Tuesday, September 25, 2007

“Solid Ground”

Isaiah 58:6-12; Psalm 103; Hebrews 12:18-29[1]

One of my favorite movie lines is found in the 2003 film Seabiscuit. The film is based on the true story of three men who are broken, wounded, and rejected: Charles, Tom, and “Red.” They all find new life and redemption through a horse that was written off as too small and “un-trainable”, but becomes a champion. At one point, when Charles decides to invest in a horse, he meets Tom outside a track in Tijuana, Mexico. Tom had been a top hand on a ranch in Colorado, but was forced to become a drifter during the Great Depression. In Tijuana, he happened to come upon a horse that had a broken foreleg. They were going to “put him down” but Tom stopped them. When Charles meets Tom, he’s well into rehabilitating the horse. When Charles asks why, Tom says, “You don’t throw a whole life away just ‘cause it’s banged up a little.”

That’s not a philosophy that I would say is very popular these days. We throw away everything that’s “banged up,” whether its banged up a little or a lot! We are obsessed with what is newest, what has the best “bells and whistles,” and with what is the most fashionable. The personal computer industry has dramatically changed the definition of “new” and “old.” There was a time when a new car was new for many months. A new house was new for several years. But these days, we buy a new computer, and as soon as we take it out of the box, it’s “old” and obsolete. Be honest—how long did you wait after buying your last computer before you started looking at newer ones that were faster and better?

Our “throw away” mentality extends beyond the latest gadgets. It also includes lives. People. We throw them away all the time. Whether it’s a difficult employee, or a handicapped person, or a spouse, or even a parent. We live in a society where it’s much easier to simply throw lives away. And that’s what we do with “our” people; I’d hate to even go into what we do with people who are “foreign” to us!

I’m afraid the action of a broken down old cowpoke to save a hobbled horse from the soap factory looks a bit impractical from the perspective of our world. But that is precisely what’s wrong with our world! We have no “ideal” that we look to for guidance, to provide meaning and direction.

Instead, in our world kingdoms rise and fall based on things like profit, military technology, and propaganda. People are viewed as cogs in a machine. And the “laws of the jungle” are “bigger is better,” “money makes the world go around,” and “survival of the strongest.”

The letter to the Hebrews reminds us, however, that what looks strong and stable may not always have the capacity to endure. Many of the “strong” and the “powerful” have met their undoing because they founded their kingdoms on the “laws of the jungle” rather than on God’s justice. All of the “rich” and the “beautiful” who have clawed their way to the top on the backs of others have met their ultimate demise when death comes knocking!

The letter to the Hebrews uses a metaphor for judgment that is very appropriate—shaking. It says that one day, everything will be shaken. Those things that are built on any foundation other than the kingdom of God will fall to pieces. They may look strong and enduring now, but they will not stand. What will stand is the kingdom of God. That’s solid ground.

Psalm 103 praises God’s essential character as the foundation of his kingdom that will never be shaken: “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” In a very real sense, I think the Psalmist invites us to build our lives on the foundation of God’s character, God’s truth, God’s justice.

And the defining qualities of God’s character are mercy, grace, and love. God is compassionate. And those qualities—mercy, grace, and compassion—are the foundation for God’s justice in the world, for God’s kingdom in the world. It is the kind of outlook that says, “You don’t throw a whole life away just ‘cause it’s banged up a little.”

There are a lot of lives around us that are “banged up”—some a little, some a lot. If we have eyes to see, we can see all around us the lives of children, families, and senior adults shattered by homelessness, drug abuse, alcoholism, and poverty. In some respects, they are the victims of their own bad choices. But in every case, they suffer in part because the kingdoms of this world do not practice the justice of God.

Why should we care? The Bible says we should care because God cares for them. We should care because God has shown his care to us, and expects us to extend that care to others. We should care because Jesus made it clear that God intends to redeem the poor and the destitute. It is to them that the kingdom of God belongs, the kingdom founded upon the solid ground of grace, mercy, and love.

But the prophet Isaiah also reminds us that we should care, and should put that compassion into action, because it is only as we get outside ourselves and share God’s compassion with others that we ourselves find life. As Jim Wallis puts it, when we share God’s grace and mercy and love with those around us who are hurting and struggling, “we all get healed.”[2]

[1] A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 8/26/07 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX.

[2] Jim Wallis, “We All Get Healed,” a sermon preached Nov. 21, 2000; accessed at http://www.csec.org/csec/sermon/wallis_4416.htm.

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