Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“The Rock of Love” (Psalm 62:6-11)
January 21, 2018
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
When my family and I lived in Charlottesville, Virginia it was not uncommon to have a brush with fame. One autumn afternoon I was at an outdoor restaurant on the downtown Charlottesville mall when a friend of mine asked me to glance discreetly behind me and see if I recognized the woman sitting at the next table. I did and saw none other than Academy Award winning actress Sissy Spacek sitting just a few feet away. Another time I was browsing a used bookstore and found myself standing next to world famous rock artist Dave Matthews. While I refrained from asking for his autograph he was kind enough to talk with me for a moment, a very personable guy. Still another time I was at a funeral reception and found myself talking with one of the bestselling authors of all time, the master of the legal thriller, John Grisham, who was also very personable.
But my favorite brush with fame in Charlottesville involved my whole family. It was on a Sunday evening in July, the beginning of our summer vacation, and we all went to a local Italian restaurant for dinner. We sat at our usual table in the back, and as we were looking over the menus a very famous actor, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, walked in with his stunning wife and their beautiful kids. They walked right by us and sat at the very next table. We were all just a few feet from one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. His moniker “The Rock” is fitting because he is truly enormous. Our kids wanted to talk to him so badly, as did Steph and I, but we somehow managed to leave him and his family alone.
As you can imagine, The Rock and his family received very fast service and finished their meal well before we did. As they arose to leave and walked past our table, my daughter Abi could no longer refrain herself and called out, “Hi, Mr. The Rock!” He turned to all of us and gave us a smile almost as big as he is, “Hi,” he said, “Hope you all have a nice evening.” Thus we began our summer vacation by having dinner with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. How cool is that? And I am sure many of you could also share about your own brushes with fame.
As amazing as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is, today I am preaching about a very different Rock, a Rock who is with you always, no matter what, a Rock in whom you can always put your trust and hope—as we read in today’s psalm:
For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold, so that I shall never be shaken. In God is my safety and my honor; God is my strong rock and my refuge (Psalm 62:6-8, BCP 669).
“(God) alone is my rock,” the psalmist proclaims, “God is my strong rock.” This is a word of comfort, a word of grace. We need to be reminded that God is our rock. Many times in the Psalms the Lord is described as a rock: “My God, my rock in whom I put my trust…Who is the Rock, except our God?…The Lord lives! Blessed is my Rock!” (Psalm 18, BCP 602ff); “O Lord, I call to you; my Rock, do not be deaf to my cry” (Psalm 28:1, BCP 619); “The Lord has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my trust” (Psalm 94:22, BCP 724).
But while we may know conceptually that God is our rock, in practice when life gets hard, when things do not go according to our little plans, when things fall apart despite our best efforts to hold it all together, when we need shelter from the storms of life, rather than putting our trust and hope in God our Rock, we try to be our own Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Early in his career one of the greatest American songwriters ever, Paul Simon, put it this way:
I’ve built walls
A fortress, steep and mighty that none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain
I am a rock, I am an island
Don’t talk of love
Well, I’ve heard the words before
It’s sleeping in my memory
And I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died
If I never loved, I never would have cried
I am a rock, I am an island
(From the 1966 Simon and Garfunkel album Sounds of Silence)
Perhaps some of you, like the young Paul Simon, have tried to be your own rock. How has that worked out for you?
Many years ago when my family and I lived in Wyoming, I took some high school students south to Colorado Springs to hike Pike’s Peak, perhaps the most famous of Colorado’s fifty-three “fourteeners,” mountains which are over fourteen thousand feet high. Once we got above tree line we were still a good distance from the summit, and while we enjoying the hike, we became tired and edgy. Then out of nowhere a storm rolled in and soon it began not to rain, but to hail. Hail stones ranging from the size of pebbles to golf balls began pouring down on us. Since we were above tree line there were no trees under which to stand.
We held our backpacks above our heads but sudden gusts of strong wind would blow the hail stones sideways so we were still being pelted. Each of us learned firsthand that being our own rock did not work. However, as we rounded a bend we discovered a rock under which we could find shelter, and we huddled close together under this rock until the hail storm stopped. What actually helped us during that hail storm was not being our own rock, but hiding under the rock that “happened” to be there when we needed it most. At the summit was a gift shop that sold coffee and donuts, which proved one of my favorite meals ever.
