Good morning, Friends! Happy birthday!
Yes, today is the 249th birthday of Springfield Friends Meeting. Next year, it’ll be 250 years – a quarter of a millennium. That’s an awesome amount of time for a group to be around.
Back in 1773 – three years before the Declaration of Independence – on this very day in May – a small group of Quakers started holding their meeting for worship on this very spot.
And for at least 100 years, Springfield has remembered that day as Birthday Sunday.
Years ago, the meeting put a lot of special effort into Birthday Sunday. We often brought in special guest speakers from out of town.
All the Sunday School classes of all ages tried to get every one of their members to be here that day. The adult classes had special competitions to see which class could raise the most money.
That’s partly how the mortgage got paid off. That’s partly how the Christian Education wing and the Fellowship Hall got built.
There was always lots of special music, and there was always a big meal for the whole meeting.
We haven’t done Birthday Sunday on that scale for a long time. But we’ve got some great special music today. We’re having our first all-meeting carry-in meal since COVID began. We’re trying to make it a special day.
And to help make it special, we’ve got a story from the Old Testament.
This is from the time when the people of Israel had escaped from slavery in Egypt. They’d been wandering in the desert for 40 years, trying to find their new home, which was actually their old home, the place God had promised to their ancestors, but which none of them had actually ever seen before.
They had to cross the Red Sea. They saw the greatest army in the whole world, destroyed before their own eyes.
They’d survived, for 40 years, on the bread from heaven that God gave to them, fresh every morning.
They’d had conflicts, and overcame them. They’d had to learn to organize themselves. They’d had to learn a whole new life, guided by the Commandments which God gave them in fire and thunder from the top of Mount Sinai.
They’d had to fight many battles, just to get to where they were. And now they were right on the border, right about to cross over the mighty Jordan River.
During that 40 year time period, all of the older people, the ones who led them, had died. Even Moses. None of the original generation was left.
So, there they stood, on the banks of the river Jordan – the children and grandchildren of the slaves who escaped from Egypt.
None of them had actually seen those events. Most of them weren’t alive when the Ten Commandments were given. It was all old stories – second hand – hearsay to them.
They’d won some battles, but they didn’t feel very strong. They felt pretty uncertain. There was a big river in front of them, and they didn’t know how they’d get across.
There were enemies behind them, and more enemies in front of them. They’d taken some losses, and they weren’t too sure about this whole thing. That’s where today’s story begins.
When the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them.
Now the Jordan River is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing.
The water piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho.
The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.
When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”
So twelve men were appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe. They were told, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you.
In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.Joshua 3:14-4:7
I don’t want to say too much about that story. It kind of speaks for itself.
This group of scared and uncertain people, not knowing what was ahead of them, were astonished by what God had done.
In a way, it was like a repeat of the crossing of the Red Sea. They carried the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments on them, and a sample of the manna from heaven which had fed them every day, for so many years, and which contained the walking stick that Moses carried.
When they carried the Ark of the Covenant out in front of them, God made the waters roll back to one side and the other. The last obstacle was suddenly no obstacle at all, and they walked right through it on dry land, all the way to the other side.
It was a miracle, and they all saw it. It was like their birthday, their birthday as a nation.
And to make sure they all remembered that day, God told them to get 12 strong guys, one from every tribe, to go and get 12 big stones from the river bed and bring them back.
And with those 12 stones, they built the first altar there in the Promised Land, so that they would remember that day forever.
Now, today is Birthday Sunday. We’ve survived here for almost 250 years. We’ve survived many wars, many economic boom times and many economic depressions.
We’ve grown from a handful of families to hundreds. We’ve lost people, and gained people. Some have died, some have moved away, others have come.
We’re not the same exact group any more, but we’re still here, still worshiping God, still praying, still keeping the faith, still enjoying our fellowship.
Instead of me trying to apply our Scripture today, I want you all to do the application. I want to invite you to remember what the 12 big stones might be for us.
In the last two years, we have come through the worst challenge that our church has seen for generations. We’re here, and we need to be able to tell our children, and our grandchildren, and the new people in our meeting, what we have seen.
I want us to go into open worship, and I want us all to think a little bit. I want us to remember, and I want us to try and put it into words if we can.
I’ve got two questions for us all to think about, as we stand by the banks of the river.
- What is the very best thing you remember ever happening here at Springfield? What was a moment when you thought we did our best? What made you feel most proud, or most blessed? What did you feel was really a God moment here in our meeting, when God turned things around and guided us?
- What one thing would you personally like most to do here? I hope that we will all be here for a long time to come. I hope we will do many great things. What is the one thing you would personally like to work on?
Whether it’s teaching, or learning, or building, or feeding people, or reaching out – what do you personally want to try and make happen?
You’ve got those questions written in front of you in your bulletin. Let’s head back into open worship, and see what kind of answers each of us can give.