Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Installation Sermon
Dr. Terry York
Nov. 6, 2016
Engraved on a Rock
 Job 19:23-27

                                                                  Engraved on a Rock

A strange dust settles around our globe.  A strange dust settles around us. The same strange dust seems to have settled around Job in this morning’s passage from the ancient poem as well. His world was crumbling. The dust that settles around us chokes us on its way down and saddens us, even frightens us. Yet some of the dust that settles reflects the light of hope.
This morning’s gathering is a bright and blessed occasion. A church that has glowed throughout its history has called as pastor a young man, and his family, and they too glow with the presence and the promise of God. But the world outside this beautiful sanctuary does not celebrate with us this morning.
Across the globe refugees focus on daily existence, stranded between homelands that are killing fields and borderlands that build walls of every sort. A strange dust from denied and forgotten humanity, a strange dust of shattered welcome settles around us. The world gasps, but cannot catch its breath. It is a choking dust that settles across the world and around us this morning.
We have gathered to celebrate, but our nation does not celebrate with us this morning. The dust of dried up and withered trust chokes our systems of governing. A strange dust clogs our impulse to care for our citizens. The flakey remnants of civility settle at our feet. Highways of equality paved with the bloody sacrifice of civil rights martyrs are disintegrating back into dusty dirt roads of fear and profiling, of stirred up racism. We hold our breath lest we inhale the rubble-dust of a seemingly collapsing political system. A strange dust of fear and frustration settles around our nation and at our very feet.
We have gathered to rejoice this morning, but this city and the state it represents have not gathered with us. The dusty Spector of shootouts and ethnic prejudice billows, creating clouded scenes of injustice and marginalization and human-to-human phobias. We have gathered to rejoice this morning, but this city and state barely notice, if they notice at all, because a strange dust has settled around us all.
We have gathered here this morning as an autonomous church, leaning forward into a changing future, but not all of the capital “C” Church shares our joy and anticipation. Tightfisted grace and self-hugging arms of individualism rub too much of Christianity raw, creating its own pain and flakey fallout. A strange dust settles around us.  Where shall we register our words of grief, our words of fear?  Where shall we record and display our words of shattered hope and shaken security?
FBC Austin this morning celebrates a new pastor, but not all of the congregation is present. Some still grieve the passing of similar Sunday mornings into the history of FBC, great moments of dreams and trust, and new beginning, now relegated to the sand and dust of time gone by. That dust is a part of the strange dust that settles around us. “Oh,” we cry with Job, “Oh, that our words were written in a book or engraved on a rock.”
We must ask, though it pains our hearts to do so, we must ask, “Is the church turning to dust in our culture?” Has all of the life-giving moisture been sucked from our mantras? Has the Bible gone the way of the hymnal? Does our walk with the Lord now seem to only stir up dust? Yet, even as we ask, the Spirit reminds us that there is water in the baptistery and there is wine in the supper. The Spirit reminds us that there are tears still in the hearts and eyes of some. Surely there is moisture enough to turn the dust to malleable mud.
The dust of the passing of years, the dust of dismantled structures and systems, the dust of decimated trust and disintegrated loyalty; it is, indeed, a strange dust that settles around us this morning. Did we write our words of hope and trust on persons, on conventions and denominations, on political parties? It can make us cry out with Job, “O that my words were written down with an IRON PEN and with lead ENGRAVED on a ROCK FOREVER.”
 We do not want this day to turn to dust. We do not want this hope and this dream and this church, and this new pastor’s words and ministry to someday turn to dust. Oh that today might endure, even crescendo, from this moment out unto and into the last day of this earth. Can we write our words of lament and fear, can we write our words of hope and commitment, can we write our words on a forever rock; a Rock that will endure? “O that my words were written down with an iron pen, engraved on a rock forever.” Those were Jobs words. Those are our words in these dusty days.
There’s too much decay, too much crumbling. We are dust-weary. We need a rock in this weary land. We need a rock to which our words of lament can be entrusted forever. We need a rock upon which our hope can be inscribed forever. We need a rock upon which God’s words are inscribed forever; a rock standing firm above the cloud of strange dust that settles around us; too much dust, too much dust.
We need a rock, and we need that rock to stand upon the earth.  Then Job, in the middle of this great poem, starts writing song lyrics. He didn’t know he was writing song lyrics but he was. Poetry comes to rescue our imagination, to rescue our faith, to rescue our hope. It would take a few centuries before George Frederick Handle would come along and read this morning’s passage for himself, and then say, “I hear you, Job.” It would take a while, but the cry is a human cry. The century, the era, don’t matter in the context of God’s eternal now. It’s a human hope and cry of faith, “I know, cries Job. “I know,” sings Handel, “I know that my Redeemer liveth and on the earth shall STAND.” Yes, our passage for today says, “stand upon the earth.” It occurs to me that I should have told you this earlier. I’m getting old, I should have told you that the word translated “earth” in our scripture passage for today, in the Hebrew language, is actually the word for “dust.” “I know that my Redeemer liveth and on the DUST shall STAND.” That’s what Job said: “My redeemer liveth and on the dust shall stand. Let all that we have built to save ourselves crumble under its own weight of time. The timeless Redeemer shall stand upon the dust of demise. Job wrote the words and Handel wrote the music. [sing] “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” That’s the song. That’s the gospel. That’s the message.
 You’d expect Christians to sing this song, but thousands of non-believers sing this song as well, every Christmas and Easter. They sing it because its art and because it is the human’s deepest cry of faith, “I know,” even standing ankle deep in dust, “I know,” even while we watch buildings crumble, “I know,” even when we watch trusted institutions and trusted leaders fail and fall, “I know,” in the midst of the dust of all that disintegrates. This is the cry of faith that surely somewhere there is a rock, “I know that my Redeemer lives!” The dust chokes my voice and clouds my eyes, but I know that somewhere there is a rock, somewhere my Redeemer lives. “I know that my Redeemer lives and that at the last he will stand upon… the dust!” The dust of our failings is the place where the longed-for Rock chooses to stand.
When confronted with our failings, remember this, “The dust of our failings becomes a place for the redeeming rock of hope to stand.” When we hear the word “failings” we think of a fresh and current list of moral failures, structural failure, systemic failure and financial failure. Those are real and those are sad, even tragic. But Job takes us to another failure. He has seen the failure of all that he has built up, and he is face to face, as he sees it, with earth’s ultimate failure, the failure of our physical bodies.
Job knows that our bodies are but dust and that our bodies shall return to dust. There is no dust stranger than the dust of a once vibrant, thinking, functioning body losing its life and disintegrating to dust. The dust of death is strange dust, indeed, and it settles all around us.
Job knows this. Hear him in verse 26, “and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh or without my flesh I shall see God, whom, by the way, I shall see for myself; my eyes shall behold, not someone else’s eyes.  The dust will clear. No one will have to convince me that there is a rock, I shall see it for myself. “My heart faints within me,” Job says with an exclamation point. “I can hardly wait!”
“Oh for a rock” where our words of lament and hope can be chiseled next to God’s words of forgiveness and acceptance. Oh for such a rock that not only stands strong in the dust storms of this life, but a rock that will be seen beyond the eyes of faith, a rock that will be seen with our own eyes when all the dust of life on earth has been forever settled. Job’s cry is our cry. Then, Paul writing to the church in Corinth (and in Austin) says….[READ I Corinthians 10:1-4}!!
A strange dust settles, that’s life…the settling of dust. But as it settles, beams of light dance off of the flakes. You’ve seen it before. Dust passes through slivers of light and we see glimpses of hope. “I know that my Redeemer lives.“ And hope dances on the dust.
What child hasn’t been fascinated by settling dust illuminated by beams of light, in even the most carefully cleaned rooms in the house? Let us view the dance of dust and light as little children. Let us see dust, not as evidence as ruin, but as a place for the rock to stand, a place for the Light to dance.
  Your faith was well-founded, Job. There is a forever-rock upon which the words of God and humanity are engraved, chiseled. There is a forever-rock, Job, and not only is he the Rock, he is the chiseled Word, he is the dancing light. And, we can trust this Rock who is the Word, because he knows our dust. He knows we are dust, and he knows the dust of the roads we travel. The Rock, Who is the Word, Who is the Light, knows our dust. Our hearts faint just like yours, Job, our hearts faint within us for joy!
                  The Rock, Who is the Word, Who is the Light has brought congregation and pastor together here today to kick up some dust so that the city of Austin can see the light dance upon it. God has brought you together to kick up some dust so that God can again form dust into new persons and again breathe life into them; to kick up some dust so that the Light can dance; that’s what this day is about. Dance in the dust and kick it up with joy. Point to the Rock that stands upon and within the dust and let Austin know they can write their words of lament and confession there. Let them know that God has also written on that Rock with hammered iron pens, words of forgiveness and acceptance and salvation. The engraving can still be seen in the hands and side of the Savior.
Griff, stand up and point to the rock until we can see him for ourselves. FBC, stand up and point to the rock until Austin can see him for itself. My heart faints within me at the very thought of an eternal rock in the midst of this world’s dust. Live the good news church. Lead us in living the good news, pastor. A strange dust settles, but there is a rock, a living stone, in fact the cornerstone. There is a rock and he is the Redeemer. Live it church. Live it and preach it pastor. Stir up the dust.

