Rock and Water

Trinitarian Congregational Church                                          18th Sunday after Pentecost

Anthony S. Kill                                                                                            October 8, 2017

Texts: Exodus 17:1-7; Matthew 21:22-32


The Exodus passage that John read this morning tells of a stream of water gushing from a rock to slake the thirst of the people parched in the desert.

After all the natural devastations we’ve been hearing about in these past few months, followed by the horrendous senseless slaughter by the gunman in Las Vegas last Sunday, I think we all feel parched and starving for a word of hope, or a drink from a stream of living water.

I don’t know that I can offer that word, but the images of solid rock and life-giving water got me to thinking about an experience I had almost 25 years ago.

In late May of 1993, I climbed on a raft at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona, and floated down the Colorado River into the gorge of the Grand Canyon.

My companions and I were on the river for 226 miles, over 16 days and for the first hundred or so miles, (the first week of the trip) we dropped deeper and deeper into the gorge, until the far rim on each side of us was over 5000 feet above us — more than a mile straight up.

But what was most remarkable, and most stunning– about this trip was the immensity of the rock that engulfed us at all times, on all sides.

As we descended, day after day, deeper and deeper into the sheer rock walls of the canyon — we continuously dropped through one layer of rock formation into another –first limestone, sandstone and shale,  then harder rocks — granite and basalt and schist.

Finally, at the bottom of the canyon, the rock that engulfed us  was more that two billion years old.

The enormous rock cavern was our environment, our protection, our home and our prison for those 16 days.

In the whole 226 miles, these was no road, no passage through or over the canyon walls except by footpath or mule.

There was no avoiding or bypassing the rock.

And even though we brought in our food and drinking water,  it was very clear that everything around us lived off the rock.

It is a desert environment in the gorge of the canyon.

Nothing survived that couldn’t adapt to the rock, and the springs of water that rose out of the rock, or the streams of runoff that flowed through the rock.

The trees and cactus and grasses that grew there lived off the minerals of the rock.

The birds and animals and insects found their home and food and shelter within and around the rock walls and caves and side canyons.

It was a world carved entirely of rock, with a river running through it.

And every day, deep in that canyon. I couldn’t help but think about the image of God as the “Rock of our salvation.”

God is referred to as a rock more than 20 times in the book of Psalms alone

Ps. 18:2           The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,

my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Ps. 18:31           For who is God except the Lord?  And who is a rock besides our God?

Ps. 18:46          The Lord lives! Blessed be my rock,  and exalted be the God of my salvation,

Ps. 31:2           Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily.  Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.

Ps. 31:3             You are indeed my rock and my fortress;  for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,

Ps. 62:6           God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

Ps. 62:7             On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

And of course, the passage from Psalm 95 that we used as our Call to Worship this morning: “O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!”

Rock — at least a large rock, like a mountain or a rock ledge (or a grand canyon!) — is the most stable, secure, unchanging location or material we can experience on earth. It is a metaphor for a base or foundation that is completely secure  and solid and unchanging.

And that is what the psalmists are affirming when they sing that God is a rock of refuge for us: No pressure of wind or weather, no power of human evil or accident, no force can ultimately snatch us or smite us or dislodge us if we are protected by the strong, enduring power of God.

No matter what earthly terrors or tragedies may rise up against us, our souls are still held secure in the cleft of the solid rock of our God.

And when Christ speaks of the church as founded on the rock of the disciple’s faith, he is applying that same imagery of strength and protection to the church.

There is an implicit promise here that the grace and power, the integrity and truth of the Living Word of God will abide in the church, and be present there. The church will be built on the rock, and have the power of the rock.

However, the metaphor of God as Rock only takes us so far, spiritually, I think.  Perhaps the image of God as a rock needs a corrective.

The prophets never tire of reminding us that we do not worship a God carved out of stone; we worship a Living God, a God who is present and active and alive among us, encountering us on our journeys, offering grace and judgment, giving new birth to those who seek it.

For all the attractiveness of having a solid, hard, unchanging, Truth as our Spiritual absolute, there are some spiritual qualities that a Rock alone won’t give us.

Ever try getting a quick, empathetic response from a rock?

Firm, adamant, changeless structures don’t respond much when you hit them with a stick, or ask them for a favor, or plead for mercy from them or beg them to weep with us in our sorrow,

The Gospels don’t portray the Son of God as an unchanging rock.

Jesus was constantly portrayed as turning aside from his journey to address a seeker, or visit a home, or do a healing along the way.

And at the heart of Jesus’ message was a compassionate, listening, yearning God, one like a shepherd chasing lost sheep, one like a woman sweeping the house for a valued coin, one like a father eager to leap to his feet and meet his vagrant child more than halfway.

What I didn’t stress earlier about my trip through the Grand Canyon was that we didn’t travel on the rock.

The rock was usually very hot, and demanding and treacherous to negotiate.

We traveled on the water of the Colorado River.  –a placid mirror at some times, with the water pushing you along at gentle 3 miles per hour; a raging torrent at other times, with a violent churning of white water rapids.

The river was very much alive, and ever changing.

It was filled with fish, and other aquatic animals.

We met deer and mountain sheep and coyotes and turkeys and vultures  at the river, when they came to drink.

We never knew what would be around the next rock wall, or beyond the next bend in the river.

But we knew that the river would carry us there, and we would deal with it when it came.

God is not only a solid, unchanging surface under the feet of the apostles and saints.

God is also a living, vital, high-energy force that pulls us along, and turns our heads and hearts,  and accompanies us into the harsh challenges and painful upheavals of our lives

God is the giver of boundless love and grace and courage who changes and clarifies our perception of the world and opens us to new connections and new horizons.

God makes the impossible possible.

The metaphor of the rock speaks of the unwavering faithfulness of God, the strength and durability of God, the security of a Divine essence that is not subject to the change and decay of time and space and matter, or the destructive, corrupting forces of evil.

But if we use the rock metaphor, we must treat it only as a partial image.

Our God is the rock who flows like water, who thunders for justice, who holds her children tenderly as a mother nursing at the breast.

A rock who walks in the garden, and hears the cry of a people oppressed, and even turns into a human being when the time is right, to tell the people of the world how much the Eternal Holy Being loves them.

And if the church is the community of the rock, it must be just as pliable and responsive, just as growing and changing and nurturing and tender as its Master, we must be ready to pour ourselves out completely, offer ourselves to the world unsparingly, even at the risk of death,      without concern for our own self-preservation or our good name.

The church can be so bold, and so foolish, because it is the body of the Living God, the Rock of our salvation, the spring of living water gushing up to eternal life.