Sermon Archives

Core Muscles, Bedrock Faith ~ Matthew 7: 21-29

Sermon begins near the 30 minute mark.

Did you see that picture of the one house that withstood Hurricane Michael? There was a house built on sand and on a foundation that could withstand that storm – everything else was flattened. That is the PERFECT image for this passage.

But I am going to use another metaphor in my sermon this morning that I believe also helps us understand the teachings of Jesus – I am not a carpenter but I do go to the gym.

It is important to build core muscles, our foundation – to move from sandy and flabby, to rock hard faith that help us keep balanced and strong for the living of these troubled days.

This past August I was one of many viewers who turned into the HBO series entitled “Hard Knocks.” Each summer HBO focuses on a professional football team and this summer it was our own Cleveland Browns. I enjoyed watching it.

One scene stayed with me. I believe it was our wide receiver Jarvis Landry. He was in the weight room and doing this one particular exercise.

He is on this ball with a disc–I happen to have one here.

It is a balancing thing–you stand on the ball and it forces you to contract your stomach muscles and helps with balance, posture and overall strength. Those big inflatable balls you can sit on? They do the same thing.

It is impossible to do what Jarvis Landry does.

What Jarvis Landry was doing was supernatural. Not only was he standing on the ball, straight as an arrow, he was bouncing balls with both hands – catch and release, all without falling off.

I can’t do that but watching him made me think of all that you and I have to juggle and bounce all the while we try to keep our balance, or drive within the lines, or do our jobs – or keep our sanity in the midst of the daily news cycle.

Jarvis’ core muscles must be beyond description! But even if I can’t be Jarvis Landry, I am told that strong core muscles help your posture, your back, your balance and overall well-being.

My 90-year-old mother does core exercises at the gym in her retirement community.
Core muscles are important. So too are core beliefs.

The core beliefs and values that keep you grounded, balanced and hopeful in the midst of such confusion and isolation and violence that shape our world. Core beliefs as Americans and more importantly core beliefs as Christians.

Today is Reformation Sunday and re-commitment Sunday (when we turn in our pledge cards) and today was going to be a baptism Sunday until little Evie was diagnosed with hand, foot and mouth disease.

Reformation Sunday is the day  we remember Martin Luther and the religious and political movement that he started with those 95 theses on the Wittenberg Castle door. The core muscle of his conviction (he was not in shape – too much beer and wurst) but he was clear about his core: God’s grace as free gift. You do not earn your way into heaven or by saying “Master, Master!”

And as you open yourself to this amazing grace, that love wins, you begin to view the world in a different way – not under law and rules and obligation and fear of punishment – but compassion, and mercy and forgiveness.

Today we turn in our pledges. We re-commit our time, our talent, and treasures to the work of Jesus Christ at Forest Hill Church. This is not just fundraising. This is core faith expressing. This is exercising the core Christian value of radical generosity.

Everything we offer is used to the glory of God within the walls, on the walls and outside the walls. We express our core values of Discovering God’s call for our lives, and Celebrating the fellowship we share, and by Witnessing to God’s transformative power in our world – we are working the core muscles, we are anchoring ourselves to the rock of our salvation.

Ours is not a house built on sand but a house built on a rock. We want to follow Jesus. We want to use our space to welcome everybody. And we want our leadership structure to reflect the beloved community where we share power and stand together man and woman, black and white, gay, straight and trans, poor and rich. Because we believe that God has called us to do that. Radical hospitality!

And if we are seeking to follow Jesus then we speak out when our leaders lie. We open our church when immigrants are demeaned. And we stumble, but press on towards racial reconciliation becoming the beloved community. We stand with the poor and marginalized. We exercise the Core of being for others!

Today we were going to baptize little Rebecca Dawn. In baptism we “feel the burn” God loves us, just as we are. Before we know what is even going on God has already called you “A beloved child.”  In baptism you and I “belong to God and are freed from sin and death.” That is rich – my core muscles are flexing!


Over the past eight weeks I have been leading an adult education “exercise” class where we view an episode of the video “Living the Question” An Introduction to Progressive Christianity.” We have a group of 10 now–it would be great if we would get to 20! Each week something new. I want to repeat it on Sunday evenings … If you are interested, let me know.

We hear the wisdom of great scholars like Walter Brueggemann (who has preached from this pulpit) and Marcus Borg. And what they describe as our core muscle–the foundation of our progressive Christian faith – is a faith that takes the bible seriously but not literally, a faith of hope and welcome, not judgement, a faith that seeks to follow in the footsteps of the first century carpenter Jesus who doesn’t ask for perfection, or merely offer protection – but reveals the presence of God and asks you and me to reveal that presence to others.

But we progressive Christians but I am afraid we have gotten flabby. Sometimes we are even embarrassed to call ourselves Christian. We don’t know how to talk about Jesus. We don’t like talking about sin and repentance; salvation and E…Ev… Evang…. the E word– “Evangelism.”

If we can’t even express our own positive faith and what difference it makes, why would anyone come into these walls? They would get more out of going to the gym on Sunday morning!

I was at an interfaith gathering some years back. And a rabbi asked us Christians to give our perspective about Jesus and we all got flustered and embarrassed… and the rabbi actually said, “How can we have dialogue if you don’t know who Jesus is?”

The church is not a United Way with prayer. It is not a social service agency.
It is not the political arm of a political party.
We are the community of those who seek after God.
We are the community of those who follow Jesus into this world.
We are a community that claims the Holy Spirit.
We don’t want to keep it safe and tidy, but dangerous and messy.
We understand sacrifice and long-term investment.
And we do joy – real joy! Because we have bumped into the kingdom – and we know they serve really good wine!
And we should be unapologetic that we follow Jesus.
You have nothing to fear and nothing to lose.

No longer do we define our faith by the negative. “Well, you know, those fundamentalists — I’m not one of those.” That is flabby faith!

I have heard a lot of you describe yourself as “not very religious.” We seem to have bought into the false notion that real Christianity is preaching hell, fire, and brimstone, and judgement and a rejection of science and common sense.

We act sometimes as if what we do here at Forest Hill isn’t really Christianity…
Stop that! You all are very religious. And we are very Christian too!

I believe that Jesus wants more people who are opened-minded, open-hearted, open-handed – and who are willing to take risks that fool the wise; willing to make mistakes rather than rule followers.

Walter Brueggemann speaks of core muscle values of those who seek to follow Jesus. He says the church of Jesus Christ must witness to radical hospitality, (here comes everybody) and radical generosity (give more away) and no vengeance (there is no “them” no payback, no violence in word or in deed.)

There would be no shots fired at a softball practice… and no pipe bombs sent through the mail and no President talking about body slamming reporters, or calling women “horseface” and whipping up crowd-frenzy about immigrants.

You and I have to keep exercising our Christian core muscles: hospitality, generosity, no vengeance – we might actually change this world.

People might actually look at us through those windows and ask themselves, “What is going on in there? I wonder if they have Jazzercise!”