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Rediscovering the Parables of Jesus - Our Foundations (The Story of Us #2) Notes

The Stories of Us: Rediscovering the Parables of Jesus "Our Foundations"
Nigel Berry, Youth Ministries Director, Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor, July 19, 2015


Last week Pastor Donnell started us in our new series The Stories of Us: Rediscovering the Parables of Jesus. If you were unable to join us last week, the central focus of this series will draw on select parables found in the Bible. A parable, in a nutshell, is a simple story that is meant to convey a moral or spiritual lesson. We have examples of them all throughout our culture. Here’s a common one:

A farm girl was on her way to the market with a basket full of eggs that she collected that very morning. Walking along, she starts day dreaming about how eggs, if left alone, may grow into chickens one day. She could then sell the more valuable chickens at the market, and use the money to buy a beautiful dress that will turn the boys' heads. So, becoming lost in her fantasy, she begins practicing how she'll toss her head to pretend she isn't interested in the boys who are ogling her pretty dress, and when she does, the eggs fall out of the basket and break.

The moral: don't count your chickens before they hatch.

So in the parable: the girl is all people who let vanity get the best of them. The eggs are potential successes we lose because of our shortsightedness and vanity.

Parables. Short stories. Big meanings. Echoing Pastor Donnell from last week:

“A story is the best way to of talking about the way the world actually is because our very lives are lived within a narrative.” - Pastor Donnell. (aka P. Donny)

And so our starting point today is going to find us in two of the Gospels as Matthew and Luke’s accounts both share the similar accounts of the same story. And its a story about foundations. And an invitation for you before we dive in - I’d like to extend an invite to play on your Twitter and/or Facebook accounts this morning using our series hashtag #StoriesOfUs.

We’ll expand on the value of using social media during a sermon more in our practical tips at the end of the day but you have a pass to play on your devices during the sermon this morning. Now - to our texts!

The story we’re going to sit with this morning is often called the Parable of the Two Builders and we find this parable repeated twice in the Bible - first in Mathew’s account of Jesus and a second time in Luke’s account. To save a bit of time, we’re going to spend our time in Luke’s narrative this morning where we see Jesus’ story framed in frustration. It begins with Jesus saying:

46 “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.” Luke 6:46-49

What we see in the core of this story is a weighted simplicity.

The story features two dudes, two houses, one storm, and two endings.

Yet what we miss as casual readers of the story is the power behind it. In fact, throughout most of recent history, this parable has been regulated to narrow confines in Children’s and Youth Ministries. And that makes sense, right? I mean, we’re going to be talking about foundations here. We’re talking about building things and “starting off right” and possessing a solid and dependable framework for faith! So naturally this applies to kids!

And so, dismissed for its simplicity and lack of an obvious ‘wow’ factor, we dismiss it. The story, it seems, offers us little beyond some conventional wisdom concerning matters of faith. And, in its simplicity, it becomes boring.

The great writer G.K. Chesterton, however suggests that children may be the very ones that invite us into the reclamation of this story.

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” ―
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

And I think there is truth in that quote, that we have sinned. We have grown old. And we have forgotten that there can be joy in repetition.

To illustrate, you need to understand that my three year old daughter is far superior at building towers out of LEGO blocks than I am in my early 30’s. I mean, I can lay down a pretty legit base, build it higher than high until I’ve exhausted every piece and it will remain standing there until my wife asks what our children were doing unsupervised while I was perfecting my tower. It then comes down very very fast…

But my daughter is better because isn’t concerned with the “point” of the tower. The idea of redirecting her to make it sturdier, to make it taller, to make it better than that other 3yr old’s lame tower across town feels…. wrong. I would be taking the joy, and wonder, and the excited squeals when the tower collapses and lands on our cat, away from her. And so, why rebuild? Why repeat the process? Why go back to the foundation?

It’s because there is joy, and wonder, and transformation, and youth, and beauty to be discovered in our faith foundations. And that’s what we’ll explore this morning- Hopefully with less traumatized pets…

Upsetting the Equilibrium (OOPS)

Aw snap - we totally goofed here. We often place our security in things that don’t offer us anything that is truly good. Jesus’ parable highlights this.

It has been suggested that the root of our sins is our muddled approach to discerning good from evil. We recall in the Genesis narrative at the beginning of the scriptures that the tree Adam and Eve were prompted to avoid was indeed a “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil”. A casual reflection should expose the tension of that warning - its the voice inside of us that say’s “Why?” Knowledge is good! And to back up that idea, we can make a great case that the knowledge of good and evil is an even greater form of knowledge! The error, as recorded in Genesis, came following the discernment process. We don’t always discern well. We witnessed the immediate meltdown as our first couple questioned their exposure, deciding that it was wrong. They then hid, because they were afraid of the unknown consequence of their actions, not even knowing yet that they were experiencing the consequences already. When found, they projected blame - each person asserting their “goodness” and highlighting the other’s “evil”.

