Sunday’s sermon: Sequoia National Park – Foundation

Text used – Matthew 7:24-29

  • I don’t think it’s any kind of secret that I love to cook and to bake. And I know from what y’all bring to various potlucks and food-based fundraisers that I am not alone in that in this crowd!
    • Love taking simple, basic ingredients and turning them into something that tastes amazing
      • Combine some flour and water, a little sugar, and touch of salt, maybe some yeast = bread! → But those are just the basic building blocks. There are literally thousands of different variations on that simple theme – variations that create household favorites and national culinary treasures around the world.
        • Baguettes in France
        • Ciabatta in Italy
        • Naan in India
        • Tortillas in Mexico
        • Black bread in Russia
        • Frybread in some Native Americans communities
        • The list could literally go on and on. Each type of bread, of course, contains some differing ingredients, but at they’re heart, they’re all flour, water, and salt.
    • In essence: love creating the atmosphere of gathering around food and the memories that come with it
      • Chef Guy Fieri: Cooking is all about people. Food is maybe the only universal thing that really has the power to bring everyone together. No matter what culture, everywhere around the world, people get together to eat.
      • More scientific take on it – Susan Whitborne, prof of psychology and brain sciences at Univ of Massachusetts: “Food memories are more sensory than other memories in that they involve all five senses, so when you’re that thoroughly engaged with the stimulus it has a more powerful effect. … Food memories feel so nostalgic because there’s all this context of when you were preparing or eating this food, so the food becomes almost symbolic of other meaning. A lot of our memories as children, it’s not so much the apple pie, for example, but the whole experience of being a family, being nourished, and that acquires a lot of symbolism apart from the sensory quality.”[1] → Food itself is a powerful foundation for every culture around the world – a building block on which centuries worth of customs, rituals, and traditions are built. Even centuries worth of traditions and rituals in the church.
        • One of our most treasured, most sacred rituals – indeed, one of only two sacraments that we practice in the Protestant traditions – is built on the foundation of food: the Lord’s Supper
          • Simple bread
          • Simple wine or juice
          • Modeled on a totally simple yet wholly sacred meal that Jesus shared with those whom he loved
          • Certainly variations on it from one Christian tradition to the next, even from one congregation to the next! → But for all Christians around the world, gathering around this table with some sort of bread and some sort of wine or juice is a cornerstone of how we embody our faith together. It is a significant part of the foundation that makes up who we are as followers of Christ.
  • Foundations are important
    • Create the steady, sturdy, deep-rooted base of any building … any ideology … any relationship … any single person’s identity
    • National Park that we’re going to be virtually visiting today – Sequoia National Park in central California – provides us with a unique illustration of foundations and their importance
      • READ “Sequoia National Park,” pt. 1, pp. 200-203[2]
        • Exploring around Minneahaha Falls and Minnehaha Creek with Peter and the kids last Saturday → found a tree that had tipped over into the creek so that the root system was exposed → Ian especially was fascinated by what looked to him like a huge root system. It was taller than he was and wider than even his long arms could stretch. But in comparison to these giant sequoias, that tree – which was maybe 7½ inches in diameter – was merely a twig in comparison.
          • Giant-Sequoia.com: “A mature sequoia’s roots can occupy over 1 acre of earth and contain over 90,000 cubic feet of soil.”[3]
            • Reminder: 1 acre = 43,560 sq. feet. → That’s quite the foundation, wouldn’t you say?
  • This morning’s Scripture reading makes it abundantly clear that foundations are important in our faith as well
    • Part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (found only in Mt’s gospel) → Actually, this passage is Jesus’ conclusion to his Sermon on the Mount.
      • Spent time talking about blessings in unexpected circumstances (the Beatitudes[4])
      • Spent time interpreting some laws in ways the people hadn’t heard before[5]
      • Spent lots of time talking about what living out faith looks
        • Salt and light passage[6]
        • Teachings about prayer (incl. Lord’s Prayer)[7]
        • Many teachings about living for God (e.g.s – teaching about worry[8] and teaching about asking, seeking, and knocking[9])
