This past weekend, Cassie, Eliza and I had the joy of celebrating with Cassie’s brother, Nate, as he graduated from Eastern University. As I reflect on his college years, I remember a trip we all took to Cocoa Beach, FL when Nate told us about his “quest for knowledge,” a quest that will continue with graduate studies in the fall. Now, when I was 19 and in college what Nate called a “quest for knowledge” we called “being a nerd,” but Nate can make anything sound cool.
I understand the whole “being a nerd” thing because I was one; or more truthfully, I am one. I enjoy learning new things, and I especially enjoy immersing myself in a job and learning as much about it as possible. When I’m eating in a restaurant, I still look around at all the servers and think about how I used to handle getting triple sat. When I’m stuck in line at the grocery store, I look at the magazines, not to read their covers, but because of my days as a Continuous Improvement Intern at a printing company, I look at how well they were printed, cut and bound. From my brief stint in the construction business, I find myself looking at how a floor meets the wall; looking to see if it is square. A straight line where the floor meets the wall is usually indicative of quality construction that starts with a square and true foundation. And as you’ve all heard before, without a good foundation, nothing works out right.
Having a thirteen month-old, I’ve given a lot of thought to the foundation we are laying for Eliza. For her physical foundation, we’ve spent the extra money to buy the best formula available and pondered the right time to take away bottles and pacifiers. Emotionally, we strive to show her our love and care at all times. Socially, we work on interactions, smiles, waves, and words. Spiritually, we say prayers each night and read books about the Lord’s prayer, Baby Bibles and the like. I’ve also thought a lot about my own foundation; those supreme and overarching principles taught to me by my parents, grandparents, aunt, uncles, teachers, and priests; lessons like, “always push in your chair” or “be nice” or “treat others the way you’d like to be treated.” These are good lessons, and a pretty solid foundation.
But, sometimes our foundation gets in the way of God. Jesus, the stone that the builders rejected, is to be our chief cornerstone, and in order for him to fit, some good stones need to be removed. This week, we hear of the need to remove the “don’t cause trouble” stone from our foundations. Paul, Silas, and Luke are in the very Roman city of Philippi preaching, teaching, and worshiping with the fledgling church there when a young fortune teller begins to make a scene. “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation,” she shouts over and over and over again, day after day. Finally, Paul loses his patience and, in the name of Jesus, commands the spirit to leave her, which it promptly does and with it leaves her owners’ ability to exploit her for money. Paul and Silas are dragged to the marketplace and set before the magistrates accused of “disturbing the city.”
When was the last time you were accused of disturbing anything or anyone because of Jesus? I can’t think of an example either. We’ve been taught over and over again to “not cause trouble” despite the fact that sometimes disturbing the peace, uprooting the status quo, is exactly what we are called to do. When we pray that God might “exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before” we shouldn’t mean, “punch my ticket to heaven someday.” Instead, we use the word exalt like John does. For John, Jesus was exalted when he was lifted high upon the cross, when finally his disturbing the religious and political powers that be lead to his death. Jesus was exalted when the authorities had had enough of his call to bring the values of heaven to earth right here and right now.
This isn’t easy. I get that. Moving foundations requires a whole lot of time, energy, and heavy equipment... if we try to do it ourselves. But for God, moving foundations is as simple as sweeping his hand across his creation. By the grace of God our lives are filled with earthquakes that shake our foundations and loose our chains. God gifts us over and over again with the chance to be set free from the confines of our old foundations so that Christ can take his rightful place as the cornerstone of our lives. When those earthquakes happen, we have three choices. First, we can rush to find all the old stones and rebuild our old foundation exactly the way it was before. Second, we can sit around and do nothing while the world builds its unsquare and untrue foundation around us. Or, we can be changed. We can invite Jesus to be our new cornerstone and rebuild a brand new foundation, square and true, around him. Paul and Silas had built their house on the foundation of Jesus, and it led them to Philippi and to prison; the place where people went when they disturbed the powers that be. Whenever Christian Discipleship gets in the way of vested interests, trouble follows.
For eighteen straight years from 1789 until 1807, Member of British Parliament, William Wilberforce and a small group of abolitionists introduced legislation to end the trading of slaves in the British Empire. In a culture not unlike ours, where religious enthusiasm was generally regarded as a social transgression and was stigmatized in polite society, Wilberforce spent eighteen years facing frustrations, political challenges, and even death threats in the name of Jesus Christ. He stood confidently on the foundation he had built on Christ.
His life’s crusade is a reminder to us that we are not called to “play nice” but rather to strive each and every day to bring the Kingdom of God a little closer to reality here on earth.
The story of Wilberforce’s life is told in the 2006 film, Amazing Grace, which if you’ve never seen, add it to your netflix cue today, it is a powerful story of how God rebuilds us for his purposes. A song from that soundtrack, however, many of you do know. Chris Tomlin was asked to rework the hymn Amazing Grace, originally written by Wilberforce’s priest, John Newton. Tomlin’s only may two real changes. The first was to reintroduce Newton’s original final stanza, “The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, The sun forbear to shine; But God, who called me here below, Will be forever mine.” The second was to add a chorus trying to tap into that conversion experience of Newton and Wilberforce, that moment when God created an earthquake that shook the very foundations of their lives. “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free. My God, my savior has ransomed me. And like a flood, his mercy reigns. Unending love. Amazing grace.”
You might not be a nerd like me, but I pray that you’ll take sometime to look at the foundation of your life. Does it need to be shaken? Does the cornerstone need to be replaced? When God tears down your foundation, and I promise you he will, be ready not to rebuild it the same way, but to place Christ, square and true, at the corner and be exalted with him even in his suffering. Amen.