Allow me to return to the very opening lines of our passage for this morning. Verse 23 of Job 19 reads, “O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book.” In verse 24, Job wished for a rock. He got the rock, and so did we. But just before that, in verse 23 he cried out for a book, a book where his words could be inscribed. Well, there are two books…the Lamb’s Book of Life and the Bible.
Your wishes and your words are inscribed here, Job, here in the Bible. And your heart would faint to know that your words are followed, some pages over, by the story of the birth of the Rock you envisioned. And then, a few pages more and we read, in the same book, the Rock’s own words. And we refer to the whole thing as God’s Holy Word. And today Job, a congregation and its new pastor gather around God’s Holy Word, and the Word Made Flesh, and your words Job; all in the same book. Your words still speak, and the Rock you envisioned is a forever-rock.
First Austin, Griff, I stand today to remind you that Job’s great poem of truth is contained in an even larger poem of truth, this Bible. Don’t stray away from this book, it is God’s Holy Word. This particular copy, will someday turn to dust. But the Poem it contains is forever true and trustworthy. It is a poem, but it is God’s holy poem. Job could imagine the book and the Rock. We now hold the book in our hands and the rock in our hearts.
A strange dust settles. It can’t be denied. But it is also true that beams of Heavenly Light dance on the settling dust.
Will you hear it again? Job 19, verses 23-27: “O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth (that is to say, upon the dust); and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in or without my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another, my eyes shall behold. My heart faints (for joy) within me!”
And…”I do not want  you to be unaware brothers and sisters…all ate the same spiritual food [point to Communion Table] and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.”
Settle dust, rise Rock, dance Light.
Amen, and Amen.


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