May 16, 2021 – “One Rock At A Time”
Grace and peace to you!
We welcome our online worshippers, as well as those here in the sanctuary at West Tulsa UMC.
There are lots of references to stones and rocks in the Bible. With good reason: they are plentiful in the arid landscape of the Near East.
Rocks also represent things or people that are solid and strong.
One of my favorite stories is the one where Joshua instructed 12 men to each carry a rock out of the Jordan River from the place where the river stopped flowing as the priests stood there holding the Lord’s Covenant Box.
Joshua told them to stack the rocks as a marker.
He said, “In the future, when your children ask what these stones mean to you, you will tell them what God made happen here.”
These “standing stones” were a way to testify to God’s protection and providence in their lives.
Isaiah refers to the Precious Cornerstone that some people would reject and some would trip over, but it is a cornerstone that God laid in place for the building of His Church.
The Living Cornerstone is God’s Son, Jesus.
The thing is, you’re a “chip off the old block.” You have been created and shaped to resemble Jesus in character and appearance…
That’s what gives you the opportunity as a “standing stone” to tell someone who asks, “Let me tell you what God has done in my life!”
We are here to worship God! Let’s make a joyful noise, for He is our Rock and our Redeemer!
Let’s offer our hearts, and minds, and this service over to God in prayer before we sing our first song, “He Is Exalted”
Last Sunday I mentioned that as Christians, we examine everything we do, everything that happens to us, everything that goes on in our culture, from a theological perspective…
In other words, the Bible is our only source of truth.
I was listening to a podcast this week as an FBI agent described what Russia is trying to accomplish in this country through social media. The main point he was making is that through misinformation, Russia is trying to undermine truths, absolutes, and certainty among our citizens.
Russia wants to establish a climate where we don’t know what we can/should believe, and what NOT to believe. That’s how they undermine our stability and the truths that hold us together despite our differences.
However, as Christians, our biblical worldview helps us to see everything based on God’s revealed truth in the Bible.
When we gather in worship, in Bible Study, or in small-groups; we are striving to come to a better understanding of God’s interaction with humankind, and our role in that interaction.
So, as we learn more about the Holy Scriptures, our faith, and our lives together, we make progress toward our goal of becoming more like the people we were created to be.
There’s a “Peanuts” cartoon strip that shows Lucy in her “psychiatrist” office under a sign that reads, “Advice – 5cents.”
Charlie Brown is standing there as her client, of course, and he woefully asks Lucy’s advice on finding his purpose in life.
Lucy uses the metaphor of riding on the bow of a large ship and advises Charlie:
“Some people go through life with their deck chair
facing backwards, looking at where they’ve been.”
Then she asks:
“Charlie Brown, which way is YOUR deck chair facing?”
And poor, Charlie Brown’s sad response is:
“I really don’t know.
I’ve never been able to get my deck chair unfolded.”
We should have no doubt that God hand-crafted each one of us for a purpose. The Lord was intentional when He gave us the special set of gifts and talents necessary to fulfill our unique purpose in this world.
I cannot stress enough how exciting an adventure life becomes when we unfold our deck chair, and set it on the bow of the boat looking forward. The view looking forward is much more thrilling than the view of where we’ve already been!
I know some of you are feeling anxiety, stress, uncertainty, and perhaps even abandonment, among other things over my recent retirement announcement.
I understand how you feel.
Change is hard. But even as Theresa and I feel bad over any anxiety this may be causing you, we are still convinced that God is in control of it all, and that He is asking she & I to ready ourselves for our next role.
After a lot of deliberation and discernment, we came to the understanding that our next ministry will be revealed when we are ready to take it on.
God will always be in control. That is the truth contained in our biblical worldview…our theological perspective that guides our decisions.
I have expressed to some of you that Theresa and I are totally convinced that the Lord sent us here to West Tulsa UMC for a specific reason and season. It has been our God-given purpose.
We had zero experience when we first began, but that didn’t matter to the Lord, because He hand-crafted us for such a time and place as this. We’ve learned on the run, and it has been thrilling!
If we believe that God placed us here, and that God has something in mind for us that has yet to be revealed, then we are compelled to believe that the Lord has picked and prepared the next person to step in and hit the ground running!
We’re excited for you. Your new pastor will be ready to help you reach for even greater things!
The unknown can be scary, but so can a roller coaster ride…There will be ups and downs but you will arrive at your destination held together with your shared love of Jesus.
When we are intentionally living in a way that fulfills God’s purpose for our lives, embodying the Good News through our words, actions and deeds…Then life becomes an exciting adventure!
We have been laying one rock at a time, year after year, trusting in the Lord; as He builds this holy and sacred place into a testimony to His love. For the last 15 years you have been undergoing a remodeling of sorts, and you will continue to be “built up into a spiritual house as a holy and dedicated priesthood.”
Let’s look again at 1st Peter 2:4-5;
Come to Him [the risen Lord] as to a Living Stone which men rejected and threw away, but which is choice and precious in the sight of God. You believers, like living stones, are being built up into a spiritual house for a holy and dedicated priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable and pleasing to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a Chosen Stone, a Precious Cornerstone, and the one who believes in Him, who trusts in, and relies on Him will never be disappointed.”
