A beautiful rock.
21st Sunday A 8/27/17 Is22;Rom11;Mt16:13-20
I was moving into my new home in Manhattan on Monday, carrying boxes, lifting heavy chairs, and worrying about my goldfish who had been sloshed around in their little portable trailer home on the floor of the U-Haul truck all the way down from Connecticut. They were my ‘rescue’ fish. Like dogs adopted from terrible circumstances, I chose little guys from a tank packed with hundreds of their brothers and sisters, all destined to be sold as live feeder fish for someone’s turtle or ferocious carnivorous Oscar fish. The price was also right at 19 cents a piece.
The truck’s springs weren’t too effective, and a lot of the water had escaped over the top of their plastic carry-home every time we hit a bump, and their effective swimming radius grew smaller and smaller. In the shrinking space, their little golden bodies were constantly brushing up against one another, like brothers and sisters sharing a tiny bedroom together.
I wondered if they had even a small awareness that they they were moving into the greatest city on earth. It was very evident to my puny brain, and I was really excited to be back on this great rock of an island where I started as a little boy.
The sky began to darken a bit, and my moving companions remarked that it was beginning: the great eclipse, of course.
There was some disagreement if it was really the eclipse or just a cloud, but I had made no effort to get hold of those special glasses so I had no intention of looking anyway. And I certainly wasn’t going to try the cockamamie method a friend had suggested, to look at the sun through the metal mesh of a flour sifter.
Even though we were in the midst of our job of getting the stuff out of the truck quickly, it was clear that the world around us had stopped for a moment. People on the sidewalks were talking about the eclipse, taking pictures with their iPhones, peeking up for a second or so without the glasses.
I watched one elderly woman stop at a street corner and boldly look straight up at the sun for minutes at a time, and as I approached her she broke the stare and looked at me. Should I tell her that it was unwise, I wondered? She seemed to be warning off any conversation, so I didn’t say anything, and she went right back to her sun-stare. Maybe her eyesight was already diminished, or perhaps she was hoping to see some miracle revealed to her in the twilight moments of her life.
I thought about how in the midst of such a planetary phenomenon, we were all suddenly aware of experiencing something bigger than all of our small concerns, and like my fish, we were all involuntarily crowded together as brothers and sisters on this spinning rock of a planet that temporarily was losing the light in which we swim through our day. How wild it must have been to be with others who experienced the total eclipse!
By four o’clock it was all over, and the world had returned to normal. My moving helpers had retired, and I was left with a ton of boxes to be opened, and a suite of rooms to be organized and made into a new home. I was pretty tired, and I picked through some of the stuff so that I could at least have a place to sleep for the night. The fish remained in their portable transporter on top of a box mountain of my stuff until the morning, when I planned to set up their permanent aquarium home.
I fell asleep without any hesitation, but was awakened in the middle of the night when I heard a startlingly loud crash, and felt my bed shake. Groggily, I got up to see if the world was ending, and found a mess of toppled boxes with their contents spilled out all over the floor and realized it had been the foundation upon which I had placed my fish carrier.
Oh no, I thought, and immediately began searching for spilled water and flopping fish amidst the debris. What an idiot I am, I said out loud, feeling so irresponsible regarding the welfare of these innocent, dependent little creatures.
Oddly, there was no obvious evidence of the tragedy, and I upended a box and found the fish carrier underneath it, water and fish completely intact and unharmed. I thanked God for saving them in spite of my poor stewardship, found a very solid table near my bed to place them for safekeeping, and went back to bed, leaving the mess for the morning.
When I woke up at around 6am, the fish seemed fine, and I was so excited to be in New York that I went outside and began walking along the East River. The day was dawning on a new chapter of my life, and I was surrounded by the waking city that I love so much.
walked and walked and walked, passing all kinds of people running and biking and exercising until I reached the Staten Island Ferry terminal, and continued a few more blocks to the World Trade Center. People were already beginning to arrive at their offices, coffee and bagels in hand.
I stood before one of the huge waterfalls and looked down at the spot where one of the twin towers once stood. Down below me was the museum, and inside it you can see the enormous slurry wall, which was built to hold back the waters of the Hudson river. Next to it you can see the foundation that made those towers possible.
Manhattan and its skyscrapers are built on bedrock that tells a story of a place going back more than a billion years. A rock formation creates the island’s spine from the Henry Hudson Bridge on its north end to the Battery on its southern tip; it dips abruptly several hundred feet below ground at Washington Square, and makes a gradual ascent beginning at Chambers Street. These dips and rises account for the gap between “midtown” and “downtown” in the Manhattan skyline, since tall buildings had to be anchored on solid bedrock, and not on the glacial till that fills the valleys.
You can see how that bedrock anchored the twin towers, allowing buildings of such stupendous height and weight to stand tall, stretching towards the sky. Until, of course, a horrible and sinful plan destroyed the lives and the loves of thousands of families one day in September. A few hundred feet away, a new tower stands, once again firmly anchored into bedrock, as firmly as human beings can try to build their buildings and their lives.
‘I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church’, said Jesus to his friend, who was about as trustworthy as the box mountains that I built in my new suite. This same Peter, who would deny his friendship three times at the crow of a cock, this was the one to which Christ entrusted his love, and the whole loving enterprise he left behind.
‘Who do you say that I am’, he asked, and Peter responded most tellingly later on when he suffered a fate much like his friend Jesus: crucified on a cross in the name of his Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.
Looking at the water falling down towards the bedrock that holds firm Manhattan’s skyscrapers, I thought of my sister. For her family, and for me, my sister is the foundation and rock of our lives. She is not one to draw attention to herself, nor does she seek to have her own desires, needs or wants fulfilled before those of her family. She has always been there for her husband and her daughters, and for me. Always forgiving, ever patient, living her life very humbly and mostly in service to others. She can be strong-willed, and she does have her opinions—my sister is not perfect---but in the end, more than anything, you can count on her kindness and her love. Count on it, depend on it, know that it will always be there for you.
You build a city, a skyscraping building, a family, and a church on a beautiful rock that can bear the burden, shoulder the weight, that is a solid and dependable anchor.
At the very bottom of it all--the foundation beneath the foundation--is the love of God.
The loving creator of this ocean of a universe, giant rock of a planet, who made the forest, the streams, the wild flowers, the deer who eat your flowers and the cockroaches who share your apartment, who made your nieces and nephews, your sisters and brothers, your parents, your friends, neighbors and everyone everywhere: this God whom Jesus called the Father is the ultimate rock upon which we can rest.
And we can find our way to that foundation with the help of the very human, sometimes untrustworthy Church that Jesus empowered with his love. Sometimes its imperfect leaders build unsteady mountains that eclipse the light and topple under the weight of its sinful foundations, and people can be hurt, hearts can be broken.
But in the end, you know, we are all of us the Church, and upon this sometimes unsteady rock, Jesus still offers us the keys to the Kingdom, so that the whole world may know the love of Christ. Count on it, depend on it, know that it will always be there for you too.