Tin Pot

Monday, March 28, 2016

            One of my favorite writers is David Brooks.  He is a regular columnist for The New York Times and his column also appears in the Seattle Times.  Last May he wrote a column entitled “The Small, Happy Life”.  I have kept a copy of it and over the months, occasionally read it again, trying to let its wisdom seep into my life.

            The column arose from a question he asked his readers “How would you describe the purpose of your life and how did you find it?”  From the thousands of responses he received he chose a few to share in this column.  I found one to be particularly helpful.

            “I once heard the story of a man who was asked by a journalist to show his most precious possession.  The man ‘was proud and excited to show the journalist the gift he had been bequeathed – a banged up old tin pot he kept carefully wrapped in cloth as though it was fragile.  The journalist was confused, and asked what made this dingy old pot so valuable?  ‘The message’, the man replied.  The message was ‘We do not all have to shine.’  This story resonated deeply.  In that moment I was able to relieve myself of the need to do something important, from which I would reap praise and be rewarded with fulfillment.  My vision cleared.

            …Everywhere there are tiny, seemingly inconsequential circumstances that, if explored, provide meaning and chances to be generous and kind.  Spiritual and emotional growth happens in microscopic increments.”

            I want to make two applications.  The first is personal and limited. 

            Sunday afternoons are usually difficult for me.  More often than I would wish, I am plagued by my real and imagined Sunday morning shortcomings.  Usually I wish I had preached better or at least not so poorly.  Some of those feelings come from the legitimate concern to fulfill my responsibilities in a way that is useful and helpful to others.  But I fear that most of those feelings come from my desire to “shine”.  I know this desire is sinful and delusional.  I wish I would better heed the words of a seminary professor, “When you preach, don’t worry about hitting home runs.  Maybe sometimes, by God’s grace you will, but mostly just try to get on base.”  Or to use David Brooks’ imagery, maybe I should find my own “banged up old tin pot”.

            The second application is more general.

            Last Sunday I preached from Matthew 7:24-27, the parable of the wise and foolish builders.

My major point was that, according to Jesus, if you want your “house” [your “life”] to stand when storms come, it must be built on rock.  But if it is built on sand it will fall “with a great crash.”           Usually we understand “rock” as meaning trusting in Jesus and that’s a generally correct but Jesus actually said something slightly and significantly different.  He said “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” 

            How do we build our lives on “rock”?  According to Jesus we do it by putting his words “into practice”.  But how do we do that?  I imagine we would prefer to build our house in a quickly completed, over and done with project like a prefab house. But the reality is that this teaching comes after 109 verses of instruction that make up only a small part of what it means to follow and obey Jesus.  Building on rock is a process, a long step by step journey or as David Brooks put it, “Spiritual and emotional growth happens in microscopic increments.”

            Perhaps the most useful thing I said in that sermon was almost an afterthought.  I closed with a question. “What happens if your house crashes?”  I answered “If your house crashes, start building again but this time build it on the rock of following/obeying Jesus.”  This house, even though it is built on rock, must be built one stick, one nail, one hour, one day at a time.  Perhaps more importantly, in this lifetime, a house built on rock is never completed; it is always being built.

            Building our house/our life on “The Rock” is not a weekend project, it is a lifelong privilege.