      • And today’s passage – Jesus’ familiar teaching about the house built on the rock vs. the house built on the sand – is his way of wrapping up this massive time of teaching by telling the crowd that the foundation on which they choose to build their lives is crucial. He has just spent a great deal of time teaching them about ways to find and create that strong, solid foundation … but he can’t choose it for them. They have to make the choice where to build their houses themselves. – text: Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise builder who built a house on bedrock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It didn’t fall because it was firmly set on bedrock. But everybody who hears these words of mine and doesn’t put them into practice will be like a fool who built a house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It fell and was completely destroyed.[10]
        • Scholar: Wisely placed in the final folio of the Sermon on the Mount, this story hearkens to Socrates’ challenge: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” The text challenges us to examine the dimensions and depths of inviting the kingdom into our lives through listening and doing the whole of Jesus’ teaching.[11]
  • READ “Sequoia National Park,” pt. 2, p. 203[12]
    • Interesting thing about today’s Scripture passage = doesn’t describe the two different types of foundations much → Jesus doesn’t go into elaborate descriptions of exactly what the rock looked like or the sand looked like
      • Don’t hear about the make-up of either type of foundation
      • Don’t hear about the location
      • Don’t really hear any specifics
      • Because Jesus knew that each of our foundations would need to be different. There would be different elements – different relationships, different experiences, different elements of the world around us and the world within us (our personalities and our preferences, our likes and our dislikes, our questions and our quirks) that would have to be a part of those foundations.
        • Think of the different ingredients that go into the different types of bread → The ingredients between the different varieties of bread differ greatly as do the preparation techniques. The ingredients in both baguettes and ciabatta bread are almost identical, but the way you make those two different classics differ greatly. The ingredients in Russian black bread and classic American white bread differ greatly, but the baking process isn’t all that different. The point is, they’re all bread. They’re all delicious. They’re all nourishing.
        • Crazy illustration of this: show “Chopped” → four competing chefs get identical mystery baskets with 4 truly strange ingredients and have a very, very short amount of time to turn those strange ingredients into an actual dish for the waiting judges
          • E.g. baskets – grape leaves, sesame seeds, honeydew melon, and pickled ginger; rack of venison, red seaweed flakes, gooseberry preserves, and Fruit Loops
          • Each of the chef’s individual dishes included all sorts of supplementary ingredients, but they also all included those same four foundational basket ingredients.
        • In the same way, the foundations of our faith will include different things – different experiences, different trials and turning points, different encounters with those others who have formed our faith along the way – but there will also be point of faith that we have in common, points that form the strongest, most essential parts of the bedrock on which we build our lives.
          • God created you and loves you
          • Jesus Christ was God-With-Us, God in human flesh and blood and love and laughter and tears → came to show us God’s immeasurable love and bring us God’s immeasurable grace
          • God continues to move in and among and through us as the Holy Spirit
          • Words of Scripture guide us, inform us, challenge us, and transform us
    • Also interesting that Jesus doesn’t promise safety and comfort with that rock foundation – only stability → And while we often pair “safety and stability” together, they are not the same thing.
      • Gr. “bedrock” = actually a little less specific than that → Gr. = rock that’s connected but could be projecting like a ledge or a cliff[13] → When we think of a bedrock, I think we usually think of rock that’s safe and protected – a rock that’s not so near the edge … of anything, really. But Jesus is letting the crowd know that while a foundation in God is absolutely as stable and impenetrable as they expect a bedrock to be, it also has the definite potential to put them out there. Way out there. But no matter what, it’s strong. God our foundation is strong.
  • Finish with questions from reflection: What have been your life’s foundations? Could your foundation use some shoring up? How can you serve as a foundation for somebody important to you? Amen.

