9th Sunday after Pentecost – A LSB #’s 733, 575, 746
Text – Isaiah 44:8 TLH #’s 376, 370, 123, 372
Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old & declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.
SMART LIKE ROCK
Email was a big deal back in the day, & a lot of messages you’d get were jokes. Some of them made the rounds more than once. If it was popular, you could receive the same joke, over & over again from various different people over a period of years. Most of those jokes quickly became old & were no longer amusing.
On the other hand, there are some jokes that I still find amusing no matter how often I hear them. The one I have in mind this morning is actually a one liner, rather than a true joke, but I’m using it to lead us into this morning’s topic.
Have you heard it said that someone is, “Smart like rock, & swift like tree?” That’s the phrase, & for some reason every time I hear it, it makes me smile. The humor in it is, for me, very enduring.
Endurance is the theme for this morning’s sermon, & rock is known for being a very enduring material. That’s one reason it’s used for tombstones & monuments. People want those things to last a long time in order to preserve the memory they are honoring.
However, if the phrase ‘smart like rock’ is applied to you it isn’t exactly an honor. And yet, in the 108 times that the word Rock appears in the OT 33 of them are in reference to God. Obviously they aren’t referring to God as being dimwitted. The Rock of the OT is spoken of in much more complementary terms.
Yosemite National Park is known world wide for its rock. The symbol of the Park is Half Dome – a huge granite dome that dominates the view from the valley floor. El Capitan is a sheer granite cliff, jutting up almost 3000 ft. from the floor of the valley. While hiking along the trails, you’ll encounter freestanding boulders that are easily as large as this chancel area.
There are domes, cliffs & boulders like that all over the park & those “rocks” of Yosemite have been there thousands of years in all their impressive grandeur. It would not be exaggerating to say that I have been awestruck by the beauty & the permanence of that valley, along with its rock formations. They make me feel small & insignificant when I’m there.
Among those rocks at Yosemite, there is for me, an overwhelming sense of the power & the majesty of God. It is from those impressive & enduring characteristics of rock that the word, used to speak of God, draws its Biblical meaning. PAUSE
And how do we compare? Can any of us be described as a rock in that sense of the word? A rock musician named Bob Seger wrote these lyrics to a song:
Stood there boldly Sweatin’ in the sun Felt like a million Felt like number one. The height of summer I’d never felt that strong Like a rock. My hands were steady My eyes were clear & bright My walk had purpose My steps were quick & light And I held firmly To what I felt was right Like a rock. Like a rock, I was strong as I could be. Like a rock, nothin’ ever got to me. Like a rock, I was something to see. Like a rock.
Sounds like a man that’s pretty high on himself doesn’t it? But towards the end of the song the lyrics take a different turn: “Twenty years now. Where’d they go? Twenty years I don’t know I sit & I wonder sometimes where they’ve gone.” PAUSE
The following words were written by Benjamin Disraeli, but they summarize the lyrics written by Bob Seger. “Youth is a blunder, manhood is a struggle & old age a regret.” It is natural for people to look back on their lives with regret. Bob Seger wrote the words to that song when he was 38, but he was speaking of how he remembered things to be when he was eighteen. Our lives also can be full of regrets & rose-colored memories of the good old days. We prefer to live as if we are strong & independent. We like to think of ourselves as a rock, as people who are able to endure forever. But the truth is never as pretty as the dream. Honesty might be the best policy, but it sure is difficult to live with. Our failures & our mistakes are often all but impossible to admit. That’s because the truth does hurt & it’s tough to face the pain. It’s not illegal if you don’t get caught is a policy that prevails throughout mankind. Yet what sort of rock is that? At the first, often slightest, temptation we cave in. We surrender to our whims as readily as a sand castle does before the tide. Yet, when trouble comes our way, we somehow believe that we can handle it, & handle it by ourselves. We’d rather not endure the humility of asking for help.
But then we start making excuses for why we have to lean on things like alcohol to get through the day. A friend of mine goes to the mountains every weekend in order to get away from it all & relax. The mountains are her crutch. Do you volunteer for so many important things that you have no real time to spend with the people who love you?
And, how about work? Does what you do for a living make you feel worth something? Is that what strokes your self-esteem? Do you get your self-worth out of what you accomplish in life? Does your life always have to be in perfect order, & under your control, in order for you to feel good about yourself?
