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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Look To The Rock - 08/27/2017

Isaiah implores us today: “Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you...”(Isa 51.1b-2). He is writing to the Israelites in exile during the Babylonian captivity. They are waiting to see if they will be reunited with the land and their holy places. So Isaiah tells them, in the face of the uncertainty, the disconnectedness, the foreignness of exile, look to what God has done for God's people in the past because, surely, that is what God is up to now for you.

So think back, he says. Think all the way back to the beginning and the stories of your ancestors Abraham and Sarah, remember how God made a covenant with them … a promise that in exchange for worshiping and obeying the laws of the One True God, Abraham and Sarah would beget a whole nation of God's people – more than nation, actually, because they would outnumber the stars in the sky and the grains of sand at AuTrain beach.

And that's not all. God promised to provide a place where they could live peacefully and in God's steadfast love and abundance … a promised land. And, all of this would be contagious – they would be contagious with God's love. God would reach others through them because they would be blessed to be blessings to all those they encountered in their lives.

This is the God who is at work for our benefit, Isaiah reminds his people.

This may have prompted them also to remember the example Abraham and Sarah set while they were in their long years waiting and learning to trust God and what God promises.

They were experiencing their own kind of exile. And through it, they became examples of radical hospitality … of living and loving God no matter where you find yourself and regardless of whether you chose to be there or it just happened to you.

And they became examples of obeying God's call to them, even though through their human eyes and hearts it seemed so illogical and impossible at times … like leaving your homeland when you are 75 years old and going to a place God would name later; like trusting that God's promise of a child would come to pass even when you are well beyond child-bearing years; or like doing as God commands more than 20 years later when that child had finally come and you begin trekking up a mountain with him to offer him in sacrifice.

That's just the tip of the iceberg in the stories of Sarah and Abraham. This was anything but an easy journey of faith for them and there were times they failed God. But God never failed them, pulling them back into that covenantal relationship time and time again and, in the end, fulfilling all the promises.

I suppose that is much what marriage is like too – something we take time to consider this weekend/today as we affirm the covenantal marriage promises between Jacki and Dave Miskus. We make these big promises to one another in marriage and sometimes we fail or fall short – but the promise we make in marriage is also to pull each other back into that covenantal relationship – time and time again, if necessary … or allow God to do that – time and time again, if necessary. It's not easy, but I've found that most people who have done the hard work of marriage for 40 or 50 plus years have said the harvest is worth the labor. Thanks be to God for the opportunity to remember that specifically today.

“Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you...”  Isaiah implores us … and it may remind us that we have other beginnings to look back to because our beginnings in Abraham and Sarah include also to the beginnings of the Christian church – it includes Jesus and how he set the tone for what would become the Christian tradition on the other side of the tomb and in the glory of his resurrection.

And that, I believe is what we get a glimpse of  in our Gospel reading from Matthew today.

Think back, the Gospel writer implores us also. Think back from your own places of exile...

… Places of uncertainly over whether there will be a cure, a job, or a way out of a difficult situation.

… Places of exile we find in broken connections – with our spouses, our children, our siblings or parents, our friends and our enemies.

And places of foreignness – when we feel alone and unsure of what we're even supposed to do in situations and places we've never experienced before.

It's from these places, Isaiah and the Gospel writer remind us, that it's so important to remember who we are and whose we are – the rock from which we were hewn – the quarry from which were were dug.

And for us children of Abraham those origins rest on Jesus – “The Messiah – the Son of the Living God,” (Mt. 16.16) we proclaim with Peter today. The one who gathers us around this rock table full of the food and wine of eternal life. The one who brings us to this rock basin filled with water that cleanses us of sin and death.

So think back, church. Look back to what God has done for God's peple in the past because, surely, that is what God is up to now for you.

And there's one more thing I'd like to note about this rock from which we are hewn.

These are some pictures from the place in Palestine where we think Jesus had this conversation with Peter and the disciples.

 

Imagine hearing these words in this setting as Jesus spoke them like Peter and the others did that day. “And I tell you, you are Peter,” he says, renaming him from Simon son of Jonah to Peter. “... and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Mt 16.18)

This is the verse that led us to the idea that Peter is the one and only rock of the the Christian church. However, that is not quite accurate when you look closely at what the gospel writer has written. For those of you who may remember your grammatical rules, especially when in comes to translating a foreign language, you may remember that it's important to match up cases, so you know what verbs go with what nouns and stuff like that.

In this sentence, those cases don't support the idea that Peter is the one and only rock on which Jesus' church would be built – even though the Greek word for “rock” – “petra” – is awfully close to “Petros,” the Greek version of “Peter.”

Where the cases do match is between “rock” and “church” or assembly, which means that the rock, the foundation of Christ's Church is much more that just Peter – it is the whole assembly, which carries on and shifts and changes and grows through the generations.

In other words …

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We are the rock on which Jesus has built his church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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