Things are changing and they're changing fast, although I'm not telling you anything that you don't already know. You and I live through change each and every day, and we live through it at a fast and unyielding pace. Change of just about everything: our culture, our church, our families, our communities, our lives.
One contemporary commentator and author, Peter Vale, has described the change that we experience in our day and age as white water change, meaning that it is as fast and furious and sometimes as treacherous and turbulent as the white waters of a raging river or a fast moving creek.
The question is this: How do we find stability? How do we make our sojourn through life when so much is changing and changing so fast? What is sturdy and stable in a time of such rapid change?
Jesus of Nazareth knew about change, about things moving very fast, about rising waters and about shifting sands. So, one day while he was teaching about the reign and rule and love of God, he told a parable in which he proclaimed that stability in life could come from God's love. Jesus' parable talks about rising and fast-moving waters, about floods that come without respite. How then does a building stand in the midst of such a perilous situation? Although Jesus was not a structural engineer, he knew the same as you and I do about the necessity of a foundation. If something is built on that which is shifting and moving like sand, it will not be able to stand in the midst of rising and changing waters. If something is built on good, solid rock, then it will remain and continue to stand. The issue is the foundation itself. The issue is the solid and stable undergirding of that which is being built.
Now Jesus was telling this parable to people who knew about shifting sands and the tides of change in their own lives. They were people who saw the political shifts brought by the occupying force of imperial Rome. They were a people who experienced the religious shifts of many religions around them and change within the Jewish faith itself. They were people who knew that things could change in their own lives literally on a daily basis imperiling their capacity for continued living. The same was true for the community for which Matthew wrote this Gospel. They had seen so many changes, and at times they thought the waters were rising and moving furiously indeed. They witnessed the growing separation of the Christian community from the rest of the Jewish community. They saw growing violence around them as their fellow country folk rose against the Roman oppressors. They began to experience their own persecution by people who fiercely opposed them and their interpretation of belief in God.
It was a parable tailor-made for these folks, both those who listened to Jesus originally and those for whom Matthew wrote this Gospel. They experienced such fast moving and rapidly rising waters, such fiercesome and ferocious changes. What would keep them from being swept away? What could be a solid foundation for their living and their believing? Jesus suggests a very firm and solid foundation here-the rock of faith, the rock of hope, the rock of love. The foundation for living and believing, the foundation for moving on and ahead would be the word and love of God itself. It is stable and sturdy. It is safe and secure. It is firm and well founded.
Well, this is a parable tailor-made for us too. In fact, it is a parable especially for us in this day and age of such fast and furious change. We live in an age when many of the things that used to provide foundation and security are changing in and of themselves. There is no longer a standard and accepted narrative for our life as a culture and a society. The changes in morals and ethics are deep and profound. Neither institutions nor leaders are accepted and trusted in the way they were just a few generations ago. Even the nature of our community life has changed. Americans today live more isolated lives than our forebears. Robert Putnam, a sociologist of religion, wrote a fascinating and descriptive book entitled "Bowling Alone" a couple of years ago. In it, he comments on his discovery that there are more individuals bowling in America today than ever before. You'll rest more easily tonight knowing that. But, he also discovered that there are only half as many bowling leagues as there were a generation or two ago. Yes, people are bowling but not in the communities and groups that they experienced formerly. Now, there is more isolation, and not only for bowlers, but in so many segments of our life.
The change is real for the church as well. No longer is denominational loyalty what it used to be. No longer do many in society look to church institutions for direction. We are much more a church on the margins today than at the center of things. We are much more in the posture and position of seeking and searching rather than defining and dictating. In other words, we are much more like the church of Matthew's time and the church before the emperor Constantine became a Christian than we are like the church of the Middle Ages or the Reformation period or of America in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Yes, we can talk about change in our communities and society, in our church and in our institutions, in our science and in our politics, in our faith and in our ethics, but where we experience it most is in our personal lives. All of this change takes its toll, not to mention the changes that happen as we grow and as we age, as we make relationships and as they change and sometimes dissolve as we move, and as we seek and search for meaning. What are we to believe? Whom are we to trust? On what can I build my life? What are the roots and the foundations for my living and my believing in this day and this age?
Remember, Jesus introduces his parable in this way: Everyone who then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. There is something about listening to the words that provides a foundation. There is something about hearing the word of life speak the word of life that gives stability and solidarity to life itself. I've heard those words and you probably have too.
I am with you always.
Come to me all who labor
and are weighed down and I will give you rest.
I am the bread of life.
I am the living water.
Love one another as I have loved you.
Remain and abide in me and I will remain and abide in you.
Jesus spoke many words and those words are truly a foundation for believing and living. But even more so, the words of Jesus are always pointing to something that is manifest in them and that lies behind and beneath them--God's love for us, the creative, redeeming, and sanctifying love which God has revealed over and over and over again. This love is solid. This love is sure. This love is strong. It is the foundation for faith and for life and it gives gifts of faith, hope, and love.
Yes, this is a time of massive change for us as human beings. Yes, this is a time of great personal and human change for most of us. Yes, there are times when it seems that the floods are coming and the ground is shifting beneath our feet, and yes, it is a time in our culture and living when we seek and search, when we look for meaning. What is the foundation? What is solid and life-giving in the midst of it all? The love of God. The love of God.
As an American hymn puts it:
How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord, is laid in your faith in his excellent word. What more can he say than to you he hath said, to you that for refuge to Jesus hath fled. When through the deep waters I call thee to go, the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow. For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress. The soul that to Jesus hath fled for repose, I will not, I will not desert to its foes. That word though all hell shall endeavor to shake, I'll never, no never, no never, forsake.
Let us pray.
Almighty God, you have built your church upon the foundation of your love, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit that we may be made a holy temple, acceptable to you through Jesus Christ our Savior who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.