God Still Moves Stones

Sermon July 19, 2020 God is Faithful to Move Stones

Opening Prayer

Almighty God,

the fountain of all wisdom,

you know our necessities before we ask

and our ignorance in asking:

Have compassion on our weakness,

and mercifully give us those things

which for our unworthiness we dare not,

and for our blindness we cannot ask;

through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God,

now and forever.

Amen.

“Common Book of Prayer”

Call To Worship

Leader: We are proof of the fulfillment of God’s promise; we are the descendants…too many to count!

People: Like the dust of the earth, like the sands of the beach, like the stars in the heavens

Leader: We are the descendants…too many to count!

People: From the west and the east; from the north and the south.

Leader: Too many to count!

People: From the Atlantic and the Pacific, from Antartica to Australia!

Leader: We are the descendants…too many to count!

People: From Canada to Cote d’Ivoire; from New York to Nairobi!

Leader: We are the descendants…too many to count!

People: We are blessed! To be a blessing!

Old Testament Reading

Genesis 28:10-19a

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the LORD stood beside him and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place–and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel;

Epistle Reading

Romans 8:12-25

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh –for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Gospel Reading

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’’Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.””He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

Sermon

This week, as I sat in the pew at Celebrate Recovery, socially distancing, wearing my mask. Our large group service started and since we are not singing, Mark played several music videos. The first notes started and the first video was It is Well. Not the hymn, but the newer praise version that I have sung multiple times on Sunday morning and on Thursday nights at CR. I immediately teared up. I was trying to quietly sing with my mask on and at first I managed, but before it was over I just bowed my head because I was full out ugly crying. Good thing I was wearing a washable mask and not one of those paper ones.

I think that I have been very angry about many things to do with this time of trial we are going through. The virus has taken so much. There have been blessings and I am so very grateful for them. That song has seen me through some things. When I had a cancer scare and lost all of that weight, I sang it and took comfort. It was ministering to me and a prayer all at the same time. I was claiming the promise that God would be with me through everything and at the same time asking God to continue to reassure me of His faithfulness to keep that promise. But Thursday night, all I could think was no! Father, It is not well with my soul right now. And I felt like this stone inside my heart just started to melt away. I was still sad about the things we have lost and are losing because of this pandemic. But lighter too.

Then I read the scriptures for today and the Old Testament scripture mentioned stones. When I went to the bible gateway website and put stone in the keyword space, thousands of entries popped up.

I thought about that stone inside of me and of stones in the bible. Jacob used a stone for a pillow and God came to him in a dream and told him that He would give him the land he was lying on and make his descendants many and when Jacob woke he made the stone an altar. 

Later when Jacob met Rachel, there was a well, and to water the flocks they would have to roll the stone away from the mouth of the well.

In biblical times, a punishment was to stone someone to death.

The law was given to Moses on tablets of stone.

David killed the Philistine with a sling and a stone.

Psalm 118:22 The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone.

Last week we read about the parable of the sower and it told us some seed fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil.  But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.

Matthew 7:9 Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?

Matthew 21:42 Jesus *said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief corner stone; This came about from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes’

Jesus gave Simon the name Peter (which means rock) and said He would build his church on that rock.

Ezekiel 11:19 And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.

When Jesus was buried and they went to look for him Mark 16:4 Looking up, they *saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large.

There were many more entries but from just these few, we can see that stones were used frequently as imagery in the bible. Sometimes they were a good thing. Sometimes not so good. It depended on who was holding the stone, what the stone was being used for. Ecclesiastes says there is a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones.

I thought about my stone, the one in my heart. It served a purpose. It was protecting me from grief. It was easier to be angry about the news. To be lecturing people on why they should wear a mask. To argue about conspiracy theories. It was easier because underneath it all, I was grieving. I was grieving for people who have passed from this virus who may have been artists. Who may have died before they could tell their grandchildren their stories. Who should have died with their family all around them, loving them. I was grieving for people who have lost their jobs, their businesses, their homes. I was grieving for our lives being so changed, not being able to have bible study and sing praise. I was grieving for teachers who are my friends and one who is my son, who face terrible decisions beyond their control. I was grieving for my son-in-law who has this burden every day, working for the state and helping people negotiate the landscape of applying for benefits to help them survive, and sometimes having to tell some people no. I was grieving for my grandchildren and wondering how this will affect their lives as they grow up, with a little underlying fear as to whether they will grow up at all. I took that well of grief and put a big old stone on top of it.

