"A Firm Foundation"
A Sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
June 7, 2015
University Baptist Church
Firm Foundations, communion, stories of life and death, an annual meeting. It all fits. This season when we have explored being rooted in courage and sustained by grace. We celebrate on this day the foundation of our faith, flying like rainbow banners.
When I think of firm foundations and not so firm ones, I think of all of the buildings that have lasted and those that have fallen down. This coming week, the Heritage Planning Commission will vote on whether or not to designate Dinkytown as a local historical district. Dinkytown, the home of iconic protests, countercultural movements, small businesses catering to neighbors and students, once shared by churches and a school, now shadowed by boxy ubiquitous six-story apartments and high rents. Many of you have looked at the painstaking study of the neighborhood, its remaining buildings and their historical significance. Developers want to say that it’s not so much the buildings but the people that are the foundation. But can you preserve the essence of Dinkytown without the Dinky buildings?
Some buildings in the historic zone less than a block from here are in better repair than others. Our old church building (not in the historic zone) has stood the test of time and is doing just fine, thank you very much to those who helped improve it over these past several years. Luckily, of all the structural problems we could have with his old building, the foundation is not one of them. We even called the capital campaign from 14 years ago “Foundation for our Future.”
This building has lasted us 93 years so far. We are the longest standing owners of property in Dinkytown-dating back to our previous building on the corner of 13th and 4th where we set down roots in 1890. We are central to the foundation of this neighborhood.
Jesus ends his sermon on the mount with a call to recognize and build on a firm foundation. It would be foolish to build on a not-so-sturdy foundation. A firm foundation is faith in Christ and the continuing work of justice and mercy. “On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand.”
I think of Andrew Riverside Church a few blocks away from us. When I first moved here, it was the home of great artful banners on its lawn. But those banners hid the support beams that tried to shore up the bowing walls. One Sunday afternoon, an entire wall caved in.
FBC St. Paul is in a similar situation. If you look at the building from the front, you recognize that one side is higher than the other. Every couple of years one side sinks a little more and they have to resize the doors to make it fit.
Both remain as strong congregations, reminding us that the building is just a metaphor for the true church which is the people.
“On Christ the solid Rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand,” takes on new meaning in situations like this.
When I was a youth, many of you know, my summer job was working at the family farm. One of the annual tasks there was to shore up the converted tool shed in which my grandparents lived. The porch sagged and inevitably the bedroom was a good 4 inches lower than the rest of the floor. So, my job was to use wedges, hydraulic pumps, levers and scrap wood to prop up the floor to make it close to flush with the other floors. It usually lasted a couple of years, depending on whether a family of groundhogs moved in under the cottage. You see, the foundation was a just a layer of stones and some cinder blocks holding up strategic sections of the building. It was just a matter of time and gravity. Now, it’s true that fixing that foundation fixed in me a different kind of foundation, a different kind of grounding. The kind that comes from satisfaction from a job well done. The foundation that comes from gratitude from people I looked up to. It was the foundation that is really sustainable.
What are your roots? What are your foundations? What do you fall back upon when life and circumstance messes things up? That foundation is what this sermon is about. For it is the foundation, the root, that is the key to building a solid future.
There’s an old hymn that goes like this:
Built on the Rock the Church doth stand,
Even when steeples are falling;
Crumbled have spires in every land,
Bells still are chiming and calling,
Calling the young and old to rest,
But above all the soul distrest,
Longing for rest everlasting.
Not just in temples made with hands,
God, the Most Holy, is dwelling;
Hidden from sight God’s temple stands,
All earthly temples excelling.
The One whom heavens cannot contain
Chose here among us to remain
Built in our bodies a temple.
Foundations that are firm are those that are hewn out of stone.
They are the pieces that stand the test of time.
They are the pieces of your personality that remain when the minor and the trivial have passed away.
What do you know deepest in your soul?
What hope do you need?
What purpose do you have?
I have the honor of presiding over weddings from time to time. Throughout the premarital counseling ramp up to the big day, I have the couple get to the root of what they believe-about love, about life, about family, about children. And I encourage them to write those words and images into their vows. I encourage them to think long and hard about what they believe and what they are willing to promise.
What vows do you take?
What is at your root?
If we were to take a metaphysical MRI of your soul, what would we see?
What is firm? What is not so firm?
The Christian life is one that is rooted in courage and sustained by grace. Courage is our heritage and it is part of our story. Grace is part of our heritage and story and that’s what sustains us.
My friends, we have a church here that has 165 years of faithful service. We have a community that is committed to justice and peace even when it is inconvenient. We have a community that loves beauty and art and music that challenges and feeds our spirits.
When the other foundations are falling around us, remember that we are not alone and that we are sustained by each other and this great story that we share.
We build our lives upon the strong foundation of a faith that something greater is out there—something which looks toward the life of each of us with hope and with challenge: A God who looks out to each of us and tells us that we matter. Jesus said in his sermon that we matter so much that we should all strive to live justly with one another. That is like a foundation of firm stone.
The Biblical foundations are love, justice, mercy and compassion. You can’t go wrong if you build on those foundations. But if you build upon the foundations of fear, of suspicion, of prejudice, of narcissism, you may just find yourself on sinking sand. And that serves no one.
Think about the people who have been most influential in your life. Think about those you admire. Think about those you emulate. What is it about them that makes them so attractive? What about their story inspires you? They are a part of your foundation. How you build upon that foundation will make all of the difference in the world. And the foundation of faith and hope that we give our children will be our legacy.
We would be building temples still undone.
O’er crumbling walls their crosses scarcely lift,
Waiting till love can raise the broken stone,
And hearts creative bridge the human rift.
We would be building Architect Divine,
Reveal the shape of life in your design.