Sermon: “Jesus Is Your Rock” (September 28, 2014)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Jesus Is Your Rock” (Exodus 17:1-7)
September 28, 2014
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

A few days ago New York Yankees legendary shortstop Derek Jeter played his final game at Yankee Stadium. Whether you are a fan of the Yankees or whether like many people you see them as “The Evil Empire,” you have to respect the twenty-year career of Derek Jeter, who played over 2,700 games, all for the New York Yankees. He had over 3,400 hits, and helped lead the Yankees to the playoffs seventeen times in which he had over 200 post-season hits and helped them win the World Series five times. And at his last at-bat on Thursday night, his final at-bat at Yankee Stadium, he won the game with a walk-off single to right field, demonstrating yet once again the truth of his nickname, “Captain Clutch”.

My son Paul and I have been Derek Jeter fans for years. And yet in spite of all the amazing moments in his career, my all-time favorite hit by Derek Jeter was actually a foul ball. In May 2011 to celebrate his twelfth birthday I took Paul to see the Yankees play the Orioles at Camden Yards in Baltimore. The game went into extra innings, lots of extra innings. In fact, when we got to the fourteenth inning we stood for the fourteenth inning stretch—fourteenth inning stretch, who knew?—and sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

During the top of the fifteenth inning Jeter came to the plate and hit a foul ball to the stands down the first base line, fairly close to where Paul and I were sitting. The vast majority of the crowd had left at that point, but out of the corner of my eye I saw another fan making his way toward the ball—so demonstrating a “Christ-like” attitude I sprinted close to where the ball landed and dived over some seats to snag the ball just before the other fan did. What was a meaningless foul ball for Derek Jeter became an unexpected birthday gift for my son.

In today’s Old Testament lesson God does something unexpected for the Israelites, illustrating the truth of the opening words of the collect for today—“O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity” (The Book of Common Prayer, 234).

The Israelites had recently been delivered by God from four centuries of slavery in Egypt. They had crossed the Red Sea into the wilderness, and the writer of Exodus tells us, they “journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded”—and yet they still found themselves in a place where there was no water to drink.

And in the hot dry wilderness with no water in sight, the Israelites were stressed to the breaking point. And like many of us when stressed to the breaking point, they were overcome with anger. They went to Moses and demanded, “Give us water to drink,” and they went on to accuse him, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”

Moses was exasperated, and cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people?”

The Lord responded by showing mercy and pity, and did something unexpected.

“Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you,” the Lord told Moses, “take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.”

And that is exactly what happened—Moses led Israel to the rock, and the Lord provided for them in an unexpected way.

The great fourth century Church Father Ambrose emphasizes that this miracle was yet another example of the grace of God:

“The people of the fathers thirsted, Moses touched the rock, and water flowed out of the rock. Did not grace work a result contrary to nature, so that the rock poured forth water, which by nature it did not contain?” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, Vol. III, 90).

How do you respond when you are stressed to the breaking point?

In the book of Psalms the writer often describes how in times of stress the Lord is our rock. In Psalm 18 we read, “My God, my rock in whom I put my trust, my shield, the horn of my salvation, and my refuge; you are worthy of praise” (18:2); and similarly in Psalm 61, “I call upon you from the ends of the earth with heaviness in my heart; set me upon the rock that is higher than I” (61:2).

And yet in times of stress many of us, rather than trusting the Lord to be our rock, withdraw and isolate ourselves—and we try to be our own rock instead.

In his song “I Am a Rock,” the iconic singer-songwriter Paul Simon brilliantly articulates this:

A winter’s day
In a deep and dark December
I am alone
Gazing from my window
To the streets below
On a freshly fallen, silent shroud of snow
I am a rock
I am an island
 

I’ve built walls
A fortress, steep and mighty
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship
Friendship causes pain
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain
I am a rock
I am an island
 

Don’t talk of love
Well, I’ve heard the words before
It’s sleeping in my memory
And I won’t disturb the slumber
Of feelings that have died
If I never loved, I never would have cried
I am a rock
I am an island
 

I have my books and my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room
Safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island
 

And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries
(from Simon and Garfunkel’s 1966 album Sounds of Silence)

Being our own rock may work for a season, but in spite of our efforts to seclude ourselves from stress and pain, to construct a “fortress steep and mighty” within which we hope to be safe, the reality of course is that eventually we do feel pain, eventually we do cry.

Eventually each of us needs the Lord to be our rock.

Eventually each of us needs to be led to “the rock that is higher than I.”

The good news of the gospel is that just like God met the Israelites in the wilderness in a time of great stress, the Lord meets us in the very midst of the seasons of greatest stress in our lives—and the Lord declares his “almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity” to us.

And because of the grace of God we can trust the rock of our salvation.

In his book Ruthless Trust Brennan Manning lucidly describes what this trust looks like:

“Though we often disregard our need for an unfaltering trust in the love of God, that need is the most urgent we have. It is the remedy for much of our sickness, melancholy, and self-hatred. The heart converted from mistrust to trust in the irreversible forgiveness of Jesus Christ is redeemed from the corrosive power of fear. The decisive…conversion from mistrust to trust…is the moment of sovereign deliverance from the warehouse of worry” (7).

About twenty years ago I led a youth group trip to West Virginia for a week of mountain biking, hiking, whitewater rafting, caving (spelunking), and the like. One afternoon we went rappelling. We hiked up the backside of a mountain to the top of a cliff, and one at a time each of us was secured to the rope, donned our plastic helmet, and slowly stepped backwards over the edge of the cliff while holding onto the rope as we scaled down.

Each of us experienced that specific moment when you take that one step backwards over nothing, and all your trust is in the rope to which you are secured. Some of us, while thinking we would be fine, were literally shaking when that moment came. For some of us, that moment was very stressful, but for all of us the rope proved trustworthy.

What about you today?

Perhaps some of you are somehow stressed to the breaking point or stuck in “the warehouse of worry” or feel like you are being forced to step backwards over nothing—and in response perhaps you have tried to be your own rock.

How is that working for you?

The good news is that the story of God providing water for the Israelites out of the rock points us to the Rock of our salvation, Jesus Christ, as the Apostle Paul tells us, “They drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4).

Jesus is your rock.

And in his death on the cross, an event that some would metaphorically consider as a meaningless foul ball, Jesus actually provided for all of us in an unexpected way.

On the cross Jesus your rock felt pain and cried.

On the cross Jesus your rock was struck and out of his side flowed blood and…water—water gushing up to eternal life (John 19:34 and 4:14).

On the cross Jesus your rock demonstrated his “almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity” to you.

And Jesus your rock is trustworthy.

Amen.