All of these things, I covered with a stone.

When we allow a stone to form inside us, it may protect us from those painful feelings for a little while and we can use pieces of that stone to throw at others who do not agree with us. But a stone doesn’t make a very good pillow. You can’t drink from a well without moving the stone.

I could not move that stone on my own. I was thirsty and I didn’t even know it until the stone was moved. I was letting my heart be dead in a tomb because I was hiding from pain and I couldn’t roll that stone away on my own.

So I believe God used a song on a music video, in a sanctuary with others that were either weighed down by their own stones or bruised because of stones that had been thrown at them; to roll away a stone that needed to go. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit and sometimes when the Holy Spirit is dealing with us, it is not altogether comfortable. Of course, there wasn’t really an actual stone in me.

Often the bible uses real tangible things to help us poor humans understand the mysterious Power of God. Paul uses the image of us being debtors, of us being children. He uses the image of childbirth. All of creation (the creation that we are a part of) is groaning in the pain of wanting to give birth to something. To this world, the way God meant it to be. And we are all in debt to God, for our very breath, for His grace, for his love. 

So the challenge to me, becomes living as a person that honors that debt, for all of us to live as people of gratitude, to be a people that allows God to remove those stones that we pile up. To let God have them. His hand is bigger and stronger than mine and in His wisdom, stones are rolled away from tombs, used to build His church, cleared from soil so that His seeds can flourish.

Because of my stone, I was stuck. Nothing was going to grow in me. I was doing exactly what I said in my sermon a few weeks ago that Jesus did NOT do. I was reacting, not responding.  I was sitting somewhere between Jesus’ truth and grace and not seeing either.

I am still sad. But I’m lighter too. God takes the stone and opens us up to His possibility that there is so much more. I am indebted to the other people who were in the sanctuary with me. I am grateful to the writer and performer of that song, even though I don’t personally know her. I appreciate Mark for choosing to play that specific video, that particular night. I am indebted to and in relationship with all of those people. Because God still moves stones, but He uses people to do it. I am even grateful for the stone because it showed me what needed to change, and it showed me where the pain was.

So, where are your stones? Is your heart hard right now? Is your fist clenched around a rock that you want to throw? Is there a rock under your feet holding you steady?

We need healing. Our world needs healing for this pandemic. We each need healing from sin, from hardened hearts,  from thinking that we can carry those stones on our own. Because in this time the church is needed, weeds, stones and all, to show that God has so much more for us, if we loosen our grip on our own hearts and let him create a new spirit within us. 

Because we are created to live in community, created to love our God and creator and we cannot fully do that without loving His creation – each other and the world. There is a well that we can drink from and never thirst again, but we cannot drink from that well if it is covered with a stone. 

My prayer for each of you this morning, is that you walk out of here a little lighter, a little more loving, and a little more open to God’s grace and healing so that we can all be a little more like the Jesus who built His church on the rock that was just a man who was willing to follow Jesus, who came out of the tomb from behind a stone and ascended to the Father so we could see the depth of what we owe, who showed us that the Father who loves us, knows our tendency to hold onto stones, but wants to give us bread, wants to give us grace. All to Jesus we surrender. All to Him we owe. 

Closing Prayer

Father, sometimes you place stones in our path

That we might walk more carefully

Learning to depend on you

Sometimes we tightly hold on to heavy stones

Of our own choosing

Help us to lay them down

So that we can come to you with open hands

For your burden is light

Sometimes our hearts become hard as stone

Soften them, so that we can once again

Drink from your well, eat the bread you provide,

And love others as you have loved us

Through the power of the Holy Spirit

Living in us

Amen

Go in peace.

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