Summer in the City 2009
Outstanding Preacher Series
Rev. Dr. Leslie John Griffiths
“Built on Foundations”
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Ephesians 2: 11-23
Whenever I travel, one of the biggest questions that needs answering is this: What shall I take to read? This trip was no exception. I could take two books. One was obvious – a historical novel about the English Reformation, which I have to review. The other boiled down to a choice between two:
a well-reviewed book called “God is Back,” being recommended to me
b) a biography of Clarence Thomas, written by two black journalists
In view of the timing of the Senate hearing for Judge Sonia Sotomayor, I thought it would be both interesting and topical to bring the Thomas biography though, in the end, their hearings could hardly have been more different.
Imagine my surprise when, arrived in Bay View, Michigan, a week ago, I found the book, “God is Back,” sitting proudly on our host’s sitting room table. I thought I’d thumb through it to see what I’d be missing. But I never got further than the blurb where I read the following hype:
“Since the Enlightenment, intellectuals have assumed
that modernization would kill religion, and that religious
“Many things have helped spark the global revival of religion, including the failure of communism and the rise of globalism (sic). But above all, 21st century faith is being fueled by a very American emphasis on competition and a consumer-driven attitude towards salvation. These qualities have characterized this country’s faith ever since the Founders separated church and state, creating a religious free market defined by entrepreneurship, choice and personal revelation. As market forces reshape the world, the tools and ideals of American evangelism are now spreading everywhere.”
There! Starbucks can teach us everything. The renewal of the church will owe more to spontaneous combustion, the bursting into life of some wayside flower, than to any idea that honors the past, builds on it, injects new life into it, unfolds God’s plan one stage at a time.
You have space.
We have time.
The Tabard Inn is lovely; it cultivates a sense of age. Yet it was born at almost the same time as Walter Cronkite. And however frustrating it is for Americans who’d surely like to think that they’ve had a part to play in everything meaningful that’s ever happened, most of the Christian story goes back further than us:
The Celtic Saints
The Greek or Latin fathers
The Apostles in
The Prophets of Old
It’s an old, old story.
Like the film, “The Wizard of Oz,” it breaks out of black and white into glorious Technicolor along the way. But the story of our salvation is one that has its roots in the beginnings of time; it’s the tale of God’s unfolding plan. It flows from the mind and the will of God, not the needs or desires of men and women.
God so loved the world . . .
God was in Christ reconciling . . .
You are built on the foundations laid by the apostles and prophets.
Once we’ve got our heads sorted out about our foundation, then we can begin to think about what we build on those foundations. We can think of all kinds of construction but they’ll only cohere, make sense, hold fast, if their cornerstone is Christ. Think of churches that seem in thrall to one novelty after another:
- a mission statement;
- a budget target;
- some aspect of liturgical gobbledygook;
- a denomination;
- a favorite theological emphasis;
- a preacher.
It’s Christ and Christ alone – the same yesterday as today; Alpha and Omega; Beginning and End – who sets the tone, undergirds the enterprise, and holds the whole thing fast.
He’s got to be at the very heart of Christian life and work, worship and service.
And then, with such foundations and such a building we can merrily set about knocking down the walls of separation that keep people apart.
Pass me the sledgehammer! Race, gender, orientation, class, education. Knock ‘em all down and discover that they were never load-bearing walls at all.
I’ve been reading about Walter Cronkite, who’s just died at the age of 92.
years ago, almost to the day, a man who’s now just about Cronkite’s age (and
the age of the Tabard Inn) came to
We’d put down foundations. We were building a Christian school and we were destroying walls of ignorance and prejudice: Haitians and Americans, buckets of cement, next to each other in line.
who brought that team was later to give me and Margaret and our children our
first opportunity to visit
And he’s here today. Danny True. I honor you and thank God for you.
And that’s the way it is.