Building on Good Foundations – February 13, 2011
Deuteronomy 30:15-20, I Corinthians 3:1-10
February 13, 2011
Do you love trees? I do! What amazing evidence they are for the existence of God!! I agree with Joyce Kilmer the poet, who wrote, “Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.” The structure of trees is magnificent, and their “creation” comes from tiny seeds, seemingly “ex nihilo” – out of nothing!
Well, when I look at trees, I’m also intrigued by how much is below ground! Often, when I see a forest, I think of the “forest” of roots below all those trees! Anyone who has ever had to take a tree down knows that the roots can be really hard to deal with! That’s because roots are the “strong foundation” of the tree. In fact, if a storm is particularly violent, it’s often described as having the power to “uproot” trees! We also use the metaphor of being “uprooted” to describe times of great upheaval in our lives, times when we’ve had to make a big move from one place to another.
Well, the same can be said of buildings. We see what’s above the ground, but do we ever think about what’s below the ground? I once took the harbor tour in New York City. (I took the 2 hour tour. Because I had seen Gilligan’s Island too many times to take the “3 hour tour.”) Well, part of the tour on the water was a tour of the skyline. Our tour guide told us a lot about the skyscrapers and the land on which they were built. And he told us that the reason they were able to build so high in New York City was that the bedrock – the schist, as it’s called – is very hard, and it’s very close to the surface. (I remember thinking that it was really God who laid the foundations of NYC!) At several places we were told just how deep – or how relatively shallow – the builders had to dig in order to set certain buildings on firm foundations.
That’s important, isn’t it? Maybe you saw the recent pictures on the internet of the apartment building in China that fell over on it’s side – just like it laid down – completely intact! The problem was the ground on which it’s foundation was laid. Maybe those pictures help us appreciate, even more, the foundations of those buildings that “tower” above us when we walk around the city!
Often, the laying of foundations can be the hardest work! I’ve been reading David McCullough’s book on the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. And it’s fascinating! That bridge is more than a century old, and it’s relatively small by today’s standards, but in the 1870’s it was an unbelievable achievement! And the laying of its foundations on the bedrock under the East River was a difficult and dangerous process.
Enormous wood and iron boxes called “caissons” were sunk to the bottom of the river. They were each almost the size of a football field, and they were open on the bottom. The river water was kept out by compressed air, the same way a glass inverted in water keeps the water out. The workers went inside through airlocks and excavated the river bottom. As they dug out the material, the caisson would sink, until, after several months it reached the bedrock. It was then filled with concrete and became the foundation for the huge towers that supported the bridge itself. It was an ingenious plan, except that working in the depths of the river, the workers actually got “the bends” – the condition that scuba divers get if they surface to quickly.
If you saw that magnificent bridge today, you would probably marvel at the gothic towers and the spider-web of cables and wires that are quick to catch the eye. But it was the foundations, and the caisson workers who built them, that made that bridge possible, and make it the structure it remains today. Remember, it was built before cars! But it was built so strong that now it carries cars, trucks, and even trains.
I’ve said all this today because I want us to be thinking about the foundation of our lives, and specifically our lives of faith. What are those things built on? In his very last illustration in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells about the two men who built their houses on the sand, and on the rock. I think you know that story. (It’s at the end of Matthew 7.) As he closed that most famous sermon, Jesus wanted to leave the people thinking about their foundations.
So, what about you? What’s your foundation? What is the bedrock upon which your faith sits? And how was it built? Who helped you to pour the footers, or lay the cornerstone? Sometimes we get so far away from the beginnings of our faith that we forget all that stuff! That’s one of the reasons I like to do a “Recommitment Sunday” at the beginning of the New Year. I think we need to remember those things. And we need to celebrate those things. The people in the Old Testament did that all the time. If something significant happened, they would build an altar or a shrine or something to commemorate it! We do, too.
As we move through this anniversary year, I want you to think about your own personal anniversaries of faith. I want you to remember those things that mark your own spiritual journey. Where were those “Mountaintops? Did they happen on a retreat? Did they happen at camp? (Was it Kirkwood?) Was it in Sunday School? Were they powerful experiences, or was it just a subtle, but growing knowledge of the love and grace of God? We don’t think of those things often enough! I know I don’t. And it’s fun to revisit them, to remember our roots, and see how far we’ve come!
