Laying the Foundation; Luke 1:57-80
Plymouth First United Methodist; December 5, 2021
Pastor Toni Carmer
In my years of ministry, I’ve been honored to serve 2 churches who took on major building projects where I was able to be a part of the dreaming, planning, building and living into the finished result.
My first appointment in ministry after seminary was at Valparaiso First. That building project involved a major renovation of the sanctuary and office space and the creation of a new family life area that served as a chapel and gathering place. Elkhart Trinity built a brand-new sanctuary and renovated the former one into a dining area and fellowship hall. The office space was also completely renovated, along with the educational wings. A parlor and gathering area were added, as well.
I remember seeing those stakes that had been pounded out in the yard, and thinking about what was going to be. It’s amazing to me that someone can translate those building plans into a working and beautiful space that all line up in the place they need to be.
When I went to Leo, a major building project had just been completed and I was privileged with the responsibility of helping the congregation pay for what they’d built. At that point, the brick and mortar were all aligned to where it needed to be, and the congregation needed to be aligned as well. To continue to support the project—not only paying for it, but as importantly, to learn to put to good use the new space they now had to do the work of ministry.
Now, here in Plymouth, I’ve experienced—along with you—both the beauty and amazing acoustics of our historic sanctuary, but also the reality of an unstable dome and frustration at the time it has taken for all the experts to get their ducks in a row so we can rebuild and move forward. Our foundation, which is less physical and more spiritual in nature—our faith in Christ—remains strong. I think of our leaders as being like runners before a big race—waiting near the starting line, moving about, thinking through their strategy, flexing and stretching their muscles, waiting to be called into the starting lineup, ready when the whistle blows, to take off and do what needs to be done!
On a much smaller scale, but certainly important to Scott and I—in 2008, we dreamed, planned and built what we expected to be our retirement home. Things changed and we ended up selling that home in 2017, the year after we moved to Plymouth, but we learned a lot as we worked with builders, contractors and everyone else involved in turning the dream into a reality.
Laying the foundation for each of these projects was of critical importance
In late 2008/early 2009, an 80-room Homewood Suites was being built on the south side of Fort Wayne at the intersection of I-69 and US 24/West Jefferson. I remember seeing the building go up: it was 7 stories high when they discovered structural flaws that included cracks in the elevator towers, caused because the land had begun to shift underneath. Other issues added to the problem, most likely caused by freezing and thawing, and it was determined that improperly prepared soil had also caused the building to sink 5 inches. About $2.6 million dollars had already been spent, but they had no choice but to demolish the building and start all over again. The general contractor was banned from working in Allen County again and the contractor who handled most of the concrete and masonry lost his license.
Laying the foundation is of critical importance. We can see the truth in that for buildings, but it’s no less true when it comes to building a nation—a kingdom—or one’s faith. Laying a strong foundation is of critical importance.
The scripture we read today had its beginning generations before: God laid the foundation for the birth of Jesus, preparing his way, making God’s people ready, softening their hearts, allowing them to experience the depth of their need for a savior.
We read in the Old Testament the Exodus story, about how God was forming God’s people, teaching them what it meant to be free, teaching them what it meant to follow, to listen, to set aside their own desires for God’s desires.
Many years pass; God’s people are divided, taken captive, and eventually return home. They rebuild with a new foundation, a restored foundation, and in God’s time, a new chapter begins.
Early in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, we’re introduced to a priest named Zechariah, a man of faith who has devoted his life to God’s work. He and his wife Elizabeth are described as being righteous before God, blameless in their observance of all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. But they have no children and we’re told they are both “very old.”
Luke describes the day when Zechariah is serving in his priestly duties and an angel of the Lord appears to him and tells him not to be afraid. The angel says that Zechariah’s prayers have been answered, and he and Elizabeth will give birth to a son. They are to name their son John: John will be great in the Lord’s eyes.
Luke continues with the angel’s words: “He must not drink wine and liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God. He will go forth before the Lord, equipped with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will turn the hearts of fathers back to their children, and he will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking. He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (1:15-17).
Zechariah, not surprisingly, is astounded at what the angel says, and expresses that to the angel, who then reveals that his name is Gabriel. Gabriel tells Zechariah that he [Gabriel] “stands in the Lord’s presence, and his word can be trusted.” And then, because Zechariah has expressed doubt, or concern at what the angel has said, Gabriel binds his tongue, making him unable to speak until the day when Zechariah can see that Gabriel’s word is true.
It’s interesting to me that Gabriel delivers such a severe rebuke to Zechariah, while he is much more gracious to Mary when she expresses the same kind of surprise and wonder when she’s told that she will be the mother of God’s Son. Maybe since Zechariah is of “advanced age” Gabriel feels he should know better—he should know that God’s word can be trusted, while Mary is young and still learning. And yet, it has to be difficult for Zechariah over the next 9 months or so: a preacher, unable to preach. A story-teller who can’t tell a story.
As Zechariah leaves the space where he has performed his priestly duties, he does his best to communicate by gesturing. People can see that he has had a vision but they aren’t able to fully understand what Zechariah has experienced.
Zechariah goes home to Elizabeth, and in time the child John is born.
We read how surprised people are to learn on the day that he’s circumcised and dedicated to God, that Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son is to be given the name John, rather than the name of his father. In response, the people turn to Zechariah and begin gesturing to him (remember, there’s nothing wrong with Zechariah’s ears, it’s his tongue that’s the issue). He writes down the name “John,” confirming what Elizabeth has told them. At that moment, Zechariah’s tongue is let loose, and he responds by singing praises to the Lord.
Zechariah sings what we call the Benedictus, or Zechariah’s song, giving thanks for the way God has laid out the foundation of saving grace through history. He then looks down at his child and sings directly to him: “You, child, will be the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way.” In the same way that Zechariah has humbled himself in not insisting that his son be named after him, he dedicates his son to be one who will prepare the way of the Lord…he is not himself the one upon whom people await. We will be reminded later how well John has been taught by his father. People will come to him repeatedly, believing that he is the one God has sent to offer salvation, but John doesn’t hesitate to respond: “someone greater than me is coming…someone whose shoes I am not even worthy to carry…”
Zechariah builds upon the foundation God has laid; John adds to that foundation.
With Zechariah’s story in mind, think about it a bit… What words, what blessings, what actions have laid the foundation for your life?
Who helped lay a foundation of faith for you?
How are you laying a foundation of faith for others?
How can you…how can we as a church…together lay a foundation upon which God’s Word will grow?