This discernment problem still weighs on us today. It even harms the way that we read our own sacred texts - hoping to discern good from evil and trusting in our own discernment. And Jesus is here to challenge the discernments of the people of the day in addition to challenging our discernments today. The invitation of returning to childhood rests in our willingness to examine ideas and convictions that we assumed were settled. It’s in invitation to examine our foundations. To explore our own stories.

And so Jesus is echoing this discernment challenge to us as he borrows his theme from much much older stories. And these stories have STRONG roots in Israel’s story. They are warning themes that have been repeated in the temples and whispered at dinner tables for centuries. The themes come from from the prophets Ezekiel (about 620 years before Jesus) and from Isaiah (who had rolled about 740 years before). This story of two builders is a story wrapped in a story with another story and It. Is Tasty. It’s like the modern equivalent of a Tur-Duck-Hen.

Or better yet -

So let’s dig in to our spiritual turbaconducken by taking a look at Isaiah’s warning story to get a better sense of what’s happening and why half of of our Gospel authors said that this parable was essential:

14Therefore, hear the word of the Lord, O scoffers,

Who rule this people who are in Jerusalem,

15 Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death,

And with *Sheol we have made a pact.

The overwhelming scourge will not reach us when it passes by,

For we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception.”

16 Therefore thus says the Lord God,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone,

A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed.

He who believes in it will not be disturbed.

17 “I will make justice the measuring line

And righteousness the level;

Then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies

And the waters will overflow the secret place.

18 “Your covenant with death will be canceled,

And your pact with Sheol will not stand;

When the overwhelming scourge passes through,

Then you become its trampling place.

Analyzing the Discrepancy (UGH)

Bummer. I’m bummed out.

As we continue to work our way ahead, we’ll observe that each story begins with a glaring fault. It’s the same fault that has plagued us since the garden - we don’t often discern the best for ourselves. In Isaiah’s time there was the Assyrian army that was moving throughout the ancient world and they were pretty bad dudes. Their empire was spreading and they were crushing kingdom after kingdom in their wake. They were different from Rome.

Rome: “Let’s be friends, on my terms, or I’ll crush you to a pulp.”

Assyria: “I’m going to crush you to a pulp. And then we’ll see where we go from there…”

Rome had this ‘pax Romana’ approach which said to neighboring kingdoms “Let’s be friends, on my terms, or we’ll crush you to a pulp.” Assyria said, “We’re going to crush you to a pulp. And then we’ll see where we go from there”. Assyrians. Were. Brutal. They were terrifying! Being a neighbor to Assyria would be the modern equivalent of being a next-door neighbor to ISIS.

And they couldn’t be stopped or deterred by tiny, little Israel. At least that’s what they thought.

And so the people of Israel worked to form an alliance with their old enemies - the Egyptians. Their hope, their best discernment said “We’re screwed - unless we get another army or two bundled with us to offer a fighting chance”. And so the nation made a covenant with death, as the prophet put it. Rather than appealing to their God of life, they placed their trust in Egypt and their gods of death. It was the idea of fighting fire with fire - they resolved to fight physical death with spiritual death. Even Dear Abby knew this was a bad idea…

It was like the time when William Wallace made a pact with a shaky Robert the Bruce so that their combined forces could knock out the English king’s army. Those of you who have seen Braveheart know how well that worked out… It didn’t. It went very very badly for Wallace and his army.

And I wager that we make similar decisions. We don’t always possess the best discernment and leaving our logic, our gut reactions, the input of friends and family, or most importantly, GOD’S LEADING unexamined can be an example of neglect - and that can be costly.

When we lose touch with our own stories, we can often miss what God is doing around us and, as a consequence, we miss out on the good life. And I wager these habits erode our foundations and, in the midst of significant stress or tragedy, a faith that is meant to serve us collapses and burdens us instead. Those of us who have witnessed or fallen victim to spiritual woundings may be particularly in tune with this threat. For others, our personal Egypts may not be our unawareness but may be more conscious objections to matters of Christian faith and practice because narrow paths are uncomfortable.

And so, by exercising a “lesser” repetition, Egypt becomes our default hope - the convenience of Egypt is it comfortable and it costs less than the alternative. Until Egypt fails. And Egypt always fails us…

Verse 19 in Isaiah’s warning, “As often as it comes it will carry you away; morning after morning, by day and by night, it will sweep through. The understanding of this message will bring sheer terror.”

Disclosing the Clue to Resolution (AHA)

There’s a good chance it will get better… The stories of Jesus invite us into a larger story and that invitation is extended to us daily. When we forget the stories, or when we skip stories, or when we neglect to retell the stories - they lose their power. The invitation is lost with it.

But - a picture of hope is introduced. One of my favorite things about how I’ve come to understand who God is is that he is not a God who only offers us despair - deserved or not. God counters despair with hope. God speaks through Isaiah of a second dwelling being constructed - one that God himself begins laying the foundation for! And it would shatter expectations…

You see, foundations are built on our stories. The fuller the story, the stronger the foundation. So what do foundations for our faith look like? Well, frankly, they look like stories. And that’s why we can both build on and interact with our foundations. They aren’t exactly like a building’s foundations where, if you build it right the first time, you’re good for 1,000 years! Most of us who are homeowners know that foundations, even good ones, still need a little bit of TLC. When a small amount of water was leaking through our basement wall, we removed the paneling to inspect the damage better.

We’re glad that we did because we discovered an even bigger crack in our foundation. It was wide enough that I could fit my fingers through the wall!

Incidentally, I had received a repair quote from a man who poured and repaired foundations as his family had for several generations. He told that his father had a saying about concrete. He said, “My old man used to say I can promise you two things about concrete: 1. It will crack. and 2. No one will steal it.”

There is wisdom in that. Our faith foundations can crack and they’re not going away. That’s why we must resolve not to take our foundations, our stories, for granted. We don’t forget them. We remember to care for them so that they can continue to care for us.

So two things here before we move towards our conclusions. The first is a drawback to our series theme of ‘rediscovering the parables’. Growing in our familiarity of our stories is vital for our foundations. We each have our own story. And we believe that God has a story. And we further believe that these stories do not remain separate. Our story and the story of God collide. They overlap.

And where our stories intersect is where we begin to enter into a larger story, brining all of who we are into all of who God is. That is a good place to lay a foundation.

The other part adds to the foundation building formula - we need actions to back up and write our stories. This is the second story that Jesus appeals to in his Two Foundations parable - It’s Ezekiel’s story of the pointless recording artist:

30 “… your fellow citizens who talk about you by the walls and in the doorways of the houses, speak to one another, each to his brother, saying, ‘Come now and hear what the message is which comes forth from the Lord.’ 31 They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain. 32 Behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words but they do not practice them.

Our singer in Ezekiel’s warning is an example of failed love songs. The singer’s voice is beautiful, the lyrics are crisp and true - but at the end of the day, the love song does not make better lovers out of its listeners.

Perhaps this analogy rings true for us today also? We no doubt have an entire WORLD of love songs available to us at the click of a button or the swipe of a credit card.

But was we’ve probably experienced, many aspiring love songs are quite shallow.

Experiencing the Gospel (WHEE)

Oh! Oh! This is so much better!!! The stories of Jesus are the stories of us. In them we find encouragement, direction, warnings, and affirmation! They tell the stories of our communities and they tell the story of the individual.

And so the Jews had been wrestling with this story for several hundred years; speculating on what this “foundation” was going to look like. At the time of Jesus, there were two predominant interpretations.

The first was the idea that the foundation was representative of the second temple - reestablishing God’s favor and presence with his people. The stone was marked by an elevated floor piece in the Holy of Holies - the part of the temple where God was believed to dwell. And the highest part of a holy space is the most sacred because god’s were believed to dwell above us. Therefore the top of the stone was the most sacred feature of the temple’s architecture. Therefore the temple was built around this stone, as was so much of the Jewish faith.

The other competing interpretation came from a group of desert mystics. They believed that Isaiah wasn’t referencing a “physical” building for the foundation but it was a systemic foundation that was prophesied. The “foundation” of the Qumran community was a collective of “Fifteen Righteous Men”, who would guide, order, and shape God’s people through their collective wisdom and leadership. The teachers were wrong to think it was an actual stone. That’s silly and the stone does nothing. Pious men, they championed, had to be the foundation.

And, shocking to his audience, Jesus rejected them both.

Rather than placing the foundation on a system or a symbol, Jesus firmly establishes himself as the new temple.

Jesus topples the Quamran system by establishing himself as the way, truth, and life to live (John 14:6).

The combination of these two prophetic streams as presented by Jesus are indicative of his incredible theological, historical, and rhetorical skill! Simply put - this very basic, easily missed story was the pinnacle of Jesus’ sermon in starting in back in Matthew 5 and summarized in Luke chapter 6.

And this, is our gospel. It is where our story collides with God’s story. And it bears repeating. And it solicits a response.

