The Rock

Feet in athletic shoes standing on a worn rock.

On Christ the solid rock I stand,

all other ground is sinking sand;

All other ground is sinking sand.

I stood with the congregation to sing My Hope Is Built and leaned on the back of the pew in front of me for support.

My problem on this particular morning was not sinking sand, but a bad back.

It happens from time to time. I lean over to put something in a cupboard or tie a shoe and – bam! – out goes my lower back.

I’ve learned there’s not much to be done about it beyond icing, heating, and ibuprofen. It takes its time and eventually heals.

I’ve also learned that those around me generally offer a hand – either literally or figuratively – until I start functioning on all cylinders again.

So there I was, standing (a bit crooked) amidst the congregation of Highland Avenue United Methodist Church in Bellview, West Virginia, belting out the alto line to this classic hymn.

Highland Avenue United Methodist Church in Bellview, West Virginia. Sign board and front door.

This was the last Sunday of the Summer Itinerancy 2015 (which you can read about here.)

Standing solidly to my left and to my right that morning were friends from two other congregations I visited during the 14 week journey. Nestled among friends in a welcoming congregation, nursing a bad back, I sensed I was on solid rock.

This particular Sunday, churches statewide observed a “Day of Hope” for those suffering from addictions and for those who love them, and who worry and care about them.

We asked God to keep us from judging (“There is no hope for you!”); or despairing (“There is no hope for any of us.”); or sliding into indifference (“I’m not all that interested in hope and don’t really care one way or the other.”)

On this “Day of Hope” we challenged ourselves to help those with addictions find solid ground; to help them build hope.

We, the church, are the Body of Christ. We represent the physical presence of the solid rock mentioned in our opening hymn – the rock on which hope is built.

His oath, his covenant, his blood

support me in the whelming flood.

When all around my soul gives way,

he then is all my hope and stay.

Individually we are not the rock.

But as the connected Body of Christ with all its diverse parts, we represent to the world an opportunity to discover solid footing; to find people to lean on when slipping; to join people who have not given up – on themselves, on each other, or on Christ’s church.

Through our connection within the Body of Christ we can offer a hand up to anyone trying to get their footing on the rock; anyone needing hope.

And of course “anyone needing hope” includes us all.

As this worship service ended (and with it, my Summer Itinerancy), I gingerly stood up and joined with the congregation to sing Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.

What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms;

What a blessedness, what a peace is mine, leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning,

Safe and secure from all alarms;

Leaning, leaning,

Leaning on the everlasting arms.

I sang out as one firmly standing in the knowledge that I am welcome and belong on the rock; that I have a vast connection of brothers and sisters across the rock who will offer me a hand when I lose my footing; and that my mission as a disciple of Christ is to reach out to anyone slipping off the rock, anyone seeking a way onto the rock, and to anyone struggling in sinking sand, still unaware of the existence of a solid rock nearby – a solid rock with space for them.

My hope is built on nothing less.

My grandfather standing on an outcropping of rock in the mountains.

My grandfather, Russell Dewayne Lowther, standing on solid rock in the Appalachian mountains during the Depression of the 1930s. He was traveling home after participating in training for ministry. Photo by my grandmother, Catherine Bush Lowther.

My grandfather and friends on outcropping of rock in the mountains.

My grandfather – and friends – on the rock. There’s room on the rock. Photo by Catherine Bush Lowther.

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