Sunday, March 04, 2007

On What Foundation? or If you think you are wise

If you think you are wise....

There’s something to be said for preaching against the follies of this world, but there’s also a point where one can be trapped by the follies of this world and preach as if one were against them. And the latter is where I see much of the religion that is on TV. It’s not that they sometimes get things wrong – all of us sometimes get things wrong – but the essential message is that through God all things will be well and to the persons satisfaction.

I’m more of the mind of Thomas Merton, “Certainly we know that all will be well, but the ways in which God makes it well are apt to be difficult for us.” Our plans, our desires for the future may not be in line with God. The power and wisdom that comes from God may include wealth and status on this earth, but may be a life of degradation, shame and lack of status. To quickly proclaim that God’s power will conquer all is to ignore the call to do God’s will.

Our foundation is in Jesus Christ. It is not in buildings where hundreds come to worship. Our foundation is in Jesus Christ. It is not in being known in the hallways of prestige. Our foundation is in Jesus Christ. It is not in a doctrine or creed or any edifice of knowledge or philosophy. Our foundation is in the one who saves us through his life and death.

If we boast in the fact that we are evangelical or feminist or both, then we’ve fallen into the trap of the Corinthian church of looking to someone other than Christ. If we’ve proclaimed ourselves to be servants of Christ and deny the faith of another because they don’t follow our particular understanding, then we’ve deceived ourselves into thinking we’re wise. If we say we must go back to this time or that when everything was better, then we’ve fallen into the ways of the world.

One of the many ways we fall into the ways of the world is by denying the truth. And there are many who deny the truth even as the proclaim that they are preaching the truth. As Inigo Montoya said: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." And while his word wasn’t that word, the quotation still applies.

A recent example from people who call themselves Christian and worship regularly is from the Dover trial. Buckingham lied in his deposition. He said he did not know where the money for the ‘Panda’ books had come. He, himself, had asked for donations before the beginning of worship at his congregation. He had collected the money from his mail box at the church, deposited it in his account, wrote a check and gave it to another member of the Board (Bonsall) for Bonsall’s father-in-law to make the purchase. As is clear in the court records ( p. 114) In other words to put religion back in the schools Buckingham and Bonsall lied all the while claiming to be good Christians.

They deceived themselves and the truth was not in them. And that is what happens when you let your desires for what you think should be overpower your love for the truth. And they’re not the only ones. We who call ourselves Christians have deceived ourselves about the truth many times over the ages. Augustine in his On the Literal Meaning of Genesis writes:

even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. … If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books.

And I would say, there are truths that cannot be explained by facts, there are truths that are beyond facts, but there are no truths that contradict facts. And while one could quote Ralph Waldo Emerson in contradiction, “...consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines” using that quote to contradict facts is not what Emerson intended. There is a difference between sticking to what one believes to be correct no matter that the information backing that assertion is misunderstood or wrong or mistaken or… which takes consistency to the extreme of denying what is in plain view which is what Emerson talked about versus calling people to look at what is in plain view which is the consistency of looking for the truth no matter what creeds and beliefs may fall.

If we are wise in the ways of the world we are seeking our own advantage. And while it’s not wrong to look out for our own needs we need to be asking whether we are looking out for ourselves on the backs of other people.

Here’s a real test for whether or not one has a bit of wisdom. Don’t look at those who cite themselves as the authority – no matter that the sound as friendly as ‘Pastor Larry’. Look at whether they think they still have much to learn. The citation of qualification after qualification (unless one is doing an academic curriculum vitae) is a sign of insecurity. The one who can learn, even when they disagree, is the one who has the roots of wisdom. The one who can tolerate and respect dissent, while still being clear about what they believe, sits at the feet of Jesus.

We are, each of us, a temple. And God’s spirit is within each of us. We are like blind men examining one part of the elephant. One of us can touch the leg and say it is like the tree trunk; another will touch the trunk and say it is like a snake; a third may touch the side and say it is like a wall; yet one more will touch the tusk and say it is like a bow. Together we know more than if we take our own view as the only part that is worth anything. Together we can see more of what God places before us.

The foundation of our faith is revealed when we pass through the times of test. Is it in a particular idea or understanding or is it in Jesus – the one who is our Christ? I can only believe if the Bible is true as I understand it to be true – that’s not a solid foundation. I can only believe if Intelligent Design is more true than the theory of evolution – that’s not a solid foundation. I can only believe if – starts a sentence that places conditions on belief. And when we place conditions on our belief we reveal that the foundation of our belief is not in the one whom we call Savior, but in something else that is fragile.

Who is wise? The one who knows however much they know it is still less than a drop of water in the sea. Who is wise? The one who worships God daily and welcomes all who come while letting them worship as they understand. Who is wise? Well not the one who places demands on others that they are unwilling to bear themselves. And not the one who forces others to worship with creeds and verbal formulations. And certainly not the one who puts anyone other than Christ at the front of worship. Who is wise? It can be seen in many different things. It can be seen in the fruits of the spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – from Galatians 5. And where there is greed, pride, flattery, the sacrifice of others – well there is something, but it’s not wisdom.

There are follies of this world. But they’re not the things about sexual orientation or lack of prayer in school. There are follies in this world and they are about self-absorption and lies. The foundation we lay should be on the stones of truth, love, and worship of Jesus. Any other stone is dross that will be burnt in the fire and disappear like chaff in the breeze.

On what foundation are we building? One that seeks the truth no matter where it leads? Or one that puts our own desires in the first place? One that respects our neighbor and the stranger? Or one that seeks place of honor and walks over any in our way? On what foundation do we build?

1 Corinthians 3:11-23

[11] For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. [12] Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw--[13] the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. [14] If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. [15] If the work is burned, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire. [16] Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? [17] If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.

[18] Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. [19] For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness", [20] and again, "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile." [21] So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, [22] whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all belong to you, [23] and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

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