The Rock

March 24, 2019

Series: March 2019

Category: Lent

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Isaiah 55:1-9

1Ho, everyone who thirsts,

come to the waters;

and you that have no money,

come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

without money and without price.

2Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,

and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,

and delight yourselves in rich food.

3Incline your ear, and come to me;

listen, so that you may live.

I will make with you an everlasting covenant,

my steadfast, sure love for David.

4See, I made him a witness to the peoples,

a leader and commander for the peoples.

5See, you shall call nations that you do not know,

and nations that do not know you shall run to you

because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel,

for he has glorified you.


6Seek the LORD while he may be found,

call upon him while he is near;

7let the wicked forsake their way,

and the unrighteous their thoughts;

let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them,

and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

8For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.

9For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 The Rock

          We all know what happened in New York City on September 11, 2001, and in Washington D.C., and in rural Pennsylvania, but I wonder if you know what happened in Newfoundland on that fateful day, particularly in the little town of Gander.  The musical Come From Away tells the true story of this small town, affectionately known as “The Rock.”  Within the span of a few hours Gander’s population, which was about 7,000 doubled.  With air travel grounded, some 38 planes were diverted to their airport which had an oversized landing strip from years before when it was a popular refueling stop before cross-Atlantic flights.

The passengers were kept on the planes for hours, some for more than a day, until everything could be checked out, so you can imagine the state they were in.  In an early scene in the musical, the pilot, a woman named Beverly, finally gets through to her family with the help of a passenger’s cell phone.  “Tell the kids I’m alright,” she sings, “take them into the kitchen and show them the map that we used to put pins in for each destination that we flew together.  Tell them I’m fine.  Put a pin here in Gander.”[1]

The heart-warming story shows how the locals quickly came to the aid of their unexpected guests, gathering basic supplies:  food, water, diapers, hygiene supplies…whiskey.  That brings whole new meaning to Isaiah’s line “…everyone who thirsts, come…” (Is. 55:1).  It turns out the musical and Isaiah’s writing may have more in common than it at first seems.  Isaiah is writing to a people who have been displaced too.  He’s speaking of a day when they will be invited to “buy” wine and milk “without money and without price” (v. 1).  Notice the turn of phrase.  In exile, even the basics were prohibitively expensive.  Part of coming home is having what you need to live. 

Isaiah asks a question that cuts right through his own time period into our own:  “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” that which is not basic, essential (v. 2).  How does this question land with you?  We all know the studies that tell us once basic needs are met and a degree of comfort is reached, additional wealth doesn’t add additional happiness, and yet the frenetic race for more seems as strong as ever.[2]  Last week I read from Thomas Aquinas.  Born in the 13th century and known as the greatest Catholic theologian, Aquinas helps us recognize that part of what we are doing when we continually look outside for something to fill us up is falling for the falsity that we are ever separate from God.[3]  When we know this, we are less likely to chase and chase for that which does not satisfy.  Born in the 20th century, investment giant Jack Bogle lamented the decay of the moral structure that surrounded our use of money and our financial system.  He lifted up other sources of value we should consider as we do our currency, fittingly in a book entitled “Enough.”  In it, he lifts us grace, kindness, integrity, passion, devotion, trust, cheerfulness, friendship, cooperation, dedication, and spirit.[4]

There are implications when we devote ourselves to the quest for that which is not bread, in other words that which does not truly nourish.  For those doing the questing, exhaustion, stress.  I sometimes wonder if “anxious” has replaced “busy” as the most used word in our lexicon.  I was shared and commend to you an article from The Atlantic this week on “workism.”  Among other things it cautions against the false promises of finding all of your meaning in your work.  Others bear the consequences of this way of life too, those on the other side of the relationships, the society at large, and even the earth itself.  In an article, the likes of which are becoming all too common, I read this week about a whale washing up with 90 lbs of plastic in its belly.[5]  We’re learning that disposable things aren’t, and know things are getting crushed under the weight of our lifestyle.  If my child comes home from school with one more piece of plastic knickknack, some reward for the class being quiet, or listening during music, or doing art, art—the making of beauty—my head is going to explode!  This is not just a trash rant.  It’s a concern about what we’re teaching our children, namely that the only things of value are external, material, given as a reward by someone else.  Thus, the only reason to assert one’s self is to “earn” this prize.  Lost is the intrinsic value of leaning, growth, the expansion of horizons.  How have we forgotten that doing art is the reward!? 

