Sunday, April 26, 2015

Building An Altar Out of the Rocks of Life

Psalm 81:16   (NRSV)
"I would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
    and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”

I have a box of rocks up here this morning.

I collected this the last time I went Trick or Treating . . .
          No, seriously --- I have collected these rocks over my lifetime

Sometimes I picked them up purposefully --- as if I wanted to collect them

Other times, they were piled on me --- sometimes even thrown at me.

The truth is --- you too are carrying around a lot of rocks.

Some of the rocks that we carry are weighing us down.
Some of the rocks are a burden to us.

And there is no doubt but that some of the rocks that we are carrying are holding us back or at least slowing us down.

We all carry rocks - burdens of pain in our lives.
1.    Bad relationship with parents
2.    Lying to friends
3.    Escape with drugs or alcohol
4.    Loss of a friend
5.    Divorce
6.    Breaking the law
7.    Cheating on a spouse
8.    Illness
9.    Death of spouse - parent - child - friend

I don't know what your rocks are --- but what I do know, is that you have some

The bible is filled with stories about people who struggled with their faith

We all carry rocks --- every time we are hurt or disappointed by life we tend to pick up
another rock,
          the question is not whether we have rocks ---

No, the real question is what we do with those rocks?
Do we cart them around?
Do we allow them to crush us?
Do they weigh us down like a millstone around our necks?

If I had to pick a favorite character in the Bible --- I think the answer for me would be fairly simple

When I was asked to pick a "life verse" --- the verse you want to model your life after, I picked a verse from this person’s life

When I need encouragement --- I often find myself turning to this person’s story

I am, of course, talking about Joshua

Joshua had plenty of rocks in his life.

And at one point --- God very directly told Joshua what to do with them

Joshua 4:1-8 (NRSV)
When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua: “Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, and command them, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.’” Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe. Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, one for each of the tribes of the Israelites, so that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.”

The Israelites did as Joshua commanded. They took up twelve stones out of the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord told Joshua, carried them over with them to the place where they camped, and laid them down there.

Joshua is told to take the rocks ---         the rocks of 40 years of wandering in the wilderness
                                                          the rocks of the death of their leader --- Moses
                                                          The rocks of disillusionment and hurt
          God says --- take those rocks and build and altar to God.

But, my God, how do you do that?

There was a young preacher who went to preach at one of those mission stations you find in the inner city.
          They are very strange places,
if you every get the opportunity, you want to attend one, but what makes them so strange is that it is one of the only places where people will get up and disagree with you while you are preaching.

Well, this young preacher was preaching, and he was quoting from Rudyard Kipling's poem, IF, it is a poem that you might be familiar with.

The poem begins by saying
"If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you; . . .
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone,"
then it concludes with these words
"Yours is the earth and everything that's in it, And --- which is more --- you'll be a man, my son!"

When the preacher had finished the poem, one of the men at the back, one of the few who were still awake, jumped up and screamed out with all his vigor:
"Yah, but what if you can't".

Now that is the issue that I think we all face.

When we come up against the rocks of life, it is not easy to keep our nerve and sinew, it is not easy to persevere.

But we do it, not of our own strength, but in the paradox of that mystery that God is with us, and that the loving almighty God is the God who has the power to overcome evil, who has the power to take the rocks out of the hard places of life and to turn them into an altar, and allow the honey to come forth.

2015 marks the 30th anniversary of Stewart's death.

It was in April of 1985, that the cancer was found in Stewart's body.

The day the discovered the cancer in Stewart's body I was throwing a graduation party in Durham North Carolina.

In the midst of that party came the worse phone call I have received in my life up to now.

Eight short months later --- On November 11, 1985 Stewart Wesley Conger died.

          I have felt the anguish of the rocks of life.

Giving up Celebration Church was like another death to me.

Nancy and I, along with Jessica who, at the time was less than a year old, started that church in our home in Warsaw Indiana.

For so many years I hid my feelings --- because I was afraid that the weight of the rocks would crush me.

Leaving Ridge is no different

We LOVE Ridge Church
          We LOVE you who make up Ridge Church

But much like when I left Celebration church 20 years ago --- I knew that it was time --- despite the pain
          despite the anguish

You too have been thrown against the rocks of life --- but the strange thing is ---
          that in the midst of our pain ----
          in the midst of our anguish --
          in the midst of our darkness there is light.

In the midst of our sorrow there can be joy --- in the midst of our agony there can be sweetness ---- IF WE ALLOW GOD TO BRING FORTH HONEY FROM THOSE ROCKS.

I prayed with all of my heart that God would deliver me from this evil by healing Stewart,
          but God delivered me in a different way --- in a way that I did not expect.

Out of the rock that was Stewart's sickness and death --- God transformed me in a very real way.

I believe that Stewart has placed his mantle upon me.

When I think of him, his spirit is with me and I feel his joy, his enthusiasm, his love for people.

That mantle will be upon my shoulder and I will enjoy it for the rest of my life and because of that I gained a new sense of love for people,
          compassion for people,
          understanding for people,
          a new sense of patience and courage and trust.

I have seen the worst that life can throw at me; I have seen a young man who had the bravery and the courage to face it with faith and determination --- who kept the faith to the end.

Out of that Rock, by giving it to God, God brought forth honey.

Remember one thing; it is God who brings forth the honey from our rocks.

We can only give up our rocks and make an altar out of them --- but only God can bring forth the sweetness.

God is willing to give you that gift, if only you will give first your pain to him.

But that is Not easy to do
          We like our pain
                   smooth, comfortable

We can go through life trying to carry all of the world's burdens, or we can take those rocks --- those hard and difficult places of life and build an altar to God --- and we can trust that when we build that altar that God can, and will, bring forth honey out of our pain!

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