When Peter writes, “You believers, like living stones, are being built up into a spiritual house,” he’s using the imagery of the “standing stones” from O.T. books like Exodus, Joshua, Isaiah and Psalms.
He’s combining several different scriptures as he writes to a group of believers telling them, “As followers of Christ, YOU represent what those stones once represented.”
In a sense, Peter is saying: “Each of you is like a piece of stone that God is shaping, cutting, and preparing as He builds His house.”
But, it seems that in the context of our Epistle reading that Peter ALSO has in mind that each one of us can be shaped into a “standing stone.”
It’s the idea that when people see us, they see something good, something special, and what they sense in us appeals to them enough to cause them to ask, “What happened here?”
And that gives us the opportunity to say, “Let me tell you what God has done for me.”
I was very fortunate that my parents were able to send me to a summer camp outside of Branson called Kanakuk, for most of my growing up years.
It’s a special place and it helped shape me. Kanakuk Kamp sits high on a bluff overlooking the White River valley. Most of the camp structures are on top of the bluff, but the athletic playing fields are on the lower level along the river flowing out of Lake Taneycomo.
The upper and lower levels are separated by a rock bluff that’s maybe half-a-football field tall.
So how do campers and counselors get from one level to the other at an “old-school” camp?
The story is that a man named “Uncle Bob” built the zig-zagging stairway that goes up a few steps to a small landing and then repeated that pattern all the way up the sloped bluff.
The stairway was built with rocks collected on-site, held together with sand, water, and concrete mixed in a wheel barrow with a shovel.
There isn’t one bit of uniformity in this steps. Every one of them is a different height and depth. That’s just how it goes when the builder uses the materials available to on-site.
That’s because every rock used has it’s own shape and size.
The sand mixed in with the cement powder is course because it was collected from the river bank.
But really, those steps aren’t held together by cement. Those steps have stood in place, despite their uniqueness and individual characteristics since the 1930’s because one man built them with love.
The story is that “Uncle Bob” built those stairs, “one rock at a time.”
We mature in our faith like that. Through worship, Bible study, Sunday school, UMW, and social events together, our faith is built “one rock at a time.”
When our faith is built like that, there is an intentionality to what we are doing. Our path might “zig-zag” but the purpose is there. We are building the path of our faith walk “one rock at a time” up the hill.
(Can’t build a stairway like that by starting at the top. Deliberate, building bottom-up)
Apostle Paul expressed something like that when he wrote to the Church at Philippi:
“I do not claim that I have already succeeded or have already become perfect. I keep striving to win the prize for which Christ Jesus has already won me to Himself. Of course, my brothers and sisters, I really do not think that I have already won it; the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead. So I run straight towards the goal in order to win the prize, which is God’s call through Christ Jesus to the life above.”
(Philippians 3:12-14 GNB)
Perhaps Lucy spoke with wisdom when she asks:
“Charlie Brown, which way is YOUR deck chair facing?”
In his book, “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations,” Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase writes:
“From the first generations of Christians, to the earliest Methodists, to the youngest generations of faithful members today; the followers of Jesus Christ mature by learning together in community.”
When we as a church offer learning experiences that help people understand life in the context of the Holy Scriptures and our faith, it nurtures caring relationships, and holds people of all backgrounds together as we climb the hillside like Uncle Bob’s stairs.
Fred Craddock wrote a modern parable that I think expresses the idea of growing together in a diverse community of faith like this one.
He writes: “I walked by a man who was doing something that fascinated me, one afternoon, so I stopped and watched him.
He had a pile of bricks, and he was measuring every brick. He’d measure how long, wide, and deep every brick was.
If a brick didn’t measure up as he inspected it, he’d throw it aside to a growing pile.
The man said, “I’ve got to get them all exactly the same.”
When Fred Craddock asked, “Why?” The man replied, “I’m building a church, and I want it to stand.”
So, the man started stacking the bricks that passed his inspection, they were all JUST alike.
Fred walked by the next afternoon and the structure the man had built had fallen down. It was reduced to a pile of bricks.
Fred walked around the corner, and came across a man with a pile of rocks.
He had never seen such a mess! Not one of those rocks were alike.
There were round rocks, dark ones, little, small, and big ones.
Fred asked the man, “What’s going on here?”
The man answered, “I’m building a church.”
Fred told him, “You’re nuts! The guy around the corner had bricks that were all alike, and HE COULDN’T make it stand!”
The builder assured Fred. “It’ll stand…This will stand.”
Again, Fred told the builder, “You CAN’T get it to stand!”
“The other fellow had them all……..”
The man cut him off, saying, “It’ll stand.”
And then, he went over to a wheel barrow, took a shovel, and began to stir something back and forth.
It looked a lot like cement to Fred…But that’s not what the builder called it.
He applied heaping doses of that stuff between each of the rocks.
When Fred went back to see it years later, the church was still there.
It was that stuff in between each of those oddly matched rocks that held the church together.
It looked a lot like cement…But that’s not what the builder called it.
What do YOU think the builder called the stuff that held everything together?
It’s love of course. Love is the bonding agent that holds us together!
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”