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Featured Sermon of the Week:

Previously published on DPS:


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Construction Zone 
a sermon based on Matthew 7:21-29
by Rev. Randy Quinn

It often comes as a surprise when people learn that my undergraduate degree is a Bachelor of Science in Building Construction.

 Yes.  Building Construction.

It was and is an interdisciplinary degree combining elements of Civil Engineering and Architecture with Business.  Most of my classmates became contractors when they graduated or worked in the management end of large construction firms.

Many of my classmates had been carpenters, electricians, and plumbers who were looking to move out of the job site to the office.  And almost all of them found themselves on a construction site during the summer to pay for their education.  I was always grateful for their experiences because they asked the most pertinent and practical questions of our professors and instructors.

But generally I found myself in a strange environment.  It was a very practical and concrete field to study, but my lack of experience in it made it seem rather theoretical and abstract.  One of the demands my Navy ROTC Scholarship placed upon me was summer training with the Navy rather than on a construction site.  And in fact, most of my hands on experience with construction has been on the roofs of churches I’ve served as pastor!

I probably could have gotten work in the field of construction when I graduated, but twenty some years later, there is no way.  I might have been able to put my education into practice then, but today most of what I learned has been forgotten.

Not that my education was wasted, mind you.  The process of learning was important and helped shape my view of the world.  The methods of research and study that I learned continue to affect the way I look for answers to questions and puzzles.

But whenever I get my alumni magazine I realize that I could never do what my classmates are doing – and they probably couldn’t do what I do, either.

We put different aspects of our education into practice.  And today our lives look very different.

Some people do the same thing with their Sunday School education.  They think confirmation is the equivalent of graduation and think their spiritual formation is complete.  So they stop attending church and stop praying and stop living their lives in response to the grace of God.

(That’s part of the reason our gift for this year’s High School graduates is a “Spiritual Formation Bible.”  I know and I want our graduates to remember that the process of spiritual formation is a life-long process.  Hopefully our gift will be used as a good tool for that process to continue throughout their lives.)

I know someone who left the church after he graduated from High School, and when he was in his mid-forties blamed the church for not teaching him what it meant to be a Christian.  Today he is all-too-quick to accuse me of not teaching young people how to live their lives in response to God’s grace without ever acknowledging his own guilt in not putting what he had learned into practice. 

His spiritual formation was like my college education.  Without putting it into practice, it became outmoded and outdated.  When he finally came to a critical point in his life, a point where he needed to practice what he had been taught, he found that he needed to relearn everything he had been taught as a youth.

A pastor friend of mine once told me that during Lent he memorizes the Sermon on the Mount and then on Palm Sunday every year he recites this incredible sermon that Jesus preached.  It’s long enough that he has difficulty remembering it from year to year, but each year it has become easier to memorize what has become familiar.

He told me that each year members of his congregation are moved to tears by hearing this incredible sermon of Jesus.

Our text today is the last illustration from that sermon.

And the irony of my friend’s practice is that you can memorize the sermon and recite it every day, but if it doesn’t show up in the way you LIVE your life, the sermon is meaningless.  It has no power until it is practiced.

I think the fact that the crowds who heard the sermon marveled at the authority of Jesus has more to do with the way he LIVED the sermon than with the content of the sermon (Mt 7:28-29).  They knew he spoke from his heart and “practiced what he preached.”

It may be that my friend’s life also reflected his belief and practice, but in the way he told me the story, I sensed the “crowds” who heard him were amazed at his ability to memorize so much material as much as they were by the message itself.

When Jesus preached his sermon it was not just a hollow recitation of words.  It was not just a theoretical way of understanding who God is and who God asks us to be in relationship to him.

One of my college classmates wanted to start his own house-moving business when we graduated, but Mark’s business didn’t survive an early mishap.[1]

It was his very first house and so he very carefully measured the house and poured a new foundation to match.  He was careful to make the new foundation walls as thick as the old ones were.  And he made sure they were level and smooth.

Then he jacked up the old house little by little before putting it on wheels and rolling it down the street to its new location.  But as he lowered it onto the new foundation, one of the walls of the house fell and the house collapsed.

Mark learned a hard lesson that day.  The old foundation was crooked and the house was suited for the old foundation, not for the new one.

Many people will acknowledge that the life of a Christian is to be built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ.  But not everyone remembers that the house needs to match the foundation, too.

In the minds of most people today, it’s understood that a High School education is only the starting point in life.  It may feel like the “end of the road” for the students, but most of us recognize the need for more training before entering the workforce – whether technical training or earning a college diploma or even entering the military.  High School is not the end of our education; it’s simply the foundation upon which the rest of our education will rest.