Jesus was especially clever to end his big sermon with a story because the story enfolds all his guiding narrative under a single roof. Its a story that is simple, that can be remembered, and most importantly, it can be shared. This story, much like the box holding an engagement ring is small and unimpressive - unless you have an idea of the joy and the love and the life-changing power that is contained within it.

Something like that… : )

And that is why we still offer rings - they become symbols of joy and symbols of new life. It is also why we must tell and retell our stories - our stories are treasures in and of themselves which offer great things! We would be wise to not assume a person’s story, a person’s head is like a small empty box. There is immeasurable value and potential inside if we dare to look.

Anticipating the Consequences (YEAH)

Still tough - but better. We got bored with the stories because we only pursue “the point” or “the end” of the story. So we moved on - hoping to find a better or an easier story. Surely there is something else that will tickle my ears better than this story?

And so our invitations are to reclaim our stories, to enter into the story of God, and to be active as the co-authors of our stories. Sometimes we shy away from sharing stories with one another. We’re afraid that they aren’t important enough to share. We place our values too highly on mere entertainment and forget that good stories don’t only amuse but invite us back into them again like a favorite book or that song that you can’t get out of your head. Yeah, I’m talking about you… Katy Perry.

And so the invitation we have at the end of the day is to reclaim the story that we tossed away because our children are the ones who have blossomed from this story and we have suffered by not sharing in it. And that will lead us into our practical tips:

Practical Tips

1. Identify Your Story
There are at least three themes that we can identify from today. And so I would like to invite you to examine the stories with me and see if one or more of them may be your story too, and I’ll invite you to reclaim it if it has been lost to you.

And so, which story is your story?

Is your story the story of “God vs. Egypt”, where, perhaps like the Israelites - faith has been perceived as being too risky, too costly, and poor discernment has suggested that it’s better to associate with other gods or other people? Is that your story?

Or perhaps your story is one that is preoccupied with the “other” - the “Places & Systems vs. Jesus” story. This story is often told by our own laments - asking God to fix our government, our schools, our economy, our “whatevers". But what if we asked God to work in us instead? There are also many who feel good about where we’re at because we “go to church”, generally make good decisions, and sin less than we used to. And so, if this is your story, the burning question may ask, “Have I placed my trust in a system of religion, taking confidence in my knowledge of that system because it spares me from acknowledging that my trust, my understanding, and my intimacy with Jesus is actually absent?” How will we write chapter 2?

It’s also possible that the story of you, of me, of us is the third story where, like a great love song, we enjoy listening to Jesus but are not letting his words transform our actions. We’ve let Jesus’ words make us catatonic instead of catalytic. We listen but do not “do”. Jesus laments this a lot in the Bible because it is easy to be religious but it is difficult to follow Him.

2. Put your story out there
The simple and alluring invitation of social media is simply this- to write your story and publish it for free.

And so consider as an experiment, telling more of your story on social media with less entertainment and less propaganda. The idea behind this exercise is not to condemn pictures of your fancy summer salads or sassy internet memes but rather to invite us to the foundations of our stories as we examine how we share them.

Your story is worth telling. Your story is worth hearing. And so if your story is colliding with Jesus’ story - how are you telling that story? Have you become bored, afraid that your story is exhausted? Or does your story need to be refreshed - given new wonder and joy like the image of a child building a tower?

If your foundation may need some refreshment, here are a couple of ways to do go at it:
  • Refrain from posting an article or a link without sharing how it is impacting you first.
  • Pay attention to your post history - what kind of story have you been telling on social media since June? Since the New Year? Over the last 12 months? Is it a good story? Is it an honest story?
  • Adopt a posture where your story is more able to collide with other stories. We can limit our stories by limiting our audiences, by un-friending or unfollowing those whose stories differ from us, or by hiding or denying our stories in an ill-fated hope to protect ourselves. Let social media be social.
  • And being aware that not everyone uses or cares for social media tools, consider this final story-sharing suggestion - Via social media or in something as small as a one-on-one - Share your foundation story, however you would describe it, with another person. Then ask to hear theirs.
3. Less hearing - more doing!
God is inviting us into more. Not because God is some cosmic task-master but because he sings our love song - not to just tickle our ears but to invite us into transformation. This is where the simple story bares its teeth.

So what is God inviting us to do? Our time? Our skills? Maybe our money? Or perhaps God is asking you for something less measurable but also difficult to do: Laying down our egos? Practicing humility? Extending patience and grace to our children or our spouses?
  • Doing can look like giving, acting, pausing, sharing, accepting…. insert your favorite verb!
  • Need help? Get some prayer today! It’s good. And it’s free! We have a prayer station where people would love to pray with you to ask for boldness, discernment, encouragement or whatever you might need to help build and tend for your foundation.
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