Sunday, November 18, 2012

Hiding in Blanket Forts

Today I was honored with the opportunity to preach at my home church.  It was great to be home for the morning and to catch up with everyone. 
This morning's sermon started with a youtube clip. Here is the prayer and short introduction that led into the clip. Following it, you'll find the clip I showed, then the audio recording of the rest of the sermon, followed by the rest of the text if you like to read along. The scripture passages (Mark 13:1-8 and Psalm 16) were read as part of the sermon and are in the text of the sermon. 

Heavenly Father, I thank you for this chance to come home for a day and worship with family.  Thank you for each of the beautiful people you have set down in this room. Open every eye to see, every ear to hear and every heart to understand your Word today that it might transform the world in powerful and surprising ways. All this we lift up in the name of Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit for the Glory of the Father, Amen.
This morning, I would like to talk to you about the deep theological ramifications of blanket forts. I’m going to start by sharing a clip with you from a television show called, “Community.” In this episode, two of the main characters have built a blanket fort that takes up pretty much the entire campus of the community college. Several other characters are chasing a bad guy who did something really dastardly.  That’s actually all the set up you really need for this.

When my sister and I were little, we loved to build blanket forts.  We never built anything as elaborate as the one in that clip from “Community,” but we thought we were pretty awesome blanket fort builders. We would have multiple rooms, vaulted ceilings, we even figured out how to make porches. We would build enormous forts taking up entire rooms of the house and play in them for hours.  They were magical places that shut out the rest of the world and allowed our imaginations to run wild.  Nothing bad could happen when we were safe and sound in our impenetrable forts.
One day, I had built a great fort in my bedroom. I used every piece of furniture in the room: the bed, the dresser, the bookshelf, everything.  The whole room was a sea of blankets about 3 feet high. As I was playing in the fort, I heard the jingle of dog tags near the door of the room.  I poked my head out of the top of the fort and when I saw our little Pekingese mix, I said, “Oh, hi Sparky!”
Before I knew what was happening, he took a running leap for the top of my fort. The entire fort crashed down around me, blankets, pillows, dog and all. Sparky and I just laid there on the floor for a minute trying to figure out what had just happened. After a few moments, the shock wore off and I realized what the problem was.  My bedroom looked like a giant bed.  When I poked my head out the top of the fort, Sparky thought I was in a huge, solid bed under the blankets and he was ready for the BEST NAP EVER. He could not have been more wrong. I had thought that my blanket fort was a safe place to hide from the rest of the world, but all it took was one little tiny dog to bring it all crashing down around me.
Our first scripture is from Mark 13:1-8 and in this passage; Jesus is obviously talking about blanket forts.  Maybe he doesn’t actually say the words “blanket forts,” but listen:
And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. [1]
Jesus is talking about buildings that can come crashing down just like my blanket fort did. He warns us against putting too much trust in these buildings, and also against trusting false prophets and rumors. And He’s warning everyone that crashing buildings are just the beginning of what’s in store.
Buildings fall. They aren’t forever. Not even the buildings that seem like they always have been and always will be are forever.  Sometimes they do last a very long time, but eventually they will start to fall apart just like everything else on this earth.  The temple was an important part of the life of the Jewish people. It was one of those special buildings that meant a lot to them and felt like it would always be there.  It was destroyed fewer than a hundred years after Jesus said this.
The temple was destroyed by war, which we haven’t really seen firsthand on the streets of Pittsburgh, but I can imagine that watching the temple crumble was a bit like watching Three Rivers Stadium implode or seeing crews take apart Civic Arena piece by piece.
Just like we can’t trust earthly buildings, we can’t trust empty earthly words either. More than once, stories have shown up in the news about some cult leader or another proclaiming that they are Jesus. We certainly should not believe people who are walking around insisting that they are Jesus. This is clearly part of the point Jesus is making here. But he also points out that we can be led astray by far less obvious and dramatic lies, even simple rumors.  We are surrounded by false messages that try to grab us and pull us in all directions. When we give in to these messages, we find ourselves on very shaky and unstable ground.
Falling buildings and false messages aren’t the only things happening in this passage.  There are wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines and all sorts of other bad things going on and Jesus says it’s not going to get better until He returns.  He’s not condoning those things. He is saying that it’s not yet the time for everything evil to be defeated. Everything evil will be defeated – Jesus is the promise of that – but we don’t know when and until then, we have some real stuff to deal with here and now.
And then Jesus says not to worry about all that bad stuff. “. . .don’t be alarmed.” Don’t be alarmed? We’re stuck here in all that mess and Jesus says, “Don’t be alarmed?!”? If the things of the world are just crumbling buildings, how can we not be worried?  What can we rely on if everything is just going to fall apart and bad things still happen around us every day?
Psalm 16 says:
                Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
                I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
                As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.
                The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names on my lips.
                The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
                The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
                I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
                I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
                Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
      10         For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
      11         You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. [2]

