May 1, 2005
Local historian Dot Jones and Thomson native Wiley Johnson of Summerville, S.C., look at one of the monuments in the Wrightsboro Cemetery.
Photo by Jason B. Smith
Our most gracious and heavenly father we give thanks for the many blessings that you bestow upon us. Thank you for the opportunity to gather today in this special place. Thank you for each person here and for each family that is represented. Grant that our time together will be a blessing to each individual in a unique and special way. Be present, O merciful God, and draw us near. For it is in Christ's name we pray. Amen
(Today's text comes from the book of Joshua at the point where Joshua is leading the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land)
4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, "Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean?' 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever."
8 So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the LORD had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. 9 Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been [a] in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.
Thank you for the opportunity to share the devotion today. I always look forward to this special time each year. When I first reflected on what I was going to say for today's devotional I thought, how wonderful that the gravestone renovation project has been implemented and performed. I am looking forward to hearing a report later on this morning.
I then reflected on gravestones and memorials. I also thought about the memorial of this special place and this special time. Why is this renovation important? Why is important to have the Wrightsboro Foundation, the Chicora Foundation, Historic Augusta, the Historical Society, Dot Jones, history teachers and preservationists? Why do we visit museums, Civil War reenactments, Sunday school, and church? Allow me to share some of my thoughts on why I think it is important that we have gravestones and memorials. Why I think it is important for us to remember.
The town of Wrightsboro, like many others in our country, was founded by people with a rich heritage and deep abiding faith. Ultimately with God's help and blessing, they settled a continent, and forged a nation that we now enjoy. They lived, loved, worshipped, raised families, and are now buried on these grounds. The town is now gone, the majority of the buildings are no more. This church and its gravestones serve as a memorial and tribute to the past. It recognizes their lives. But, why is it so important to preserve this history, to maintain this cemetery, to continue to gather here?
The final legacy of those that settled this land is not the building or the monuments, the road or the archaeological findings. Their enduring legacy is in the faces of those who are gathered here today. Although we may not be directly related to those who founded this church, we share the same Christian values, hopes, and ideals. We are members of the same Christian family and community of faith. Our forefathers were thankful for food, protection, good health, a family's love, and most importantly, God's grace. In the midst of their many trials and tribulations they persevered in the faith. The gravestones mark their lives. They mattered.
Today we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before, we share their ideals, and we carry the torch of Christian faith. Their moral fiber is in our sinews, their blood courses in our veins, their God, the God of Abraham, is our God. As we are confronted by the trials and adversities of our own era and generation, these memorials serve as a constant reminder of their perseverance, their endurance, their faith, and their legacies. It would be tragic if these gravestones only served as a tribute to a life lost and our memorials simply relics of a forgotten past. Most importantly these memorials should serve as a constant inspiring reminders to our generation and future generations of who we really are and what we are made of. We can call upon the strength of character and the legacy of faith we received from our forefathers. These gravestones inspire and encourage us as we face the tragedies of our time. They instruct us and they should serve as a testimony to others. And yes, their silent witness may hold us accountable to other generations. We need these memorials because as humans we have tendencies to forget. We need memorials to remind us of the sacrifices of others. We need memorials to constantly remind us of God's blessing. It is right that we preserve these connections to the past.
Michael Trinkley, of the non-profit Chicora Foundation, discusses the preservation work his group did in the historic cemetery during Sunday's Homecoming events at Wrightsboro.
Photo by Jason B. Smith
When thinking of today's remarks, my mind immediately returned to a song that I enjoyed in the 1970's. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had a song whose words have has resonated with me since I was in High School in Thomson. The song is "Buy for me the Rain' whose concluding line is, "Gravestones cheer the living, dear, they're no use to the dead." In other words, these gravestones are for the benefit for us the living and the future. They don't belong to the past or belong in the past.
21 He (Joshua) said to the Israelites, "In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, 'What do these stones mean?' 22 tell them, 'Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.' 23 For the LORD your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The LORD your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea [b] when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God."
It is important and solely our responsibility that we pass on our faith and history to future generations. Failure to preserve history is dooming the future to disorder, repeating our mistakes, and relearning the same lessons. Society cannot and will not advance without being rooted in its own faith and history.
It is recorded that British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge once had a discussion with a man who firmly believed that children should not be given formal religious instruction, but should be free to choose their own religious faith when they reached maturity. Coleridge did not disagree, but later invited the man into his somewhat neglected garden. "Do you call this a garden?" the visitor exclaimed. "There are nothing but weeds here!"
"Well, you see," Coleridge replied, "I did not wish to infringe upon the liberty of the garden in any way. I was just giving the garden a chance to express itself."
We are all building something for future generations. We are all building a memorial of our life. The scripture portion that we are looking at today talks about a memorial that Joshua had the nation of Israel build. Although our stones are not those from the Jordan River, we too are laying down stones of faith and commitment, stones of compassion and caring, stones of ministry and help. Our stones are picked up as we read through God's word, as we spend time in prayer, as we teach people about Christ, as we share our faith and our history.
In medical practice history is critical to the understanding of a patient's condition, treatment and prognosis. What illnesses did your parents have? What medicines have you responded to? How long has this been bothering you? Often through history alone a good physician will be able to arrive at a working diagnosis and develop a treatment plan. A good and thorough history is valuable to the successful care of a patient. The quality of the history often influences life and death decisions.
The study of the history of our faith, the history of our nation, and the history of our families is vital to the success and even survival of future generations. These gravestones and memorials serve as a link to the past and as a constant reminder of our history.
As we enjoy this day with its fellowship and special dinner on the grounds, let us pause and reflect on who we are, whose we are, where we come from, what we are built of. Let these memorials not only speak of the past or to a life that was lived. Let these gravestones provide inspiration and encouragement to us today. Let these gravestones serve as a constant reminder that we have the strength to survive and thrive in this world. We should be reminded that we have responsibilities and accountabilities to both past and future generations. Let us be reminded of God's presence.
Almighty God, we your humble servants are thankful for our heritage in your son, Jesus Christ. We pray that our eyes and our hearts will be open to do your will as we enjoy the legacy of our past and provide for the future. All of this we ask in Jesus' name, amen.