August 6, 2017
by Rev. Melanie Homan
View, print or save PDF: Sermon.08.06.17.Under Construction
Rev. Melanie Homan
August 6, 2017
24 “Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise builder who built a house on bedrock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It didn’t fall because it was firmly set on bedrock. 26 But everybody who hears these words of mine and doesn’t put them into practice will be like a fool who built a house on sand. 27 The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It fell and was completely destroyed.”
28 When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were amazed at his teaching 29 because he was teaching them like someone with authority and not like their legal experts.
Hearing words and putting them into practice…that’s what Jesus is getting at with these words about builders and houses and foundations and sand.
This saying of Jesus stuck with me last week, as I served alongside 20 youth and 13 adults in Knott County, Kentucky last week through the Appalachian Service Project. We were the last groups to work on people’s homes, so we were driven to finish our projects – there were no groups coming after us to finish things up – it was up to us to complete the projects. So, the team I was on was responsible for building a 10 foot by 20 foot front porch and repairing a roof. We had a lot of work ahead of us, but before we could get started on it, we spent two days taking apart and rebuilding the families back porch that had been built by a previous group.
At first glance, the back porch looked just fine. But looking fine and being fine are two different things. When you took a closer look, it became apparent that it wasn’t safe. Without a solid foundation and with the steps built wrong, it wouldn’t take much for the whole thing to fall apart. It was a real pain, trying to fix it. But, we did, because we wanted those steps to last through rain, wind, and snow for many years. Creation offered us additional reminders of this lesson through torrential downpours. We got to see first hand the power of water against a sand foundation.
Jesus gives us an image that is easy to relate to, especially when you’re digging post holes to create a strong foundation for a home! He used the image to connect us with something else, though…our words and our actions. Words on their own will easily fall apart, but words combined with actions can withstand almost anything.
Words and actions together brought over 30 volunteers here last Wednesday night, as we welcomed almost 200 people for a community conversation on policing. We are trying to build a solid foundation for serving our community, and this was one way to live our words. I’m grateful to everyone who came and helped make it happen!
On the same day that we held the community forum on policing, I also met with Jerry Flora’s daughters to plan his memorial service. I loved Jerry. I almost missed my flight out to Kentucky to join the youth because I had to see Jerry one last time. I led worship, then ran over to visit him and say goodbye before going to the airport. But, I had to see him.
Jerry grew up in Tennessee, so I asked him if there was anything I needed to see or do while out in Kentucky with the youth. Given how much Jerry loved food and cooking, it was no surprise that he said I needed to go to a grocery store to find sorghum molasses. “Don’t get any of that watered down stuff – it needs to be pure sorghum molasses”, and then he went into exquisite detail about the best ways to eat it. But, he wasn’t finished. He then said, “You need to get a shot glass and stop at a distillery”.
JERRY! Seriously! “So, you’re saying I should just pull over all the vans and leave 30 kids waiting outside, while the adults go inside and drink bourbon?!? How exactly is that supposed to work?!?” He just laughed and said, “You asked for my recommendation”. Thanks, Jerry.
The irony in all of this, even after you set aside the part about being a pastor on a youth trip, is that Jerry was active in Alcoholics Anonymous for 40 years. His recommendation was just words. He knew I wouldn’t do it. Words and actions together are more important, which I think is why he also pulled out of his wallet his AA card and gave it to me. I’m not sure how long he carried this card around in his wallet, but I know it was important to him, and it’s important to me.
He told me, “Don’t shy away from telling people I was in AA. There is no shame in it. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for AA, and it transformed my life.” I promised him that I wouldn’t shy away from it, and that I would talk about AA and the importance of getting help when you need it because there is no shame in getting help. In fact, it’s the greatest gift you can give yourself and your loved ones if you are struggling with addiction. It can help you build a strong foundation for life – where your words and actions align.
Jerry’s wife, Donnie, was in a memory care facility for the last few years of her life. Jerry visited her every single day, even though she didn’t recognize him. Every day, he would play her favorite music, massage her hands, and bring her three Hershey’s kisses because she loved chocolate. I told Jerry that I thought his actions were the most powerful representation of love and commitment that I had seen. But, he denied it. He wouldn’t accept it. He turned it back on Donnie. He said, “No. True love and commitment is what Donnie showed me, when I was addicted to alcohol and making a mess of our lives. She never gave up on me. I’m just returning the favor. It’s my turn to do for her what she did for me when I was at my worst.”
What I appreciated was Jerry’s honesty about his own brokenness. And yet, he was a living testimony for many of us about the human capacity for transformation. He recognized that our lives are always under construction, that we always have the possibility to be formed and reformed. If you start with a sandy foundation, you don’t have to stay there. You can do the messy, hard, challenging work of taking things apart and rebuilding it (sort of like those steps on the back porch).
Jerry’s transformation was not a “one and done” type of thing. He recognized that as long as we are alive, we are capable of being transformed into something new. One of the things that Jerry did on a weekly basis was send me feedback about my sermons. He would sometimes offer critiques, other times encouragement, oftentimes links to articles that he thought I should read. He struggled with Christianity and his perception that Christians were saying one thing and doing another. He just couldn’t fathom it. He couldn’t accept a literal interpretation of scripture and, no matter how many times I told him he didn’t need to, he would just grumble about the same things.
One day, I finally gave him Marcus Borg’s book “Speaking Christian”, and I told him that he was going to participate in an adult small group on Sunday mornings. Just to be clear, I don’t normally go around ordering people to Bible study and telling them they have to go. The thing is, though, Jerry had all these issues with the Bible, but proudly declared that he hadn’t been to a Bible study in decades because he was in a study once, asked too many questions and was kicked out. Having been kicked out, he had resolved that he was never going to go again. So, I told him he was going. He said, “They’ll kick me out!”, and I told him “They will only kick you out if you can’t follow the ground rules. So, if you can keep from swearing at people and being mean, I’m pretty sure you won’t get kicked out!”
That was last year. He went to his small group with some of you, every Sunday. He called me up towards the end of the year and said, “Thank you.” “Thank you for making me go. This book and the people in my group, they have transformed my life. They have transformed my thinking, and I’ve found a way to be at home with my faith.”
I love, that at 85 years old, he was still under construction. When I was meeting this spring with the confirmation youth – one of them was struggling with the exact same sort of questions that Jerry had been struggling with his whole life of faith. I told the youth about Jerry. I said, “You don’t have to have all the answers. It’s probably better if you don’t. As long as you have good questions and you’re struggling with them, you’ll be open to the possibility of growing in your life of faith. I hope you are still asking hard questions at church when you are 85. I’ll take good questions any day over mediocre answers.”
On one of my last visits to Jerry, he said, “Do you know why I’ve been a member of Lake Harriet for over 50 years? Because I’m still searching, and you’ve let me search.”
I share all of this with you because Jerry is a model for the rest of us of what a faithful life looks like. It isn’t a perfect life. But, it’s a life open to the possibility of transformation at any time. It’s a life that is always under construction, built on a solid foundation of loving words and loving actions.
There are lots of ways our lives can be transformed. Jerry’s was transformed through AA and a bible study. If you need AA, or you think you might need AA, or someone in your life says you need AA, do it. It’s messy and hard and worth it. When adult small group sign-ups start in a few weeks, I don’t want to order you into a group. Take Jerry’s word for it – it can change you.
In the book of Proverbs, it says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls; but, in an abundance of counselors, there is safety.” Thank God for mentors, AA sponsors, and small group leaders for providing a safe space for us to learn and grow together, while we’re each under construction. Amen.