Mark 9:2-9

Jeff Davidson

What was the best day of your life? Was it the day you got that puppy or kitten for Christmas? Was it the day you graduated from high school, or from college? Was it the day you got married? The day your first child was born? The day you got the promotion at work? The day you retired? The day you won the lottery? If it was that one you’ve been holding out on me.

As maybe you could tell from the timeline of my suggestions, you might have lots of best days in your life. What the best day ever is right now could be eclipsed by some other day yet to come. I still remember when I was a kid and we got our first dog, a dachshund that we named Fritzie. I remember waiting in the car with my mom and my sister while Dad went into the house of the people we got her from. I remember how excited I was watching him walk back to the car holding her, and how wonderful it was to hold on to her wiggly little body while she licked my face. That may have been the best day in my life, at least to that point.

Would I trade graduating from college, though, or from seminary, or marrying Julia for that day again? No. But even though it’s no longer the best day of my life, it was a great day.

Sometimes we refer to wonderful days, fantastic events like that as “mountain top experiences.” A mountain top experience is a moment of transcendent joy and happiness, a moment of supreme importance in life. I wondered where that expression came from, so I played around on google for a while and I couldn’t find a firm background for it, but most of what I read said that the phrase came from the number of important things in the Bible that happened on mountain tops.

Noah’s ark settled on Mt. Ararat after the flood, and God made a covenant with Noah there. It was on Mt. Moriah that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son, and then provided a ram as a substitute. Mt. Moriah is also where Solomon built the temple, where sacrifices would be offered for the forgiveness of sins until Jesus came.

On Mt, Sinai (also known as Mt. Horeb) God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. On Mt. Carmel Elijah and the prophets of Baal had their great contest to see whose prayers would be answered by fire. And after the contest when Elijah ran for his life he travelled to Mt. Horeb and God spoke to him in the still small voice. David built up Jerusalem on Mt. Zion.

Jesus taught His disciples on the Mount of Olives. Today’s reading is about Jesus being transfigured on a mountain while Moses and Elijah (who both had their own mountain top experiences) were seen talking with Jesus. And it certainly was a mountain top experience for James and John and Peter too. I cannot imagine what it must have been like.

On April 3, 1968 – the day before he was assassinated – Martin Luther King Jr. gave his last public speech. It’s known as “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” because of its most famous section. It’s a great speech, and toward the end of it King says:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

That’s a powerful speech. Some of the power, of course, is because King was murdered the next day. Even if that hadn’t happened, though, it would be a great speech. King said that he climbed up to the top of the mountain; what did he do from there? 

I said that I remembered picking up our first dog, Fritzie. What happened next? Well, we took her home. Dad had built a little bed for her, and it went under the sink in the half-bath. It had a cushion in it, and some blankets, and a clock wrapped up because we’d read that the ticking of the clock would remind her of the heartbeats of her brothers and sisters.

I don’t remember the next day exactly – this was maybe when I was in kindergarten. But I’m sure that someone fed her, and someone let her out, and someone walked her. It was probably Mom, since she wasn’t working outside the home then.  After we brought Fritzie home and played with her that first night is when the work of actually owning and caring for a dog really began.

I remember what it was like after my wedding day. We went to Atwood Lake for a few days for a honeymoon. After that we came back home and opened gifts, and then Julia went back to work and I went back to class.

What did Moses do after he went up the mountain? He came back down with the Ten Commandments in hand, only to break them in frustration at the sin and depravity he found. He then went back to the hard work of leading the Hebrew people as they wandered in the wilderness. What did Noah do after leaving the Ark? He came down the mountain and lived another 350 years. He was a farmer and he had a vineyard. He drank too much. He lived his life.

 To answer my earlier question, what did Martin Luther King Jr. do after he had gone up to the mountaintop? He came back down, and continued the struggle even though it cost him his life.

In that, King and Jesus were alike. What happens after Jesus and James and Peter and John go up to the mountain top? They come back down, and Jesus heals a boy possessed by an unclean spirit, and then Jesus discusses his impending death and resurrection.

You can’t live on the mountain top. Sooner or later you have to come back down and get on with the rest of your life. Eventually you have to do your work, earn a living, share your gifts, and do whatever it is God has called you to do.

Even if you could live on the mountain top the rest of your life, would you want to? My wedding was a mountain top experience for me. Do I really want to live the rest of my life in a perpetual wedding? I don’t even have that same charcoal gray suit anymore. Imagine how much sooner it would have worn out if I’d worn it every day after the wedding. I don’t remember exactly what kind of food we had for our wedding reception, but whatever it was I guarantee I would be sick of it if I had eaten it for every meal from then until now.

If I had spent the rest of my life trying to recapture the happiness of that one particular day, I would have missed a lot of growth and a lot of joy and a lot of love in my own life as I have lived it. I would have missed the chance to deepen my love and my relationship with Julia. I would not have become the person that I am, for better or for worse, and would not have touched whatever lives I have touched since then.

In verse 5 of our reading Peter says to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Suppose Jesus had taken him up on it. What next? Well, that might have been okay for Jesus and Moses and Elijah, but there would have been no shelter there for Peter or James or John, so they would have been out in the cold until they could have gotten some. And would they have had food and drink? Jesus and Moses and Elijah would probably have been fine without wine or fish, but mortal men like Peter? Not so much.

No, Peter didn’t really want to stay up there. He’d have realized that if he’d thought it through for a bit. And if Jesus had stayed up on the mountain top, then that boy would never have had the demon cast out. And there would have been no cross. And no resurrection. And no salvation. No kingdom of God to share, no justice to proclaim. No release for the captives, no food for the hungry, no comfort for the mourning.

It was essential for Jesus’s ministry that if he went up the mountain, then eventually he should come down. It was essential for everyone else that we talked about earlier. Moses went up on the mountain and saw the promised land, but he had to come down before the people could enter it. King went up to the mountain top and echoed Moses in saying that he might not get there, but he came down to continue the journey no matter what it would bring. It is essential for us that when we are on the mountain top that we come down to continue to work that needs to be done, to continue moving towards the goal that we see in the distance.

