Sunday, November 15, 2009

Foundations Matthew 7:24-27

The sermon below is offered as a part of First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City's 120th Anniversary celebration and building rededication service on November 15, 2009

This is one of those stories that sound too good, too Hollywood to actually be true. But the Hyde County Historical Association did the careful research required to validate the story. It is not a preacher’s tale, it really is true. Hear the story of a church moved by the hand of God;

In 1874, members of the Methodist faith in Swan Quarter decided it was time to establish a permanent church building and abandon the temporary place where they had been holding services. The location of the church became a matter of concern. Benjamin Griffin Credle, leader and promoter, and his committee picked out a perfect site for a church in the heart of town on its highest spot. They approached the owner of the lot, Sam Sadler, one-time clerk of Hyde County Superior Court, regarding the purchase of the land. Mr. Sadler response was clear, he would not sell it. The Methodists then accepted a gift of a lot offered by James W. Hayes, some thousand feet in rear of the present courthouse, and in a short time began building operations. When the church, a modest structure on brick piers, was barely shut in, people began to worship in it…..September 16, 1876, on the eve of the dedication of the church, a storm broke out and began to brew. Rain fell and wind blew until on the morning of September 17, 1876, the wind had reached such a height and the tide had risen to such depth that the force of the water moved the little Methodist Church from its temporary location into the road--now called Oyster Creek Road.

A miracle was happening--the church was floating down the road. It went straight down the road to a corner and bumped into a general store owned by George V. Credle. The corner is now Oyster Creek Road and U.S. 264 Business. Then a curious thing happened! The building took a sharp right turn and headed down that road for about two city blocks until it reached the corner of what is now Church Street. Then it moved slightly off its straight line course, took another turn to the left, crossed the Carawan Canal directly in front of the place where the people desired the church to be, and settled exactly in the center of the Sam Sadler property, the site which had been refused. After seeing the mighty work of God and realizing there was a mightier power than man ruling the universe, Mr. Sadler immediately set about to secure the title for the land and gave it to the church.[i]

The first time I heard this story years ago it struck a chord within me. I think that God places a church at a particular place at a particular time for a specific reason – to fulfill a specific mission for the Kingdom. As we gather here this morning to celebrate the rededication of these facilities – as we celebrate the 120 years of ministry that have come before us – and look to our future together in ministry, I come with the confidence that as surely as if God has picked this church up with moving currents of flood waters and placed us here, that we are in the right place at the right time to be the church that God calls us to be.

I am thankful that First Baptist Church decided to stay downtown. I believe our location gives us a unique opportunity to impact the whole of our community and become a model for other congregations to follow. I am thankful for this congregations’ choice to give sacrificially and make the renewal of this facility possible. I am thankful for the Renew First Task Group, for Rick Lippert, and Mike Jones, who each served their part to restore this grand facility. I am thankful for a grand history and faith heritage that shapes us and for the future that awaits us.

At the close of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers a short parable that is often referred to as the parable of the good and foolish builders. Jesus wants the people to understand that the foundation you build on matters. We find the parable in Matthew, Chapter 7, and verses 24-27. It begins; 24"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.

I had seen pictures, even video clips, but nothing prepared me for the scale and the grander of the Great Wall of China. We took a taxi ride from Beijing. The road rose slowly from the city bounds to a semi-mountainous area about an hour of out of town. We came around a rather sharp curve and you could begin to see it in the distance. The stone walls and guard towers seemed to rise from the depths of the earth. When Jesus talks about building a house of the rock; my mind races to the undeniable strength found in the stones that held the great wall together. Following Jesus is not easy. It is not the path of least resistance. It calls us to deny ourselves and to give ourselves wholly in loving God and loving others. But, this kind of followship is like building a house on the rock and when the storms of life blown in, we can not only survive, but thrive in strength found in Jesus the Christ.

Jesus then paints the picture of the contrasting way of life. He finishes our passage by saying; 26But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."Benjamin Reaves tells the story about a wealthy man who laid blueprints before his assistant (who had served him for many, many years) and told him, "I'm leaving on an extended trip and I want you to build a house for me in that location above the lake. I'll be gone for ten months. Here are the plans and specs and funds to cover the cost."

