Look to the Rock – a sermon

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 – Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Gower Christian Church, Gower, MO
Scripture: Isaiah 51:1-6
Hymns: “Here I Am to Worship”, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, “O God Our Help in Ages Past”, “The Church’s One Foundation”

“Look to the Rock”
It is an interesting time to be alive.
Look at all the madness that is going on in the world today. Look at the Ukraine, where the people are divided between their loyalties – some support the country of Ukraine itself, while some have loyalty to their birth country, Russia. Meanwhile, an egomaniacal oligarch who is a long-since outdated relic of the Cold War seeks to impose the dominance of what was once the most powerful empire on Earth and keep the Ukraine from fully declaring its independence and aligning itself with whichever group of countries it sees fit. Violence and unrest litter both sides of the conflict, but if you were to ask, you would find that the majority on both sides are people who would look to the 51st chapter of the book of Isaiah and say, “Yes, in my tradition, that is a sacred text.”
What about Gaza? On the one hand, you have the desperate fools who populate Hamas, launching rockets into Israel in an impotent rage that serves no good to any party, and leads only to the deaths of innocent Israelis. Their continued resistance to a strong, established country makes them more and more pariahs each day, and countries that were once their allies have backed away from supporting them, uneasy at the consequences of so doing. On the other hand, you have the aforementioned country swatting at a fly with a sledgehammer. Israel has brought the full might of their military to bear on a terrorist organization, having learned absolutely nothing from watching the United States military’s struggles with counter-insurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead, they treat Hamas as a full-fledged military rival, and bring forth a ferocious response that does little to deter the terrorists and instead leads to the deaths of innocent Palestinians. Death and turmoil litter both sides of the conflict, but if you were to ask, you would find that the majority on both sides are people who would look to the 51st chapter of the book of Isaiah and say, “Yes, in my tradition, that is a sacred text.”
And let us not forget a certain suburb of St. Louis known as Ferguson. There, you have a grief-stricken community, marred by tragedy, shouting, screaming out in response. You have a police force that, rightly or wrongly, has earned a reputation of being brutal and uncaring. But the truly insidious part about Ferguson is that you have on the one side of the issue persons who could not care less about the community or about Michael Brown, but simply seek to make a name for themselves and capitalize on the grief of a community, and on the other side of the issue you have persons who could not care less about Officer Darren Wilson or the Ferguson Police Department, but simply wish to perpetuate a system that oppresses persons of color and have chosen to exploit to their own ends the actions of one police officer who likely wishes that day had never happened. Neither of these outside forces benefits from a peaceful and just resolution to the matter, and so they push, and they push. Treachery and deceit litter both sides of the conflict, but if you were to ask, you would find that the majority on both sides are people who would look to the 51st chapter of the book of Isaiah and say, “Yes, in my tradition, that is a sacred text.”
Christians, Jews, Muslims alike. To all three, the writings of the prophet Isaiah are holy Scripture. Each of those traditions looks to Abraham, their “father”, as their rock. The Ukraine, Russia, and the United States are all largely Christian nations. The Israelis are mostly Jewish people, the Palestinians are Muslims, Jews, and Christians of Arabic descent. Christians, Jews, and Muslims have so much in common, and yet they commit violence against one another, they wage war on one another, they cannot even within one tradition find peace with one another, separated by the color of their skin.
How the children of Abraham have fallen.
“Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug!”
Abraham was promised that he would become a great nation. The Lord made a covenant with him, but Abraham was impatient. Abraham wanted that child. And so, he had the child Ishmael with his wife’s handmaiden, Hagar. His oldest son, Ishmael, would go on to be considered the progenitor of the people who would later adhere to the Islamic faith, the teachings of the prophet Mohammed.
Later, in spite of Abraham’s impatience, he and his wife, Sarah, conceived a child of their own, Isaac. Isaac’s youngest son, Jacob, would go on to be renamed Israel – the one who struggles with God and with man, but overcomes. And we know just how mightily Israel struggled, as his descendants, the Jewish people, would be a restless people, struggling against God time and again, and struggling against the oppression of other nations when they weren’t struggling against God.
