Sunday, June 20, 2021

In a Scarily Uncertain World, How Do You Find a Firm Place to Stand? Here's How.

It’s never happened to me until now.  I’d made it through life not breaking anything. Alas, now my streak is broken, along with a broken left hand.   And I don’t like it.      It’s not just the inconvenience (though typing a sermon with six fingers instead of two hands) is very frustrating, But what I hate the most is the uncertainty of the unknown. 

I didn’t think about that uncertainty at first, not until I had this conversation again and again.  “What a pity about your hand!   Good thing it’s not your dominant hand….Oh, it is your dominant hand, ouch I didn’t know.”   All those conversations led me to all sorts of scary questions.  What if my hand doesn’t get better?   What if the surgery doesn’t work?   What am I going to do if I don’t have a fully functioning left hand?  And of course, I know the answer.  I’d figure it out, like folks have figured out far worse things. But I still felt the fear, the fear about all the uncertainty of what could be.

But it reminded me, how scarily uncertain life can be.  Six months ago, my father woke up, and he couldn’t see.  Now, after two surgeries, his sight is slowly returning, but how scary that must have been.  As much as I’d miss the use of my left hand, it pales in comparison to not being able to see. To not see my son as he grows up, to never see another sunset or sunrise, just imagining that sort of loss scares me.

And over the last year, we’ve seen once again how uncertain life can be. We’ve seen a virus up end our lives, up end the whole world.  And while things are better, we know it could still change so easily.  A new variant could come that the vaccines can’t touch.  And of course, here in Florida, it’s now Hurricane season.  None of us know when a hurricane will come and derail life for who knows how long.   Ok, you get the idea.  Life gets uncertain.   In life storms of all sorts come, and when they do, you can never be sure what they might sweep away. 

So, in the midst of the uncertainty, how do you stand strong?  How do you find a certainty that assures you that no matter what life brings you, no matter what it sweeps away, you will always have a place to stand?   How do you discover a life that gives you that sort of peace, that sort of unshakeable security?  Here in these words, God shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say. 

1 Peter 2:4-8         

So, how does it happen, how do you go through life with a sense of certainty when it seems so many things feel more uncertain than ever from the climate to the economy to our health and safety?   In these words, God tells you.   You build your life on what is ultimate, which means letting go of what is not.  

And to understand what that means, you need to understand what a cornerstone used to be.   Today, if you even know what a cornerstone is, you probably don’t think much of it.  It’s just a sort of decorative stone, you put, well, at the corner of the building.  You might engrave something on it, the date you dedicated the building or something else.  It might even look a bit different, be made of a different material even.  But it doesn’t matter all that much.  Heck, a lot of times it matters so little to the building itself, you can wait to put it on after the rest of the building gets built.  But in the ancient world, the cornerstone carried literally far more weight than that.    The cornerstone acted as the Ikea instructions for the entire building.

When, I got married, and even more after I got to be a dad, I learned I had an important job.  I became the chief of putting things together.   I gotta admit.   Putting stuff together doesn’t come to me as a natural gift.  I am not handy as they say.   Heck, some days I have a hard time figuring which hand is which, right, left, sometimes it takes a moment.  

So that whole putting together job, well, at first, it didn’t go all that well.  First, it didn’t go well because I didn’t want to admit at how bad I was at it.   I’m a guy.  I’m supposed to have this gene.  So, that meant, I often came to the conclusion that if something didn’t work, it wasn’t me.  It was those stupid instructions, especially those evil ones that came from Ikea.   And, let’s just say my conclusion didn’t work out so well.   In fact, in the record of correctness in Ikea instructions versus me, I am now about 0 for 47 (we have a lot of Ikea stuff).  I still hate their instructions but every time, I have ignored them or simply refused to read them carefully, disaster has followed.  The stuff I put together, not only did not work well; it did not work at all.

And in ancient buildings, if you ignored the cornerstone, that building would never work either.  You laid that stone first. Then you literally oriented every stone in the building to it.  You spent more money on that stone than any other.  You made sure every dimension of it was right.  If you didn’t, the whole building wouldn’t be right.  It would likely even collapse, if you could build it at all.   That stone served as the instruction sheet for the whole building, even carried the building’s very weight.  So, often folks would even do a religious ritual, sacrifice an animal or in some cases, a human life to help guarantee the cornerstone’s success.   So, you can see why Peter used the image for Jesus.     

