I’ve been amazed over the course of my life how many images have stayed with me from childhood Bible stories. Certain stories remind me of the picture bible I received as a gift in grade school, other stories make me think of pictures (and words) from a read-along record set my Aunt and Uncle gave me, still others remind me of Arch Books in the den at Grandma and Grandpa Springer’s house in Aurora, NE.
Arch Books were a line of children’s book published in the sixties and seventies that told Bible stories for kids using beautiful artwork and illustrations to tell those wonderful stories. The striking, beautiful images still come to mind when I read certain stories: the parable of the sower, Peter walking on water, Samson, and (maybe most of all) the wise builder.
The wise and foolish builder come from a short analogy (so short don’t know that I’d even call it a parable) found in both Matthew and Luke. I remember them vividly because of the expanded, creative story told in the Arch Book titled “The House on the Rock”. The message at the core of the scripture passage is expanded into an illustrated narrative. I remember the sharp, boldly colored illustrations of the ease of building in the river valley, the effort and sweat required to build on the rock, and the power of the storm that comes after. When I found examples of these illustrations on Google the other day, they were immediately familiar and “popped” in my mind. I remembered them and they, in turn, made the story stick in my mind in a real, substantial way.
I bring this up because those old memories of “The House on the Rock” were a place where I found peace this week as talk of reopening started to dominate national talk about church. Questions about timelines, safety measures, and theology have become increasingly charged, broad, and (I’m afraid) damning of difference of option or nuance. Some have loudly proclaimed that decisions must be made quickly and firmly, with any hesitation or listening painted as a lack of faith or conviction. “The Church MUST act in this way (my way) or the Church isn’t the Church.” It charges already difficult decisions with emotion, haste, and—for good measure—adds a side order of guilt and shame if the right choice isn’t made definitively and immediately.
Jesus’s shorty story from the Gospels suggests otherwise. Yes, some of us are being stretched to the breaking point financially. Yes, we’re feeling that deep need for the real interaction of fellowship. Yes, we are in real grief over the changes and sacrifices made over the past few months. Yes, this is hard and we want restoration…or something, anything like it…as quickly as possible. We want stability as quickly as possible. And that’s a natural, expected reaction when we’re thirsty for hope and shelter. We see the man on the flood plain and we get it…it would feel so much better to get “home” quickly.
But when we’re seeing the effect a “storm” can have on our world and the church, we have to double down on the effort required to build the right way. We need sensitivity, prudence, wisdom, and discernment…and those are things that take time and effort. I know that my head space right now points to the opposite: “I’ve given enough, I’ve been patient enough, this is getting to be too much.” In other words, I’m tempted to choose whatever brings relief, a sense of comfort, and home now and as quickly as possible. But building that way that isn’t going to last, it might not be safe, and it’s going to be unstable in the long run.
My favorite part of “The House on the Rock” is at the end, when the man who has taken the time to carve his supports into the rock—to discern the best locations, plans, and methods—is able to be there for the man who built on the plain. He doesn’t hold it against him or use it as a tool for blame. He doesn’t criticize his theology. He is grateful that he has weathered the storm and that he is now in a place to truly be the church. I’ve been deeply grateful for and proud of your Session, Northminster. They’re doing their best to serve you and our community well in the midst of so much uncertainty. Thank you for being patient in the face of grief, uncertainty, and isolation. Thank you for your prayers and understanding for them—and all churches—as they do their best to protect, serve, and care for the church and its important message.
More than anything, thank you for having faith. The storm will end someday not long from now. The day is coming when we will emerge from this well-built shelter called Northminster…changed, confident in our foundation, and in a place to powerfully share a message of hope and provision with the world.
In grace and hope,