Out of the Jewish people came a rabbi who was descended from Jacob. Jesus, the son of Joseph, of Nazareth, walked back and forth across Israel. His proclamation of a new way saw the formation of a new religion, dedicated to his teachings and to the concept that he was the Son of God. It saw the Islamic people hail him as one of the greatest prophets. And it saw the Jewish people… well, by and large, do nothing at all. They continued living their lives as they had before, and only the Saduccees continued to rant and rave against Jesus, having nothing to gain from coming to peace with his followers.
And so we say, to Christians, to Jews, to Muslims, look to Abraham your father. He was but one when he was called, but the Lord blessed him and made him many. Throughout the world, an estimated 3.8 BILLION persons adhere to one of these faiths. More than half the world considers themselves to be the children of Abraham, and yet, warfare, hatred, violence, spite, deceit, treachery – all continue to exist, thrown back and forth between these very children.
What a dysfunctional family Abraham has.
But the Lord will comfort Zion, Isaiah says, he will comfort all of her wastelands and make her wilderness like Eden. All is not lost, for the Lord will renew the land from which Abraham and his family came forth. The desolate places will become like a new garden of Eden, and joy and gladness will be found there, thanksgiving and the voice of song.
This is an eschatological promise – a promise that will be fulfilled to bring about the renewal of Abraham’s children. And long has it been seen as being part of the prophecy of the new Jerusalem, the new heaven and the new earth – a prophecy of the end times, of rapture and tribulation, of renewal.
And yet, we must remember that Isaiah was a prophet, a poet, a visionary. More often than not, he spoke not in straight terms, not in words of simplicity, but in metaphor. So it is that just as easily as we can imagine that this may be a prophecy of the end time, so too can we imagine that this may be a prophecy of peace – a time of peace when the children of Abraham cease their warring madness and allow themselves to be renewed by the Lord. Imagine, a renewal not of Abraham’s land, but rather a renewal of the billions of people who call themselves Abraham’s children. A renewal of peace, a renewal of hope.
“Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me: a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples.”
The Lord will send forth his word! There will be light, there will be peace throughout the land. The salvation of the Lord has gone out, Isaiah continues, and the Lord will rule the peoples. And yet, when will this occur?
The Lord’s salvation will be forever, Isaiah finishes, but so long as the children of Abraham do not look to the rock from which they were hewn, it hovers restlessly over the people of God, unable to descend. Peace and renewal could be imminent, but in our sinful ways, we refuse to allow them to come to us. We do not listen to the Lord, we do not give heed, we do not receive the teaching, and we do not allow the justice of the Lord to be a light to the peoples.
Why? Because we will not LOOK TO OUR ROCK. No, far too many Christians, far too many Muslims, far too many Jews insist that their way and only their way is the way forward, and the Lord has said, NO. For any to attempt to be dominant, to achieve peace by ourselves – we will fail. We MUST call upon the Lord. Rely not on your weapons, on your politicians, on your governments – turn to the Lord for guidance.
So what does that mean for us, as Christians?
Each of us, as Christians, say that we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God, and that we accept Him as our Savior and the source of hope and salvation for the world. We claim to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and be Disciples of Christ, sent forth by the Great Commission. But our ways of conflict tell a different story.
Too many Christians support the idea of war, of violent impunity. They insist that we MUST fight back against Russia in the Ukraine. They insist that we MUST fight back against Hamas in Israel. And yet, where are those who call for PEACE? Where are those who look to the rock and seek for renewal?
No. Peace to the Ukraine, peace to Russia. An end to violence. An end to Cold War style domination, an end to insurgency.
Peace to Israel, peace to Palestine. An end to terrorism, an end to overwhelming military force. An end to decades of conflict that serve neither Jewish nor Muslim people, neither Arab nor Israeli, but serve only to prop up corrupt politicians on both sides of the conflict who would lose their entire base of power should peace rule the day.
Peace to Ferguson. Peace to the community, peace to the police department. An end to the systemic racism that pushes people to desperation fifty years after the Civil Rights Act. An end to the exploitation of the family of Michael Brown, that they might give thanks for his life and grieve his loss without every tear broadcast on CNN. An end to the public crucifixion of Officer Wilson, and a promise that he will be treated fairly and justly, that one day he might be able to reclaim his life.
Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father.
Listen to the teachings of the Lord, and let the Lord’s justice be a light to the people. Then the children of Abraham will be renewed, joy and gladness will be found, thanksgiving and the voice of song.
Amen.

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