Friday, May 30, 2008

June 1, 2008 - Built on a Rock

June 1, 2008
Faith Lutheran Church, Clay, Alabama

Texts: Dt. 11:18-21, 26-28
Romans 1:16-17, 3:22-31
Matthew 7:21-29

Title: Built on a Rock?

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who builds his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.”

Four years ago I was traveling around the country a lot on my job as a Church Consultant.

At the same time, my son was playing his senior season of High School Basketball.

Mostly I planned my schedule around being in Western NC to be at those games, but in March of that year, things got complicated.

His team made it deep into the state playoffs, and there came a weekend when he was playing in the Western Regional in Winston-Salem, NC when I was supposed to be at a big meeting with a major funder in Indianapolis;

and just as I got it all worked out, a tornado ripped through W-S and the game was put back

and I had to maneuver plane tickets and schedules and drive through the night with no sleep, etc. etc.

and on a Wednesday night I found myself sitting through another delay in the Charlotte airport, waiting to fly to Asheville, so I could drive two hours home at 1 AM

and I just went over in the corner and had myself a pity party.

Forgetting that my son was having his dream season,

that he would be playing for a state championship in the Dean Dome at UNC,

forgetting his happiness, I wallowed in my misery. POOR ME!

When I finally got on the little commuter plane to Asheville – a cigar with wings powered by a rubber band – I crammed myself into a too little seat,

and found myself next to a well-dressed young man who was slightly inebriated and smelling of alcohol – and HE WANTED TO TALK! (Good Lord, I moaned, not now! Why ME!)

Since I am constitutionally and professionally incapable of lying, when he asked me the inevitable, “What do you do?” question, I told him.

When people discover that you are a clergyperson; 2 or 3 predictable things can happen.

Some ask you the unanswerable questions they have been thinking about since confirmation class.

Others basically clam up and ignore you.

And a few start an anonymous confessional session. This turned out to be a confessional session of sorts.

When I said I was a pastor, the young man looked at me, visibly sobered up a bit and said,

“Three years ago I was a physical therapist living in North Ga. I was engaged to be married to a young woman named Janice. The future looked good.

One night Janice went to the grocery store after work, about 10 PM. She never came home. A man who had been out of prison three weeks abducted her in the parking lot. He brutalized her, then he murdered her. He left her body in the woods.

Today, I was in Hagerstown, MD. On business. I got a call on my cell phone, it was her Dad, my would be father-in-law. He told me that had given her killer the death penalty today.

For three years I thought this day would bring closure. BUT, I just feel empty inside. If that man had not done what he did, I would be going home to my wife, maybe a child tonight. Instead, I’m going home to an empty apartment and a goldfish.

Then he looked me in the eye, Pastor Chilton, tell those young pastors you work with to be gentle with the people in the pew.

Most of them are carrying a world of hurt – of hurt and confusion – they were never prepared for. Be gentle with them; help them get on with life.

And then the plane landed and I hugged him out on the wet tarmac and we went our separate ways.

Now, I have a question that has haunted me since I sat and listened to that young man on the plane:

“How does one build a life that can withstand the inevitable storms of life?”

There’s an old Gospel hymn that goes like this:

“When the storms of life are raging, stand by me” (2 xs)
When the world is tossing me, like a ship upon the sea,
Thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me!”

How do we create a faith that lasts when the storms of life are raging?

What is the solid rock upon which one is to build the foundations of a life that will stand firm in the midst of the world’s turmoil?

Well – one answer is obvious – just build your life on Christ. But that answer is fraught with unseen danger.

Too often we build our lives on a false Christ with a logic that goes like this:

IF I am a good person, imitating Christ’s goodness by being good to others –

IF I join a church and give generous offerings and regularly attend worship and help out with the youth group or the Altar Guild or the Finance Committee

THEN it will make my life better and everything will be okay.

THAT, my friends, is an IDOL and a false hope – it is the sneakiest sort of feel-good legalism.

AND if you have built your life on that sort of Christ, you are living in a house built on the shifting sands of happenstance and luck.

Because following Christ WILL NOT protect you from evil;

And if you think it will, then when evil comes, your life will collapse around you.

A better answer is to build your life, your house of faith, upon the solid rock of faith in the God who raised Jesus from the Dead, who brought Christ out of the tomb.

We are called upon to place our trust in the God who watched Christ die and did nothing;

But who waited, and waited, and waited, and brought good out of evil, triumph out of tragedy, life out of death.

The only thing that will sustain us in this troubled world is a solid faith which trusts God through the storms of life, in spite of the monumental evidence to the contrary.

The faith of a Jesus upon the cross, who cried out his despair:

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

But also his hope and faith,

Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
My question for you today is this:

Is your life built on a sure and certain faith that no matter what storms may come your way, God’s love is with you still?

Are you aware that Jesus Christ died for you, and was raised again on the third day to show to the whole world that God’s love is steadfast and true and will not be denied?

I close with the words of Saint Paul in our lesson from Romans:

“For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are justified by his grace as a gift . . .”

God’s grace is yours. It’s a gift. You have received the gift. Have you opened it? Have you built your life on the grace and mercy and love that are yours?

Amen and amen.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

May 4, 2008

Okay, I meant to post a sermon, I really did. But, it's been a tough week. Monday night hosted the Conference meeting, then I've been packing, Wednesday packed up the rental truck and held a final Dinner/Communion at Friedens, Thursday drove up here (5 hours) and started unloading, finished unloading Friday, etc. etc.

Also, and more importantly, I caught my index finger in the folds of the back door of the truck and pinched a hunk of flesh and skin off the end. The good news is I don't have a fingerprint on that finger, that is, it's good news if I want to embark on a life of crime. The bad news is I can't type very well, especially since my usual style is a variation on hunt and peck.

But here's a story, for what it's worth. Back when I was a student at Duke Divinity, I heard a story, probably apochryphal, about an incident that supposedly happened at Virginia Theological Seminary back in the 60's. A group of Anglo-Catholics, with quite a number of like minded Bishops, held an Ascension Day service in the Chapel.

Virginia is traditionally low-church country, plus there were a number of social gospel oriented folk on campus, so together they concocted a "protest."

As the bishops and their various devotees and acolytes processed out of the Chapel, the insurgents fired off a Roman Candle with a two foot tall Plastic Jesus attached.

In their Press Release, the rebels stated with all the troubles facing the world, we should focus more on the face of Christ in those who suffer here on earth and less on looking up to a remote superman in the sky.

"Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?" The angels asked (Acts 1:6-14). Why indeed. The eternal struggle of the life of faith is to keep piety and practicality in balance. Too much looking up to the heavens and nothing gets done. Too much doing without time for prayer and reflection leads to burnout and doing for the sake of doing instead of doing for the sake of Christ.