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October 8, 2017

“How Firm a Foundation?”

Matthew 7:24-29

As a child and teenager, I was blessed enough to have a family cabin at a place called Dillon Beach. Now as a family, we didn’t take many trips to typical vacations spots like the Grand Canyon or Disneyland (We went once to both places when I was five and that was it). Every summer we went to our beach cabin, known as “Happy House.” I lived in Sacramento at the time, and it was such a wonderful feeling to drive to the coast in the midst of a hot, blazing summer, and feel that ocean breeze as we got closer and closer to Dillon Beach. We would spend the better part of a month at the cabin every summer, and also went there at other times during the year. This is an actual picture of the cabin I used to go to, but it has been updated quite a bit. I loved that cabin and miss it dearly. Despite my perfect childhood memories, the cabin was far from perfect. You see, that cabin had no foundation, and yet it was built on the side of a sloping, gentle hill. The corners of the cabin were on concrete blocks, which were on sand, which shifted down towards the ocean, often. I remember my dad from time to time going down into the basement and using jacks to move the cabin back under its cement blocks.(Still not sure how he did that!) I also remember my grandpa saying that the cabin had sunk a bit over the decades- the ceiling above the garage/basement used to be just tall enough to get the car in, due to the cabin sinking over the years. Our family cabin was literally built upon the sand. When someone else bought the place, as you can see by the 5-6 feet of concrete foundation now under the cabin, one of the first things they did was put in a proper foundation. The cabin is a LOT taller now!

When I began working on the sermon for today last week, I thought immediately of that cabin at Dillon Beach when I read about the foolish man building upon the sand. I guess whoever originally built that cabin back in the early 1900’s was either trying to save money or time, and foolishly built the house upon sand. It really needed a proper foundation. The correlation for us of course is that we need a proper foundation for our lives as well. Let’s take a closer look at this well-known parable to see how it relates to us today, as we complete our time in Jesus’ foundational sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. Let’s begin by unpacking the symbolism behind the parable.

The house in this parable stands for everything about our lives- our families, our career, our home, our finances, our hobbies, our society and the nation in which we live- all of those things in life of which we hold dear. Then there are two choices for where to build our lives- either we choose sand, or rock. The sand represents a life not led by love and all of those principles we have been studying in Jesus’ sermon. Such a foundation is built upon personal freedom, care of self over community, a philosophy of intellect and or reason, personal choice, that sort of thing. The sand is not a good place to build upon.

Now in Palestine, where Jesus would have placed this parable, there are many dry stream beds upon which a person might build a home more easily. Why? Because the area is flat. These dry sandy stream beds, were known as “wadis”. So the footing for the house could easily be dug and the builder would be saved the effort of carrying stones up the side of a slope to construct the walls. But this kind of home would have been much like Happy House- no foundation. And in this case, all goes well until the rains come, and the wadi becomes a flooding torrent, washing away the home.

Lives built upon sand can be found in many places.  A primary example for a life built upon sand is the atheist philosophy. A couple of years ago, I read the book, What Christians Can Learn From Other Religions, by Philip J. Wogamon. His chapter on atheism was an interesting read. He quoted British biologist Richard Dawkins, who is an outspoken author on the evils of religion. Dawkins says that an atheist is “somebody who believes there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world, no supernatural creative intelligence lurking behind the observable universe, no soul that outlasts the body and no miracles-except in the sense of natural phenomena that we don’t yet understand. If there is something that appears to lie beyond the natural world as it is now imperfectly understood, we hope eventually to understand and embrace it within the natural.” Another well-known atheist, Bertrand Russell writes, “The universe is without ultimate purpose; it remains for humanity to construct its own purposes. Most atheists vigorously insist that their lives are governed by values, although those values are not derived in any way from a divine Creator at the center of all being.”

For me, living with such a world view would be so difficult. The universe has no purpose? There is nothing about our lives that has meaning? We just need to come up with our own values, construct our own principles, and keep on living until we die a meaningless death. Living a life with no purpose, no sense of direction from a Creator, no real wonder about creation and the Creator of life, and no expectation of help or Godly wisdom when the storms come sounds difficult, hopeless and dark- it is a life built upon an unsolid foundation.

 I can remember a storage shed at my last church which had an unsolid foundation.  The Presbyterian women’s group had a storage shed out on the deck by the fellowship hall. It would slowly sink, year after year. We had to cut the bottom of the door off a few of times so that, as this foundationless shack slowly sank, we could still open the door without scraping along the deck. It was a sad little shack in need of help, and reminded me of living a life with no faith. I so prefer to see this world in wonder, made by a creative and loving God.

For example, on September 15 of last month the Cassini spacecraft completed its 20 year mission, burning up in the atmosphere of the planet, Saturn. Launched in October of 1997, Cassini changed what we know about Saturn in so many ways The spacecraft discovered a giant continuous hurricane, which popped up in 2010 and has been storming ever since. It took pictures of the rings and was able to photograph vertical matter in the rings. It revealed the moon Titan to be very earthlike in some ways- with rain, rivers, lakes and seas on its surface, suggesting the possibility of life. And on the moon Enceladus, it took pictures and video of icy plumes erupting from its surface, also suggesting a liquid sea and again the possibility of life.