[1] Julie R. Thomson. “Psychologists Explain Why Food Memories Can Feel So Powerful: It’s not just about the dish” from HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/power-of-food-memories_n_5908b1d7e4b02655f8413610. Posted May 10, 2017, accessed Aug. 28, 2022.

[2] Brad Lyons and Bruce Barkhauer. America’s Holy Ground: 61 Faithful Reflections on Our National Parks. (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2019), 200-203.

[3] https://www.giant-sequoia.com/faqs/giant-sequoia-questions/.

[4] Mt 5:3-12.

[5] Mt 5:17-42.

[6] Mt 5:13-16.

[7] Mt 6:5-15.

[8] Mt 6:25-34.

[9] Mt 7:7-12.

[10] Mt 7:24-27.

[11] Richard William Harbart. “Matthew 7:21-29 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 179.

[12] Lyons and Barkhauer, 203.

[13] Exegesis by Rev. Elana Keppel Levy: https://somuchbible.com/word-studies/annotated-scripture/matthew-7/.

Sunday’s sermon: Isle Royale National Park – Isolation

  • A few weeks ago, I was down in Storm Lake, Iowa for Synod School.
    • Explain Synod School
      • 550 people this year from 27 states + Puerto Rico
      • 71 classes – everything from the spirituality of St. Ignatius to class on human trafficking to Latin dance
    • Been attending SS nearly every year since my boys were 1yo
      • Taught at least one class almost every year
    • This year: taught a class AND was on the SS planning committee
      • New element introduced by the committee this year: SS app (hosted by Whova) → basic event-specific social media platform
        • Share pics
        • Save your schedule
        • Send messages
        • Discussion threads → And from one of the discussion threads this year came another new element that the committee decided to introduce. – thread about surviving such a people-heavy as an introvert
          • Idea = “Introvert Recharge Tables” in the cafeteria → a place for people to have a little bit of isolated space even in the midst of a hoard of people → And as an introvert myself, I totally understood the need for something like this. I mean, remember, the word “introvert” doesn’t mean antisocial or painfully shy or any of the other negative connotations its carried over the years. Being introverted just means that you get your energy from time by yourself as opposed to extroverts who get their energy from being around other people. It’s about how your recharge your batteries … hence the tables.
    • And as I was thinking about our passage this week and our theme of isolation through the lens of the beauty and remoteness of Isle Royale National Park, that’s what I was thinking about – how we recharge our batteries, how we renew our minds and our spirits, and also how we find God and see God in the world around us.
  • So let’s begin this morning by exploring that beauty and remoteness of Isle Royale National Park.
    • Some basic facts
      • Established in 1940 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt
      • 850 sq. mi. of wilderness surrounded by the frigid waters of Lake Superior → 99% of that land is federally designated wilderness[1]
      • One of 5 nationally designated areas on Lake Superior (though the only actual national park)[2]
        • Isle Royale (MI)
        • Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (WI)
        • Grand Portage National Monument (MN)
        • Keweenaw National Historical Park (MI)
        • Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (MI)
      • As remote as it gets: accessible only by boat or sea plane
        • Mainland headquarters = Houghton, MI
        • 2 small towns on the island itself
          • Rock Harbor (northeast end of the island)
          • Windigo (southwest end of the island)
        • 165 miles of hiking trails + 36 campsites
    • Read passage from America’s Holy Ground: 61 Faithful Reflections on Our National Parks by Brad Lyons and Bruce Barkhauer, p. 138
  • “Isolation, despite some benefits, has its limitations.” That feels like it could be the tagline for our Scripture reading this morning.
    • Today’s story = probably one of (if not the most) relatable stories we have of Jesus … at least, for me (the introvert)!
      • Comes at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Mk’s gospel → only events before today’s story in Mk = Jesus exorcising a demon, Jesus calling the disciples, Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River, and John’s announcement that the Messiah is coming
      • In today’s passage, Jesus and the disciples are still in the city of Capernaum (location: northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, modern day: northern Israel)
    • Text tells us Jesus, John, and James have just left the synagogue → headed to the home of Simon (aka – Peter) and Andrew → when they get there, they learn Simon’s mother-in-law is ill → Jesus goes in and heals her
    • And undoubtedly, word got out because the next part of the text that we read talks about others coming to Jesus for healing – healing from illnesses and healing from demon. In fact, that way Mark writes it, those who come seeking come almost immediately. – text: That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick or demon-possessed.[3]
      • Part of that = the way Mark writes → Remember, Mark’s was the first gospel written – probably sometime between 66-74 C.E. And during that time, one of the main beliefs of the Christian church was the Jesus was coming back and coming back soon – like, within their lifetimes soon. So there was an immediacy to everything they did because they were trying to share the gospel with as many people as possible before Jesus returned. That sense of immediacy is a prominent theme throughout Mark’s gospel, a theme definitely evident in our passage this morning.
