At the corner of 12th and Indianola, you will find a large apartment building that houses students. This apartment building is much like many others in this neighborhood, but on the corner of the lot – there is a stone wall.If you didn’t know to look closely, you might miss them.
The stones are the only thing that remains of what was University United Methodist Church. A church that in the 50’s had more than 600 in worship on a Sunday and whose commitment to this community and to the students in this neighborhood gave birth to life-changing ministries and outreach for over 60 years until it merged with Indianola and the Wesley Foundation to become Summit. One of those changed lives was Chuck Lindabury.
If you ask Chuck, “What do these stones mean to you?”
He’ll tell you
He won’t tell you about the stones themselves, or even the building, (Even though we all knew he had every key and knew the place inside and out) But he will tell you about the people whose lives were changed because of this church and how his life was changed.
The stones tell a story. The stones tell a story of how God worked with a particular people in a particular place – to do extraordinary things.
In our Scripture today, the stones also tell us a story. Joshua and the Israelite people have had quite a week. Moses has just died, and on his 3rd day as the new leader of the people – Joshua is asked by God to lead the people across the Jordan river and into the promised land. For forty years they have wandered in the wilderness… For forty years they have questioned and backtracked and sometimes longed to go back to Egypt. They have been waiting for this promise of a new land that would be theirs and it has finally come. God has made a way for them and given them all that they were promised. And so Joshua commands the priests to carry the ark of the covenant into the river and the waters part and the entire nation is able to cross onto dry land. And just after this happens, God gives them one final gift. And God gives them one final gift in the story we read today. God gives them the 12 stones. God gives them 12 physical stones, taken from the place where this miraculous event took place to remind them. To be a memorial. So that one day when their children ask, “What do these stones mean to you?” They will tell them the story of what God did. They will tell them the story of how their lives were changed. How life looked different on the other side of the Jordan.
The stones tell the story. The stones tell a story of how God worked with a particular people in a particular place – to do extraordinary things.
Bishop Sprague loves to tell the story of a young college student who came through the doors of Indianola and after hearing the progressive nature of his preaching was so upset – she left and said “this is the most radical stuff I’ve ever heard.” She stormed out of the church, but not before Carl Johnson, a long time member took notice of her. He wrote her a welcome letter, then when she didn’t return, he wrote her a letter to ask what she had found in another place since she hadn’t been back, and then he wrote her a third letter to ask her advice about their efforts to reach out to college students…
And so, after some time, the young Cyndy Garn returned to the church, became an intern and began her path toward ministry.
As Stan was doing the Scripture reading today, there were 12 people who represented the various stages of the history of this church who brought forward the stones. They put them on the altar as a symbol of the stories that we represent here today. The stones tell a story. Of how God was working, with particular people, in a particular place, to do extraordinary things.
In these particular stones are the remains of Lloyd White.
I never had the privilege of meeting Whitey. But the more I learn about him the more I know I would have like him. And I would have liked getting into trouble with him.
It seems so appropriate for Whitey to be here among the stones of this church. Outside of his family, Whitey poured his life and heart into the Wesley Foundation and later this church, and Camp Agape. He seemed to have a skill for being present with young people at those very critical junctures of life. And so, For many people, their encounter with Whitey was a relationship that changed the trajectory of their lives.
And so this stone and it’s presence here continues to tell a very important story. Of how God was working in a particular place through particular people... to do extraordinary things.
I imagine That If I were to ask each of you, “What do these stones mean to you?” That you would have many stories to share about how this faith community was a place of transformation and life for you.
And I also imagine that you came here today because you’d like to know that that same kind of transformation is still happening in this place today for the next generation of the Summit community.
The memorials and the stones and the reminders. And the telling and the retelling of the story.
They are a comfort and a reminder of God’s love and presence.
But they aren’t just for us -
They are also for our children. They are also for the ones who come after us. The ones who weren’t there when the miracle happened…
The purpose of the stones in Joshua was to tell the story –
Our stories of what God has done were always intended to plant seeds into the future.
That perhaps our stories of what God has done would breathe new life into the next generation and that they would encourage them – to experience God for themselves
If you came here today wondering if that is still happening – I want you to know that it is… I want you to know that as the Spirit has been breathing new life into this space and this community, that each of you and your stories and your stones – have in fact been speaking into the lives of those in the present.
Your stories speak and bring hope to the 100 scholars and families of our new Freedom School – the summer literacy program that is now in its 2nd year – has allowed us to reach out to many new families in this community in a new way, but in the same spirit of much of the work you have done before – They find hope and encouragement and trust – knowing that this church has always been about caring for the community and working for justice, especially for children.
Your stories – they bring hope – when we sit with college students who have big, big questions about faith and the world and about justice. And they find encouragement along their journeys when they learn that you dined with Cesar Chavez, and that people in this church protested and even got arrested because of their fight for justice, and how there were campus ministers like Whitey - who always made space for doubt and questions…
And they begin to see that perhaps God is also with them – in the midst of their own struggle and decision.
Your stories bring unbelievable hope to the people who walk in here beaten and battered – who have been told that their sexuality has made it impossible to be loved by God… They find HOPE when I tell them that over 30 years ago, this church made the risky decision to offer safe space to the Gay Action Alliance - when nearly no others would. And they begin to imagine that perhaps God is in their midst – and that things could look very different.
Your stories are bringing new life into this new place as we find ourselves in a season of new life and growth for the first time in decades.
We are going to invite you today to share some more of those stories with us. The children of our church are building a tree over the next 3 months out of recycled materials in the church. It will be a project to help them think about the integration of all of us and our connection to God and we want to invite you to write down your stories on these brown sheets of paper – stories of how God has been present in your midst over the years. And the children will both hear these stories and have them woven into the trunk of the tree.
Your stories will continue to speak – to this generation – giving life and inviting others to experience God for themselves.