“When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”
And the people of Israel did just as Joshua commanded and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, just as the Lord told Joshua. And they carried them over with them to the place where they lodged and laid them down there. And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day”.
“As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the Lord thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel. And the men of Israel went out from Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and struck them, as far as below Beth-car. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.”
1 Samuel 7:10-12
Today I am a half a Century old. It seems as good a time for a mid-life crisis as any. If I show up next Sunday driving a red convertible Mustang, it is just my internal clock recalibrating. We celebrate birthdays by cakes and parties – and birthdays are a reminder that our life means something. We mark down the fact that, for me, today, 50 years ago a new life entered the world. It is worth celebrating, it is worth remembering. Some people think the party is the thing, so they stop counting past 29 and just try to have fun, as old age creeps up upon them regardless. These marks in time are Ebenezers. They are a sign we plant to remind us of something important. We all have Ebenezers. Wedding rings, special holidays like Christmas and Easter, grave stones, Remembrance Day and poppies, and more. Israel had feasts and services that reminded them of key things God did in their past (Passover, Purim). AA gives out pins that mark the passage of time stayed sober. We celebrate church on Sundays as a reminder that Christ rose on the third day. We participate in communion to remember the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. These things mark personal and group accomplishment.
Today I want to talk about these things we mark our lives with, these Ebenezers. We have them in many forms, but we need them more than we realize. We need spiritual Ebenezers. Here’s the first thing about Ebenezers: They need to be seen. In the Old Testament when people encountered God, or He did something in their midst they would make a big pile of stones and name it. Whenever anybody passed that place afterwards, they would see the Ebenezer and remember. When the nation crossed the Jordan and entered the Promised Land, God parted the water and the nation walked through on dry land. The stones were set up to mark the spot and the event. I remember my dad planting a tree in our front yard – a Crimson King maple. My oldest brother still owns that house, and whenever I visit I am taken back to that time because of the now huge maple in the front yard. If we can’t see the Ebenezer, it is of no use as a reminder. If Samuel had put some porridge between Mizpah and Shen and named it Ebenezer it would have lasted for a day or two at most. He used rocks because they last and aren’t eaten by animals. As parents and grandparents, as child care givers, we need our kids to see these reminders of God’s grace. They need to see that the Gospel is our core. We have reminders on our walls of the Riders winning a grey cup, pictures of vacations, and more, but do we have pictures that depict the transfer of our lives from death to life, from Satan’s grasp to the kingdom of God. Do we celebrate our spiritual birthdays? Do we get cake and candles out to remember that day our sin was stamped with “Paid in Full”? Consider having room in your life and your schedule to celebrate the relationship you have with your Creator. You have done this just by coming to church today. My kids see you here on a long weekend and recognize that there is something of importance to you here. They see this Ebenezer we call church, and see the priority your faith has in your life.
Your life is an Ebenezer? God is changing you inside out. He is at working making you like Himself in your thoughts, words, and actions. How you live your life day to day is an Ebenezer to the people around you that the everlasting God, the Creator of the Universe inhabits your life. The change that is ongoing in your life from being filled with the Holy Spirit is probably the best Ebenezer of all – there is no better witness than a life changed by the power of God. On the flip side, there is no worse testimony than a life unchanged by God. Bonnie was working on an article about the organization, Defend Dignity. It is dedicated to the eradication of prostitution and human trafficking in Canada. The testimony of one lady in Winnipeg who had tried going to church while still a prostitute because she heard Jesus changes people. She had some problems because she kept seeing her clients sitting there in church services. The change that she was told Christ could bring was slapped back in her face by the hypocrisy of men who lacked integrity and self-control. As we walk this spiritual pilgrimage together, WE have to seek ways to live the authentic change God is doing and has done in your life. Let your life be an Ebenezer.
Ebenezers mark us for who we are in Christ – they point to the only thing we are not in competition with in the world. The world around us offers community, a place to belong, though often around destructive behaviors. The world offers recognition, though usually only based on our own merit, or on what our money can buy, leaving the majority of us trying to piece together our self-esteem. The world offers a place to be creative, to explore life and possibilities, but no lasting hope. What the world can’t offer is the reality of God, of ultimate purpose in life. You were and are loved while yet a sinner. The Creator God saved you because you have no ability to save yourself. You were created by a personal God, not just to exist and then die as dust, but for eternal purposes far beyond anything this world could offer. Our faith is worth marking, is worth taking time to build. The past 50 years is my Ebenezer, and it isn’t done. I am still building my Ebenezer, as you continue to build yours.
What do people say when they walk by and see the pile of rocks you have stacked. What is the name you have given to this work of God that you are in this world? We read in Acts 17 that the followers of Jesus are accused of turning the world upside-down. That is the power of God at work. Let it work in you, and see what name God has for you for your life.