And from that same “foundation” many different lives can be built.

In the life of a Christian, the same can be said about our faith.  The “foundation” is Jesus.  But the life that we build upon it will be as varied as our fingerprints.  The church is not a place that builds lives all the same like some large suburban development might.

But if we don’t try to build anything on the foundation, there really is no place to stand when the storms of life wail upon us.

And make no mistake, the storms will come.  And some of us will weather the storms better than others will.


[1]  The story is completely fictitious.  Mark dropped out of school and I never heard from him again, but we had become close during school because of our practice of praying together and doing Bible study along with our coursework and projects.

 


 

Build Your Ark for God
a sermon based on Genesis 6:5-8,17-22, 8:13-22
by Rev. Frank Schaefer

This morning, we are faced with one of those stories in the bible which are a challenge to preach. We read about God being upset at his creatures. In fact, God is so sorry to have made human beings that  he decides to wipe out all of humanity by a flood of universal magnitude. The first image that came to my mind preparing this message was that of the Tsunami earlier this year--the seaquake that caused tidal waves and floods that killed almost a quarter million people. The question in many people's mind about the Tsunami of 2005 was: "why would God allow for something like this to happen?" If anyone is in charge of natural disasters it is God. For the most part, the church's response to these questions was: no, this is not God's doing. It is not an act of judgment on anybody. God is weeping with us and is present in the rescue efforts and the survival efforts of the victims. God, through the church, is also supporting the victim's surviving families; the outpouring of financial and other aids, primarily through religious organizations, has made a strong statement in support of the theological acclaim that God is a good and compassionate God.

But this morning we read about a time when God indeed decided to punish and destroy. God was upset at people for their sinful and uncaring ways. Many have wondered if people at Noah's time were really that much worse than Noah's offspring today. What unsettles me most about the story of Noah and the flood is the question of whether God still gets upset with people, at us, at me. And what are the consequences of God's anger? Is God going to punish us when we get on his bad side?

We are so used to hearing about God as loving, compassionate, and patient with us that a story like this can scare us a little. If we look a little closer though, we notice that God's emotion may not be that of anger, but rather that of disappointment. In verse 13 God is said to convey to Noah, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth."

This is a rather matter-of-factly statement about the condition of humanity at Noah's time. No doubt, God is disappointed about the corruption and the sin, like parents would be disappointed over the wrong choices their children are making. God's decision to bring on the flood and to wipe out the human race may have been made of necessity.  There was just no hope for humanity back then.  Still, from the human perspective this is very hard to understand and very hard to take. Did not God give his creatures free choice to begin with? So, God must have known that there was a strong possibility that people would make wrong choices.

As I prepared this message, I became aware of the fact that, the longer I thought about this story, the more I was trying to rescue God's image. I was trying to save God from being thought of as an angry, tyrannical, and vengeful God and I was desperately looking for a redeeming aspect in this inhumane sounding story.

Maybe, that's not being faithful to the biblical witness. Perhaps, I should have followed some of my colleagues into preaching a "hellfire-and-brimstone" message having us all sweat at the fact that God might smite us too; that we should shape up, stop sinning, or else face the terrible consequences of sinful people in the hands of an angry God, but . . . something within me prevents me from going there.

So, then I noticed that after God makes his admittedly inhumane decision, the focus shifts; it is no longer on the punishment or the destruction, but it is now on salvation. For instance,  in the story the list of the animal types and numbers are repeated four times. And think about this: the fact that Noah was to build a huge ship nowhere near a lake or an ocean was really a message of salvation to the people of the earth. In fact, we read in the verses that are not part of our reading this morning that people did take and interest and asked Noah what this building was about. At that moment Noah became a messenger from God, reaching out to people, trying to warn them and trying to save them from the impeding doom.

When the Tsunami disaster was covered extensively by the news media, we learned that it had, in part, become so catastrophic in nature because there are no proper seismographic warning devices in place in the Asian area. In the United States, we were assured that warning devices were in place, that we could rest assured that evacuations would be announced and organized in case of a sea quake in our immediate area.

Well, in the biblical story of the flood, God is giving proper warning to the people of the earth, by having Noah and his family build a humongous ship in the middle of dry land, coupled with a warning of the flood, coupled with a message that there is a way out. The good news of the flood story is that God is a God of Salvation, that the choice is ours. There is still time to change, there is still time to "evacuate."

