Passing on Faith Through Rituals

This is a sermon delivered by Easter summer intern Meghan at Camp Wapo.

My name is Meghan and I am a junior nursing student at Luther College in Decorah, IA. This is my second year as an Easter intern, but my first time at Family Camp. Our theme for this weekend is Passing on Faith. I am going to give you my perspective of this theme and our reading this morning, hoping that maybe it will give you some insight to what it means to you.

The reading this morning reminded me of a ritual my family has, family camping in the summer. Let me first say that my idea of spending time outside revolves around sitting outside reading a book and once in a while taking a walk. So, camping, you can guess, has not been my most favorite family activity!!

In order to help us understand the story better, I am going to back up a little bit in the chapter. The writers start the story talking about how the Israelites have been walking for 40 years and are finally arriving in the Promised Land. I cannot fathom how excited and relieved they must have been. After all, this isn’t just pulling into your driveway after a long camping trip, but whole lifetimes of wandering through the desert in search of a “Promised Land.” And then, because they weren’t very good with directions, and didn’t have a GPS or a handy weather app, the Israelites happen to arrive during harvest season. This means that the river is flooded, flowing too fast to get across safely. At this point, if I were an Israelite, I would be extremely frustrated with God, questioning everything about him. Why did we wander these past 40 years to not even be able to get into the land of milk and honey? Why would he let this happen to us? Does he even know that we’re here?

I know that I have felt this way often throughout my life, questioning if anyone cares about or is listening to me? Can you imagine the distress the Israelites were going through? Luckily, it turns out that God is pretty good at working with water!! God tells Joshua, the leader of the Israelites, that “He will find a way.” How’s that for blindly trusting in God? But, the Israelites chose to trust in God though, so God tells the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant to go before the others, entering the Jordan River first. Tradition says the Ark contained the 10 commandments, some manna, or food, and perhaps the first five books of the Old Testament. In other words, the Ark of the Covenant was the holiest of holy places for the wandering Israelites. The idea that God, his holy word, and his promise, goes ahead of us to prepare a way when there seems to be no way is amazing. God is always with us, helping us forge our paths in life.

When the priests step into the water, the rushing river stops flowing, separating so the Israelites can cross, once again, on dry land. After all of the Israelites crossed, 12 men, 1 from each of the 12 tribes, go to the dry river bed and find stones from under the place where the priests had stood. They stack these stones on the river bank so that, as it says in verses 6 and 7, “when your children ask in time to come, ‘what do these stones mean to you?’ then 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 forever.” In other words, the Bible is telling us a ritual that the Israelites had. Every time a family walked past the 12 stones, the mom or dad would tell their kids the wondrous things God had done for them and their ancestors.

Think about what rituals you had in your family growing up. Whether they were done regularly or just occasionally, how did they help you remember what God’s done for you in your life?

While my family doesn’t have such a theological ritual like the Israelites had, our camping trips were always full of God-filled moments. Unfortunately a lot were related to the weather. While our family friends slept in a big, nice, air-conditioned RV camper next door, we woke up to snow or rain during the night. In fact, one year we actually woke up floating on our air mattresses because our tent had leaked. Throughout the years, we’ve also had exploding Jiffy pop popcorn, trips to the nearest town due to my sister extremely allergic reactions to mosquitoes, and waking up only to find out that our boat had sunk to the bottom of the lake. But no matter how eventful and crazy our trips were, or how happy we were to finally come home, we always ended up spending A LOT of time together as a family, ultimately helping us grow closer to each other and, eventually, God. We learned to trust God in times of trouble, such as when our boat sunk, carrying our trust into our regular lives back at home too.

Traditions are important for passing on the Christian faith to future generations. Rituals help is remember what God has done. They remind us that He keeps His promises. God promised to rescue the Israelites from slavery and bring them into freedom, and he did. The ritual of communion helps us recall that God has promised to forgive our sin and give us new life. He does this through his son Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen

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