After Israel had served its time in the wilderness and was finally about to inherit the promise of their own land, where they would put down roots and become a blessing to the world, there was one last obstacle—the Jordan River! After doing an inventory, they came to the harsh realization about their circumstances—they were shepherds and not sailors, no boats to be found anywhere. It was like God was saying one final time—you must always remember you are a people of grace.
God then opened the waters of the Jordan, and the whole nation walked into the Promised Land on dry ground. Joshua did a curious thing. On the way through, he had men collect twelve stones from the middle of the riverbed. After the nation was assembled on the other side, he had them erect these twelve stones—Stones of Remembrance. He did this so that in future years when people saw these stones they would remember that anything Israel was or ever would be was because they served a God who lavished his grace and love on them.
Joshua did this because people tend to have amnesia. It is not just that the people of God have amnesia and tend to forget—all people in God’s good but broken creation tend to forget. So God everywhere tells his people to “remember.” Our tendency is, as the song says, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.” Boy, does the shoe fit on that one! I am so quick to forget the good things of God when hard times come. I am so prone to forget it is only by grace that any good thing comes my way. But it is not just me, it is all of us—whether Christian or not, we all need Stones of Remembrance, or the equivalent. Throughout the world, clans, families, nations, churches, institutions, etc., have ways of remembering. We do this because life happens so fast that we are prone to lose hold of our deep roots and moorings from the past—things that anchor us to what is true, good, and beautiful.
Typically, to aid our remembrance, we plan a day (or days) to slow down time, feast, and tell stories of the past—stories that have shaped us and continue to shape us. The power of this practice is attested to in Jesus’ final meal with his disciples. He told his people that, until he came back, they would remember him in bread and wine—his body broken, his blood shed. Every week in communion, we are reminded again that God’s love for us is because of Jesus and not because he is “so lucky to have folk like us.” It is both humbling and glorious.
Twenty years ago, on February 8, 1998, St. Patrick held its first worship service in a newly restored little white church right off the square (The church painting on the wall in the narthex is itself a thing of remembrance!). Twenty years later, here we are in the heart of Collierville, in a beautiful facility bursting at the seams with people, about to build more space. We have been here not yet three years, and we have doubled in size, added to our staff, are planting new churches, and are seeking more ways to be a blessing in our parish.
The road that got us here has not been straight or easy. Looking back, there were seasons of great growth, seasons of great change, and even a time, when we didn’t build in 2008, that led to what felt like a wasteland. And yet, as hard as those wasteland years were, it was a time of intense formation for me as a pastor, and St. Patrick would not be the church it is today without those years.
So, this year we will erect our own Stones of Remembrance on the weekend of April 21-22. We have invited all members, former members, and people who have put time, effort, and money into making St. Patrick a place where people can come to learn what it means to be disciples who love God, love people, and love life. Of course, we will kick it off with a feast! On Saturday, we will have our Annual Crawfish Boil and are inviting everyone to come and reconnect with old friends and family at that time. I am excited to share some really special old friends of mine who have moved on, but who were instrumental in the formation of St. Patrick, with our newer folk. On Sunday, we will remember God’s faithfulness in robust worship that calls attention to God’s grace in our pilgrimage from day one.
I would be remiss if I didn’t recall what brought Teri and me back home to minister in the area where we grew up. The foundation for St. Patrick grew out of our experiences in Greenville, MS, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, where I planted a church while still in seminary. Teri and I learned how to do ministry there from people who took us in, showed us what hospitality looked like, and loved us through the learning curve that goes with being a young pastor with more ideas and zeal than wisdom or knowledge. There we learned the power of the gospel—that it is literally everything. There we learned the power of community that was family, and we learned there was no greater life than being present, body and soul, in a community and committed to that people and place—warts and all. It was there we learned the power of a robust ordinary faithfulness in a place.
These are things St. Patrick is committed to with everything we have. We are bigger now and these things are harder, but what it means to be human has never changed, whether in the Mississippi Delta or in the fast growing town of Collierville—we all need a place to know and be known by our Savior and by a few people we share life with in the mundane. So rejoice with me and invite your friends to join us as we take the party to new heights on our weekend St. Patrick Birthday Bash. God is good!