Sermon for 08.27.23 “Like a rock”

Sermon outline
Wrongs and Redemption Come with the Densities and Dimensions of Rocks.
I. Rocks have theological value in the Scriptures.
II. Rocks involve disrupting, declaring with honesty the Law that things
don’t work right.
III. Rocks mean sculpting, announcing with hope the forgiveness that brings
purpose to pain.
IV. Rocks imply constructing, inviting with joy people into community.
V. Rocks indicate protecting, proclaiming with peace a bravery and
breathing room.
VI. Rocks cry out persisting, heralding with faith that we’ll end up all
right in everlasting life.

Sometimes you feel like a jewelry showroom. Everything sparkles. Life glows
bright and smiley. The world glints and shines. You’ve even got facets,
clean edges, precision lines. You fit the setting just so. You’re catching
the light in all the right ways. And then sometimes you just feel like a
handful of gravel. It all gets dense and coarse. Rubble heaps up on you
cold and hard and sharp. Things drop down over you and grind you grainy
until you end up broken apart, walked on, and kicked aside.
Resembling a rock doesn’t always amount to flattery. Getting likened to
rocks may not necessarily constitute a compliment. “Sat there like a rock.”
“Dumb as a rock.” “Stoned out of his mind.” So how should we take it when
the Word of the Lord pronounces us pebbles? How shall we interpret what the
prophet Isaiah proclaims: “Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and
to the quarry from which you were dug” (v 1)? Apparently, humanity has a
certain geology. It seems sin comes with a terrain, and salvation brings a
Wrongs and Redemption Come with the Densities and Dimensions of Rocks.
Stones speckle the whole Scriptures. Its important events reference rocks.
The fabric of the faith features an uneven texture from fragments to
summits. Babel piles up boulders. The ark settles atop Ararat. Abraham
offers Isaac on Mount Moriah. Jacob settles for a stone when he settles in
for the night. Moses beholds the burning bush on Mount Horeb. He receives
the Law on rock plates at Sinai’s crest and surveys the Promised Land from
Nebo’s zenith. Israel builds a memorial with twelve smooth stones from the
Jordan, and David slings one of five and slays the brute Goliath. Solomon’s
temple anchors its brackets in Mount Zion’s bedrock. Elijah’s fiery
offering embarrasses Baal’s followers at Mount Carmel. Dream-reader Daniel
foresees the future in Nebuchadnezzar’s nightmare statue shattered by a
stone cut sans human hands.
The New Testament knows topography too. Baby Jesus in blessed Mary’s belly,
visiting Elizabeth in Judean hill country, jolts unborn John with joy. The
Baptist grows up to cry out about mountains brought low and rough places
planed. The devil’s temptations lure the Lamb of God to an alpine precipice
and offer him all the earth’s glory for one act of submission. Seeing
crowds around, the Son of Man scales a mountain and says, “Blessed are
those who get pelted with persecutions.” He leads the three to another peak
and ensues transfiguration of magnitude more than the sun. The Savior’s
Passion commences in the grove on Mount Olive. It ends elevated by rocky
Calvary’s cross and giving up the ghost while the curtain tears, the earth
trembles, and the minerals split asunder. And the encore opens in Joseph’s
own unused sepulcher excavated from substratum.
Get you up to a high mountain, herald of the good news! Raise your voice,
lift it up and fear not! How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of
those who bear the tidings! On this mountain, the Lord will spread for all
peoples a feast and swallow up the pall of death forever. And he carried me
away in the Spirit to a great mountain and showed me the holy city coming
down from God. They shall not hurt nor harm in all my holy mountain, for
the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, and God shall wipe
away tears from all faces.
Today we’ve come together with pocketfuls of rocks. And we will leave with
the same. In the meantime, what may we make of them? First of all, rocks
involve disrupting. Almighty Maker designed rocks for disrupting. A stray
stone in the shoe or some strewn across the sidewalk unsettle. One slipped
into a snowball or encountered while cutting the lawn and tilling the soil
unnerves. “For the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like
a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner” (v 6)—yikes!
These rocks of ours declare and confirm everything isn’t okay. It’s not
going as it ought. We don’t work the way we’re supposed to. And it cannot
keep on like this. Rocks have an honesty about them, and they confront us
with it.
Observe the universe invaded, overtaken, and occupied. Look at humanity, as
dismantled as Jerusalem by the Babylonians. How our hearts reflect and echo
the temple demolished. Lives smolder in resemblance to the smoking homes
Isaiah’s intruders left behind. Relationships lie in ruin around us
identical to Old Testament Israel’s uprooted fields and flowers. Spirits
walk shell-shocked about after the pattern of the chosen people’s leaders
and heirlooms carried off by raiders. This land and that of then stretch
out before us blasted loose, cut into, pried away, and shaken out.