There’s something else that’s essential that we don’t always think about. We need to be ready not just to come down from the mountaintop ourselves, but we need to be ready when we are waiting on the ground for others to come down from the mountaintop.

I remember a young man who went to the Church of the Brethren’s National Youth Conference or NYC. That’s a nationwide gathering of high school youth in the church. It’s once every four years, and about 3,000 youth gather for fun, prayer, worship, learning, service, and a lot more. It’s usually held in Colorado and it is a mountain top experience for most people who go there both literally and figuratively.

The young man I knew was the only high school aged person in his congregation. He came back from NYC excited, enthusiastic, on fire to share and to serve. His congregation, though, didn’t have any outlets for him to do that. There was no youth group for him to be a part of. There were no college age youth. There were no particular opportunities for service. There wasn’t much institutional support.

I don’t know what ever happened to that young man. I do know that he came down from the mountain ready to serve God, but the people waiting for him weren’t prepared to help him turn that energy and that drive and that fire into positive action.

Maybe you have mountain top experiences yet to come. I hope you do. I hope you’re ready to come back down from the mountain and move towards what you saw while you were up there. Maybe you’re not going up the mountain right now. I hope you’re ready to help those who are coming down from the mountain, ready to equip them and support them and strengthen them as they put their dreams and visions into action.

Sometimes we’re going up, but sooner or later we will come down. Whether we are up or down, we can serve God. We can share the kingdom. We can work towards seeking justice, wholeness, and community through the gospel of Jesus. Amen.       


Isaiah 60:1-6,  Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12

Nate Hosler

I am not a cosmonaut nor even an average person with a solid grasp of space lore. I did, however, watch the new Star Wars two times already. Given my lack of expertise in this area, and the clear need for space knowledge in this sermon I decided to ask around. Saturday morning, like all good neighbors who don’t want to go outside when it is shockingly cold, I texted my neighbor. Since our houses have a connected crawl space and I could hear them cutting through their pipes in an attempt to remedy a frozen drain line, I could have visited them without quite going outside. Despite this option, I texted—“As my nearest space expert, other than old timey ship navigation, how common is it to be given directions by a star?” I figured that since she works for NASA (specifically she makes videos for NASA) that she would have heard of such events. Her answer, received several hours later, was very practical but didn’t quite address today’s strangely acting star. It was also much different from one theologian’s answer to this question. “The cosmic signs heralding this birth should not be surprising, given that the love born in this humble place is the love that moves the sun and the stars. It is the same love that Jesus will use later to calm the winds and the sea” (Hauerwas, Matthew, 39). Likely neither of these answers is quite what we might expect or produce.

In our text we meet star following travelers. Though Matthew calls the travelers “Magi,” we often hear of them as the three kings or wise men. Because of Isaiah 60 and Psalm 72, there grew a tradition of understanding these visitors as “kings.” Magi are a much different thing than kings. “Magi… astrologers…. were a priestly class of Persian or Babylonian experts in occult arts such as astrology and the interpretation of dreams.”(Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 16) Though many nativity scenes show the shepherds and the kings in the same scene there was likely not only minutes but perhaps years between the quick arriving shepherds from the nearby hills and these long distance seekers of Jesus.

From later in the text we can imagine it was about two years. Now, I know that the kings were going far and also traveling by some form non-motorized transportation, but two years seems like a long time. I thought about Google mapping directions from Tehran to Bethlehem but thought that it might get me on some FBI list that might make my travels unnecessarily complicated. I then realized that even if these folks were indeed wise, that getting directions from a star may be a feat that lends itself to wrong turns. So regardless of the point-to-point distance perhaps their path was more wiggly.

The travelers arrive and go to Jerusalem—which would makes sense as a place to find a king. In fact, they go to the present king inquiring about the birth of a new king. King Herod consults his panel of experts and they quickly tell him where the king, the messiah, is to be born. Which raises the question: Why could the scribes so quickly figure out details of the messiah’s birth but miss the coming? One commentator notes that this could be the later writer reading a rejection by Jewish leaders of Jesus back into the text. Is this irony that the leaders in Jerusalem know so much but yet miss the big event? (In False Dawn: Protest, Democracy, and Violence in the New Middle East—published by Council of Foreign Relations which is considered by many as the leading international affairs shop—recounts how up until the beginning of “Arab Spring”, which rocked the Middle East, almost all the experts assumed that stability was going to continue.) Producing an explanation of an event after the fact is much easier than predicting it. So perhaps we should not be too hard on them.

The traveling kings who were magicians arrive with this dramatic claim. And not only was the location confirmed but the king and “all of Jerusalem” were afraid. Why was “all of Jerusalem” afraid? Wasn’t this what they were waiting for? It could be that it was the king and his court folk who were afraid. They, of course, were doing pretty well in the present arrangement and would be nervous of a change. If this is the case it would be that “all” means those who have their opinions recorded (which continues to be the standard practice—the loudest or most prominent get recorded as the “all).

One commentator notes, that “this Herod was a puppet ‘king’ of Judea at the pleasure of Rome.” (15-16). As such a king he must instill fear to ensure stability through the maintenance of fear. If this were the case, then the “all” being afraid would be because they recognize that with a threatened king it all might hit the fan. The relatively stable, if oppressive, status quo might unravel. Which is in fact what happens a few verses later with the massacre of the innocents.

The king and his panel of experts give directions and send them on their way for the last leg of their epic journey. And they find the holy family. The Magi are overwhelmed with joy. This wasn’t their king nor their deliverer but yet they experience joy. They give their slightly delayed and rather atypical baby gifts and head on home. It is not even clear if they can or do even speak with Mary and Joseph.

Epiphany part 2:

Epiphany of the Magi always occurs on the 6th of January. Today’s passages include the baptism of Jesus which is in some traditions also included in Epiphany. In the passage on the baptism of Jesus a voice speaks from heaven. This cosmic sign allows for greater linguistic articulation. It is like moving from having no words and a few gestures—Say baby Francis who not all that long ago began to smile as a gesture of happiness and recognition—to Micah preaching a sermon last week or Faith being a librarian in a library system that has more than 7 books (according to her via text yesterday) In 2012 at least there were 1,466,010 physical books (https://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/news/housing-complex/blog/13123179/how-did-d-c-s-public-libraries-lose-1-5-million-books

Epiphany, whether the Magi + baptism of Jesus or just the wise folks, point to Jesus. In Ephesians 3:1-12 the process of revelation to Saul—which made him Apostle Paul—is laid out. These 12 verses are a bit of a digression into Paul’s credentials to his work of proclaiming the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ but also includes a notable shift. In both The Star to the sky watchers and The Voice at Jesus’ baptism the communication is cosmic. In Ephesians Paul is made an Apostle by cosmic revelation but then becomes an agent of proclamation. More notably for us, the church then becomes this agent of making known the “wisdom of God in its rich variety.”

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see[c] what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; 10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.[e] 13 I pray therefore that you[f] may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.

10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known

Cosmic communication would seem to engender confidence. Certainly, signs from the heavens, whether a ball of gas acting strangely or the voice of God, would seem to do much to bolster our oft shaky faith. In the absence of such cosmic signs, however, what are we to do? Kierkegaard addresses this need for certainty—what he calls objectivity,

“The years pass, but the situation remains unchanged. One generation after another departs from the scene, new difficulties arise and are overcome, and new difficulties again arise. Each generation inherits from its predecessor the illusion that the method is quite impeccable, but the learned scholars have not yet succeeded…and so forth. All of them seem to find themselves becoming more and more objective. The infinite personal interest in the subject (which is, in the first instance, the potentiality of faith, and in the next, faith itself, as the form for an eternal happiness, and thereupon an eternal happiness itself) vanishes more and more, because the decision is postponed, and postponed as following directly upon the result of the learned inquiry. That is to say, the problem does not arise; we have become so objective so no longer have eternal happiness” (Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, 28).

I texted Faith, I texted our neighbor—communication which was generally just being a bit silly. It then occurred to me, that this is a (non-serious and abbreviated) version of how we manage the problem of objectivity in Kierkegaard and the absence of the experience of cosmic revelation. The gathered body of Christ joins in the process of discerning the will of God and proclaiming the coming of Jesus—continues the work of listening to the Spirit together through prayer and reflection.

This is not simply an odd form of democracy where we take a vote and seek to sway the other opinion. We join in the “cloud of witnesses” of those who have gone before and those who gather like us on this Sunday after Epiphany. This is serious work, remember the words of Paul, … this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; 10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places

10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places

A cosmic task for which we have been equipped and empowered to join with the proclamation in word and action the “news of the boundless riches in Christ.”


James 4:13-5:6, Job 38:4-21

Nate Hosler

This is the eighth sermon in our sermon series on the book of James. Due to technical difficulties, there is currently no audio for this sermon.

Writing this, I was sitting on the Mount of Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Below me closer to the water on my left and right are spots that mark many significant points in Jesus ministry. The ancient village of Capernaum, a chapel marking the Primacy of Peter, and a chapel with the famous mosaic of two fishes and 5 loaves from the year 480 marking the spot where Jesus multiplied these meager foods and fed the crowds. In Capernaum there is a house that then became the site of a church in 5th century. The house is thought to be that of the mother-in-law of Peter where Jesus would stay and where the mother was healed. It was also the site of one of the earliest house churches. Maybe 50 yards away there is the remains of a Synagogue for the Byzantine period. This synagogue is built with stone imported from Jerusalem but built on an earlier foundation of local basalt stone—Some archaeologists assert that this earlier synagogue is from the time of Jesus.

To my left (to the north) 20 miles is Syria whose civil war and refugee crisis requires no introduction. Back south is the West Bank of the Palestinian territories. Most of the week to this point has been hearing from an assortment of political, religious, NGO, and peacebuilding workers struggling in a situation of conflict that feels rather intractable. The significance of the land both present and past is of incomparable magnitude.

Along the way I have been reading and meditating on our passage in James.

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” 14 Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

Narrowly, this and the following verses are about wealth. I think however, that money stands in for the assumption that we are in control or our desire to be in control. Though God (and the world with its histories and cultures) are big, you are misty—mist-like, ephemeral. This assertion is not negative, not an insult, it is simply honest. Though those of us who are at least relatively well-off may forget this, our lives are indeed contingent. Our lives are dependent. They are based in God. James addresses the one who confidently says they will do this or that. The hearers of the letter of James were likely not the well off—or the overly wealthy. So, it may not be that this or the next portion are as directly applicable to the immediate crowd. The general assertion, however, is very applicable, hence its inclusion. To those who are well confident that their plans will succeed, James asserts—you are mist—misty—mist-like in the fleeting quality of your life. Because you cannot know what will happen you should always acknowledge that even the best laid plans rest in God. The habit and practice that James exhorts is to, in all things, acknowledge that one’s life is held in God.

Your existence is in God

As I’ve been reading James I have also been thinking about a similar passage in the Sermon on the Mount. Given my writing location if felt particularly relevant to note this. In the 6th chapter of Matthew, Jesus teaches. Why worry about your life?—about what you will eat or drink or wear. Are not the flowers of the field more splendid than Solomon, the most extravagantly dressed of all kings?

