To Know God: Thoughts on the purpose of the “CHURCH” and our church.

To Know God

Last week was kick-off Sunday.

The Sunday when we start our new program year.

We had a picnic on the day before, a new sermon series, Children’s Church, communion and coffee hour after.

It was a very good day.

But it was also the weekend where we commemorated the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attack.

I have vivid memories of that terrible day.

One of the things I found interesting was that there was a good bit of remembrance type TV and radio programing on what 9/11 was about and how horrible it was.

What concerned me most was the realization that so many people either remembered very little – or nothing at all – of 9/11.

My son was 15.

He knew it was horrible but had a limited understanding of the attack happened that day and few of the details.

My daughter was 9 years old when the attack took place.

She remembers almost nothing about it.

What she knows, she learned in history class and maybe a college course she took on terrorism.

Kids born only a few years after my daughter have no memory of it whatsoever.

They only know what we teach them.

9/11 was a terrible day in American and world history.

It’s something we need to remember.

And more importantly, something we need to teach our kids about.

That’s one reason why there are memorials built.

There is one near us.

The Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, PA.

There we honor the 43 passengers who sacrificed their lives to prevent a group of terrorists from crashing the plane into … well … they did not know what the plane was going to be crashed into.

It was likely the US Capital.

The purpose of that memorial is to remind us of that day and specifically what those people did.

But it is also a place where we can take our children.

They might ask, “What is this all about? What happened to these people?”

And then we can tell them the story.

So that they can do the same for their own kids.

Who can then do the same for their own kids …

And so, the story will never be forgotten.

And so, they might have the courage to do the same, if such a thing happens again.

That’s what our scripture readings are about today.

Matthew 28: 16-20

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

Joshua 4: 1-8

4When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua: 2‘Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, 3and command them, “Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.” ’ 4Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe. 5Joshua said to them, ‘Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, one for each of the tribes of the Israelites, 6so that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, “What do those stones mean to you?”7then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial for ever.’

8 The Israelites did as Joshua commanded. They took up twelve stones out of the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord told Joshua, carried them over with them to the place where they camped, and laid them down there.

Last week we started our series about the Church on Purpose.

We talked about why we – JMPC and the church generally – are here.

What is our purpose here at JMPC?

What is the purpose of the “CHURCH” generally?

We learned that the purpose of both is to make disciples.

Integral to that purpose is to teach these disciples about Jesus and to obey everything Jesus commanded.

To do that we need to introduce folks to Jesus.

Then, when they ask, “What’s this Jesus all about?”, we can tell them the story.

Teach them about his way of life and the requirements for discipleship.

Then they get to know Jesus and so get to know God.

It’s part of our vision statement here at JMPC.

We provide a way for us, and the community surrounding us, to know God.

So that is one of the reasons why we are here.

It’s our purpose.

To teach about God.

So folks can know God.

This has been the purpose of the church since Pentecost.

It has been our purpose since 1965.

And there has been what we call a great cloud of witnesses over the centuries since Pentecost who have passed this knowledge from generation to generation all the way down to us.

And a smaller but no less great cloud of witnesses here at JMPC who have passed this knowledge from generation to generation all the way down to us.

Generation after generation has passed the baton of discipleship and teaching.

So far, the baton has not been dropped.

But the handoff has always faced challenges.

And just like we would not like to answer questions about Flight 93 with, “Well, we don’t know!”, we don’t what to answer questions about Jesus with, “ We, we don’t know!”

Like the baton in the race, we are always one fumble away from the end of the race.

I think each generation has faced challenges similar to those we face in 2021.

How do we pass the baton?

How do we fulfill our part of the continuing purpose?

How do we make disciples and teach them about Jesus?

How this handoff has been done has changed over time.

But it has always kind of looked like our scripture reading from Joshua.

It’s kind of an object lesson.

Here is a bit of context.

Moses has died after leading the Israelites out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and then for 80 years in the wilderness on the way to the promised land.

Joshua now leads the Israelites as they approach that promised place.