You shouldn’t have scorned authority. You shouldn’t have endangered the
neighbor’s body, ignored his necessities, neglected her survival. You
shouldn’t have lusted and coveted daughters and brothers. You shouldn’t
have deceived and defrauded. You shouldn’t have indulged and abused. You
shouldn’t have belittled and abandoned. You shouldn’t have slandered and
grumbled and begrudged and raged. You shouldn’t have blasphemed and
profaned. You shouldn’t have sinned. It hurts. It dirties. It infects and
enslaves, and it deadens, hard as a rock and cold as a stone. You shall
not. You have not. You cannot. You are not, not who you thought or what you
pretended and attempted to prove. The lawful Word of God the Lord makes us
uncomfortable, doesn’t it? Indeed, it must, a stone of stumbling and a rock
of offense, not as an indication of its failure but as a sign of its
irresistible success. We dare not grind away the edges. You see, first of
all, rocks involve disrupting.
But also, rocks mean sculpting. The Lord your God designated rocks for
sculpting. Set fingertips and tools to once useless and otherwise
irritating rocks, and the artisan has exquisite materials for ornaments,
statues, and structures. Chisel and carve. Sand and smooth. Gouge and
engrave. Hammer and cement until the gems take shape and the faces
materialize through the still-settling dust. The master mason scrapes and
dissolves away the former films and accumulated encrustments to give dead
things new life and identity. These rocks of ours announce and assure that
pain, when emptied of any punishment, has purpose.
You have faced the honesty. Now feel the hope. The Creator, our Creator,
your Creator, he fancies himself just such a careful craftsman. “You were
hewn, that I might bless as Abraham. You were dug that I might multiply
like Sarah. The Lord makes her wilderness like Eden and her desert like the
garden of God” (cf vv 1–3). The annexation and exile of Isaiah’s era
refined. The droughts and blights the people brought upon themselves
purified. Turmoil and tragedy, crisis and catastrophe, disappointment and
frustration honed them into a steady preservation and conversion, a gradual
metamorphosis. Through sickness and sorrow, the Holy One holds and molds
the remnant into Jesus, Israel distilled to one.
This One has come also among us. This One suffered punishment in our stead.
Thorns scraped across him. Points and tips slashed against him. Nails
punctured and blades pierced him. His body absorbed the death of it but
reckoned the benefit to us. His Passion flashed the shadow and traced the
pattern perfected upon humankind while leaving our surface virgin and
violence-free—bloodless, fearless, guiltless, deathless redemption. His
crucifixion sacrifice satisfied the wrath. It settled the debt and
reconciled accounts. He atoned for the wrongs, forgave the sins, and
absolved the offenders. We lose only what we never needed anyway.
Now he’s fashioning us for a different setting. He’s shaping us heart,
mind, and spirit for better surroundings: heavenly blessing, everlasting
kingdom, household, and family. In every ache and injury, every ordeal and
difficulty, forgiving grace buffers us. The Savior’s devotion to our
salvation cushions us in the car wrecks and bounced checks, the unmet
deadlines and the unexpected diagnoses. In the backbreaking labors and the
nerve-wracking dangers, the lonely nights and boring mornings, his will and
his Word snuggle and soften the strikes. For everyone who falls on this
rock will break into pieces, and anyone on whom it falls will undergo
pulverization. But we have had our covering-over burial and our digging-out
resurrection already baptized into Christ Jesus with his mine-claim laid
upon us. First, rocks involve disrupting. But also, rocks mean sculpting.
And then, rocks imply constructing. Heavenly Father identified rocks for
constructing. Rocks make rings. One can massage rocks into charms and
crowns and arrange them into brooches, bracelets, pendants, and necklaces.
Yes, and one can raise porticos and viaducts, sanctuaries and citadels,
monuments and mansions out of the reconstituted crumbs and chunks. These
rocks of ours invite and insist on community, incorporating and configuring
and connecting.
You have faced the honesty. You have felt the hope. Now behold the joy.
“Listen, my whole people, my entire nation. Lift up your eyes, my salvation
goes out and my righteousness draws in. My arms are gathering” (cf vv 4–6).
He dispersed Israel like seed crystals that they might duplicate and
reproduce. Jerusalem becomes Judea and Galilee gives way to Samaria and
Macedonia mushrooms through Egypt, Ethiopia, and Rome toward coastlands,
islands, new world, whole world.