The sign by the entrance says, “We refuse to be enemies.” The Tent of Nations (http://www.tentofnations.org/ )  is a Palestinian farm on a hill top in area C. Area C is part of the West Bank, the land of the future Palestinian State. It is also the site of many settlements, which are illegal in international law, undermining the possibility of a future state, and more like towns or cities than anything makeshift that is indicated by the term “settlement.” To get to the Tent of Nations we left our van and climb over boulders that have been place on their road a few hundred meters from their farm in order to impede access. The farm is on a hill top. Every other hill top surrounding has a massive settlement.

We met with Daoud Nasser whose family has lived there for generations. Unlike most Palestinians whose land is at risk they have a clear line of documentation of land ownership going back to the Ottoman Period in the early 1900s. Since the land is documented but still deemed very desirable they have been fighting in courts since the early 1990s. The case keeps getting passed back and forth between the Supreme Court and Military courts. They must keep fighting and filing because if they don’t they will be forced out. They can’t build any new structures and the structures they have—even the tent like structures—have demolition orders on them. Daoud Nasser, though, seems to be full of joy. He told of their struggle just to keep their family’s land. He demonstrates a trust in God and in others to continue on.

Again, your existence is in God. You are mist-like but God is steadfast.

Unsurprisingly the rich also have this problem. They also easily forget that their existence is in God.

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.

James doesn’t discuss if there are righteous ways to be rich. Certainly, our congregation isn’t rich compared to much of Capitol Hill. Because of this and certain prophetic inclinations we may find it easy to speak critically—to speak “prophetically.” However, though we are not that rich we are comparatively rich in relation to much of the world. And as such may be indicted. The rich people that James addresses have built their riches on the backs of others. For white America the legacy of slavery of Africans and genocide of Indigenous communities is a clear example. But also, immigration, trade, and foreign policy often continue this pattern.

What we don’t know is if James has certain rich folks in mind or assumes that all those who are rich have earned it through injustice. It is also unclear if the “rich” are those who meet a certain income bracket (which seems unlikely) or if it is short-hand for those in power.  This call is a call to repentance. It is a call towards being rightly oriented toward God and others. The call to repentance and to acknowledging that one’s existence is based in God rather than in one’s own might or smarts or good looks or cunning is not against but for the one being challenged. Only when you care about that person or entity can you fully embrace the uncomfortable confrontation. Repenting of this is in the interest of both the oppressor and the oppressed.

Let’s suppose that riches and power are somewhat interchangeable. During the past two weeks the question of power and who is criticized in what manner has been close at hand for me. For Palestinians living under Israeli occupation the restricted rights, living under military law, limited ability to move freely, and lagging infrastructure is clearly unjust. For many Israelis their existence as a small country surrounded by the much bigger and often hostile Arab world, history of the Holocaust, and repeated abuses throughout history lead to a strong emphasis on “security” at any cost. Many wars in the past decades as well as an enforced separation which does not allow interaction with Palestinians in normal life keeps these fears alive and well.

One morning on this trip we met with Defense for Children International. They explained that there are 500-700 cases of Palestinian children being convicted in Israeli military courts. Many times, the kids (usually but not always boys) are arrested from their beds at night. Regularly they are beaten on the way. Harshly interrogated. And sign confessions written in a language which they can’t read in order to get out sooner. Rarely can they see their parents or actually meet with a lawyer to know their rights. Because of this work of documentation and exposure DCI is declared an enemy and traitor of the state of Israel because it highlights these abuses. Many Christians in the US would harshly criticize me for repeating these things—claiming that the Old Testament commands me to “Bless Israel.” However, as noted earlier, criticism is not the opposite of blessing. Criticism may be part of blessing.

Even as I recount these few notes from an hour long meeting I think back and begin to feel overwhelmed. And this was only one meeting out of the whole week. It is easy to feel the mist-like character of my life when held up against the enormity of the world. The enormity of the ancient stones and places of Jesus. The enormity of Syria just down the road. The enormity of the so called Israeli and Palestinian conflict. I’m not sure that this is what James intends, but getting to the point of realizing our mistiness—our mist-like nature—is half the struggle. The second half is recognizing that our existence is in God. We are mist but our existence is sustained by the God who has mysteriously created us and called us. Our existence is in the God that has created and called us beyond ourselves.


1 Kings 19:9-18, Matthew 14:22-33

Jeff Davidson

My original plan was to talk about this passage in light of our discernment process with the Brethren Nutrition Program. I’ve moved away from that specific focus over the course of the last couple of weeks, but my conclusion still applies to that process and to the discussion we will be having later and to the decisions that will be made in the days and weeks to come.   

In our reading from 1 Kings, God speaks to Elijah at a time when Elijah is very discouraged. Elijah himself kind of summed it all up twice in his dialogue with God. It’s clear that Elijah is discouraged. And he has good reason to be.

1 Kings 18 is the famous contest between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal in front of the sinful King Ahab. I won’t go into detail, but the short version is that the 450 prophets of Baal prayed to Baal for a miracle, but nothing happened. Then Elijah prayed to God for a miracle under more difficult circumstances, and the miracle occurred. Elijah called out to everyone who had seen the miracle to seize the prophets of Baal and kill them, and that’s what happened.

The part of chapter 19 that we didn’t read this morning starts with King Ahab reporting to his infamous Queen, Jezebel. Ahab tells Jezebel what happened at the contest, and Jezebel sends a message to Elijah. The message says, more or less, “May the gods strike me dead if by tomorrow you aren’t as dead as all those prophets of Baal.” So Elijah, reasonably enough, runs. God comes to him a time or two along the way, and Elijah runs for over 40 days and 40 nights until he comes to Mount Horeb, where he hides in a cave and goes to sleep. That’s where we are when our reading from 1 Kings begins.