The astute employee saw a chance to feather his own nest. He hired a crooked contractor, employed unskilled labor whenever possible, and put cheap, inferior material into the building. When it was finished, it had the appearance of magnificence, but was really a poorly constructed, insubstantial shell. When the employer returned and went with the assistant to see the building, which looked quite beautiful overlooking the lake, he asked the secretary, "What do you think of it?" "I think it's wonderful," the assistant replied. "I'm glad you like it. I'm retiring from business; I won't need your services much longer and I want you to have a nice house in your retirement. This house is yours."[ii]

I remember the sand castles I built along the beach on the Carolina shoreline. I remember the fun of building them, but the reality that when the tide came in the castles would crumble and disappear. Jesus wanted his followers to understand that there are no short cuts, no sand castle construction, in claiming the life of faith he is talking about. We have to choose to claim the words and the way of Christ as the defining nature of our lives.

We come to this day with an amazing history behind us. For 120 years a litany of names and a diversity of life stories have claimed these halls as their venue for missions and ministry. They have given us a grand spiritual legacy. But, we cannot linger looking backwards too long. It is good to remember and to celebrate days gone by. But, we cannot be the church defined by what it once was – but rather must move forward toward what God is calling us to be.

It is good and worthy to celebrate the achievements of this season of ministry. The renovation of this facility deserves a rousing cheer. The recapturing of a focus on church planting, the commitment to community missions, and the renewed passion for world missions is worthy of song. But, we cannot sit down here and be satisfied. When the cheers and the songs have ended, we must lift our heads and look forward, looking and listing for where God is leading us next.

I can almost see them. That group that gathered in the sanctuary on Broadway walked out the door, closing one era of ministry, and began the slow but steady march that carried them into this room for the first time as a church family in March of 1912. I can imagine the looks in the eyes as the first saw the stained glass windows and the joy they must have felt as they took their places in these pews. I can imagine Reverend Jones taking the pulpit and reading Psalm 24. I can imagine the fond memories they carried of the white wooden structure that the church first called home, and then for the White Temple church what had been their home for the past five years. The latest book on the church’s history, First Family, observes; “There was still debt to be paid, there were still differences of opinion within the church, but in general, when First Baptist moved into the new building at 11th and Robinson, there was a sense of purpose that the problems could be overcome. The vision of the church was in focus once again.”[iii] They were ready to look forward. They were ready to move into a new season of ministry with God.

As we come to this service of celebration and rededication, let us come with that same heart. Let us celebrate the history that has shaped. Let us relish in what God is doing in our midst right now. But then, on the firm foundation of faith found in the word and way of Jesus, may we step boldly into the future that God has for us. The way will not always be easy or comfortable. We know from experience that the storms of life and economics can rage in the life of an individual and a congregation. But when our foundation is built on an unswerving commitment to go where Jesus calls us – to serve who Jesus calls us to serve – to follow as Jesus calls us to follow – to be the people and the church that God calls us to be – then we will know the blessing of God.

What is clear to me is that we need to make sure that our future is built on the strong foundation of an unbridled commitment to follow this word and way of Jesus. The words from the Sermon on the Mount hang in the air;”You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world…..love your enemies…..pray like this, forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us….For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…..don’t worry about anything…..don’t judge others….ask, seek, knock….Jesus tells us that those who hear these words and put them into practice build their house on the solid rock that can withstand the storms of life. These words we are suppose to hear and follow will continue to call us out of our comfort zones and cultural satisfaction. It will not let us be to sit back and relish in our accomplishments or be satisfied with the status quo. It will draw us toward a future where our church truly becomes salt and light for our community and our world. As surely as if the flood waters had picked us up and guided us here - God has placed us here. We are in exactly the right place for this moment – for this new season of ministry. We have been given a great foundation of faith to build upon. What does the future hold for us? I have some ideas, but my choice is to wait with eager anticipation to see what God has for us next. Come, go with me into the season of ministry that awaits us with God.


[i] Available online at http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~jmack/photos/providen.htm%20and%20at%20http:/www.hydecounty.org/attractions/ProvidenceChurch.htm%20on%20October%2020, 2009. (Core story from first citation, words in italics are based on nterpretation of the second citation.)
[ii] Reaves, Benjamin, “Building a Life” available online at http://www.csec.org/csec/sermon/reaves_3613.htm on November 14, 2009. (the word “secretary” has been replaced with the word “assistant” to fit the current title of that role so that it can be best understood by the congregation.)
[iii] Blackburn, Bob L. First Family, (Savesport Pub: OKC, 1989), p.43.

No comments: