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We have reached the end of the sermon on the mount, Jesus’ manifesto of the ministry of life and community of what it will mean to be church.  It’s all right here. And we get to this last section and it seems like it’s just a bunch of sayings that get thrown in together because that is the way we’ve always heard them, “Judge not!” “Do unto others!” “Enter the narrow gate!”, eye planks. We hear them as is they are completely disconnected from the rest of the Gospel, let only this teaching we call the sermon on the mount.

But I wonder what difference if would make if we fed the ending through the beginning.

The ending is a parable, a small one, there will be more next week. But you’ve heard this one before–those who listen to these teachings, the ones that we’ve been hearing for these three weeks, three chapter, from the hillside, and builds their lives on these teachings are like one who builds their lives on a stone foundation. And those that don’t, are built on sand.

Because when the storms come…

When Kelly and I were looking at houses, we became conversational on basements, windows, foundations, and walls. Several years ago we looked at a house that came with a free pool in the basement… from the water that seeped in. Or the house that had 2×4’s in the basement, holding up on the floor above it. That house is lucky to be in Milwaukee. I woke up early one morning in Berkeley, and was surprised to feel the world moving back and forth. It was… unsettling, but 2×4 house would have had its bathroom collapse into the basement.

We did buy a house, not as close to this area as we’d like but it’s what we could do. We made a mistake or 2, mostly we’re moving too fast–offer to close in 3 weeks. Our foundation is fine but the world around us is feeling unstable. Who goes from “I live in this place” to “I live somewhere else” in 3 weeks is wild, is like the ground is moving and we’ve got to race to keep it together. Look, moving is hard and stressful. If your relationships aren’t grounded in something good, it might be hard to survive well.

Because how we come out on the other side of stress, or anger, or struggle, or grief, or sickness–our own or others, depends on the foundation we’ve built. Is it a foundation built on what we have or can buy? Or is it a foundation based on love, compassion, and community? Is it built on how we’ve decided we’re better than others? Or, is it built on a foundation that all are made in God’s image and we don’t have to compete for that title? Is it built on anger and grudges and vendettas? Or, is our foundation based on forgiveness? One way to think about the pearls before swine, which sounds weird, is to not give the best parts of you to those who won’t appreciate it. Is our lives built on relationships with people who will tear each other apart and push each other down? Or, is it built on mutual generosity and kindness?

Because the storms will come. You will fail to live up to someone’s expectations, sometimes your own. You will not always have the latest and greatest things, sometimes it won’t feel like you have enough for the day. Who are you going to be when the storms come? What is your foundation?

As it is in our building and it is in our lives, so it is in our community and church.

In 2007 Willow Creek Church released the findings of their 3-year, 3 million dollar study of their church and other churches across the country.  They wanted to know how Christians grow in their faith in their understanding in their rolling church. They wanted to answer the question of what of the things that they were doing led someone to love God and to love their neighbor more. Now Willow Creek is a multi-million dollar Church denomination machine. They’re the kind of church that  Have attendance in the hundreds maybe thousands on a Sunday morning. They have the fancy coffee and the bookstore and all of the programming for all of the ages of kids and adults. They wanted to know which of the programs and things they were doing were the most effective.

Here’s what  They found out was most effective:  Regular engagement and study of The Bible, prayer and solitude, sharing one’s life with mentors and friends, and an outlet for certain others. Study. prayer. community. generosity.

You can find a ton of articles from 2007 about the reveal report from Willow Creek church and then it disappears.  Because it turns out it’s not marketable.  There’s nothing to Box up and sell to churches who are looking to find out what it is they need to save their church, to bring in new members, to increase the number of kids.

Because those are some of the storms in of churches in our age. who doesn’t want for their church, their faith, their business, their career, their family, or their life some box or program you can plug all the right things into and get a very specific result that is successful? It’s why the Self Help section any bookstore is enormous because we’re looking for the answers to who we should be and why it’s even larger when you go to a goodwill or a rummage sale because it doesn’t work like that. There are no simple solutions, there is no 3-step program that will fix everything. Even the programs with steps, you know the ones with 12 of them. they’re hard. they take effort and energy and your whole being might be lain bare and vulnerable before you are able to rebuild a foundation.

You can’t buy or sell a program because Jesus gave it away for free, on a hillside. Jesus didn’t teach some simple program we can implant to weather the storms, but a lifetime of work, of building stone by stone what your life is, what this community is. What are you going to build your life on? What is the foundation of who you are, who you are going to be, how you are going to make your choices or raise your children or spend your money? What is the foundation of this community, of this church?

Is it based on the sermon on the mount or is it based on what the world teaches? Is it generosity or consumption? Is it forgiveness or is it revenge? Is it trust or cynicism? Is it judginess or self-reflection?

Because the storms are coming. And as we come to our annual meeting, as we looking continue to look to the future of this community and congregation, some of what we are to do, we need to do, is to remember our foundation. Because the storms are coming. UCC churches across the state are worshipping at smaller numbers than they did 4 years ago. Many are struggling to make it through each week. The first church I served at while in seminary is having their last service this morning.

Churches that look like ours, are struggling with how to respond to ongoing race… issues, ism, with nationalism, with sex and sexuality. And while these might not be our issues, what is our response to them, to our school boards and libraries? Do we trench in? Hold on? Build on foundation on surviving? Or, is it something different?

If I am part of a church that cares deeply about each other and their neighbor, that gives generously out of What it needs just for this day, That does not deny the full belovedness of another person or community just to make ourselves feel better, That is intentionally reflective, That moves to this world with kindness compassion and forgiveness whether there are 10 people who come through our door on a Sunday morning or 1000, there is no failure here. If we are down to our last dollars and we can give it generously to those in need, there is no failure here. If we are a place that is full of misfits and outcasts who are welcomed and loved there is no failure here. Our foundation is the teachings of Christ who began with calling each of you, and all of us together salt and light, to trust and forgive, to move with compassion and generosity,

That is the foundation of this church family. That is who we are. That is why we are here. And the storms will come. But when our foundation is firmly planted in love, it will not falter.