I confess that I’m discouraged this morning. I was discouraged to hear threats of nuclear war made against North Korea if North Korea did so much as threaten the United States. There are people who will tell you that the President did not threaten nuclear war, but they are wrong. They are neither reading carefully, nor thinking carefully about what was said. I was discouraged to hear a pastor endorse those threats, and explicitly say that the United States should not be run by Biblical or Christian principles, but by the wisdom of the world. I was discouraged to hear the President say that invading Venezuela was something that he considered an option. I was discouraged by the white nationalist protests in Charlottesville. I was discouraged by the death of one of the counter-protesters. I was more discouraged to learn that death was the result of a deliberate act by one of the protesters. I was discouraged to learn of the deaths of two Virginia State Police officers in a helicopter crash. 

That’s before I even start to consider my own life. Not that there’s anything in particular going on in my life that discourages me, but our lives always have ups and downs. We always have moments of joy and moments of sadness, moments of hope and moments of despair. Hopefully there are more of the former than the latter, and hopefully the balance between the two in which we live each day favors joy and hope, but there’s no denying that there are things that happen personally, privately that could discourage us almost every day. And all of that is before we begin to consider the lives of our friends and families.

We know from scripture that God watches us. We know that God pays attention to what we do. We know that God watches and sees the small things, that God’s eye is on the sparrow, and that we are worth more than many sparrows. That’s in Luke 12, verses 6 and 7. We also know that God watches and sees the big things, not just big events but big things that are an accumulation of small events. Genesis 6:11 says, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” This is just before God calls Noah to build the ark and prepare for the flood. The earth, a big thing, is filled with violence. Each act of violence may in itself be a small thing, but a small sin upon a small sin upon a small sin ends up leading to a world filled with sin. And even in the midst of a world filled with sin, God is paying attention to the small details enough to find the one man who remains righteous.

I imagine God watching us and saying, “What are you doing? What are you doing to each other? What are you doing to my creation?” God was watching Elijah, and probably said precisely that to himself. So God comes to Elijah and asks the question, “What are you doing here?”

God asked the question a couple of times. I don’t know how he asks it. I don’t know if he says it in an exasperated tone, or an inquisitive way, or if he says it sarcastically. I don’t know where God puts the emphasis. There’s a big difference between “What are YOU doing here?” and “What are you doing HERE?” The next time you need a sermon idea, by the way, playing around with putting the emphasis on that question in different places and what it might mean for is an idea worth considering. It even makes for a three point sermon!

Elijah is directed to a place to wait for God to pass by, and he obeys. A wind comes, and an earthquake comes, and a fire comes, but God is not in those things. Then comes a sound of sheer silence, and Elijah listens, and God is in the sheer silence.

How do you listen to silence? Let’s try it for just 15 seconds or so. (wait 15 seconds) Did any of you hear silence? Me either. I heard a few different things, among them the sound of my own breathing. I have a ringing in my ears that I hear all the time unless there is something louder that drowns it out or that makes me turn my attention elsewhere. I literally never hear silence, if such a thing is even possible.

It’s possible for God, though, which means it’s possible for Elijah. Elijah hears God because he obeys God, and Elijah finds encouragement because he obeys God, and Elijah later concludes his ministry and is lifted up into heaven in a fiery chariot because he obeys God.

Sometimes the lesson that people take from this passage is to look for God in the silence, to look for the still, small voice. That’s not a bad lesson. We should look for God in small things. That doesn’t mean, though, that God doesn’t speak through big things too, or that God can’t shout. God spoke through a burning bush. God spoke through a pillar of fire. God spoke by turning over the tables in the synagogue. God speaks through big things and through small things, through loud voices and quiet voices. The first key thing is to always be listening, and the second key thing is to obey when you hear.

Our reading from Matthew is pretty straightforward as far as events go. The disciples are sailing back while Jesus stays behind to pray. The disciples don’t make much progress, because there’s a storm and the wind is against them. The next morning Jesus walks across the water to catch up with the disciples. The disciples are terrified, and think they are seeing a ghost. Jesus reassures them that no, it isn’t a ghost, it’s really him. It’s really Jesus.

Does anyone here know who Warner Sallman is? Sallman was an artist from Chicago, and his paintings are among the most famous and the most popular of the 20th century. I printed out a couple of his paintings and brought them along. (note to readers: if you Google “Warner Sallman” you will see a wide variety of his paintings under “images.”) My parents gave me a small desk-sized print of the one with the boy at the ship’s wheel. Sallman isn’t famous by name, but his paintings are quite well known. Some people mock Sallman but I don’t want to do that. He painted out of devotion to and faith in God. He tried to and succeeded in bringing comfort and inspiration to millions of people. I can’t mock that. And if his blue-eyed, occasionally very white looking Jesus doesn’t match the Jesus of history who was Middle Eastern and likely much darker, well as the old song says, “The children in each different place, will see the baby Jesus’ face, like theirs, but bright with heavenly grace.” 

I mention Sallman because I think his Jesus is the Jesus that a lot of people still picture when they think of him. That probably started to change with people about my age, but it’s still a Jesus that is very common and very easy to find in homes and in churches all over. When I was growing up we had a couple of Sallman pictures of Jesus in our church basement. This Jesus does not look like a Jesus to me who gets angry, or who talks loudly, or who becomes animated, or that laughs out loud, or anything like that. This looks like a Jesus of the still, small voice. This looks like a Jesus who said, (speaking mildly) “Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.”

Maybe Jesus talked like that sometimes, but Jesus didn’t talk like that here. Jesus had to be loud here. There was a raging storm, with howling winds, and waves breaking against the boat. The disciples, some of them experienced boatmen, professional fishermen, were terrified by the storm. Jesus probably had to be more like an earthquake or something to be heard over the storm. (shouting) “Take heart! It is I! Do not be afraid!”

Peter was listening. Peter heard Jesus, but didn’t’ quite believe what he was seeing and hearing, so Peter says, “If it’s you, tell me to walk over there on the water!” And Jesus tells him to do so, and Peter does.

Everything is fine, and Peter is walking right along on the water until Peter gets distracted by the storm. Everything is fine as long as Peter trusts Jesus. Everything is fine until Peter becomes afraid. Then Peter starts to sink, and Jesus has to rescue him.

