Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | April 20, 2008

2008.04.20 “Like A Rock”

Central United Methodist Church

“Like A Rock”

The 5th Sunday of Easter

April 20th, 2008

 

On this Sunday nearest Earth Day – named the “Festival of God’s Creation” – one thing struck me as I read the Scriptures for today.  Three of the four mention either “rocks” or “stones.”  How much more elemental for our tie to the earth can you get than that? 

 

Somebody once said of Christianity, that you can’t get it going without a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and a river.   Judging by today’s Scriptures, a rock would also be useful.

 

Most of the time, rocks are not something we give a lot of thought to.  Ever hear (or use) the phrase, “Dumb as a rock?”

We don’t have as many left here in the Midwest, as they were obstacles to our plows, and later, our parking lots.  Now, we mostly notice them in the “glacial deposits” left over from winter snowpiles.

Even in our larger culture, rocks don’t merit much attention. They did have a revival in the 70’s, when an advertising executive from California named Gary Dahl came up with the idea of “Pet Rocks”. Using three tons of stone from Rosarita Beach in Baja, Mexico, Dahl packaged each rock in a cardboard box designed to look like a pet carrying case and sold them at $3.95 each.  Included with each rock was a Pet Rock Training Manual. Topics included: “How to make your Pet Rock roll-over and play dead” and “How to house-train your Pet Rock.” Dahl sold about a million “Pet Rocks” before the fad passed.

Though here in the Midwest we may not have so many rocks anymore, in other places in the world, rocks are “hard” to ignore.

        For example, if you have ever been to west of Ireland, to County Galway, or Connaught, you would understand why the Irish say that the English gave them the choice of going either to hell at the end of a Puritan’s sword, or to exile in Connaught, a land populated mostly by rocks. 

There, you trudge down paths flanked on either side by stone walls, or through fields enclosed with stone walls, half the fields themselves consisting of stone slabs, or down great rock shelves to the sea.  Not a tree in sight. 

“Too bad there isn’t a market for stone,” you might say.  “Ah, they reply, “if it was worth anything at all, the British would have carted it away a long time ago.” Guess the British, or the Irish, never thought of pet rocks.”

Or in Nepal.  Again, rocks are everywhere, in the form of the world’s tallest mountains, in piles, in walls, in houses.   There the rock itself makes you feel like a fly on the face of the earth. 

And in both places, you know it is an ancient culture when you see what they have done with rocks.  In Ireland, stone walls are everywhere, running around every field, along every road.  When you think of the “man-hours” that have been using making things of rocks, it is almost beyond comprehension.   And it is the same in Nepal, except there, not only have the rocks been piled into walls, and stupas or religious shrines, almost every rock has also been written on:  “om mani padme hum.”  Don’t have to ask, “Hey, what do you guys do in your spare time?”

Even if you haven’t been to either places, I’m assuming that you know enough about rocks – that you have picked them up, or thrown them, or stumbled over them, or climbed on them, to pick up on them in 3 out of 4 of today’s Scriptures. 

For example, in the reading of the stoning of Stephen in the Acts story, rocks are used as weapons, picked up to stone Stephen.  It says something sad about us human beings, doesn’t it, that at those times when we can’t find a weapon to practice our hate, any rock will do.  (Rocks don’t kill people, people do).  What was it Mike Royko used to say about Chicago, that “even blindfolded, you could always tell what neighborhood you were in by what direction the rock came from.”

In Psalm 31, the image of a rock is more magnificent: God is like a rock, a rock of refuge, a strong fortress.  God is to us like a strong fortress built high upon a rock, a place of refuge and shelter from all that assaults us.  Or is it that God is like a split, a crevice in rock, from which we can hide from life storms. As Augustus Toplady, put it, way back in 1776, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.”  You don’t really have to know a lot about rocks to understand that image. 

Perhaps clearest of all, not only is God like a rock, so are we, the people of God.  You are like a rock.  In the Apostle Peter’s 1st Letter to the Church, mostly gentile, or non-Jews, Peter got carried away with the image of rocks as “living stones,” joined together to build a temple.

