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/.

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