September 26 2010 Matthew 7
We preachers like this story about wise and foolish builders.
It’s easy to preach from because Jesus uses imagery that everybody understands.
I’ve heard lots of sermons on this passage that suggest that when you build on The Rock, your house will stand the test of time. It’s not exactly Rocket science to figure out Rock is more stable than Sand.
So I’ve heard time and time again that when you build on the rock, your house will outlast a hundred thousand houses built on sand.
And that might be the case.
But I’d like to suggest this morning that there’s a little more to it than that.
You can have the strongest, surest foundation in the history of the world–but if you’re building with cards, then that foundation won’t do much good.
*A house of cards, no matter what it’s sitting on–it’s not going to last real long.*
In 1 Corinthians, Paul says “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” He then goes on to talk about how we should be careful how we build—because our work will be shown for what it is in light of the eternal Day.
Well, that day continues to dawn, and it’s my hope our work is being found to pass the test.
See, it’s been about 2,000 years since the resurrection of Christ, the foundational event of what we call Christianity.
At first, these people who caught the vision–at first they simply referred to themselves as followers of ‘the way’.
They were ordinary people who had found an extraordinary way of being in the world.
-They met together as often as they could, mostly in homes, or in caves or other nondescript places.
-They met to encourage one another, to pray together, remember the stories, to share their food, their shelter, and their fellowship.
-They met together and found that the Christ whom they professed was right there with them!
For awhile in the beginning, they were considered just a sect within Judaism, so they had a little bit of security because the people knew about the Jews.
But then for a whole bunch of reasons, these early followers of Jesus made a clean break from Judaism. Maybe they were kicked out for good–maybe they chose to leave–and more likely it was a combination of factors resulting in the clear and irreversible, division between Judaism and Christianity as two completely separate religions.
So these earliest Christians found themselves even more on the fringes than they had been. They weren’t Jews, and they weren’t pagans…so they were something like their Rabbi, Jesus–with nowhere to call home–or was it that everywhere became home?
Regardless of how you see it, those early Christians soon learned to thrive on the fringes.
For those first couple of hundred years, persecutions would come and go. Emperors needed scapegoats for one thing or another, so they blamed the Christians.
They were an easy target, since they refused to bow to the emperor or pray to pagan gods. They refused to fight the empire’s wars, and they did things in secret–eating flesh and drinking blood, so it was rumored.
So from time to time an emperor would try to cleanse the empire of these subversive, heretical Christians.
They were hunted down, arrested, fed to the lions, chained up and beaten.
*But through it all they kept their faith and their witness intact.*
They were building with bricks, not cards.
On the foundation of Christ (Who is the Rock that Rolls), they were building their lives with things that mattered–things that would pass the test of time.
And the witness they built–it’s still as strong as ever 2,000 years later!
It’s said of those early times, that some people would get arrested on suspicion of being Christian because they lived such good lives.
It makes me wonder, if I were living back then, would they have enough evidence to arrest me?
How about you?
Some good-natured pagans could convince the authorities to let them go only when they would openly curse or pray to a pagan god.
So we can understand the genuine relief so many Christians felt when one emperor finally put an end to the persecutions.
Around 312 AD, an emperor named Constantine made a really shrewd political move by endorsing this fringe movement of Christianity.
Whether or not his conversion was sincere is not for us to say.
But we can say that the impact of his decision changed the faith forever.
He took this fringe movement that was growing by leaps and bounds, and he put it squarely in the center of the empire.
Suddenly Christianity had a home.
He took the church and moved it from the fringes to the front and center of his empire.
-Now, do you remember the story where a bunch of people wanted to make Jesus the king, and he somehow walked right through them and turned it down?
-Do you remember the temptation story, where Jesus was offered all the kingdoms of the world–and turned them down?
-Do you remember the big confrontation between Jesus and the government official named Pilate? The one where Jesus says he could call down legions of angels that would come to his aid–do you remember how that confrontation ended by Jesus choosing to go to the cross and die rather than calling down those legions?
I don’t care how many emperors, presidents, or kings become Christian–our faith was never
meant to be at the center of the world’s power.
The church was born on the fringes, our leader moved among the fringes, and unless and until we relocate to those fringes, we’re just building a house of cards.
To use Paul’s imagery, we might survive what’s coming–but only as one who flees the burning house.
Let me get back to the point of my story.
