Firm foundations

Psalm 119:33-40
Matthew 7:24-17
1 Corinthians 3:10-11

In my first church at Twyford, the Church Hall was built in 1935. Money was tight in the 1930s, not least for Nonconformists in rural areas, so they built the hall as cheaply as they could. The foundations, if they merit that word, were on brick deep. The hall was built next to the chapel on a gravel bed. The gravel bed had a stream running through it. You’ll not be surprised to hear that seventy years later the hall had been riddled with major structural cracks for many years. It was safe, we were told by a structural engineer, because the roof was so heavy the weight of the roof was holding the walls in place.

When construction began on the new flats where the police station used to be, you’ll be pleased to hear that the foundations looked to be large trenches about six feet deep, filled with ready mixed concrete.

Firm foundations are crucial for buildings to stay upright, but they’re also essential for faith, whether we’re passing on our faith to children, or to people new to faith, or continuing to develop and nurture their faith over many years.

The first thing to say about foundations is that they need to be accurately measured. My observation of “about six feet deep” is not quite good enough for building regulations. Surveyors, architects, and structural engineers need to make careful calculations. In our reading from the first letter to the Christians in Corinth, Paul told them that he had laid the foundations for their faith like an an expert builder, using biblical measurements. He expects them to be careful how they build on these foundations. I think this is the same thing that our psalm is talking about when the psalmist asks God to give understanding, and to turn them towards God. If we’re trying to put this into practice, is this what Paul means by an alternative to ‘the standards of this age’?

The next thing to say about foundations is that they need to be fit for purpose. My Church Hall foundations really weren’t up to the job. Foundations transfer the weight of the building onto the ground beneath, and employing a structural engineer is the best way to make sure that the foundations can cope with the expected building. When Jesus talked about the two builders, I think he was stating what was blindingly obvious – foundations have to be up to the job.

I also need to say that foundations are hidden and unseen. When people see us at work, at social events, at parents and children’s events, in schools, in the myriad ways that we interact with others, they see our faith in action, but they don’t see what has gone into making it what it is. However, because our foundations are not visible, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t there, or that they don’t matter.

And we all know what happens when foundations fail. Walls crack, buildings fall down. This is why the foundations of our faith matter. Today, when we celebrate Communion, we have an opportunity to encounter God in a way that is beyond words and can help us keep our foundations strong.

I’d like to tell you about a man called Edward Mote. He was born in 1797 in London. His parents ran a pub and he was often left to his own devices playing the street. He did not have the advantage of early exposure to the Christian faith that many of us did, in fact his parents wouldn’t allow a Bible in their house, and so the young Edward was often neglected and spent most of his Sundays playing in the city streets. He himself said that “so ignorant was I that I did not know that there was a God.” When he was sixteen, he was taken by his boss to hear the esteemed preacher, John Hyatt, of the Tottenham Court Chapel in London. Here young Edward was converted to Christ.

Edward was apprenticed to become a cabinetmaker, and that was a career which he successfully conducted for another 37 years. He later settled at Southwark, where he became known as a successful cabinet maker and a devoted Christian. Eventually, at the age of 55 Edward entered ministry and became pastor of a Baptist church in Horsham.

One morning in 1834 as Edward Mote was walking to work, it entered his mind to write a hymn. By the time he got to work, he had the chorus and during the day he wrote the verses which were to become a famous hymn:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, and blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When every earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

What all this is leading up to is asking how strong are our foundations? How are we helping other people, especially children, to build and maintain their own foundations? Is our church a good enough example of Christ’s teaching? If not, what do we do about it? Is our church proud to be an example of Christ’s grace? What hidden and quiet things can our church do to help each other?

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