August 30, 2020
A Firm Foundation
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Two weeks ago, we heard the prophet Jeremiah’s bold lament. Last week, the Psalmist reminded us of the longing in our hearts for the love of God, the longing for God to be revealed to us. Today we receive reassurance from the prophet Isaiah. In seasons such as this, we need to acknowledge our lament; we need to voice our longing, but every so often, we need to be reassured of God’s love, protection, and presence.
Our ancestors in exile were sad, confused, dispirited. Isaiah’s opening words in chapter 43 were meant to encourage, to inspire, to empower those who faced an uncertain future. Isaiah spoke to motivate our ancestors to embrace their faith and return to Jerusalem to rebuild. Isaiah reminds the Israelites that God has named them, claimed them, redeemed them, called them for God’s purpose. Feel the images suggested by Isaiah’s words: you will pass through the waters, the rivers will not overwhelm you; the fire will not scorch you; flame won’t burn you. And hear the promise: “you are precious in my sight and I love you … everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I have formed and made.”
Isaiah doesn’t say there will be no danger in the journey home … but the promise is clear: God will be with you every step of the way and God will protect you. Isaiah reminds the Israelites of their very foundation … the love of God, the love of the one who created them for God’s glory.
For more than two centuries, today’s focus hymn, “How Firm a Foundation” has assured believers of the faithfulness of Christ and the certainty of hope. In God’s word, we find assurance, says stanza 1. The next 3 stanzas offer promises directly from Scripture and the final stanza reminds us of our foundation in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. This hymn assures us of the steadfastness of God and of God’s unfailing love. It’s not clear who actually wrote this hymn’s text. What is clear is that “How Firm a Foundation” was written by a Christian who was extremely knowledgeable of the promises of God found in Scripture – a Christian who most likely had called upon those promises for strength and courage in times of stress, and tribulation. God’s promises … a firm foundation!
In this season of pandemic, I find the concept of foundation comforting. As we move, in the next couple of weeks, with intention and new leadership into our season of transition as Northminster Presbyterian Church, I find the concept of foundation intriguing.
The season of pandemic has clarified for me what it is that anchors my life – the foundations on which I stand: the love of friends and family, especially those who reach out however and whenever possible – knowing that our former ways of connecting are not available to us right now. I stand on the foundation of the church – especially the Presbyterian Church (USA) and this particular church, Northminster Presbyterian Church – and I am thankful, during this pandemic season, for the church’s continuing to receive and nurture me into awareness of the world’s needs, into bolder preaching, into offering attempts at leadership and administration. Each and every day I am more aware of the firm foundation of my faith … faith that began when my mother presented me for baptism, faith nurtured by pastors and teachers and youth group leaders … faith that blossomed during college and flourished during years of seminary field education … faith challenged by serving congregations and governing bodies … faith deepened through service to the larger church … faith in the promise that God is with me in each and every moment of my life – that God will surround and protect me no matter how deep the water … not matter how intense the flames.
What foundations have grounded you during this time of pandemic? On what foundations do you stand? What are the foundations in your life that encourage and inspire and empower you to move through each day with conviction and resolve?
“Fear not, I am with thee, (says the hymn),
O be not dismayed,
for I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee,
and cause thee to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.”
Isaiah’s words and the text of our hymn also speak to us, to Northminster Presbyterian Church, as – soon and very soon – our season of transition moves forward and intensifies. We are entering a season of exploring our identity – who we are, who we believe God is calling us to be, what we discern God is calling us to do, how we will move as people of God into our next decades of ministry and mission. We will engage the work of transition with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love … because we, as a congregation, stand on a firm foundation.
We stand on the foundation of those who founded in this place a home for prayer and praise. We stand on their commitment and their determination. We stand on the foundation of 75 years of meaningful worship, inspiring music, significant mission, intriguing education, generous hospitality. We stand on the foundation of all – both pastors and members -- who have provided thoughtful and encouraging leadership to this community of faith. Most of all, we stand on the firm foundation of our faith in the Triune God – Creator, Christ and Spirit … a common faith that has sustained us in joy and in sorrow, through capital campaigns and building projects, through caring for the needs of our own members and in reaching out to address the needs of our community. We stand on the firm foundation of God’s promise – that we are called by name… that we are God’s own … that we are created for God’s glory. On this foundation, this firm foundation, our transition will unfold … on this foundation, this firm foundation, we will journey together toward a future that, right now, “only God can see.”
“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for response,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
that soul, though all hell
should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”
Our foundation is firm. God’s promise is sure. And our future is beckoning. Thanks be to God.
* Discipleship Ministries, United Methodist Church. History of Hymns: “How Firm a Foundation”
* Commentary on Isaiah 43: 1-7 by Charles L. Aaron, Jr. workingpreacher.org