To get in, Israel has to cross over the Jordan River.

This is a very big deal.

It was the end of a long and difficult journey.

It was the achievement of God’s purpose for God’s chosen people.

Joshua is told by God to select a person from each of the twelve tribes to get a stone from the middle of the Jordan and pile them up on the other side where the people can see them.

Why does God want this pile of stones?

It’s a memorial.

Like the memorial for Flight 93, the stones are meant to be a teaching opportunity for those who see them.

These stones are an invitation for anyone seeing them to ask, “What do these stones mean?”

Then they can be told the story.

The Exodus, the wilderness, arrival.

And most importantly, that God chose them and was with them the entire way.

So, God tells Joshua to pile up some stones.

“Whenever you look at the stones, you will remember.”

“Your kids will look at the stones and do what kids do.”

“They will see those stones and ask why they are there.”

“You will tell them the story.”

That is how the community memory will get passed down.

That is the purpose of the stones.

That is how the purpose is achieved.

This was nothing new.

The people of Israel have many such things that remind them of what God has done for them and that God is with them.

The Hebrew Scriptures are full of them.

Everything from altars to phylacteries, to prayer shawl tassels, to religious festivals and even the sacrificial system.

They give names to things and places that describe an event they want to remember.

And their kids ask about it.

They tell the stories to the kids, and each other.

In this way, the communal memory of the covenant between God and his people is passed on and not forgotten.

As disciples of Jesus, we also have memorials that remind us of important stories.

Our most important are the sacraments.

Like today’s baptism.

What are the words of institution of this sacrament?

In baptism God claims us, and seals us to show that we belong to God. God frees us from sin and death, uniting us with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection.

By water and the Holy Spirit, we are made members of the church, the body of Christ, and joined to Christ’s ministry of love, peace, and justice.

Baptism is a visual image, a sign, that God marks us as his own.

That God loves us.

That God loves us even though we don’t know it.

It’s something we know about God.

It’s why we come to this room.

And we do this in public so folks, like the children who come in to watch, can ask, “What does that mean?”

And so, we can tell them.

What we are here to do.

To teach.

An object lesson.

To pass the baton.

Our purpose.

Then there is Communion.

What are the words of institution for the Lord’s Supper?

The Lord Jesus, on the night of his arrest, took bread, and after giving thanks to God, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take, eat. This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. In the same way he took the cup, saying: This cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this in remembrance of me. Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the saving death of the risen Lord, until he comes.

The Lord’s Supper is a visual image, a sign, that Jesus died for the forgiveness of our inability to live the way God wants us to live.

It gives each of us reminder of our reconciliation with God.

That God forgives us.

That God forgives us even though we don’t know it.

It’s something we know about God.

It’s why we come to this room.

And we do this in public so folks, like the children who come in to watch, can ask, “What does that mean?”

And so, we can tell them.

That’s what we are here to do.

To teach.

An object lesson.

To pass the baton.

Our purpose.

These are stories and histories with meaning that are worth remembering and passing along.

There are other object lessons many of us can point to here at JMPC and in the “CHURCH” generally.

The principle one is the Bible.

We show people the Bible and hope they ask, “What do these words mean?”

And on this first day of the new program year, we start to teach, again, what these stories are and pass them on to the next generation.

We have Children’s Church.

We have Confirmation Class.

We have VBS.

We have Kids Club.

We have Youth Group.

For adults, who also need some education as well, we have ABC’s of the Bible.

We have the John Covenant Group.

We have book reviews.

We have Bible studies.

And we are prepared to do whatever anyone needs to learn the stories and be prepared to pass them along.

Why are we here?

What did we come here to do?


If we don’t do it, who will?

When our kids ask why they should go to church, or watch it online, what will we tell them?

That we don’t know?

We need to know the reason.

Our kids are really asking:

“What do these things mean?”

Our answer needs to be:

“Glad you asked.”

To teach us how to know God.

It’s why we come here.

It’s what we came here to do.

It’s the Church on Purpose.

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