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"First Sunday of a New Year"

Updated: Jan 2, 2023

Joshua 4:1-9 Twelve Stones Set Up at Gilgal

4 When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, 3 and command them, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.’” 4 Then Joshua summoned the twelve men whom he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe. 5 Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 so that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.”

8 The Israelites did as Joshua commanded. They took up twelve stones out of the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord had told Joshua, carried them over with them to the place where they camped, and laid them down there. 9 (Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle 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.)

Saint Ignatius of Loyola hand drawing by Bernardo Ramonfaur
Saint Ignatius of Loyola hand drawing by Bernardo Ramonfaur

January 1, 2023

Dr. Todd Wright

11:00 AM

Reflection *

In Joshua 4, after forty years of wandering through the wilderness;

forty years of tears and wonderous blessings,

forty years of generations rising and passing away;

forty years of learning to seek God’s presence and be God’s people,

the Israelite prepare to enter into the Promised Land.

This is a defining moment in their history, and they mark it by participating in a service of remembrance. It involves stones.

A representative of each of the 12 tribes is to select a stone.

These are big stones, big enough that they will need to shoulder them.

These are stones from the middle of the Jordan

– that barrier between the wilderness and the Promised Land,

– still wet from the waters that covered them until God said “Move!”

– they glistened with the first sunlight they had seen in ages, and

– gave witness to the one who Creates and Redeems and Sustains!

These stones are meant to be signs among them

– signs about the mighty power of God to free God’s people from bondage in Egypt

and bring them safely into a land flowing with milk and honey.

– signs to their children who are sure to ask, “What do these stones mean?”

– signs that even in times of hardship God did not abandon them,

– signs that God would continue to be faithful in this new place.

Today, as we celebrate the turning of another year, we want to follow their example. We will not be collecting stones. Instead, we will be collecting memories of God’s footprints and fingerprints in our lives in the past year.

To assist us in doing this we will turn to a style of prayer developed by St. Ignatius, a Spanish priest in the 1500s, called the Examen. It helps the prayer to pay careful attention to them movement of God in the ordinary moments of everyday life as well as the red-letter dates!

Instead of stones, we will be using post-it notes. They have the advantage of not being as heavy as stones and they’ll stick to the roll of butcher paper that we will use to make a time-line!

(For those of you participating from home: you can use any scrap paper you have handy and send what you record to the church, and we will add them to the timeline for you.)

But whether God’s people use stones or post-it notes the purpose is the same:

to help us notice what God is doing.

to assist us is reflecting on God’s presence in every season of life, and

to bear witness to the mighty acts of God to others – children, neighbors, even strangers! Amen

* This reflection is adapted from “Tracing God’s footsteps” by Summer Mohrland, Reformed Worship No. 141, p 32


Let me introduce you to the Prayer of examen:

It is a flexible prayer. It can be prayed in private or with a group; it can be very focused or very broad. I will walk you through the steps we will be using today.

Get comfortable – consider placing both feet on the floor with your hands relaxed in your lap. Close your eyes , if that is comfortable for you, to help you focus. Take a few slow breaths. Set the anything that might distract you – worries, unresolved arguments, unfinished tasks, hurts – into Jesus’ capable hands for safekeeping while you pray.

Acknowledge God’s presence – The promise of Advent is that God will be Emmanuel – God with us. Trust that promise. Ask God to guide your thoughts, your feelings, and your reactions as you reflect on this past year, so you might see how God has been present in your life.

Recall the year – We will divide the year into quarters as an aid to memory.

Beginning 2022 (January through March)

  • How were national and international events affecting you?

  • What significant milestones occurred in your life this past winter? (a birth/death/sickness/job change/change in a significant relationship)

  • Reflect on any blessings or losses during that period.

  • What role was COVID playing a year after it came to light? What did it take away/give?

Jot key words on a few post-it notes and mark them “Winter” so you can add them to the timeline later.

Spring 2022 (April through June)

  • As life began to return, with daffodils poking up and trees budding out, what did that feel like?

  • What were the milestones in your life ?

  • As before, take time to reflect on the state of your heart, soul, mind, and body last spring.

  • What was God bringing to life in you?

Jot key words on a few post-it notes for the timeline and mark them “Spring”.

Summer 2022 (July through September)

  • Perhaps summer felt almost normal to you – or maybe not. What were you feeling?

  • What happened over the summer? Where were you? Who were you with?

  • What losses or blessings did you experience?

  • What was going on in the world?

Record a few things on your post-it notes and mark them “Summer”. We’ll put them up soon.

Closing 2022 (October through December)

  • As the trees colored and the leaves began to fall, what was your fall like?

  • Where did you spend your time and energy?

  • What did you learn?

  • Where did you experience God?

  • Who walked with you through your experiences of blessing and loss?

Use your post-it notes to summarize the Fall.

Notice your feelings

As you reflect on the year as a whole, what are you feeling?

Was it one long emotional note or did it change over time?

Did you include emotions on your post-it notes?

Assess the year

In particular, when did you notice times of light or darkness; times of peak energy or doldrums?

What gifts did you receive this year? What gifts did you give to others?

Is there anything that should be included on the timeline that hasn’t shown up otherwise?

Being honest with God

Did you struggle this past year or has it been a pretty good year?

If you had difficult times during 2022, where was God for you during those times?

Take a couple of moments to say anything you need to say to God about this past year.

Be honest. God can take it. And God wants to be with you.

Making requests of God for the new year

As we wrap up this time together, is there anything you want to ask of God for in 2023?

Again, you can be honest. God loves you!

Creating a community timeline

As you can see, there is a timeline here in the front. I’ve divided it into quarters to match the prayer prompts. I’ve also added a few events from the church year and world events.

As you are ready, you may come forward and place your post-it notes on the timeline. Those of you at home can bring them or send them to the church and we will add them to the timeline.

They are a powerful reminder of the way God has been at work in our lives throughout the year!


Closing blessing – “The Map you make yourself” by Jan Richardson

You have looked at so many doors with longing,

wondering if your life lay on the other side.

For today, choose the door that opens to the inside.

Travel the most ancient way of all:

the path that leads you to the center of your life.

No map but the one you make yourself.

No provision but what you already carry

and the grace that comes to those who walk the pilgrim’s way.

Speak this blessing as you set out

and watch how your rhythm slows,

the cadence of the road drawing you into the pace that is your own.

Eat when hungry.

Rest when tired.

Listen to your dreaming.

Welcome detours as doors deeper in.

Pray for protection.

Ask for the guidance you need.

Offer gladness for the gifts that come

and then let them go.

Do not expect to return by the same road.

Home is always by another way

and you will know it not by the light that waits for you

but by the star that blazes inside you telling you

where you are is holy

and you are welcome here.

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