It is easy to be frightened. It is easy to be distracted. It is easy to be discouraged. It is easy to say that the answer is to trust Jesus, to keep our eyes on Jesus, to have faith in Jesus, to obey Jesus. It’s easy to say that but hard to know exactly how to do it.

But we have to do it. We have to do it because it’s the foundation of everything else that we try to do in our lives. We need to confess and repent. Racism is real. It’s a historical fact, and it’s a fact today in systems, in institutions, and in face-to-face relationships. All of us have benefited in some way from the historical practice of racism. All of us participate in some way in systemic and institutional racism. I know that’s not what we’re trying to do, but it’s the reality. All of us are a part of the problem in one way or another, and it takes trust and faith in Jesus for us to take steps towards finding healing and hope and reconciliation.

 Faith Kelley posted something on Facebook last night that I am sharing with her permission. “Not even sure how to process everything today, but when George and I pray before he goes to bed I always ask God to help us love one another better tomorrow. That’s not enough but I think I’m on about a 2 year old level right now and so will have to do.”

I liked that. I think that we could do a lot worse than that. Go back to basics. What are the very basics of our faith?

Well, what are the two greatest commandments? To love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. That’s from Matthew 22:26-40. What is the reason why Jesus came to earth? That’s John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” What’s one of the very first songs those of us who attended church as children probably learned? If you know it you’re welcome to sing it with me.

“Jesus loves me this I know, For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong. They are weak but he is strong. Yes Jesus loves me, yes Jesus loves me. Yes Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.”

What’s the common thread in all of that? That’s right – love. God is Holy love. Help us love one another better tomorrow is about the best I can do too. I don’t know what that will look like. I don’t know specifically what that will mean. I don’t know any of those things. All that I can hope is that when God asks me what I am doing here, that my actions answer for me with the word “love.” Amen.

What is the Spirit of Life?

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17, John 3:1-17

Micah Bales

Throughout his ministry, Jesus speaks of a mystery that can only be described in parables and metaphor. We heard a lot of these last month as we went through the Sermon on the Mount together. Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the earth. We’re the light of the world. A city on a hill. A lamp that lights up the whole house.

Jesus’ central message is about what he calls the “reign” or the “kingdom” or the “empire” of God. He describes this hidden empire as a treasure buried in a field. It’s a pearl of great price. A seed being sown. Yeast causing bread to rise. A tiny mustard seed growing into “the greatest of shrubs.”

What is this leaven Jesus is talking about? What is the light he says shines in us? What is the pearl of great price, that we should be ready to sell everything we have to acquire it? What is Jesus pointing to when he speaks to us in these mysterious terms?

In our scripture readings this morning, I believe we’re pointed towards an answer. Early on in the Gospel of John, Jesus has a middle-of-the-night encounter with Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a well-respected religious leader among the Jews. He’s an elder of the people. A teacher. He’s a member of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, which makes him one of the most powerful religious judges in the entire Jewish world. This is a man who knows God’s law backwards and forwards, and teaches it to others.

And yet, Nicodemus comes to Jesus seeking answers. Despite all his wisdom and experience, Nicodemus can sense that Jesus has something unique to offer. Jesus’ teaching goes beyond anything in Nicodemus’ experience. Nicodemus just can’t look away.

When Nicodemus shows up at Jesus’ house in the middle of the night, he tells Jesus that he’s a fan. He believes that Jesus is a teacher who comes from God. Anyone who can perform the signs that Jesus has must be on God’s side. Nicodemus wants to learn more.

Jesus doesn’t answer Nicodemus in the way I would expect. I would have thought that maybe Jesus would tell Nicodemus to quit flattering him. Or maybe he’d push back on Nicodemus’ idea that signs and wonders can prove God’s presence. To be honest, I kind of expect Jesus to be tough on old Nicodemus. After all, he’s probably visiting in the middle of the night because he doesn’t want to be seen associating with this rabble rouser, Jesus. Why all the secrecy?

Here’s the most interesting part of this dialogue for me: When Nicodemus speaks, Jesus seems to hear a question. Now, looking at the text, Nicodemus hasn’t actually asked a question yet. He’s just getting started, letting Jesus know that he respects his ministry. But Jesus understands that Nicodemus didn’t come out to visit him at two in the morning just to pay his respects. Nicodemus wants to know what lies at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. He wants to discover the mystery.

Sensing this, Jesus dispenses with the pleasantries. He hears Nicodemus’ silent question. And he tells Nicodemus: “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

This throws Nicodemus for a loop. What is Jesus talking about, being born from above? Nicodemus came out to get some straight answers from Jesus, but here he is, still talking in metaphors. And a ridiculous metaphor at that! “What?” says Nicodemus. “You want me to climb back into my mother’s womb and be born a second time?”

If Nicodemus expected Jesus to cut it out with the metaphors at this point, he must have been disappointed. Jesus answers Nicodemus’ question with even more mysterious language: Nobody can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.

Jesus says, “You can’t just be born of flesh and blood. You’ve got to be born of the Spirit, too. That’s what you came looking for, Nicodemus. That’s my secret.”

Our other reading this morning was from Paul’s letter to the Romans. And at first glance, it doesn’t seem immediately related to this mid-night episode between Jesus and Nicodemus. Paul spends a lot of time talking about the story of Abraham, and what it says about the relationship of faith and the law. Is following all the rules enough to bring us into right relationship with God? Paul says no.

If following the law can’t produce righteousness, what will? What was it that allowed Abraham to have such an amazing relationship with God? Paul insists that is purely through faith. “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Abraham trusted God, and in response God drew him into right relationship.

The whole story of God is built on faith like this. When we are able to trust God, when we give our lives over to him, he draws us into relationship with him. He makes us holy. He calls us sons and daughters.