As with the email jokes received over & over again, all those strategies eventually become old. They lose their ability to keep your act together. Eventually, regrets creep in & our goals & desires in life are no longer satisfied. Honesty is always whispering in your ear: “You have failed. You are not the rock you think you are.” PAUSE
I once read an article on extreme long distance running. The people are called ultra-runners, because we’re talking about someone who can run 100 miles in one race. The good runner does that in about 25 hours. Endurance is obviously the key to success. Yet even there, the human potential for endurance fails. They can only race that way for about ten years. After that their bodies can no longer endure the damage done to them by such running.
When life doesn’t satisfy you & you feel alone, where do you turn for help? Is it your work or television, the mountains or your car, shopping or sports? On what seems like a better note, maybe you turn to your parents or your children, to your husband or your wife.
The problem is that even those solutions eventually fail. None of them endure forever, but our problems exist as long as we are alive. In spite of wishful thinking our sinful nature never goes away, & neither do the struggles.
God gives many earthly blessings in life, & He expects us to use them & enjoy them. However, He does not expect those blessings to cure our problems or remove our sin. Those blessings will not end our failure to endure all the things that come our way in this life. Those blessings are not to become our gods. They are only temporary.
In the OT reading, God said, “apart from me there is no other god.” We can try all we want to, but making gods of the blessings our Heavenly Father has given will always fail. We can even deceive ourselves into thinking that we have it all together, but the fact will remain that we do not. The honesty will creep in: “I am a failure. I am not the rock I think I am.”
Have those thoughts entered your mind – that nagging doubt that maybe you aren’t well liked, or maybe you really aren’t good enough to handle the task at hand? If you have ever struggled with doubts today’s sermon text was written for you:
“Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old & declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.” (Isaiah 44:8 ESV) That is your Heavenly Father talking, & He is talking to you. Two verses earlier He said, “I am the 1st & the last.” Doesn’t that remind you of an impressive, huge, unmovable Rock – a 3000 ft. high granite cliff of enduring strength? God represents Himself as functioning throughout the entire course of history. A God who will always be there, in good times yes, but especially in the bad times as well.
The true God is one of strength, power, might & endurance. That is the God of the OT, & David ends Psalm 19 with a prayer to that God: “Let the words of my mouth & the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock & my Redeemer.”
That very same Rock is your Creator God, as well as the God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob. That God is faithful even under pressure, the kind of pressure that forms rock.
Human philosophy says, feel life, taste it, savor it. That is what life is all about. Go for the gusto. Doesn’t that philosophy fail to satisfy? King Solomon uttered that very thought in the book of Ecclesiastes:
“All things are wearisome… The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing. I’ve seen all the works which have been done under the sun, & behold, all is vanity & striving after wind.” (1:8 & 14 NASB)
Faith in Christ gives us a loftier, more satisfying reason to throw back the covers each morning & put our feet on the floor. “We will serve the Lord!” We will serve the Rock. Life with God is a matter of getting our bearings, understanding our purpose, & celebrating our commitment to Him.
Through the failures in our lives, God is at work taking ourselves out of the middle of those lives. Through our suffering Jesus is enthroning Himself there, & then life is not as much of a struggle. You & I were created for God, & in serving Him we find purpose & meaning & satisfaction. Feeling small & insignificant is something that many psychologists & counselors will tell you is bad for your self-esteem. But when I’m at Yosemite, in the presence of those rocks, feeling small & insignificant, I don’t feel badly at all. Those rocks are comforting to me as they remind of the never failing power of the God who created them; the same God who loved you enough to send His only Son to die in your place.
In the presence of those granite cliffs I sense the never ending strength & might of a God who is undoubtedly capable of saving us from all the failures, struggles & sins of our lives, & He is also capable of raising you to eternal life. That’s the kind of God I want to worship, a God whom I can trust to endure, forever & ever. PAUSE
So, if anyone ever tries to insult your intelligence by saying, “You are smart like rock,” just smile & think of the Rock of the OT; the Rock who is the 1st & the last; the Rock who is your strength & your song; for He has become your salvation. Amen.
His oath, His covenant & blood, support me in the raging flood; when every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my Hope & Stay. On Christ the solid Rock we stand, all other ground is sinking sand. Amen. LSB 575:3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet