Have you ever had that moment when you realize that what you know is turned upside down and what you thought was foundational isn’t? Maybe it’s not a big dramatic moment but happens slowly over a few situations and you come to an awareness to a new way of living. For Mike and I, that was becoming parents. Now both of us were education majors, I had been a preschool and daycare teacher for a couple of years and Mike also had experience with children, so we assumed that we were extremely prepared and knew exactly what life would be like with our own baby. We knew all of the rules, all of the possible pitfalls, all of the proper procedures, took Lamaze class so that we would know EXACTLY how childbirth should go and were positive that we had this completely under control. And then Kayla was born. That was the last time we were sure about anything. This baby did not sleep like all the books said a newborn would sleep. This baby did not eat like all the books said newborns should eat. This baby didn’t even poop the way the books said newborns should. Nothing was according to our plan, the rules and procedures we had learned, and by day three we had no idea what was going on.
Now grandma (my mom) swooped in less than 24 hours after Kayla was born and it is probably the only reason that Mike and I are sane at all. Every time we would say, “well the book says…” she would smile at us and say “uh huh.” We had a very hard time letting go of the books, the rules, the stuff we thought we knew and consequently about ten days into this new venture we hit a pretty profound low of realizing that we had no idea what to do. Thank God we didn’t have the internet with which to torture ourselves! Kayla did not sleep the normal newborn 22 hours a day but instead cried for 22 hours a day and this was not covered in any of the books. She was a poor eater and again, none of the books were all that helpful. And she would go days without a dirty diaper and by the time she was two weeks old, our pediatrician gently suggested that the books wouldn’t really help us with Kayla and that we would have to play it by ear and figure out a different foundation for our parenting. Maybe talk to other parents, he said. Our world turned upside down and when we realized in hitting the low point in frustration, exhaustion and uncertainty what we really needed was not books and our own answers but friends, family and community who listened to questions without judgment, understood our weariness, shared our fears and offered accompaniment for the journey. We couldn’t do it this parenting thing (at least with Kayla) alone.
It’s easy to get caught in thinking that we have all of the answers and that we solely know will protect us, help us, give all that we need and keep us comfortable. We live in a culture that tells us to take care and look out for ourselves, to be sure that we have enough money, power and control. And it’s not that it’s a bad thing to care for yourself but when we think that these things are ultimately the most important and if we truly believe that we can go it alone and rely on ourselves, we are leery of anyone who tries to challenge our autonomy. We tend to think that we don’t need anyone, not even God.
Jesus calls the Pharisees, and us, out on this fallacy in this story from Matthew today. It’s important not to hear these 13 verses in a vacuum but to keep them in the whole of Matthew’s gospel and in the whole of Jesus’ ministry because let’s face it this violent parable and the back and forth between Jesus and the Pharisees leave us a bit bewildered, confused and pretty sure we’re all going to hell. But it’s bigger than that. God is bigger than judgment, confusion, violence, our own arrogance and ignorance. Jesus calls us out on our black and white and self-absorbed thinking. Jesus is naming that like the tenants in the vineyard, we DO get caught in thinking that our number one priority is going it alone and looking out for only our own interests. When we attempt to stand on this foundation, what actually happens is that we end up denying ourselves and others life. When we stand on the foundations of pride, fear, scarcity, greed and autonomy we reject God’s offer of new life in the community of God and God’s people. For the sake of appearances and a sense of pride we cling to foundations that separate us from each other and God.
Jesus knows this to be true but also tells us another truth: God continually, to the point of foolishness, pursues us for relationship with us, and to offer us life and wholeness. The truth, Jesus says, is that the love and mercy of God is our cornerstone, our foundation no matter what. Even when we reject God from our lives, the promise Jesus says, is that when we fall to pieces from exhaustion, frustration, and uncertainty, God is there. When we are the most broken, crushed and vulnerable, God’s foundation holds us and builds us back up. Falling on this cornerstone can feel like failure and loss of control but this is exactly where God meets us and catches us. This cornerstone also crushes us with love and grace that we can’t even comprehend or fully accept but is offered to us again and again.
When we are broken into pieces and crushed by the weight of God’s love and grace what is revealed is the fruit that God has been cultivating in each of us for the sake of the world. Just like pure exhaustion of new parenthood opened Mike and I up to the possibility of a more life giving way of being parents in community to care for Kayla, the cornerstone of God’s grace breaks us open not for ourselves alone but to open us up to reveal the kingdom of God in the world, to share with our neighbors this mercy and love God has given us, to proclaim that we can’t separate ourselves from God no matter how hard we might try to go it alone. In our encounter with God, we are compelled to share what is our foundation and life with a world that desperately needs to hear that there is another way. When we serve at The Action Center, Habitat ReStore, educate ourselves on our neighbor’s needs and walk with them through agencies such as World Hunger and Lutheran Family Services, accompany families in our neighborhood schools, open our building to organizations who need space; we celebrate all of the ways that God has placed us here in this time and place to reveal God’s truth in a world that often wonders what the truth really is.
Nothing in this parable from Jesus today is easy, because that’s reality. Our lives in the world are not black and white or easy but they are messy, unclear and leave us guessing, and we will try to go it alone, but the truth is that in all of our uncertainty, Jesus is there. When we realize that we don’t have it all together, Jesus is there. When we don’t have all the answers and can’t go it alone, Jesus is there. When what we thought was certainty in our lives is anything but, Jesus is there. When we come face to face with our own failings and misunderstandings, Jesus is there. Thanks be to God. Amen.