That’s another use for rocks:  in addition to being used to kill people, they can be used to build temples to worship God.  Once again, if you travel you can see rocks used in temples beyond belief, from the pyramids of ancient Egypt, or the temples of the Greeks and the Romans, or the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, or the temples of the ancient Aztecs and Mayas in Mexico, to the cathedrals of Europe. How some of these ancient temples were constructed continues to amaze modern engineers and architects: massive multi-ton stones fit together so perfectly that after thousands of years you still cannot get a knife blade in between them.

It is such an image that St. Peter, in chapter 2, gets carried away with, mixing his metaphors as he rushes along his rhetoric:

“Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. “  

Says Peter, Christ was such a living stone. Quoting the Old Testament, he says”

“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,

a cornerstone chosen and precious;

and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

To you then who believe, he is precious;

but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected

has become the very head of the corner,” and

“A stone that makes them stumble,

and a rock that makes them fall.”

It’s not clear if Peter is using the image of the “keystone”, the secret of the Roman arch, or the cornerstone, the foundation stone, on which the building rests. For others, Christ was the stumbling stone, on which they trip and fall. 

And then he rushes along, and you Gentiles too, formerly no people, now, through Jesus Christ, you are God’s people.  You too are living stones, being built into a spiritual house, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God.  And, carried on even from that, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

This is why each and every one of you are important.  Each of you is a distinctive stone, holding together the wall of God’s Jesus’ house.  Some of you are smooth and rounded; some still a little jagged around the edges. Each of you has a distinct personality and gifts, each of you is important, such that there is a hole in the wall of God’s house when you are missing. And that’s your purpose, not to be a “pet rock”, but a critical stone in the wall of God’s house.

So who is like a rock, that most ubiquitous form of nature, right up there with water?  God is like a Rock. You can be like a rock, holding up the wall of God’s house.  God is counting on you.

Meanwhile, occasionally, when we lose our way, when we forget who we are, thinking about rocks can not only keep us humble, but help us remember. The truth is, I think we are secretly jealous of rocks, for rocks, any rock, has existed in one form or another for tens of thousands of years, while we humans, well, we’re just passing through.

One of my favorite movies years ago was the 1991 movie directed by Lawrence Kasdan, “Grand Canyon.”  Starring Kevin Kline and Steve Martin and Danny Glover and set in Los Angeles, Grand Canyon revolved around six residents from different backgrounds whose lives intertwine. But what the movie is really about, as the Steve Martin character says at one point, is:  “It’s a story about a guy . . . who loses his way, and forgets what it was he set on earth to do. Fortunately, he finds his way back.”

At the center of the film is the unlikely friendship of two men, one white, one black, who are brought together when one finds himself in jeopardy in the other’s neighborhood.  As they get to know each other and talk about their troubles, the Danny Glover character shares the important life lesson he learned looking at rocks, at, of all places, the Grand Canyon:

“You ever been to the Grand Canyon? Its pretty, but that’s not the thing of it. You can sit on the edge of that big ol’ thing and those rocks… the cliffs and rocks are so old… it took so long for that thing to get like that… and it ain’t done either! It happens right there while your watching it. It’s happening right now as we are sitting here in this ugly town. When you sit on the edge of that thing, you realize what a joke we people really are… what big heads we have thinking that what we do is gonna matter all that much… thinking that our time here means didly to those rocks. Just a split second we have been here, the whole lot of us. That’s a piece of time so small to even get a name. Those rocks are laughing at me right now, me and my worries… Yeah, its real humorous, that Grand Canyon.  It’s laughing at me right now. You know what I felt like? I felt like a gnat that lands on . . . a cow chewing his cud on the side of the road that you drive by doing 70 mph.”

At the end of the movie, guess where all the characters wind up? That’s right, at the Grand Canyon, staring over the edge, looking at, thinking about, not just all those rocks, but where they fit in, in comparison.

God is like a Rock.  Our life — can be — like a rock.  Make it count.

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