But hold on, how do you know if your cornerstone works?  Sure, it may look good.  The building can seem strong.  But how do you know it is?  You’ll only know when the building faces stress, when something shakes it, something shakes it hard.

Does anyone remember Andrew, that category 5 hurricane that literally leveled Homestead?  I remember seeing the pictures on the news.  Where once there had been hundreds, even thousands of houses, you literally saw nothing.   The storm had swept everything away.  But no one expected that.   These houses looked solid until Andrew showed they weren’t solid at all.  That storm changed building codes in South Florida forever.

And in your life, it’s the same.  You’ll only know how solid your cornerstone is when the stress comes, when the storms hit.  And this pandemic showed a lot of folks how weak their cornerstones were.  All of a sudden alcohol and drug use shot up, and it was already high before.  Marriages went on the rocks.   Mental health counselors got inundated.  And conspiracy theories threatened the very foundations of our democracy.  But even without a pandemic, all sorts of stuff can happen that show you how weak your cornerstones actually are.   And that doesn’t change if you start to follow Christ, if you start to orient your life around him.   Why?

It’s because you’re not going to know what your real cornerstone is until the stress hits, until the storms come.  Then and only then will you know what your true cornerstone is.  After all, you’ve likely spent your life, whether you realize it or not, building your life on a cornerstone other than Christ.   But you likely won’t even know what that is until a storm hits.   But when that storm hits, you’ll know.  You’ll see what you’ve built your life on, and just how weak that is.  In fact, much of the Christian life is just ripping up all our weak cornerstones so God can rebuild our lives on the right one.  

It was such a pain when I had to tear apart some piece of Ikea furniture I’d built because I had misread the instructions.   But nothing else was going to work but that.   And during this pandemic, you might have discovered that your life wasn’t built as strong as you thought.   You might need God to do some tearing down and rebuilding. 

For years, even as a pastor, I had built on a cornerstone that wasn’t Christ.  Sure, Jesus was there.  He just wasn’t sitting on the corner.  I wasn’t orienting my life around that.  So, what was I orienting my life around?   As near as I can figure, I oriented my life around success.  And since it was success in a church, it sure looked like it was Jesus.  But then success stopped happening.  Some people got angry.  Others just became disappointed.  And I got scared.  It felt like my life was falling down around me.   And that’s when it happened.  That’s when I found the cornerstone that had been there all along, the cornerstone that saved me, that nothing, not even my own failures could shake.

But what is this cornerstone?  When Peter says Jesus is the cornerstone, what does that even mean?  It means in Jesus, you know that you have a God who will never leave you or forsake you on even your worst days, on even the days you feel like forsaken is what you deserve.   And why do you know that?  You know because this stone was rejected.  And this stone was rejected so you can know you never will be.    In Jesus, God came to us.  And he loved us and taught us, healed us and accepted us.   And in our blindness and fear, we rejected him, even killed him and did it in God’s name.

Even the very man who is writing this very letter, Peter, in Jesus’ most desperate hour he walked away. He denied even knowing Jesus again and again and again.   When the storm came, Peter collapsed.  He realized whatever his cornerstone was, it sure wasn’t Jesus.   Yet Jesus never walked away from him.   In Jesus, God showed Peter, God showed the world just how unshakable God’s love is, a love so strong death itself falls before it in defeat.   And when you know you are loved like that, it gives you a cornerstone nothing can shake.   It gives you the very cornerstone you need, that God created you for.  In fact, you will keep stumbling over that love until you realize it is the only cornerstone that will ever work, that will give you the certainty, the peace you yearn to have.  

And when it comes, when you let God lay that stone at the corner of your life, you will know just how strong and certain that love is.  And it will re-orient your life.  It will shape in you a peace that passes understanding.  It will build in you a love that joyfully goes the extra mile.   It will give to you a wondrous confidence that even on the darkest days, you will never be put to shame.   So, live in that love.  Trust in it.   Let God build you on this love, this love that nothing can shake.     

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