I love the scientific study of the universe and all of the new things it reveals to us about God’s creativity and vastness. I would much rather see places like Saturn and the rest of the universe as the psalmist does in psalm 8. “O Lord our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! Thou whose glory above the heavens is chanted by the mouth of babes and infants… When I look at the heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and stars which You have made, who are we mortals, that You are mindful of us?” (Psalm 8 1-2a;3-4a)

 

“ Ultimately, faith is the only key to the universe. The final meaning of human American Monk Thomas Merton wrote, existence, and the answers to the questions on which our happiness depends cannot be found in any other way.” I would much rather build my life upon the rock of faith, and see the world as a wonder of the Creator, and creation itself as a rich blessing for us.

What then does a rock foundation consist of? From far away it looks like one solid thing- Matthew 7:12, where Jesus sums up all of his teaching from his first sermon, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you. We know the specific parameters of that golden rule foundation.  It is a foundation which blesses the poor and those who mourn; a foundation that hungers and thirsts for the world to be right; a foundation that lives out mercy, purity of heart and seeks peace. It is a foundation which seeks to live out the teachings of Christ so that this world would be a better palace “on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

AND, When the storms come- and they will come, for having faith does not somehow protect us from the difficulties, and sorrows in this life- I would much rather have a God there to give me strength, to help me through the struggles, to provide some light in the darkness, to perhaps find meaning or purpose in suffering. That is a foundation upon which a house can stand in the midst of storms that do come to us in this life. As the apostle Paul said, “We live by faith, not by sight.” (2nd Corinthians 5:7) Those storms aren’t always personal. Sometimes, they are much larger and affect many people at once.

An all too familiar storm came upon us as a nation last week in Las Vegas-another mass shooting. The shooter purchased all of his guns legally, purchased modifications on line legally and created weapons no private citizen should be able to get ahold of, resulting in the deaths of at least 59 people, with another 500+ wounded. America has lost its foundation- one carried by Puritans who came to these shores hundreds of years ago. We are now a nation built upon guns, violence and protection of the right to bear ANY arms at any cost. We are suffering as a result. The Guardian reports, No other developed nation comes close to the rate of gun violence in America. Americans own an estimated 265m guns, more than one gun for every adult.” According to the Gun Violence Archive, “There is a mass shooting approximately every nine out of 10 days in the U.S., according to data collected by the Gun Violence Archive. The Gun Violence Archive defines "mass shooting" as four or more people shot in one scene, excluding the shooter.” Fitting this definition, there were 6 other mass shootings in America last week in addition to Las Vegas.6!

Just like the old family beach cabin, this nation needs a new foundation- one built upon Christ and the ways of peace, love, mercy and forgiveness. What can we do? I admit, after the mass shooting of 26 innocent children in Newtown Connecticut in 2012, I thought perhaps there would be a conversation about legislating sensible gun laws. I was shocked and saddened to see that the governing legislators did no such thing. In light of their inaction and the current partisanship going on in Washington right now, I am turning my hopes to other organizations which are working for sane gun laws in America. Just this past Friday, I joined the Newtown Action Alliance, which was formed by the parents of children lost in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. There are others I would encourage you to support as well; Americans for Responsible Solutions- run by Gabby Giffords and her husband; Everytown; The Brady Campaign; Vision Quilt-which as you heard was first supported by the Peace House here in Ashland. These are some of the many organizations seeking to educate and to challenge the current laws regarding the second amendment.

It is time for us to act, to act from the foundation of Christ’s teachings and call for M-16s and AR-15 guns to be beaten into plowshares and pruning hooks. Prayers are indeed important after this horrific tragedy in Las Vegas. Yet James 2:17 reminds us that “Faith without works is dead.”  It is time to act, to support those organizations who can give us as a new foundation as a nation- one not built upon guns and violence, but instead built upon the ways of peace from the Prince of Peace.

There are those who say we cannot legislate morality for the heart, and that there isn’t a gun problem, but that America has a heart problem. In his address to Western Michigan University in 1963, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, "It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law can't change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can't make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important also. So while the law may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men if it is vigorously enforced. When you begin to change the habits of people, attitudinal changes begin to take place, and they begin to adjust in an amazing way to things that they never thought they could adjust to, and I've seen this over and over again. There is still a need for vigorous legislation, and legislation that's strongly enforced to deal with many of our social problems."

So let us go from this place, seeking to build our lives upon the rock of faith. And may we act to steer our nation away from bloodshed towards the solid foundation of Christ’s teachings, so that one day, this nation looks more as Jesus said in the Lord’s Prayer “on earth as it is in heaven.”(Matthew 6:10) Alleluia. Amen

In honor of last week being the celebration of St. Francis, I will close with his prayer. “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive,  it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,  and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.” - Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

Questions

  1. What kind of foundation did you grow up with, one built on faith or upon something else?
  2. How has your faith helped you through the storms that come in life?
  3. Is there something you think you can do personally about gun violence in this nation? Will you commit yourself to it today?
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