    • So after the healing coming the really relatable part. Are you ready for it? – text: Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. Simon and those with him tracked him down. When they found him, they told him, “Everyone’s looking for you!” He replied, “Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come.”[4] → Jesus just needs to get away for a moment. More than a moment, really. Jesus is taking the time he needs for himself – for his mind, for his body, for his spirit. He’s taking the time he needs to reconnect himself and rededicate himself to God in the way that works best for him. Y’all … Jesus was an introvert! Okay … maybe that last statement is more of an assumption than something that can be supported with scholarly-type research. But we’re definitely seeing here, not only in the words and teaching of Christ, but in the bodily machinations and human rhythms of Christ’s very being that isolation is sometimes not just a necessary thing but a holy thing.
      • Let’s explore this idea a little more by digging deeper into the Greek.
        • Before we even dig into that big that we read, let’s look at what it says before Jesus heads out in search of his own sacred isolation – text: The whole town gathered near the door.[5] → The whole town, all. The. Whole. Town. Gathered outside Jesus’ door. (Yup … the introvert inside me is doing some hardcore cringing and cowering right now!) Here, the Greek is clear. WHOLE. CITY. All the inhabitants. On the doorstep of Simon and Andrew’s house. Looking for Jesus.
          • Interesting to note: We can sort of assume that they’re looking for something from Jesus here, too. I mean, he’s been healing and casting out demons. And in this beginning phase of his ministry, that’s really all he’s done. Mark hasn’t told us about any profound or prolific teachings that Jesus has uttered yet, so all that this crowd knows about Jesus is that he can do something for them. So they’re coming to get something from They’re not coming to listen to him or learn from him – to sit like Mary will at his feet and just bask in his words. They’re coming because this Jesus guy can do something for them. I feel like there’s a transactional element to this story – maybe even a depleting element, like they’re coming to take something from Jesus. And Jesus obliges – text: He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons.[6] … Just something to think about.
        • Okay … back to the Greek:[7]
          • Gr. “deserted” (describing the place that Jesus sought in the still dawn hours that morning) = place not settled or farmed, not populated → This is an untouched place. Untouched by people. Untouched by progress. Untouched by the bustle and demands of the whole town that Jesus had dealt with just the night before. Sounds a little like Isle Royale, doesn’t it?
          • Gr. involved in the phrasing that describes Simon and his companions looking for Jesus (text: Simon and those with him tracked him down. When they found him, …) = all words that make it clear that Simon and his companions had been searching for Jesus for a while, that they’d been actively and eagerly seeking him
            • Interesting: When Simon says to Jesus, “Everyone’s looking for you!” – Gr. “looking” = word that carries connotation of desire → same word used in the phrase “to seek God’s face” which is used to worship → So just as Simon and the other disciples and the rest of the city were seeking Jesus … Jesus was seeking God.
          • Jesus’ response = interesting: “Let’s head in the other direction, to nearby villages, so that I can preach there too.” → Gr. “head” = simply “go” → But it’s also a word that plays a part in the word “synagogue,” so Jesus is suggesting to the disciples that they go to the other town, not to escape the crowds of this one, but to gather with others … to share his healing and his message, to share God’s love and God’s grace with more people.
          • Another interesting little bit that pops up in the Gr. and makes me wonder: word that Mark uses to describe the city of Capernaum (“the whole town gathered near the door”) = word that implies a city with a wall BUT the word that Jesus uses when speaking to Simon and his companions (“Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages”) = word for villages without walls → So essentially, Jesus is taking the disciples and the healing, hope-filled, love-embodying message of God outside the isolation of the walls into the unbounded world. … Again, just something to think about.
  • “Isolation, despite some benefits, has its limitations.” Yes, friends. In isolation, like Jesus, we can take the time to stop. To pause. To breathe. To find ourselves again. To find God again. To re-center. To re-dedicate ourselves to God. I want you to notice that our gospel reading this morning didn’t say anything about how Jesus spent his time praying.
    • Purpose of our prayer journey together this fall → finding those best practices for our own prayer lives
      • Practical side: the ways that work in our lives (because the truth of life is that we are very good at letting the busyness of life get in the way of prayer)
      • Spiritual side: different people connect to God in different ways → God created each and every one of us differently – special and unique and treasured in our own particular ways – so of course we all connection to God differently!
    • But also like Jesus, after our time of isolation and reconnection, we are called out into the world to share God’s love again and again and again. To share God’s love outside the walls – these four walls here, but more importantly, outside the walls erected by ourselves, by our culture, and by our shared history that separate us from all God’s other treasured, unique, beloved children.
      • End with the questions from Lyons and Barkhauer’s reflection: “How do you find balance between isolation and engagement? How are some people isolated by factors other than their own choices? How does cultural isolation diminish us as a community?” (p. 138) Thank be to God. Amen.

[1] https://www.nationalparks.org/explore/parks/isle-royale-national-park.

[2] https://www.nplsf.org/national-parks-of-lake-superior.

[3] Mk 1:32.

[4] Mk 1:35-38.

[5] Mk 1:33 (emphasis added).

[6] Mk 1:34.

[7] Exegesis by Rev. Elana Keppel Levy: https://somuchbible.com/word-studies/annotated-scripture/mark-129-39/.