See, not all Christians were OK with this relocation of the church that Constantine put into motion.
You can imagine, if you had lost your spouse, your child, and maybe a leg and some fingers because of your faith, you might not suddenly be overjoyed that everyone in the empire can just join up, you know?
So a lot of Christians fled from this new kind of Christianity.
They refused to be relocated to the center like Constantine was trying to make happen.
So they fled to the deserts, to the places the empire had no interest in being.
There they could keep alive the hard-earned lessons that had been passed down and tried by fire.
There in the deserts they could pray and study and die to themselves in ways that had become impossible to do in the mainstream. This movement to the desert was a clear “no” to one way of life, and a clear “yes” to another.
OK…so fast forward about 1200 years. It’s the 16th century.
By this point the mainstream church had been married to the state for so long that the result was something called Christendom–which is something like a Christian Kingdom.
The church and the state were so tightly bound to one another that you literally couldn’t tell where one started and the other one ended.
Well, thanks to the printing press, people were learning how to read.
And for the first time ever, a lot of people were able to read the Bible for themselves.
Somehow the Reformation got under way.
And one group of reformers was a little more radical than the rest. They went a little farther–and they paid for it. They were branded heretics, and again the persecution started.
They were forced again to the fringes, for the empire is a very jealous lover.
Once again the church had an example of the faithful witness of those who protested the marriage of the church with the state.
The Anabaptists fled for their lives, again meeting in homes and caves and secluded places, seeking to recover an earnest, Christ-centered faith that refused to be seduced by the power and prestige the empire offered.
They moved from the center to the fringes, which is where this whole movement belongs.
So another 500 years goes by, and here we are again.
Once again, our church–even with our Anabaptist flavor–we’ve again moved steadily towards the center of the world.
We’re rich…we’re powerful…and we know it.
We benefit from today’s Christendom in ways we don’t even think about.
We don’t pay taxes on things we buy as a church. We own this building, and the primary purpose of this building is to give us a place to meet together. When you give money to this church, it’s deductible on your taxes.
We can talk about religious opinions as openly as we would politics and not fear for our safety.
There’s nowhere we feel threatened–unless someone tells us we have to say ‘happy holidays’ instead of ‘merry Christmas’ or unless someone tells us our kids can’t pray in school.
It’s nice to live in a place where Christianity is so openly welcomed.
But we do pay a price.
We start to lose our creativity–we start to lose our prophetic imagination.
Well, I think we can learn from history. The monks in the 4th century, the Anabaptists in the 15th century, they found their home on the margins.
And there are similar groups today, we can call them “new monastics” who are again speaking from the margins of the church and of society. These fringe-dwellers have an important message to share, that is if we can resist the temptation to call them heretics.
I’ve started thinking of these ‘new monastics’ as something like the original Anabaptists would have been 500 years ago. They’re mostly young, radical people who can be a real thorn in the flesh of comfortable, established Christianity.
OK–so I’ve covered a lot of history this morning.
It’s been a different kind of sermon, I know. So let me re-cap the main points I want you to take.
1. Jesus is the Rock that Rolls–that means if you build on this Rock, it requires tennis shoes to keep up. There’s a reason we call it ‘following’ Jesus. Movement is implied.
2. At various points throughout history, the church has needed to be called to relocate itself from the center back to the fringes. This call has typically come from fringe groups that might be called ‘radical’ or even ‘heretical’ by mainstream Christianity.
3. It’s important for even the most ‘traditional’ church (whatever that means) to relate to, listen to, disagree with, converse with, argue with, encourage, and otherwise walk with these more radical groups. (hence my excitement about the Living Acts project).
So before I close, let me tell you what I’m planning. I’m planning to spend some time over the next year, bringing these New Monastic voices somehow into a Sunday morning sermon, once a month for the next 12 months.
I’ll be using a book that a group of us are going to go through called “12 marks of a new monasticism” (there’s an announcement in the bulletin if you’re interested in more information).
You won’t know which Sunday it will be on any given month, because I just don’t plan ahead that far, but don’t let it stop you from coming every Sunday for the next year, hoping that will be the Sunday I talk about it again!
Pray with me as I close.
Heavenly Father, you have given this body all the gifts we need to follow you wherever you lead. We seek to build upon Jesus with all we have, and we repent of small thinking and power-based living. Help us to find our center in Christ–and to live in that center on the fringes.