessing and good things, presents a moral summons, to ask of ourselves, what good things can I give others to hold onto? For that is the greatest blessing we have to hold onto, that in a time of crisis God can use us. We have a reason to live as we seek ways to be hope to others. That is what keeps us going.

Recently Indiana icon Bobby Slick Leonard passed away and his funeral was held this wek at Carmel United Methodist Church. The basketball all-star George McGinnis spoke. George’s father died in his senior year of high school. Leonard became like an adopted father to him. He said of all the memories he holds onto of Leonard there is one that sticks out. It was his second day on the Pacers team. Leonard told him, “You’re nobody until you do something for somebody else.” He said that shaped his life.

He held onto that all his life. No matter who we are or what we’ve been through, we can be something for somebody else.