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Cracked Ideas and Cracked Foundations: The Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany

Sunday, March 3, 2019:
Sirach 27:4-7
1 Corinthians 15:51-58
Luke 6:39-49

Toward the end of high school a friend of mine decided to hold a party. I don’t remember exactly where it was to be held, but it was going to take place on an island, somewhere in or near Kitchener or Waterloo. What we were to do was wait until it got dark out, and then sneak across whatever body of water in which this island sat. We’d sneak into the trees and have our party, unencumbered by parents or the rest of urban society.

And while I’ve never been big into parties, I have always been inclined to put inordinate amounts of time and energy into quirky, tangential projects. So, my friend Dennis and I endeavoured to solve the problem of how to get to that island without getting wet. Because we figured we’d enjoy the party a whole lot more if the bottom half of our bodies weren’t soaked.

So, what Dennis did was put on his best rain boots, rain pants, and rain jacket. He added to that scuba diving goggles and a snorkel. And we wrapped every crack, space, and seam in layer after layer of duct tape. This, we said, would prevent any water from touching his person.

Dennis’ idea seemed a little plain and obvious to me. Not to mention that by the time we’d actually extract him from his suit, the party would probably be over. So my bright idea was to purchase two of those white styrofoam semi-disposable coolers that you can find everywhere in the summertime. I’d flip them over, tape them to my shoes, and harness the power of their buoyancy. Using these styrofoam boxes as floating boots, in essence, I would walk, or even glide across the water, effortlessly, like Jesus.

It was to our disappointment when we heard that the party was cancelled. I don’t remember the precise reason, but as I think about it, the reality is that it wasn’t our island to have a party on to begin with. (I think the technical term is trespassing.) Add to that all of the other illegal behaviour that many were going to get up to, and you’re setting yourself up for some significant risks.

But we didn’t let this stop us. Our course work had suffered so much over several weeks of preparation, that we just couldn’t let our planning and inventing go to waste. So what we did was devote some time to go to the Conestogo River near St. Jacobs. I taped him up like a mummy, and he helped — as much as he was able — to steady me as I fastened myself to my styrofoam stilts. And, like our gospel reading described it, as soon as the river burst against our respective inventions, immediately we fell. Immediately. Water seeped through Dennis’ duct tape in about two seconds. And my coolers basically disintegrated. And I spent my time thrashing about in the water trying to collect all of these small chunks of styrofoam and throw them to the shore. My plan had failed, and, I’d become a terrible polluter of this lovely little river.

The problem, of course, was that our plans, our inventions, were flawed, at their very foundations. The original party, in itself, was probably not the greatest motivation. The way we devoted so much of our attention to this fruitless project to the detriment of our education was another hole in the foundation. Our naive optimism about the prospects of success, and our ignorance around the science involved, were further cracks in the foundation.

But this didn’t stop us from repeating our experiment in subsequent years. The most aesthetically interesting variation was when we wrapped our entire bodies in saran wrap. You’d think this would be water proof, but, I can tell you that it is not.

Our most successful attempt was when we took hundreds of the little styrofoam bricks that video stores used to slip inside empty VHS tape cases. We fastened layers and rows of these together and constructed a raft. It half-worked, but it wouldn’t have saved anyone from a desert island.

So we’re asked today: what is our foundation? Is it solid stone, or slippery sand? Or, in my case, youthful stupidity?

Paul describes the state of things in a similar way: there’s perishability, and there’s imperishability. There’s immortality, and there’s mortality. And both Paul and Jesus are rooted in their Jewish tradition, where one of the ‘foundational’ stories of their people is about their rescuing from slavery in Egypt. And upon arriving in the Promised Land, God describes the situation: “I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. [You can follow my commandments… or you can turn away and let your heart lead you astray.] I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”

The various readings today speak to choosing life. The Book of Sirach is classified as wisdom literature; the author would say that readers should live righteously — and wisely — and this will show in the fruit of each one’s life. Jesus says that you can’t just call him “Lord, Lord,” but you’re called to actually follow his commandments. And Paul, though he doesn’t talk much about Jesus’ commandments per se, he leaves us with “be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord.” He might not use the language of “follow Christ” but he wants his readers to “put on Christ.” To live in a way that reflects how, through what God has done in Jesus, God’s plan for us is to be transformed, from perishable to imperishable, mortal to immortal. And it’s not as simple and clearcut and dualistic as ‘the physical’ is bad, and ‘the spirit’ is good. So much as the flesh, the body, the physical, is going to be transformed, like how the body of Jesus was transformed; a body that was real enough that the Risen Jesus cooked and ate fish with his friends; but transformed, and spiritual in a way that let him walk through walls.

That is the end goal of Christianity — this hope that the perishable will one day put on imperishability. And we get a glimpse of this in our communion meal. This real meal of bread and wine (or paper thin, kind of bread and wine), that is somehow transformed, and takes on a new depth of meaning when it’s offered to God. Saying, perhaps, that the whole of our lives can be transformed, and made meaningful, when we live in a spirit of gratitude. And when we participate in this meal — in our eating and drinking, but also in our giving thanks in the offering of the eucharistic prayer itself — we’re transformed from the inside out. “You are what you eat,” the saying goes. We eat this imperishable bread from heaven, and this spiritual grace comes to us in something that seems so plain and physical. And just as a meal is traditionally at the foundation of family life, that meal is the foundation of our unity as a community.

So today’s gospel reading is perfect where it lands in the calendar, just days away from the beginning of Lent. If we have a sense that our foundations aren’t as solid as they might be, there exists this season of the Church year that encourages us — instructs us, really — to divert our attention from the superficial (the decorations, the drapes, the cable or satellite options) — and to focus on the foundation. So give some thought early this week to the state of your foundation, and ask if Lent might be a time to work on it. And see where you might encounter God’s goodness and grace in the practices of “self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and by reading and meditating on the word of God.” Amen.

© 2019 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter

Note the amazing coincidence of the ‘water-crossing’ line in today’s final hymn,”Let Saints on Earth in Concert Sing”:

Part of his host have crossed the flood
and part are crossing now