Rock-Solid Faith In A Sinking-Sand World
Some years ago in a small town in central Europe, a visitor saw something that fascinated him. He noticed the villagers in that place performing a most unusual ritual. As they passed by a certain ordinary-looking wall, they would bow their heads in the direction of that wall, make the sign of the cross, and then walk on. Everybody who passed that spot on the wall did the same thing. When the visitor asked why they did this, no one knew. They said: “We’ve always done it. It’s a tradition in our village. Everybody does it; always have.”
The visitor’s curiosity got the best of him. He began chipping away at the layers of whitewash and dirt covering that wall. Underneath, to his astonishment, he discovered a magnificent mural of Mary and the baby Jesus. Generations before, the townspeople had had good reason for bowing and making the sign of the cross at that place. It had been an altar of prayer in the heart of the village.
But succeeding generations didn’t know that—they had learned only the ritual. They continued to go through the motions without knowing the reason. They had performed the acts of reverence, but it had no meaning for them and it made no impact on their lives.
Sadly, many people today approach religion in the same way. Their faith experience is not much more than a vague nod in God’s direction. The rituals have become so routine, so casual, so matter-of-fact, that there is no power, no strength, no inspiration in them at all. Their faith consists of a little nod here, a token gesture there, but no spirit, no depth, no life.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us fair warning about such a nonchalant approach to faith. There are storms ahead, He says. The rains of trouble will fall, the floods of stress will rise, the winds of change will lash against us. Shaking, unstable, wobbly, wavering, casual, routine faith won’t hold together in the storms of life. We need a strong, stable house of faith built on a rock-solid foundation. Therefore, let’s take a look at a couple of the building blocks which make our faith foundation rock-solid …
First, there is rock-solid commitment.
Be honest now. How would you rate your personal commitment to Jesus Christ? On a scale of one to ten, with ten being “absolutely terrific” and one being “very poor”, how would you rate your commitment to Christ and His church? Ten? Nine? Eight? Really? Or maybe four? Two?
Where are you on the scale? Do you really put Christ first in your life? Do you love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength? Are you committed to building God’s kingdom on earth and to doing His will in your life? Are you true-heartedly, whole-heartedly committed to support the church and uphold the church with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service? Jesus makes the point that a commitment built on shaky, sinking, sifting sands will not work. A rock-solid commitment is what we need. An unflinching, unwavering commitment to Christ is what we need in order to stand up to the treacherous storms of life in this world.
Do you have any idea what a joy it is for me to be the minister of this great church and to come to know and to love some truly remarkable Christians? Their names aren’t in the headlines. Their stories don’t make the evening news, but perhaps they should. I think, for example, of Stafford Parker. We lost him to death not long ago after an incredibly courageous battle against cancer. But I remember the day he came to see me just after an appointment with his doctor. He wanted me to pray for him, and to help him make a decision. The doctor had informed him that the cancer had now appeared in his throat. He had a choice. He could have surgery and recover rather quickly, though he would lose his ability to speak, or he could take radiation and chemotherapy which would be long and drawn out and terribly debilitating. He said to me: “I think I’m going to choose the chemo.” I asked, “Why? Why not the surgery?” He replied: “I can’t live 20 minutes without God in my life. And the way I stay close to Him is to pray regularly. And while you may think this is a bit odd, ever since I was young, the only way I can pray is out loud. I am afraid that if I am unable to speak, I would be unable to pray. And I have to pray, so chemo is the only option.” So we prayed together then, out loud, and I wish you could have heard his prayer. What a man! What a faith! What a rock-solid commitment when all around him was sinking sand!
And next, there is rock-solid trust.
The artist, Rembrandt, once painted a piece entitled, “Storm on the Sea of Galilee”. It’s a remarkable work of art for two reasons. First, of course, it’s a Rembrandt, a masterpiece. It portrays the scene from the Gospels so realistically that you can almost feel the spray of the waves and the movement of the boat. But the painting is striking for another reason as well. As you study the details, you notice something unusual. Not counting Jesus, there are thirteen other men in the boat. Wait a minute. Thirteen? But weren’t there just twelve disciples? Count again. Sure enough. Thirteen plus Jesus.
Gradually, your eyes begin to focus on one particular figure in the boat. He is holding on for dear life. Suddenly, you recognize the face. It is the face of Rembrandt himself. The artist had painted himself into the picture. He is experiencing the storm, and it is a frightening thing indeed. But the good news is that Jesus is there.
Jesus is in the boat with him. Jesus will save him from the fury of that storm. That’s rock-solid trust.
William McElvaney once described an interesting thing which happened in a church one Sunday morning. It was a small church, and they were having Communion. The congregation had been instructed to pass the Communion elements down the pew with each person saying the Communion words to their neighbor: “John, this is the body of our Lord given for you … Sue, this is the blood of our Lord shed for you.” But on this particular day, one man in the congregation who was not liturgically-minded, turned to his neighbor, handed him the bread, and promptly forgot what he was supposed to say. He drew a blank. After a brief, but agonizing pause, he finally blurted out to the man next to him these words: “Harvey, hang in there!”
I’ve seen a number of different liturgies for the Lord’s Supper over the years, but I don’t think that the words “Harvey, hang in there!” are in any of them. But the truth is that I am not so sure there are any better words to say when we are remembering Christ’s gift to us. Here at this table, we celebrate Christ’s presence with us, Christ’s watchcare over us, Christ’s power to deliver us. What better words can we say then, than “hang in there”? When life gets tough, we can hang in there with a rock-solid trust that Jesus Christ will see us through.
You may have come to this table a number of times in your life. But today, do not come lightly, casually, matter-of-factly. Don’t just go through the motions. Come with faith, commitment and trust. For then, you will encounter the reality of Christ in your life. And then you will be able to weather any storm. You can count on that because you can count on Him.