Our religion can help us remember.  If you don’t like the word religion, think of our common quest for spirit.  For five days, the tiny town of Gander became the crossroads of the world.  Wouldn’t you know that once people were allowed off the plane one of the first things many of them did was ground themselves in some form of worship:  a lapsed Christian remembering an old hymn, the words of St. Francis, “Make me a channel of your peace…”; a Rabbi offering prayers in Hebrew and being sought out by a local who has kept his Judaism a secret for all these years out of fear of persecution; Hindu’s chanting; and a Muslim, yes Muslims prayed that day too, praying to the God who is great.  Each of these expressions had a place and a voice, even on a day of such sectarian violence.

Of course, the harmony is not sustained without waver.  The Muslim is “accused” of not being American.  He was born in Connecticut.  As quickly as people pull together in times of crisis, so too do the seams show stress before long.  As is often the case, once the immediate crisis subsides life has a way of going back to business as usual unless there is something to sustain a new vision.  Self-interest, greed, tribalism, a predominant illusion of separateness sets back in.

Most of the time this happens in mundane, rather unremarkable ways until a new crisis emerges to wake us up yet again.  Think of the three religious communities in recent memory, where people gathered to meet on one level God, but were greeted instead by gunman:  a predominately African-American church Charleston, South Carolina; a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and now a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, all three the targets of the same form of terrorism, white supremacism. 

I am not wise enough to understand all of what causes such a thing; Isaiah does show us part of what is going on, and part of what is going on is the of feeding of hungry people with that which does not satisfy.  This kind of terrorism, perhaps like all terrorism, takes a group of people who feel some measure of desperation about a disappearing way of life and offers them a plate of violence as a main course.  Of course, it’s a particularly insidious menu because it does not satisfy.  It only creates more hunger and sparks a similar hunger for vengeance from those who suffer its consequences.  It’s like serving the thirsty saltwater.  Not only does it not satiate, it actively depletes, making the craving only grow.

There is no easy answer, but there is a path, though it is not easy.  It is the path of prayer.  I don’t mean prayer to a puppet master who will simply stop these things from happening, though I don’t mean to deny prayer’s cosmic effect.  I don’t think God’s the one who needs to change.  Rather, I am advocating being quiet long enough to find at the heart of every moment, the one who truly sustains, the one who we know as Christ, Christ who said, “Come to me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28), the one who said, “I am the bread of life (Jn. 6:35),” the one who said, “those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty” (Jn. 4:14).  These are the words we use to remember.

I do not know the precise words Muslims use, but I do know the two last words that the first victim said to the Christchurch shooter.  Do you know?  “Hello, brother.”  How extraordinary?  That was the rumor going around, at least, so I checked it out and sure enough this was reported on Al Jazeera…and Fox News.  Both confirm.  Of course, if you know much about Islam, you know it was quite ordinary.  “Hello, brother” is what a good Muslim says to any man who appears at the door of the masjid.

When we gathered at the Islamic Center of Mill Valley for a vigil last Friday, one of the rabbis from Kol Shofar, Rabbi Steinberg, told us how they remember.  He said the rabbis ask why in the Adam and Eve creation story is that we all come from one.  The answer is so that no one family can have grounds on which to claim to be better than the other, no race, no ethnicity, no nation, and in a sense even no religion can make such a claim.  We have, unavoidably, the same parents.  Our religious expressions do carry particular stories, but at their best, they ground that particular story within a universal story.

The momentary coming apart in Come from Away doesn’t last.  In an initiation of sorts by the locals the stranded guests are invited to down some cod together.  A pastor can’t help but see communion in the imagery, as all are made one and part of something larger in the moment. 

Near the end one of the musical, one woman remembers this about Newfoundland,  “Five hundred and forty million years ago, the continents of the world crashed together right here.  And two hundred million years ago, they separated again, moving apart from each other…But a little part of them was left behind.”  Ten years later, many of the stranded passengers reunite in Gander and find it to be true that a little part of them was left behind there.  It’s clear they have also carried some of the experience with them and have been subsequently shaped.

And so here we are, running into each other at different paces, sharing a little bit of ourselves along the way.  Perhaps it’s time to put down pin, to take a gander at what happens when people choose to come together and give away what truly sustains for no money, to recognize that though we all have landed here from different places, at least for a time, we all share the rock.  Amen. 



[3] From “You Cannot Be What God is Not” in Daniel Ladinsky, ed. Love Poems From God:  Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West (New York:  Penguin Compass, 2002), 147.

[4] John C. Bogle, Enough:  True Measures of Money, Business, and Life