August 11, 2019 Worship Sermon - "The Crazy (Horse) Sculpture"

Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser


Genesis 15:1-6,  Psalm 33:12-22,  Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16,   Luke 12:32-40

In the Black Hills of South Dakota, there are two monumental sculptures carved into the granite mountain tops.  The more famous of the two is Mount Rushmore, which depicts four of America’s greatest presidents.  But there’s an even larger monument that isn’t quite as well known and that’s a memorial to the Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse.  When it is completed, the Crazy Horse monument will be about ten times the size of Mount Rushmore.  Even though it’s not yet half-way completed, seeing the face of Crazy Horse carved into the top of the mountain is truly breathtaking.  But what is almost as inspiring is the story of Korczak Ziolkowski, the man who designed the monument. 

Before World War II, Korczak had begun to gain some renown as a sculptor.  One of his sculptures had won first prize at the 1939 World's Fair, so he was invited to work on Mount Rushmore.  While he was there, a Lakota chief named Standing Bear asked him to work on a similar monument for Native Americans, one that would show that they too had heroes.  Korczak was inspired by Standing Bear's vision, but World War Two interrupted his sculpting projects. 

After the war, he was offered lucrative commissions sculpting war memorials throughout Europe; but he remembered his promise to Standing Bear and returned to South Dakota to begin working on a memorial to Crazy Horse.  He found a 700-foot mountain - a craggy chunk of granite - and in it he visualized Crazy Horse sitting on his stallion, his hand extended over the sacred Black Hills. 

At this point, his vision was just an outrageous dream; he had no money, nor were there hoards of people offering to help him turn his dream into reality.  He got an old air compressor, a jack hammer, and a couple of boxes of dynamite and began chipping away at the mountain.  His air compressor was so old it would often give out.  He would crank it up to get it started, then climb with his jack hammer and a hose 700 feet up the mountain, only to hear the compressor sputter out once he got to the top.  Some days, he would have to climb up and down the mountain nine times, getting just a few inches of rock chipped away before the compressor gave out and had to be restarted.  The slow pace of his work led some of his detractors to joke, "The only thing crazy about the Crazy Horse memorial is the sculptor."

Korzcak continued to work on the monument for 35 years, until his death in 1982.  By that point, he had blasted away quite a bit of rock from the mountain, but still you could only see the crudest outline of the sculpture: no face or body; just a rough-hewn sphere for the head and a flat ledge which would become the arm.  He died with his dream unfinished, although his family has continued to work on the monument since his death.  Now, the face is complete and you can see a vague outline of what will become the horse's head. 

Korzcak's story came to mind when I read the passage from Hebrews.  This chapter is often called the "Faith Hall of Fame," because along with Abraham it lists all the great heroes of the faith from the Old Testament... people like Moses, Samuel, David.  What all these people have in common is that they spent their lives looking forward to the fulfillment of God's promise.   Abraham left his home and his family and, without knowing where he was going, journeyed to the land God promised.  Moses saw the people of Israel freed from slavery in Egypt; he journeyed with them right up to the border of the Promised Land, but never entered himself. 

Like Korczak, all of these heroes of the faith had a vision and spent their lives yearning for it, even though they themselves would never see the vision fulfilled. That - Hebrews tells us - is what faith looks like. 

Reinhold Niebuhr - that great theologian of the 20th century - put it this way: "Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in one lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope."  Abraham and Moses spent their lives yearning for a vision that was far too great to complete in one lifetime.

Once I got into a conversation with someone in a park near here.  When he learned that I was a pastor, he asked about the Christian faith, "Isn't that just a bunch of wishful thinking... something Christians tell themselves because they can't face the hard truths of reality?"

I prefer to think of it as anticipatory thinking.  The Christian faith leads us to anticipate a better world... a world where injustice and war and deprivation have been overcome.  As Hebrews puts it, we look forward to a better country, which we call the "Kingdom of God."  Even though there is still plenty of injustice and violence in the world, our vision of the Kingdom gives us the courage to live as if the Kingdom were already here.  We refuse to give into cynicism.  We refuse to believe that this world is nothing more than dog-eat-dog, so you better eat before you get eaten.    

We look forward to a better country; we live as if that country were already here; and in doing this that better country starts to take shape among us. 

That's what Holy Communion is all about.  We share a meal where everyone gets fed, regardless of how rich or deserving they may be.  This meal is an anticipation of the Kingdom, and in sharing it, that Kingdom starts to take shape among us. 

It's like Rosa Parks refusing to go to the back of the bus; she refused to live in the world of Jim Crowe; she decided to live as if those unjust laws didn't exist; and in doing so she helped to bring the Jim Crowe world to an end.   

That anticipatory vision is at the very core of the Christian faith.  Jesus gave us the vision: the Kingdom of God.  He lived as if the Kingdom were among us: he forgave sins; he fed the hungry; he liberated those oppressed by demons.  It got him crucified, because not everyone was particularly moved by his vision.  But the vision was stronger than death.  The disciples knew that Jesus was still alive among them.  His Spirit gave them the power to continue to live the vision... to continue to make the vision a reality.

Abraham was a great visionary - a hero of the faith.  But I'm so glad the lectionary couples the reading from Hebrews with the reading from Genesis.  The picture of Abraham in Hebrews is airbrushed; Genesis shows us all of his warts.  When God promises to make a great nation out of him, Abraham's response is, "Prove it!"  And this isn't the last time he doubts God.  He does it again and again.  Just like the people of Israel doubt God again and again, even after God liberated them from slavery in Egypt.  The Bible gives such unheroic pictures of our ancestors in the faith so that we'll know that accomplishing the vision does not depend on us.  If it did, we'd be lost, because we're no better than Abraham or Moses.  God is the one who brings the vision into reality.  The Holy Spirit is the one who empowers us to live and work toward the heavenly city that God has promised. 

So, what is our Crazy Horse Memorial?  What vision has God given us, a vision so outrageous it could never be completed in our own lifetime? 

Christ Lutheran Community Church

Christ Lutheran Community Church

Upper Darby