Even today, God is reaching out to us. We believe that end of our days is coming (everybody dies), we believe that God is a righteous God and will restore justice in the earth, we believe that God's judgment will be just and fair and that the bad and corrupt will be punished and that the victims will receive retribution and comfort. And we know from watching the news and from looking around us that this world is still corrupt, that violence and sin still prevails. Maybe there are some in this world, who truly live a good and righteous, and compassionate life; I'm not going to judge anybody. But I do know that there are plenty of people in the world who are lost, who do need forgiveness, who do need to change, who do need to come clean with their maker.

And as Christians, we have the good news of Christ to bring to them: a message of grace by a God of second chances, a message of forgiveness and the possibility to change and become fruitful and fulfilled human beings. And so, God is still building his ark among us--even today. God's signs of love, compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation stands tall with God's original messenger Jesus Christ and with all those who follow in his footsteps. As Christians we are all tsunami warning devices, we are all called to build our ark, we are all called to reach out and save as many people as we can from the destruction of sin and Godlessness.

Yes, God's work of salvation is not finished here, and it seems that God is using us as he used Noah and his family to complete his work of salvation.

There is a great midrash by Cherie Karo Schwartz which describes this task of ours so well. According to this midrash, "Noah and his family gazed at the beautiful arc of light, watching the rainbow flow from one end to the other. They saw it touching near and far, bridging sky and ground.

And then Japheth, Noah's youngest son, asked his father, “We came full circle in our journey on the ark, from dry land to water and once again to dry land. Why doesn't the rainbow come full circle?”

Noah puzzled over his son's question. He looked up to study the arc of colors in the sky. Then he answered:

“Perhaps the rainbow is a sign. Not all things are yet full circles. God has begun the work by making the arc in the heavens. Making the arc come full circle here on earth will be our work.” And so it remains." (Cherie Karo Schwartz, from Reading Between the Lines: New Stories from the Bible , edited by David Katz and Peter Lovenheim). Scroll down for the complete midrash text.

Isn't it an honor that God shares his work of salvation with us? That's the kind of God we have, that the kind of grace God extends to us and to all of his creation. Let's take him up on it. Let's get busy building our ark for God. The task is tall, but it's great to be a part of the compassion of God reaching those who are in a very dark place. Praise be to God for his compassion and love that he shares with all of us!

Amen.


Midrash by Cherie Karo Schwartz.

Noah and his family stepped out from the ark into the first sunshine they had seen in forty days and stood upon land. When they saw the clean new Earth, Noah and his family wept for joy. God wept with them. God spoke to Noah and his family, saying:

“I am your God who brought you forth into this new land. Look around you and see the cleansed Earth. Listen and hear the sounds of animals and see the wind moving through the trees. The world is once again new. I know the world cannot always be this way: it does not seem to be human nature to always be good. But you and the generations to come after you can try.” Noah was willing to do whatever God asked of him.

God continued, “I will make a covenant with you., the first of the world's new people. I will give you a sign that I am with you, one that will remind you that the world was created in peace and then re-created in peace, to remain so for all time. The sign will be a bow, that fills the heavens, an arc of light. But this will be a new light, one that shines through the waters of a flood or a rain of tears. This light will show all the colors of beauty that can fill your lives as you live in peace.”

Then God bent toward the Earth with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and made an arc across the sky. And just where the hand of God had been, there was a sheltering band of every color spread out across the clear blue sky.

First, red for the blood that gives people life.

Then orange, for the flames of warmth that bring comfort, and for the fire of the soul.

Yellow, for the sun which helps all things grow, in the full light of day.

Green, for grass and trees, and the plant's new life.

Blue, for the sky and the sea, connecting heaven and earth.

Indigo, for the dawn and the dusk, at the beginning of the day and of the night.

And violet, for the deep night, when the world rests and renews itself.

Noah and his family gazed at the beautiful arc of light, watching the rainbow flow from one end to the other. They saw it touching near and far, bridging sky and ground.

And then Japheth, Noah's youngest son, asked his father, “We came full circle in our journey on the ark, from dry land to water and once again to dry land. Why doesn't the rainbow come full circle?”

Noah puzzled over his son's question. He looked up to study the arc of colors in the sky. Then he answered:

“Perhaps the rainbow is a sign. Not all things are yet full circles. God has begun the work by making the arc in the heavens. Making the arc come full circle here on earth will be our work.” And so it remains. (A midrash by Cherie Karo Schwartz, from Reading Between the Lines: New Stories from the Bible , edited by David Katz and Peter Lovenheim)