Through faith, God promised Abraham that his descendents would be as numerous as the stars. The Jewish people had always interpreted this to mean that Abraham’s biological descendents – particularly the Jewish people – would be blessed with a special relationship with God. If you shared Abraham’s DNA, you had a share in the kingdom of God.

The Jesus movement brought a radical new interpretation to the story of God’s covenant with Abraham. Paul writes about this interpretation in his letters, and Jesus points to it at various times during his ministry. Jesus and Paul and the disciple community all tell us that the true children of Abraham are not those who are biologically related to Abraham; it’s those who share the faith of Abraham.

Can you trace your geneology back to Abraham? Good. So could Paul, and all of the Twelve Apostles. But that’s not enough to qualify a person for the kingdom of God. After all, the religious leaders who persecuted and murdered Jesus – the Pharisees and the Saduccees – were also biologically related to Abraham. They could claim him as father. And yet their lives were alienated from the faith of Abraham. They trusted their Abrahamic DNA. They trusted the laws and ordinances that Moses and the elders had passed down to them. But they did not trust God.

God showed up in their midst. Jesus was standing before them, healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead, and proclaiming good news to the poor. But the best and brightest of Abraham’s biological children were unmoved. They preferred ancient rituals, legalistic rules, and holier-than-thou games to the fiery presence of God in the burning bush.

Clearly, though, not all of the religious teachers were so hard-hearted. Nicodemus didn’t come out to see Jesus in order to undermine or refute him. Nicodemus was part of the “frozen chosen” of the Jewish religious establishment. Yet despite all that heavy tradition and social obligation, he was able to sense something in Jesus. Something alive, active, and powerful. Something fresh and new. Something that made all of Nicodemus’ religious titles and authority seem worthless by comparison.

“What is born of flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Jesus wasn’t concerned with how pure Nicodemus’ ancestry was. All that DNA tracing is according the flesh. It’s essential – life is impossible without our biological natures. But it’s also insufficient. Without the life of the Spirit, a purely “biological life” is without meaning or purpose.

My wife, Faith, and I have an ongoing debate. I believe that animals, and all living things, have spirits. She thinks that only humans have what you might call a “soul.” Me? I see the spirit of life everywhere. Animals breathe. Plants breathe. Some living things are more complex than others, but we all have a spiritual dimension, a life that goes beyond mere survival.

Still, I can also see things from Faith’s perspective. Take our dog, Austin, for example. He spends most of his time acting out of compulsion. He is a biological being running on autopilot. For Austin, most of life is about when he can eat, when he can drink, when he can go outside and relieve himself. It’s about warmth, and comfort, and safety. It’s about who will be kind to him, and who he should stay away from.

But every once in a while, I see something deeper come out. I’ll never forget the first time I saw Austin experience joy. We were back in Kansas, visiting my family, and we all decided to go on a nature hike. At a certain point in our walk, we crested a ridge, and we discovered an open field with a large group of geese.

When the geese saw us, they all started to take off. They rushed into the air, leaving us behind. This was a good move on their part. We learned that day that Austin is a bird dog. He was in a state of total alertness. He was ready to chase those geese down.

That was the first time we had ever seen Austin smile. Austin came from an abusive background. Before that moment, he was really a very somber dog. But when he saw those geese, he was fully present. There was no fear in him. He had found himself.

“What is born of flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” I saw the Spirit-born part of Austin that day. It’s that animating presence that transcends our compulsive biological impulses. It’s this Spirit that gives us the capacity to be more than mere animals. The Spirit of life makes joy possible. It makes faith possible.

Jesus says that this Spirit is like the wind. It blows where it will, and we can’t control it. This was a major discovery of the early church. Jesus teaches us that God is perfectly capable of raising up children of Abraham from the stones, if necessary. Paul writes that we are all Abraham’s children when we share the faith of Abraham. This faith, this joy, this kingdom, comes from the Spirit.

This is why Jesus says that he did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.” God loves all of us so much. And he has power to make us children of Abraham, not according to the flesh, but through the power of the Spirit.

Through the faith of Abraham, God empowers us to transcend our biological compulsions. Just like Austin the dog, we can discover joy in moments of unity with our world and our God. We can be freed from lives that revolve around reflexive tasks, unspoken anxiety, and the struggle to survive. We can be truly free.

We can only see this kingdom when we are born from above. When we receive that gift of spiritual life and awareness that makes all of our biological life worth living. When we discover the purpose that we were created for. To show love to others. To speak the truth. To become agents of beauty.

In this Spirit, this power, this kingdom, we encounter the God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”

Life that is Really Life

Nathan Hosler – “Life that Really is Life”  (1 Timothy 6:6-19)

Our passage begins with “of course.” For whatever reason, our lectionary passage starts in the middle of an argument. It is as if we are walking through a school  and enter a room in which someone is teaching. The teacher looks up, just briefly interrupted—and begins again—“as I was saying.” We would need to lean over and whisper to the person beside us, “ What is the teacher talking about?”  Why does contentment with godliness bring gain? Who is trying to get rich off of godliness?

Our teacher challenges those who think that godliness is a means of gain—religious leaders who lead for power or wealth. Specifically he instructs those he is teaching not to put up with those who have a “morbid craving for controversy and disputes about words.” These supposed teachers seek to make a name for themselves by disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing. Now obviously Paul is not opposed to challenging teaching and creating conflict. He does this all of the time. Paul, however, is doing this for the purpose of leading others in good thinking and living in relation to Jesus while the teachers he is challenging in this instance are seeking influence and think that godliness is a good business plan.

1. [So our passage begins with a making a strong value claim] Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.  Keep in mind that this is relating to teachers seeking to gain wealth and the belief that godliness should bring wealth.

To challenge this notion Paul brings two primary counter reasons. First, we have come into this world with nothing and will go with nothing and Secondly in being eager to become rich some have wandered from truth. We came and will go with nothing and seeking riches has led some from the truth. So our teacher urges contentment. in this case contentment is not being self-centered but depending on God., There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment

What is your picture of godliness combined with contentment?

