"All I Need to Know...."
A number of years ago a small essay was published and immediately became wildly popular. It’s the kind of essay that you’d find going around the internet these days, forwarded around the country via email. Except that this was before email, and still, it seemed that everyone had heard of this simple little essay. It was written by a man named Robert Fulgham (who wrote a few other things, I’ve heard), and it was called "All I need to know, I learned in kindergarten."
It contained such simple wisdom as:
Don’t Hit People.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone.
Warm cookies and milk are good for you.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you got out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.".
And I wonder just why it is that this essay got so popular? Perhaps because the lessons seemed so basic, so simple, so fundamental. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all did simple things like this? And perhaps because for many of us, kindergarten was the foundation of our life of learning. Back before the lessons got real complicated, back before there was higher math and world relations, back before there were prepositions and psychology – there was kindergarten. And we’d like to think that the things we learned at the beginning of our life, provided a foundation that set us on the right direction throughout our life.
In a way, every single lesson for this weekend has something to do with foundations. The gospel lesson, with its picture of solid and sandy foundations, the words of Moses, exhorting the Israelites to remember the things that God taught them, and to teach them to the children, the reading from Paul about the bedrock of the gospel: the power of salvation. Every single lesson this weekend has something to do with foundations: foundations of faith, the basic instructions, the things we most want to teach our children, the things we most want them to know: the simple lessons like: share everything. Play fair. Say you’re sorry.... hold hands and stick together. What are the foundations of our faith, what are the things we most want our children to know, to believe, to hold onto? Every single lesson today has something to do with foundations, so you know, it must be important. But for today, and to begin, I want to take a look at the gospel story, the story of the wise and foolish men, the ones who built on rock and sand.
Jesus tells the people who are gathered, "The one who hears these words of mine and acts on them is like a wise man who built his house on a rock." Is anyone here curious at all about what Jesus is referring to when he says THESE WORDS OF MINE? These are the words to hear and to act on, and if we do them, if we live them, we are considered wise. Jesus is speaking here at the conclusion of a sermon: he is actually finishing off his famous "Sermon on the Mount," which is full of simple instructions on how to live. Did you know that the Golden Rule, "Do to others as you would have them do to you" is from the Sermon on the Mount? Matthew 7:12. You can look it up. And there are other simple instructions for living in this sermon as well: "Do not just, so that you may not be judged." "Do not store up treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume." "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." Okay, perhaps the sentences are simple, but not so simple to DO. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, really honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that it’s really difficult, really impossible to do most of the things Jesus preaches about in the Sermon on the Mount – just like, it’s really difficult even to follow some of the simple lessons we learned in Kindergarten. The words are simple, but the lessons are not easy: whether it is to "share everything" and "play fair" or "Say we’re sorry" or even "treat others the way you would want to be treated." And yet Jesus completes his Sermon by telling us: "The one who hears these words and ACTS on them is wise.
You know, in studying around, I have come upon a lot of Bible scholars who deal with these words of Jesus by kind of trying to sweep them under the carpet, telling us: here is why they don’t really apply to us. For example, they say: This is the way it’s going to be when Jesus comes back, but of course there’s no way we can live by these words now, some people say. It's true, it would be a better world if everyone could live by Jesus' teaching -- but -- it's not going to happen. And yet -- there's something foundational in Jesus' words -- the Sermon on the mount ---- there's something basic -- and we see it in his conclusion, in the story of the wise and foolish men, who built on rock and sand. The one who built on rock: that’s easy enough to understand. Rock is solid, sure, and immovable. But sand: what’s that about? In the story, this is not just any sand: the foolish man builds his house on something called a "wadi", which is a dried-up river bed. It’s the dry season now, but inevitably, the rainy season will come, and that sandy place will become a river again. Why wold anyone build a house in a place where they know there will be a river sometime in the future?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the elementary school in China that fell down so quickly and completely because they used poor materials. The people who were building must not have been thinking of the long-range consequences of what they were doing. For some reason or another, they weren’t thinking about the future. They weren’t thinking about the earthquake that would inevitably occur. Now I can’t read their minds and tell you why: whether it was greed and desire for profit, or poverty and a desperate attempt to get something up quickly. Whatever the reason, in the earthquake, that school did not stand. And it’s ironic that this was a school, a place where future citizens and workers are educated. I was reading an article that talked about one of the parents, and how he scrimped and saved to get his child into that school, because education represented hope for him, hope for a better life for his child. And someone betrayed that hope, and the children suffered.
A couple of years ago we held a community forum here at (our church) on the topic of education. Really it was more like a "Table Talk" where we were encouraged to talk about our fears and our faith; our values and our hopes – for our children, and for all the children. There were no "experts" at this meeting, just citizens meeting to declare what they believed. And I remember that near the end of the meeting, the Superintendent of the Bloomington School District stood up and said, "The most important question about education to me is this, ‘Will our children have hope?’ Will they have the hope that a good education provides? Will they have hope for their future? – because you know, children who don’t have hope for their future get into trouble, join gangs, go astray. People who don’t have hope for the future build their dreams on lies and their houses on dry river beds. And the rains come. The rains always come.
Will our children have hope? Will our children have a strong foundation? You know, it's the SAME question. The foundation of our faith IS our hope -- the knowledge that because of Jesus' death and resurrection, we have a future. "We have been born anew to a live hope". And we need to go back to kindergarten to learn and relearn this lesson.
And we need to go back even farther than kindergarten. We need to go back to the baptismal font, where we were proclaimed beloved children of God, sealed by the the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ forever. We need to go back to the baptismal font, where our basic identify "Child of God" is given to us as a gift, and where there is nothing we Have to do. We need to go back to the baptismal font, where we received a candle, and were called to "Let your light so shine before others so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." That's what we receive in baptism: a rock solid identity: beloved child of God -- and a calling to live up to -- to strive for.
When I was a girl, one of my uncles decided he wanted to build his own house, in southeastern Minnesota. I remember visiting them before they even got started. We camped in a tent on their property, and it seemed like an adventure to me (I don't know how it felt to my aunt). Of course, the first thing my uncle needed to do was to build the foundation, which was in this case the basement. And I have fond memories of that basement, for two reasons: they lived in the basement for a LONG time. I actually remember the basement better than any other part of their house. And also because they had (I thought) the most beautiful multicolored carpet squares on the floor, the kind you get cheap or free from the carpet store. Now it was a long time building this house, and it must have been discouraging at times, with failures, and mistakes, and setbacks, but my uncle had a vision of the finished house, what it looked like, what it would be, and that kept him going, despite discouraging times, and failures. He had a hope -- and that hope was also his foundation.
Everything we need to know -- we learned at the baptismal font -- where we received a rock solid identity "child of God" and a vision of mercy and justice to live by, to strive for, to hope for, for the rest of our lives. "Share everything." "Play fair." "Love your enemies." "When you cross the street, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together." And the peace of Christ, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds united in Christ Jesus. AMEN