“Story matters. We have thousands of years of sacred story, stories of the peoples’ journey with God,” said the Rev. Traci DeVon Blackmon. “Stories shape our perception, and it is interesting what stories we choose to remember and which ones to forget.”
Blackmon gave the sermon for the 9:15 a.m. EDT morning devotional on Tuesday, July 7, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. Her title was “Story Matters.” The scripture text was Joshua 4:19-24 (NIV).
“On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. He said to the Israelites, ‘In the future when your descendants ask their parents, “What do these stones mean?” tell them, “Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.” For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 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.’”
Blackmon cited a West African proverb, “Until the lion tells the story, the hunter will always be the hero.” Story, she said, “has the power to shape our hopes and fears, our victories and defeats. Story helps us see through the eyes of the other; story pushes us together or pulls us apart.”
In community and individually, she told the virtual congregation, we are trying to serve a consistent God in ever-changing times. During the United Church of Christ’s “God is Still Speaking,” campaign, they distributed a coaster that said, “Our faith is 2,000 years old but our thinking is not.”
“We are always listening for God, always evolving, but story matters,” Blackmon said. “In our growth and transformation, God’s steadfastness marks our journeys.”
The text in Joshua, Blackmon said, is problematic for her because she cannot conceive of a God of deliverance who would annihilate an indigenous culture for an immigrant people. In a time of white supremacy, it is dangerous for only one group of people to say whose version of scripture is the only interpretation.
“The challenge in this text is to move the people of Israel from one space to another, for them to walk into what will be,” she said.
The people at the Jordan that day were descendants of the people who crossed over the Red Sea on dry land. They knew their story.
It was harvest season and the waters of the Jordan were deep. Joshua asked the people to follow the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant into the water. The priests moved first and when the soles of their feet rested on the water, there was dry land, just as at the Red Sea, and the people moved into the Promised Land.
“The role of the priests is significant in helping God’s people to cross over,” Blackmon said. “They had to step in and get their feet wet. They could do that because they remembered the story.”
She told the virtual congregation, “You must step into the turbulence of the moment and trust that God is there. It is difficult, but it is the only way to receive what God has for you; you have to step out and cross the water. You are called to trust God even when you can’t see what is ahead. Give God a chance to blow your mind.”
Blackmon said the scripture embodied four principles. The first is to wait for God, to not miss what God is doing. Second is to watch for God, “to follow the priests with the Ark.” The third was to honor God by sanctifying ourselves. The fourth was to follow God and not jump ahead on our own.
“The Spirit says we can trust God to handle anything that lies ahead,” she told the congregation. “We may not have all the answers, but God is trustworthy.”
God, she said, “is with us this time, as God has been with us for generations. The truth and power of the story is enough for us to trust God again. Step into the water and get your feet wet.”
The Rev. Carmen L. Perry, pastor of the Hurlbut Memorial Community United Methodist Church in Chautauqua Institution, presided from the Hall of Christ. Joshua Stafford, interim organist for Chautauqua Institution, played the Tallman Tracker Organ. Michael Miller, a Chautauqua Opera Apprentice Artist, served as vocal soloist. The organ prelude, performed by Stafford, was an improvisation. Miller sang the hymn, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.” The anthem was “There is a Happy Land,” by George Shearing. Stafford played “Postlude on Cwm Rhondda,” by Purcell J. Mansfield, for the postlude. This program is made possible by the Mr. and Mrs. William Uhler Follansbee Memorial Chaplaincy and the Robert D. Campbell Memorial Chaplaincy Fund.