Looking Forward While Looking Back

Joshua 4:4-9

Hudson Taylor, the famous British missionary to China in the late 1800s and early 1900s is said to have had a plaque in his home that included two of the Hebrew names for God. One was Ebenezer and the other was Jehovah Jireh. Apparently seeing these two names helped him to remember two important things about God. Ebenezer carries with it the imagery of God the rock and of God’s provisions in the past. Jehovah Jireh is derived from the Hebrew Yahweh and carries the idea of a God who will be our source of faithfulness and guidance for what is ahead. Again, that plaque helped Taylor to keep the right perspective. His job was to hold in tension a strong remembrance of God’s goodness in the past with a firm belief in God’s guidance for the unknown and uncertain future. In essence, Hudson’s plaque called him to look forward while looking back. (As told on ministry127.com)

This same seemingly impossible task is what Joshua was also calling the Israelites to do in our text for today. After forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites finally arrived at their future. They had crossed into the Promised Land, they had gotten beyond their wilderness years. After such a long, hard and weary existence they had reached into the land that God had long ago said would be theirs. In their minds, I am sure, It was time to forget the past and live fully into the future.

Joshua, however, challenges them not to become completely future focused. He does so by instructing the Israelites to build two memorials of twelve stones with the stones in each monument representing one of the twelve tribes. One memorial was to be placed in the middle of the Jordan where the Israelites had crossed on dry ground. The other memorial was to be erected on the ground where the people had camped during their first night in the Promised Land. Why did Joshua want these memorials built? He tells the Israelites why. They were to be built so that the Israelite children would see them and ask about them. The natural questions of what these stones represented would constantly give the Israelites the opportunity to tell the story of where they had been and what God had done. Through these monuments, their job was to always walk forward while looking back.

Homecoming reminds us to do the same. This is a day to celebrate where this congregation called First Baptist Laurens has been. And, at the very same time, this is a day to celebrate and recommit ourselves to where this congregation is going. This is a day for us, like Hudson Taylor and like the Israelites, to appreciate that we are best prepared to look forward while always looking back. It is a day to remember that faith is always a movement and thus we must never be satisfied with where we are. But the movement is best made with a keen eye on Gods faithfulness in where we have been.

Why? Not, because looking back reminds us of where we have been, what we have overcome or what we have found the ability to accomplish. Instead, looking back helps us to see where God has been, what God has helped us to overcome and what God working through us has accomplished.

As we do this, we also remember the lessons of our past born out of both good times and challenging moments. As we do this, we remember the people of the past in order that we might be inspired by them again. And, as we do this, we are reminded of people’s courage, of God’s faithfulness and of the fact that those things that seemed insurmountable were overcome.

But, done right, this is never only about the past. It is about the future. With the lessons of the past in hand, we understand more fully what to do and what not to do. With the people of the past in our memories, we are ready to live into the people we can become. With the tales of sacrifice, courage, wisdom and inspiration newly remembered we find a blueprint for the way those same characteristics can be lived out in our own lives. Without the lessons of the past, the people of the past, the inspiration of the past, there is no way we can properly find our bearings for what is yet to be.

Truth be told this is what we do every Sunday – each and every week in this Holy Sanctuary, we rediscover the Jesus of the ancient gospels that we might recognize, live for and courageously follow the living Jesus of today. We look forward while looking back.

Next June, the event called The Great Race will begin in San Antonio, Texas. After 2,000 miles of twists, turns and a meandering route through eight states, the race will end in Greenville, South Carolina culminating with the winner receiving a $50,000 first place prize. The Great Race is fascinating in that it is a modern automotive road race in which all of the cars must be at least 45 years of age but with many who are much older. In fact, in recent years, there have been both participating cars and one winner that were actually over 100 years old including at 1909 Renault which won and a 1914 Ford Model T which both competed and finished the course. (greatrace.com)

Think about this image for a moment. The drivers of these automotive classics are going somewhere – traveling down modern roads, passing skyscrapers of today, engaged with the technology of the day. And, yet, they are surrounded on all four sides by the past and they are literally looking through windshields or lenses of the past as they travel into the future.

This is our challenge, calling and gift everyday. Perhaps the best is yet to come. Amen.