Sermon July 11, 2021 by Rev. David Hodgson

Beware the Shifting Sands of Time

Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

 Matthew 7:24-25

The shifting sands of time ~ of these times ~ are dangerous ground upon which to build!  And it does not matter whether you are building a house, or building character, or building friendships, or building a life, or building a church, or building a nation, or building a new world order, it will not survive the storms of life or the changing tides of history if it is built upon the shifting sands of time.

It is amazing to me that our Lord told this story for the ages more than twenty-one hundred years ago, and yet it was obviously ignored in the intervening years.  Those who built upon the solid foundation of the Word of God made lasting contributions to the advancement of civilization ~ in religion, in philosophy, in art, in science, in social work, in education.  But those who built their lives, the achievements of their years, even their empires, on the sands of time had nothing to gift the ages of any lasting value, for it was all washed away.

Could it be that too many people just didn’t take the Lord seriously?  The secret to successful living is not just hearing the word of God, or even believing the word of God, but living it ~ discovering in life what it means to have the word of God take on form in our own experiences of life.  That is foundational!

Here then is his warning to the builders of the ages, and especially of this one:  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.

So it was that when the Lord set out to build his church he made sure that it would not be built upon the shifting fads of time but upon the timeless foundation of the Word of God.  In our second reading the Lord made that revelation in a classic encounter with Peter ~ classic in the sense that it was Jesus just being Jesus creating a memory with his wisdom and wit that would be remembered to the end of time.

May I put it into perspective?  He set the stage for this great revelation by asking his disciples a question to which he already knew the answer.  “Who do people say that I am?”  He was fishing for feedback from these fishers of men he had called to be disciples.  They said that some people think you’re Elijah reincarnated, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.

Now you have to see his face, because they could tell that he was up to something ~ he was rolling his eyes as he listened to them and tried to hide a Cheshire cat grin.  And then he turned to Peter and said, “But what about you, Peter, who do you say that I am?”  And Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  The Lord then delivered the punch line he had been longing make: And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.”

It was a setup at Peter’s expense because the Lord was making a pun on Peter’s name.  In Greek, Peter is Petros, and rock is petra.  So his pun for all time went like this:  “And I tell you, you are Petros, and on this petra I will build my church!”

This is a glimpse of the Lord’s incredible personality, able to be profound and humorous at the same time ~ holding up to the ages the fundamental truth that his Church is being built on the Word of God ~ spoken through the ages, incarnated in the life of Christ, infused as leaven into the unfolding patterns of civilization ~ and he did it with a pun on Peter’s name!

The disciples had to laugh, even as Peter suddenly realized that his name would be used as a symbol of the rock foundation upon which we can build our lasting contributions to God and to the ages.  And in their laughter resolved to build in His name upon the word of God.

In the course of a single lifetime, however ~ namely mine ~ churches and denominations have been systematically replacing the Word of God as foundational with the shifting fads of time in the hope that doing so would make them more relevant, more appealing to the societies they serve.

It may have started with simple changes, like not talking about God so much and talking more about the social issues they faced as a church.  But instead of standing on the revelations of God they chose to stand on the shifting sands of time.

So it is that the Church of Christ, long known as a place where everyone is welcome feels compelled to hang up a banner announcing to their neighbors that Black Lives Matter!  And I wonder, is that meant to clarify their message that all lives matter, or to announce that some lives matter more than others.  Or were they admitting that in practice some lives did matter more than Black lives and now they are apologizing and setting things right with the neighborhood?  Was the church’s witness so vague, so meaningless, that they need to replace their faith in God’s Love for all with the latest message of social activists?

I watch in dismay as churches adopt one social activist’s meme after another, …well, until people of faith start judging one another not by their God-centered life, but by their position on climate change, or their use of politically corrected language, or their allegiance to the socially preferred political narrative.

And the local fad or in vogue ideology becomes more important than their faith in God, as the church tries to build the Kingdom of God upon the shifting sands of time.  We may lament the decline in church attendance and the loss of the church’s influence on society, but before we render judgment we are well advised to consider how we may have contributed to the issue of reestablishing the Church of Christ on foundations other than the one the Lord required.

The fate of the Church is also happening to our nation ~ once believed to be “one nation under God”.  There was a time when a belief in divine  providence  unfolded  in  this  land  of  liberty  and  provided a foundation upon which successive generations could build.  The concept was introduced by our founders because of their faith in God, and their biblical knowledge of how the influence of God unfolded in Israel for both judgment and for mercy.

But in recent years all references to God have been removed and any notion we once had of sacred purpose has long been replaced by claims of racism and white supremacy and slavery and collective guilt ~ as though these unfounded accusations can actually be the foundation upon which to build a new nation.

They like to say that there is no such thing as truth ~ that truth is all relative, that one person’s truth is just as valid as another person’s truth ~ and by redefining the nature of truth they try to convince the world that there is no Truth to be found for there is no God to be found.  And so they build on the shifting sands of time.

But the words of the Lord can still be heard if we listen carefully, and they plead with us to help our children understand the importance of building upon the solid foundation.  As I hear His timeless voice, it goes like this.

No matter how profound your idealism may be, or how lofty your dreams for a better world, if you build on the shifting sands of time your efforts will not withstand the storms of life.  Measure your dreams by the dreams that God has for you and for the world, evaluate your uniqueness and determine the best way to invest yourself in life, but please do not disregard the foundational experiences of life upon which you build.

You are a priceless treasure in the eyes of God, and the world needs you to become all that you are able to be.  Therefore, build upon the timeless wisdom of the Word of God, discover the will of God unfolding in your life experience, and build your life on a foundation that will last forever.  Because, …because in the real world the rains do fall, and the floods will come, and the winds of change are forever blowing strong!

David Hodgson, Peoria Presbyterian Church

July 11, 2021