Building A Memorial
A Sermon by Rev. J. Clark Echols, Jr.
Cross over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever. Joshua 4:5-7
Those who served in our armed forces carried more than their equipment on their shoulders. They carried all the love they had and all the truth they had. Those who felt death near report that, indeed, only that which was actually loved and believed, what was actually lived and their own, survived. And the Word tells us that those who died, carried into their eternal life and still remember only that which they actually loved and believed.
Most of us carry a lot of so called baggage. Its weight is a burden. Its usefulness limited. Some of what we carry bows us down so that we do not see beauty, truth or our Lord and Savior’s face. To let go of these graven stones or fired bricks of our own making appears to require our death, the death of self. Ironically that is true, because when that burden is put down, our true self, the heavenly proprium as it is called, the new man formed by the Lord in our will, is more alive than it could otherwise have been.
One image of this, our life’s task, is when the Israelites first entered the promised land by crossing the Jordan on dry ground. A man from each of the twelve tribes selected a stone which was carried to Gilgal and made into a memorial pillar.
Those we remember on Memorial Day carried with them all that they loved and believed. Their effort, their sacrifice, founded on their love and faith, erected a monument to which we must bring our homage and thanks. Our hymns and prayers today give thanks to God for providing the men and women who so served us, their fellow countrymen.
But there is a more important, although ordinary acknowledgment that we are to make. It is that which we do every day, in the minutia of our lives as well as in the great battles against the hells within us. We pick up stones, carry them to a holy place, and erect a pillar that is an image of the quality our life.
Let us honor those who have served by making ever more valuable the sacrifice they made. Let us build pillars of truths that we love. We must each build one, and so fill the earth with reminders of the miraculous effects of love for God, for heaven and for His church.
The internal sense of this story is that our entrance into the Lord’s church is accomplished by appealing to the Lord, who then removes that which would bar our way. As we go across that border, we incorporate all that which constitutes His church. Our effort to gather those truths awakens a devotion to them, a love for them. The Lord leads us to order those truths that we love into a personality unique to us which reminds us and all those we meet that we are worshipers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
One example is the ideas you love about God. So stop for a moment and picture Jesus Christ in your mind’s eye. Perhaps you see Him as I do, a wise, loving, and forgiving man. He is strong, firm, courageous, compelling. And from Writings for the New Church, I have a concept as well, that He is God.
Now, what do I see when I imagine Him assessing those who are evil or wrong? Do I see in Him a model of how to keep order in society? On one hand, I see the damaging, wounding idea of a condemning Jehovah/Father, and the relief the mercy of Jesus brings. this is an attractive, even seductive picture as it takes away the responsibility for having to do anything to be saved!
Sometimes I feel the Writings for the New Church offer too deep a philosophy, while yet I believe they are part of the Word we are to understand and use. So we keep plugging along, reading, listening, talking, applying. Sometimes the stones of truth I am trying to carry are heavy. Maybe I drop one on my own foot, or on another’s. But through it all, my desire is to build an altar, to worship Lord alone. I seek to construct a model, an image of his love and wisdom in my mind and heart, in my imagination and in my behavior. And I don’t want an image made of hewn, carved stones or of man-made bricks, but of the stones as He gives them to me.
We all have struggled to understand God. Hopefully, at a miraculous moment of clarity, you found an idea that you could carry with you which aided you. It added solidity, strength and permanence to your idea of God. Indeed, it allowed you to love Him as your Redeemer and Savior. The New Testament is full of such images that you will find a light burden that frees you to be in love with the Lord and feel loved by Him.
As you humble yourself to that idea and make it a truth for you, He transforms it from a barrier into a pathway. You are now motivated to carry this newly appreciated knowledge along with you. It is added to the pillar that corresponds to your internal attitude towards life.
And one more illustration: when you identify that an action is the result of the influence of hell. Perhaps you have never seen or felt the connection before. Making such a discovery is a normal side effect of developing picture of Lord, and reading Word! Such connections between ideas and actions are the hardest bricks to put down; appear to be hardest stones to carry. For we will certainly feel many regrets; maybe become paralyzed with guilt. This is not what the Lord wants. He encourages us to keep moving, changing, growing, even when under heaviest load
At the end of the struggle a new, clear path is revealed. And there is a stone which you can now carry as a counterbalance to the falsity promulgated by the hells. It too becomes integrated into the pillar that represents your spirit, now reformed by the Lord into a great memorial to a life of love for the Lord, His Word and His church.
Jesus’ lament over and prediction about Jerusalem serves the same use. Jerusalem had sadly had become a memorial to men’s ideas; a Word of none effect. Those stones had to be taken down, replaced, reordered, until the New Jerusalem would be built of precious stones, with streets of gold, and water that nourishes, and trees that heal. So the New Church is established in you and on the earth as you carry the twelve stones from the river bed into the new land He is giving you.
By this life of love, using truth, we actually remember those who have gone before and built pillars of their own that not only draw us toward the same sacrifice, but guide us along the way to the ultimate goal of eternal life in His kingdom.
Thus their sacrifice is made valuable and effective as we each build our own memorials.
Lessons: Joshua 4:1-10; Secrets of Heaven §8940
“‘Make for Me an altar of stones’ means a representative kind of worship in general that is composed of truths. This is clear from the meaning of ‘an altar’ as a representative of Divine worship in general, and from the meaning of ‘stones’ as truths. There is worship of the Lord that springs from good, and there is worship of Him that springs from truth. Worship of the Lord springing from good was represented by an altar of soil, and worship springing from truth by an altar of stone. It was because an altar of stone was a sign of worship springing from truth that they were commanded to set up such an altar as soon as they crossed the Jordan and came into the land of Canaan, and to write on it the Commandments contained in the Law, that is, God’s truths from heaven. For by the Ten Commandments are meant all God’s truths in summary form. That altar is spoken of in Moses as follows, ‘When you cross the Jordan you shall set up for yourself large stones, and coat them with lime. Then you shall write on them all the words of the Law. Afterwards, you shall build there an altar to Jehovah your God, an altar of stones, which you shall not hew with any iron tool.’ The reason why they were to write the words of the Law on stones of the altar was that truths were meant by ‘stones’, and worship that springs from truths by ‘an altar of stones’. This was also the reason why the Ten Commandments, which were a sign of Divine Truths in their entirety, were inscribed on tablets of stone. The reason why it had to be done as soon as they crossed the Jordan was that the Jordan, which was the first and outermost boundary of the land of Canaan on the side where the wilderness lay, meant introduction into the Church or heaven, which is accomplished through knowledge of truth and good, thus through truths from the Word.” Secrets of Heaven §8940