Out of these stones God calls forth children. Not only Abraham cradles them
but I Am himself. Forgiveness orchestrates a relationship. This grace
populates a kinfolk. Jesus kissing, crying, streaming sweat, and shedding
blood is adhering and affixing you securely clasped beside God with his
whole realm and reign. His constant accompanying and communion in your skin
and bone, muscle and guts, unites you to love and to delight, to history
and to destiny, to infinite dignity and eternal glory. The stone the
builders rejected has become cornerstone and capstone of a majestic
In this masterpiece, you have a place. Indeed, here you have a sacred
vocation and servanthood. Your salt-of-the-earth goings and doings embrace
neighbors. Your everyday tasks and chats sustain their survival, and along
the way, you get to witness the mighty acts and even participate in the
divine miracles of salvation. Father, Son, and Spirit has positioned you
here precisely for this, to assemble and uphold an “us” that intersects his
own. First, rocks involve disrupting. But also, rocks mean sculpting. And
then, rocks imply constructing.
What’s more, rocks indicate protecting. Jesus Christ appointed rocks for
protecting. Mountain heights and hillside caves provide havens and
strongholds. Brick buildings withstand explosions, earthquakes, and
infernos. Concrete dikes and dams hold back storm surge and deluge. These
rocks of ours proclaim bravery and promise breathing room even amid the
You’ve faced the honesty. You’ve felt the hope. You’ve beheld the joy. Now
have the peace. “The Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places .
. . I will set my justice for a light . . . and my arms will judge” (vv
3–5). Assyrians and Babylonians and Romans pressed hard for Isaiah’s
sixty-six chapters but never crumpled the covenanted few. Pharaohs and
Philistines, idolaters and traitors, pagans and Satan himself assailed
Israel for centuries and millennia but only hardened the coal into tiny,
bright, and knife-like diamonds. The King of kings continually kept Elijahs
and Josiahs, Hezekiahs and Zechariahs, Simeons and Annas, until at last the
prophecies blossomed and the Messiah made it.
He has founded this house upon rock. God’s forgiveness has situated you
safely in a castle, a fortress and refuge against all that would demand of
you. Whoever tempts and threatens your flesh, harasses and haunts your
conscience, Jesus is sheltering you with his invincible mercy and
providence. He has drilled the guilt out of sin and extracted the
condemnation from death. This truth not only resists the enemies; it
reorders all reality in your favor. This love stands sentry for you at the
headquarters of all that happens. Wind and wave may buffet, but they will
not break it, and the weathering will just render you all the grander.
It’s wearing off onto you. Being becomes doing. Father protecting you
prompts you protecting others. Benefit from it, then benefit with it,
because you may not only possess it but use it. Procure, preserve, improve
welfare for the one right in front of you. Share in theirs that they may
share in yours. First, rocks involve disrupting. But also, rocks mean
sculpting. And then, rocks imply constructing. What’s more, rocks indicate
Finally, rocks cry out persisting. The Rock of Ages has dedicated rocks for
persisting. The ridges around and throughout this town have patiently
remained at post thousands of years. The nuggets beneath our feet have seen
generations emerge and evaporate over daybreaks, sunsets, summers, and
winters. Above our heads, asteroids and comets blaze across space as old as
the cosmos itself. These rocks of ours herald and applaud that we’ll end up
all right—since, in fact, our Rock will outlive them!
You face the honesty. You feel the hope. You behold the joy. You have the
peace. Now live the faith. “My salvation will be forever, and my
righteousness will never be dismayed” (v 6). Isaiah ends, but Israel never
does. His prophecy anticipates an evermore. The Lord God of both sorrow and
celebration lets nothing—not their prosperity or their poverty, not their
adversaries’ opportunistic offensives, not even his own prerequisite of
perfection—nothing gets to peter Israel out. He ensures their endurance and
perpetuates them. Jesus immortalizes Israel.
The same Gospel propels us. It draws and drives us into the never-ending.
Christ is risen, physical and visible! Whether anyone knows it or not,
Jesus has vacated the grave. Whether you feel it or not, Jesus has
eviscerated the devil. Whether we like it or not, Jesus has deactivated
sin—yes, even yours and mine. He has commenced the new heavens and a new
earth. The chosen people shall go on as incessant and unstoppable as he.
The promised land, our home, shall linger and last as permanent as he
himself does.
Laugh gladdened! Dance free! Leap in relief! Sing healed, in heart and mind
if not yet in flesh! God Incarnate is fabricating a mosaic from all these
rocks of ours, former things forgotten and all things set right. Spectrums
and symphonies and smorgasbords of textures and tastes await. So let your
compassion have courage and your patience persevere. Let your humility
remain resilient and your gentleness relentless. I know we’ve come here
with handfuls of gravel and pocketfuls of pebbles. And we leave with the
same, but learning to believe differently and delight better in them. May
honesty disrupt, hope sculpt, joy construct, peace protect, and faith
persist. These commands, these promises, they will prevail. So shall we and
so may you, Christ alone our Rock. Amen.