All Other Ground is Sinking Sand

Scripture: Matthew 7:24-27

It’s been a year this week. I heard Kai Ryssdal say that on NPR at the beginning of Covid and it seems to fit now as much as ever.

When I was doing my worship planning for this fall, I intentionally left this week blank with the note “pastoral response to election.” As I sat down to write this week, though, I just kept thinking – how do you respond pastorally to something when you don’t even know what’s happening? Here at the end of the week, now, we do know that Joe Biden has been declared the winner, though there are probably still recounts and perhaps legal challenges that lie ahead.

I don’t claim to know what all of you have been feeling this week, but I do know it has been a week of feelings running high. Maybe at different times this week you’ve felt anxious, hopeful, afraid, angry, relieved. I have felt all of these things this week too. I know for some of you, this election season has caused or heightened rifts within your own families. I know there are those of you to whom it has seemed like this race was a referendum on your identity, your family, or your rights. There are perhaps those of you who watched a speech last night by a vice-president-elect who looks like you or your children, for the very first time. I also know there are those of you who are worried about other things going on halfway around the world while everyone seems so riveted to this one thing. I imagine most of us, on either side, feel a little bit of despair when we realize again just how deeply divided our country is.

And what I thought was no matter what, in the midst of all of this, what I wanted to do today is to remind you that Jesus Christ is Lord: not Biden, not Trump, not anyone else we will ever cast a vote for. None of them will usher in the Kingdom of God here on earth, and what’s more, none of them will prevent it. That’s why we’re celebrating Reign of Christ Sunday now, two weeks early in the Christian year, because I think it does us good no matter whether we are celebrating or grieving or still anxious about the future to remember that this one thing holds true. And while we may have certain hopes for our country, our ultimate hope is always in Christ alone, and not in anyone else’s promises to us. As the hymn goes, On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand. Those are words that have been playing over and over in my head this week as I’ve needed something to hold onto.

But then I began to wonder if I did want to preach that today. To simply proclaim that Christ is Lord in a world that is suffering may seem like a way to absolve ourselves of any concern about what’s actually happening on the ground, here and now. And we are not absolved of that. It may sound good to think that we can stay calm and hopeful, fixed on heavenly things, while the storm of politics swirls around us, but politics are about people’s lives. For some of us the decisions made at high levels about immigration, racial equality, LGBTQ+ rights, the economy and healthcare are very personal. And for those of us for whom it all seems less personal, if we’re going to love our neighbors, we have to care about the politics that affect them too. That statement, of course, goes far beyond one presidential election.

It’s complicated, though. I’m sure we all like to imagine that our own political beliefs and values are perfectly aligned with God’s will for our country and our world. One of the frustrating things about the Bible, though, is that it doesn’t always do a lot to directly support our specific policy positions.  This was something we talked about a lot in Bible study last year when we were studying what the Bible has to say about immigration. The fact is that the Bible never sets forth a God-approved border policy. Why should it? At the time the Bible was written, borders weren’t the same as they are now. Certainly kings and nations marked out and fought over territory, but if you traveled from one land into another, there was no checkpoint where you had to stop and show your passport and your visa. At the same time, we read in the Bible over and over how God commands God’s people to treat the foreigner among them as one of their own. It’s up to us to figure out the specifics of how that applies in our modern context, but any Christian conversation around immigration has to start there.

At the same time, we’re all tired, right? We don’t need another sermon telling us yet again that we need to do more and work harder to make this world a better place no matter who’s in charge. We need a sermon to give us reason to hope in something bigger than all of us and bigger than all that divides us. On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand. I hear those words and can visualize myself, standing strong, no matter what storms may come.

I think it’s interesting, though, to hear what Jesus actually says in this passage from which that hymn borrows its image. This comes from the very end of the Sermon on the Mount, after Jesus has taught the crowds all his most famous teachings: Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Don’t judge. He wraps it up like this: “Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise builder who built a house on bedrock. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house. It didn’t fall because it was firmly set on bedrock.” The counter-image, of course, is that of a builder who built their house on sand, and when the storms came and the wind blew, the house collapsed.

It is striking to me that our firm foundation here, which holds up against the storm, is not our strongly felt or loudly expressed faith in Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. It’s whether we hear his words and put them into action. It’s whether or not we actually turn the other cheek and refrain from judging and love our enemies and our neighbors. And – you know – not just the neighbors we want to be able to have over for dinner without it being awkward, but especially the neighbors who are the most vulnerable as the winds of politics blow.

And at the same time, how can we do any of those things if Christ himself is not that solid rock on which we stand – if our ultimate hope isn’t in him and this Kingdom that he invites us to be part of? If we don’t believe that these everyday acts of heeding the words of Jesus are part of something bigger, are pointing to something bigger, that really is different from anything we know?

Christ is Lord. We cast our votes and check the news and hold our protest signs and call our representatives, but in the end, every other person and every other thing in which we put our faith will disappoint us.

We cling to that hope in this midst of the storm, and then, we face into the wind and take a step, following as he leads toward justice, and dignity, and mercy, and love.

We still don’t know what’s to come – between now and January, or even after. It’s still hard to see where our country as a whole is going. But the good news is our promise is not the American Dream, not Biden or Trump, not blue or red, but in Christ and the grace he gives us to live fully as part of the Kingdom of God, right here, right now.

All other ground is sinking sand.

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