During the storms in our lives we may not be tempted to be our own rock, but we may be tempted to put all our hope and trust in other people to be our rock. This may work for awhile, but there may be times when others may not be there for us. They may be preoccupied with the storms of their own lives, searching themselves for a rock under which to hide, or they may simply be fickle, because human beings are often fickle, as the scripture tells us:
For had it been an adversary who taunted me, then I could have borne it; or had it been an enemy who vaunted himself against me, then I could have hidden from him. But it was you, a man after my own heart, my companion, my own familiar friend (Psalm 55:13-14, BCP 661).
Along these lines, in today’s psalm, after emphasizing that God alone is our Rock, the psalmist continues, “Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath, even those of low estate cannot be trusted. On the scales they are lighter than a breath, all of them together” (Psalm 62:10-11, BCP 670).
Even the Apostle Peter fell short. At Caesarea Philippi Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter correctly replied, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” to which Jesus responded, “I tell you, you are Peter (you are “the rock”), and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). And yet not only was Peter the rock unable to be his own rock, in Jesus’ darkest hour Peter demonstrated his inability to be a rock for others as he denied Jesus, not once but three times. The commitment of Peter the rock, the commitment of Peter, Jesus’ “own familiar friend,” proved “lighter than a breath.” Some of you have experienced this.
Back to Paul Simon for a moment…Interestingly enough, years after writing “I Am a Rock” Paul Simon wrote another song about a different kind of rock:
When I was a little boy and the Devil would call my name
I’d say, “Now who do…who do you think you’re fooling?”
I’m a consecrated boy, singer in a Sunday choir
Oh, my mama loves me, she loves me
She gets down on her knees and hugs me
She loves me like a rock
She rocks me like the rock of ages
And she loves me
She loves me, loves me, loves me, loves me
(From “Loves Me Like a Rock” on his album There Goes Rhymin’ Simon)
Somehow Paul Simon made the transition from trying to be his own rock to trusting in the rock of love. And this morning when it comes to your life, when it comes to your trying to be your own rock, Paul Simon’s question to the devil is my question to you, “Who do you think you’re fooling?”
Neither trying to be your own rock, nor relying on others to be your rock for you will work in the long term. The psalmist is right: God alone is your Rock.
Last week the clergy from the Diocese of Georgia had the privilege of meeting with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Reverend Michael Curry, a brilliant preacher and speaker. As he shared with us he emphasized the need to stick to heart of the gospel and in doing so cited the familiar hymn his grandmother taught him when he was a little boy:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus Christ my righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name
On Christ the solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand
You see, the good news of the gospel is that God has provided a rock for you for every hail storm in your life, for every time being your own rock does not work, for every time others prove unable to be your rock. God has provided the Rock of Ages, the Rock of Your Salvation, the Rock of Love, his Son Jesus Christ—who loves you, loves you, loves you, loves you.
This means when you hit “rock bottom” in your life, it is a actually a good thing because at “rock bottom” you will find the Rock of Love, Jesus Christ—because you will find that God’s office is at the end of your rope. Peter experienced this when the Rock of Love, the Risen Jesus, cooked breakfast for him and reinstated him as Peter the Rock in front of the same disciples that were at Caesarea Philippi. This grace of God changed Peter’s life and set the course for the remainder of his ministry. In fact, his final exhortation in the last letter he wrote, a circular letter to Christians, was very to the point: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
And speaking personally, like Peter, I too have learned the hard way more than once the folly of trying to be my own rock, as well as the folly of always depending on others to be a rock for me. It just doesn’t work. But what I have also learned again and again is that God alone is my rock, that indeed “all other ground is sinking sand.”
So this morning if you are weary of trying to be your own rock, or weary of relying on others to do so, remember the words of the psalmist, “(God) alone is your rock.” Moreover, Jesus Christ, the Rock of Love, is not just sitting at the next table, he is inviting you to his table to receive Holy Communion, to receive assurance that your loved all the time, no matter what.