Those twelve stones, which they had taken out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal, saying to the Israelites, "When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?' then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, so that all may know the power of the Lord."
Go visit Stonehenge in the English county of Wiltshire and ask, as people have for centuries, "What do these stones mean?" The only honest answer is "We don't know" or "Go ask an archeologist." If there ever was a plan to pass on the meaning from generation to generation, it didn't stick.
Go visit the Holy Land and you'll find rocks everywhere. Big ones, little ones and stacks of them, just like the pile described in Joshua 4 near the Jordan River. As soon as the Israelites stepped in the river, the waters parted, Red Sea-style, and the whole nation crossed over. It was a moment to remember.
But Joshua was smart enough to know that even mighty miracles are easily forgotten unless we do something to remember them. The twelve stone pillar was meant to arouse the curiosity of younger generations who would see it and naturally ask, "What's that all about?" We are instructed to answer: "It's there to remind us God is real and powerful and faithful."
A common fear for parents of confirmation students is that their child will ask a question for which they have no answer. What's baptism all about? What's communion all about? And what about miracles, the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection?
The honest answer might be "I don't really know" or "Go ask the pastor." But if all we offered was the Joshua answer: "Those things remind us God is real and powerful and faithful," it would be enough.
Today we don't have a pile of twelve stones. We have a pile of stories, poems and letters known as the Bbble to arouse our curiosity and help us remember God's presence and faithfulness. It's really the only thing worth remembering.
God help us to remember that you never forget us.
Matthew Laney is the Senior Minister of Asylum Hill Congregational Church, UCC, in Hartford, Connecticut.