We’re also thinking about the foundations of this church – this congregation. And that helps us remember our personal history – especially if it’s tied to this congregation! And I hope the farther we go in this anniversary year, the more we’ll thinking about that! One of the celebrations we have planned for June will be right around the anniversary of the “laying of the cornerstone.” I think that happened June 30th. And just as surely as a physical foundation was laid and a building grew upon it, those who came before us have built the spiritual foundations upon which we build today. Sometimes we even refer to certain people as “pillars” of the Church. And I think the metaphor fits!
Did you ever think of yourself as a “pillar” of this Church? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. But I do know that you are the ”Saints” of the Church! That was Paul’s name for the believers. So, you are the “Saints at Eddington.” And while you’re thinking about that, let me ask you also to think of how you might be contributing to the spiritual foundations of someone else! That’s why God put us in congregations. He wants us to grow together and help nurture each other in the faith. So, maybe you’re “digging the footing” for someone. Maybe you’re laying the foundation. Maybe you’re actually working on the construction of the building.
Paul used this wonderful metaphor in our passage in Corinthians. He said that in their spiritual grown, some planted the seed, some watered, and some saw the growth. Isn’t the growth of faith all about that process? It’s about all of us being in this together. We’re all pieces of a much larger puzzle. Not everybody does all the jobs. If you think back on your own life of faith, I think you’ll find that metaphor to be true. Someone planted the seed in you. Someone watered. Others saw the growth. Maybe you can recall who played each of those roles in your life. Someone, maybe by their example, made the faith appealing to you. Someone else explained the faith and inspired you to follow. Someone helped you grow, maybe even through tough times. Who were each of those people for you?
When we think about sharing that faith with others, it’s the same thing. We don’t have to do all those jobs. I know sometimes we think we do, and that’s a stumbling block. We’re reluctant to say anything to anyone because we think we don’t “know enough.” We think we need to know all the answers, and we don’t. And we don’t know where it’s going to lead. But that doesn’t matter! It may be our job simply to plant the seed. And that may only be in the example of the way we live! The Pharisees asked the man born blind if he knew what Jesus was all about. And he said, “All I know is that I was blind, but now I see!” We don’t have to know a lot. We just have to live it. And our actions may be the thing that makes someone else think seriously about God. And that can be exciting!
The down side of that – and I say this often, too – is that our actions may also be what cause people to want to have nothing to do with God! And that should be a bit scarey! We need to remember that, at any one time, we might be the only Jesus someone else ever sees. Isn’t that a huge responsibility? In I Corinthians, Paul is sharing his concerns about how they had divided themselves into “factions.” “Some say they belong to Paul, some to Apollos, some to Peter.” And that really bothered him! Unity was a HUGE thing to Paul! It was all about their witness to the world.
When we share our faith, we’re sharing our story. That’s what the life of faith is! It’s a story. It’s a witness to what God has done in our lives. Sometimes the word “Witness” is a misnomer. Sometimes people think to “witness” is to “tell of,” or to “explain.” But it’s not. To witness, is to “give testimony to.” Why do advertisers get celebrity spokesmen for their products? It’s not because their voice is “authoritarian.” It’s their testimony that gives their voice value! What does the product mean to them?!
So, here we are at a milestone year. And it is my hope that you will remember and celebrate all the milestones – personally, and as a congregation. And as you do, think about old Moses, as he addressed the people there in the desert. They had reached the Promised Land. That was their huge milestone! So he said, “See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil…” How are you going to live? Will you honor God? Will you serve him in this new land?
We stand on the threshold of the future. And as we think about that, I ask you to think about foundations? Will our building – this body of Christ here on earth – continue to honor him in the future??
Eternal God, we thank you for walking with us in this journey of our lives. We thank you for guiding us as a congregation. Help us to remember as you did the people of old. Continue to give us the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as we look to the future with faith, hope, and love. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.