There is no true goodness or happiness that happens apart from God. Chasing other gods, godless spiritualties, other priorities, other ways of life – that all comes up empty. They are all just earthly, temporary buildings.
It’s not that we shouldn’t trust anyone or anything else at all – a life of mistrust is a very lonely one and the writer of this Psalm even says that he delights in his fellow saints. We aren’t to mistrust other people or peak around corners everywhere we go, expecting the worst; but we have to remember that God is the center of our security. Putting trust in others before God is what gets us in trouble.
We have something far better and more long-lasting to look forward to than what earthly things offer: something that this Psalm calls “a beautiful inheritance.”  Remember that you have to wait for an inheritance. Often inheritance comes after a time of mourning. We may not have a ton of stuff right now, we might be walking through a “valley of the shadow of death,” one of those “desert places” or “wildernesses” we sing about in “Blessed be your Name,” but the inheritance that we have in Christ surpasses anything the World can ever come up with and that is where we can take hope and take shelter.
Because we have God with us, we cannot be shaken. We dwell securely in a solid refuge.  This is no blanket fort. God is a real fortress that we can rely on. We can trust Him with our very lives.
Do you trust God with your very life?
One day in 1860, “A huge crowd was watching the famous tightrope walker, Blondin, cross Niagara Falls. . .He crossed it numerous times—a 1,000 foot trip, 160 feet above the raging waters. He asked the crowd if they believed he could take one person across. Everyone said that they believed he could do it. Then he approached a man and asked him to get on his back and go with him. The man refused!”[3] The people said that they believed him, but they didn’t really trust him when confronted with backing up their talk.
It’s one thing to say “In God we trust” and sing and “I surrender all,” but when we’re faced with falling buildings, false words, wars and earthquakes, are we willing to put our trust where we say it is?
I’d be surprised if anyone in this room could say they have never trusted the wrong things, second guessed God or put something temporary ahead of God on their priority list. I’ve probably already done that at least once this week and it’s still only Sunday morning. It’s OK.  God knows we’re not perfect and He still loves us and still offers his everlasting shelter and comfort. It’s ok to run to his shelter even when you’re not feeling like you’ve got everything in order.  In fact, if you think you have to look a certain way or act a certain way or talk a certain way to run to God, you’re putting too much trust in those earthly measurements. Those are all temporary things – they’re just blanket forts people hide in: temporary buildings or false gods that aren’t as secure as they seem.
God won’t ever be imploded or replaced by a new “state of the art” stadium. He won’t cave in or crumble. When the things of this world seem to be crashing down around us – and they will – put your trust in God, the solid shelter that won’t fall. He is the fortress that will never fail us.
CHARGE/BLESSING: And now, go forth putting your full trust in the one and only God who never fails. May that firm foundation be what everything in your life rests on always. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Alleluia! AMEN!

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Mk 13:1–8). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ps 16:title–11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[3] Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times. Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

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