On September 10th, Norm Yeater, a friend and pastor who we loved was in a car accident. By the time his family found him in the hospital the doctors knew he would not survive. While it is easy to make people out to be more than they were in these situations from our perspective Norm seemed like a deeply contented fellow. I am not exactly sure what this “great gain” is but Paul is making the point that the “gain” from godliness is not as trivial as  monetary gain. Though Norm worked as a chaplain at a retirement home, and I assume got a salary from this work, he was also an unsalaried pastor at the Chiques Church of the Brethren, where I grew up. From this endeavor, I can assure you he did not get much “gain” in the form of funds.  Furthermore, Norm exuded gentleness—I can’t imagine him “wrangling or arguing over words”—creating conflict in order to get ahead.

As I noted earlier, Norm was, from our distance a deeply content person. After he died it was discovered that he had made detailed plans for his funeral. These were not general plans but very specific including prayers, readings, and songs.

While I never had doubted Norm’s godliness, participating in the memorial service he had planned only bolstered my view of the deep faith he had. Our passage reads that godliness with contentment is great gain. Though I am not entirely sure what this means, I believe that Norm experienced this.  The church where his funeral took place holds probably twice what this church holds and its overflow seating was filled with around100 people. This was in addition to a service at the home where he was a chaplain and a several hour visitation the day before. Apparently godliness with contentment was a gain for not only brother Norm but for many other people as well. We had all gained from his life.

This text begins with “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment” and ends with

2. “So that they may take hold of life that really is life”

The inverse of this is don’t bother with lifeless life. Don’t waste your time with life that is not life. Dead life. In the middle Paul provides instruction between these two exceptional states of being—contentment with godliness and life that really is life” –we will spend some time with this final phrase before moving back to the middle.

The verses leading up to and including it read:

17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life

A few verses earlier the writer refers to “eternal life” We read, “take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

Sometimes we might read “eternal life” as life once we die. In this we may tend toward a Gnostic tendency to devalue the material. We might think that only the “spiritual” matters. Only the “real” life after this present life matters. In this reading we might hear that we should put aside material things so that we can take hold of that which is pure spirit. That is, once we die we leave behind the material being which has held us back. We escape the captivity of this body and are free.

While we may hear Gnostic potential in this “take hold of eternal life” and “life that is really life” Paul resoundingly refutes this by telling the hearers that we should set our hopes on “God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment”

Paul asserts that it is God who gives us everything. Life and all that we have is a gift. This gift is from God.

This life includes enjoyment and is a gift to be enjoyed—which is not the same as consumption. We tend to equate more consumption with more enjoyment of life. We act as though the ideal situation is one in which we can endlessly consume. The writer asserts that life is a gift which should be enjoyed. He is not an ascetic or Gnostic but this does not equate us with being mere consumers. When I consume food, especially good but simple foods, I am certainly consuming but this is only a form of my directly enjoying God’s good gifts. The tomatoes we grew in the potentially questionable DC soil were remarkably good.

A few weeks back when picking up the weekly donation of produce from a stand at Eastern Market, Valerie, one of the farmers, cut wedges of tomato from several different types of tomato we had never heard of—this was a direct experience and enjoyment of God’s gifts which are given for our enjoyment. A food critic writing in the Smithsonian magazine choose the Giant Syrian tomato as one of her 10 favorite meals out of the 21,170 meals at good restaurants.

God has indeed given us many good, and often simple, things for our enjoyment. This giving and enjoying points to God’s affirmation of our whole lives.  We are not mere consumers of ever more and greater luxuries. We are not mere spiritual beings trapped in material bodies waiting to be free.

So we see that this really life is related to “eternal life” and that this eternal life is not the negation of this present very material life.

3. Contentment with godliness and having possession of the life that is really life. This life that is really life must be set on a foundation says our teacher—Fortunately Paul gives us guidance for the foundation on which the really life is set upon.

Foundations are interesting things. They are an extraordinarily simple concept. You need a big, heavy non-moving object on which to set your house, church, tower. There is children’s Sunday School song which goes “don’t build your house on the sandy land. Don’t build it to near the shore.”     In Cambodia, near the city of Siem Reap, there are not only foundations but almost entire structures that are hundreds of years old. Not only are these structures hundreds of years old but they are the largest religious structures in the world. In some hallways you can look up and stones almost as big as this pulpit stacked up to create both the roof structure and the tiles that keep off the weather. On a number of walls grow enormous trees. These roots come down maybe 10 to 20 feet before reaching the ground. The skill evident in these foundations has been on display for centuries.

On the other hand, last November we bought a little row home in NE DC, about two miles from here. We knew the floor sloped but the structural engineer we brought in said, without opening the walls or floor, that it was fine. It wasn’t going anywhere. Once we closed the contract, came in, and started working we found it was not so. The wall was not brick but wood. The wood in the 100 yr old house was setting on the damp ground– who really thought putting wood directly in dirt was a good idea?

Foundations are critical. Paul argues that if you want to hold something up as significant as the life that is really life you need an adequate foundation.

First he says–Act in accordance with your confession which was in the presence of many witnesses. Act in line with what you have professed. You will possess what possesses you. This is a fundamental challenge that we act in accordance with what we value. Runners run. Teachers teach. People who retire may or may not rest (as we have seen)—but at least the same boss isn’t telling them what to do.

Paul exhorts us—build a foundation

Build a foundation    pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.

Build a foundation    do not to be haughty, or to set your hopes on the uncertainty of riches

Build a foundation    do good, be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share,

Build a foundation for the future, so that you may take hold of the life that really is life

The foundation we build is not with money or a bonus or prestige or vacation homes it is with these actions. These actions of pursuing righteousness, not setting our hope on the uncertainty of riches but on God, and being ready to share—these are the stones that will build a foundation. These are the foundation of the life that really is life.