For the audio version of this message, please click here.
I Peter 2:4-10
Living Stones: “God: Our Foundation”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Humans make mistakes, after all, no human is perfect. One mistake made in the 12th century resulted in a 14,500 ton leaning tower. This miscalculation would later become a symbol of civic pride, but tell that to the man who designed it!
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is different from most medieval architecture. It is the third oldest building on Pisa’s Piazza del Duomo (cathedral square), the Cathedral and Baptistry were first.
Utilizing many columns and arches, this Tower represents an advanced understanding of weight and load characteristics, showing the Italian architect’s knowledge.
What the architect didn’t account for however, was the base of the tower being built on a dense section of clay.
The construction of the Tower of Pisa began on August 9, 1173. Originally designed to be a bell tower, the tower actually stood upright for over 5 years, but just after the completion of the third floor (1178) it began to lean. The citizens of Italy were shocked as it began to lean ever so slightly.
The foundation of the Tower, only 3 meters deep, was built on a dense clay mixture and impacted the soil. As it turned out, the clay was not nearly strong enough to hold the Tower upright, and so the weight of the Tower began to diffuse downward until it had found the weakest point.
After this, construction halted for 100 years. The government hoped that the soil would settle, giving it enough strength to hold the weight of the Tower.
After the 100 year hiatus, Giovanni di Simone stepped forward in 1272 and began to add four more floors to the tower. He actually managed to cause the Tower to lean even more when he tried to compensate for the original lean by making one side of the upper floors taller than the other.
In 1284 construction was halted again because war.
In 1319 the 7th floor was finished. The bell-chamber was added in 1372, and then the Tower was left alone until the 19th century.
In 1838 Alessandro Della Gherardesca, an established architect, dug a pathway near the base of the Tower so that people could see the intricately crafted base. The Tower began to lean even more as a result, due to the decreased amount of support available within the soil.
Then came WWII. This war was brutal and bloody for the entire world, and its effects were felt everywhere from America to rural Africa. In relation to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, however, it is pure luck.
When the American soldiers invaded, they were ordered to destroy any and all buildings in order to neutralize the threat of enemy snipers. There were no exceptions to this rule, and hundreds of buildings were blown up as the forces steadily advanced over the Italian countryside. The only thing which prevented the Leaning Tower of Pisa from being destroyed was a retreat that took place shortly after the arrival of the Americans, necessitating no need to destroy the national monument.
In 1964, Italy asked help to prevent the Leaning Tower from toppling. They wanted to keep the lean though, because of its importance for Pisa’s tourism. A team of engineers and historians came together on the Azores to discuss the problem. As a temporary measure, a leaden counterweight (882 tons) was installed.
In 1987, the Leaning Tower of Pisa was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site, along with the entire Piazza Del Duomo.
In 1990, the Leaning Tower was closed. The bells were removed and the tower was anchored.
Reopened in 2001 for tourists, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is finally sturdy and safe.
That was a super long non-biblical, non-churchy, intro to today’s sermon. From today’s Sermon Title, why do you think I started with that history lesson? [Because “Foundations” matter!]
For most of the next several weeks I invite you to join me as we listen to the Apostle Peter, and hear some Biblical instruction that’s been around for nearly 2,000 years, and is based on totally true counsel, about “good masonry”.
The foundation upon which our Christian faith is built is this: there is ONE, true, living God! And God is so BIG, strong, faithful, trustworthy, LOVING that he is the foundation of everything, including our very lives. Yet this same (giant-sized) God made possible a very personal relationship through His SON. He expressed Himself with a free outpouring of love in such a way that He remains in a close, vibrant relationship with His creation, and, in particular, with human beings made in His image!
For this same God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever would believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life!
The Bible never argues for the existence of God. From Genesis through Revelation, writers describe their conflicts with God, their anger and doubts about God’s purposes in the world, but there is never any doubt that God is fully present!
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 plainly states this foundation: Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength.
Listen to these words from the Apostle Peter. This comes from a letter he wrote to the churches in Asia Minor, south Turkey, to people who faced death daily. Listen to how he says we find faith-filled integrity when our Foundation is God Himself.
4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For in Scripture it says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.” (Isaiah 28:16)
7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” (Psalm118:22)
8 and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” (Isaiah 8:14)
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
Peter is writing to a people who are confused about who God is and what God stands for. The Church in Asia Minor was filled with people who could face death, real death, every day – and they may have wondered where their God is. They may have thought their God had abandoned them. They may have been convinced, by their own backgrounds and former religions, that if their “good” outweighed their “bad” then their suffering would be short and their eternity secured.
Hmmm. Are Peter’s people any different than our people? Do you think Peter’s neighbors were more confused than your neighbors? I get the feeling that we live in the same confusion today that they lived in then.
“They stumble because they disobey – read don’t believe, maybe believe but aren’t willing to change, say they believe but they don’t really trust this God or this message any more than they trust the weather forecasters on TV – they stumble because they disobey the message.”
What is this message? That we are sinners – Wait, what? I’m not a sinner! – Really? It would be a true privilege to have that person over for dinner because to date there is only one person in all of history who has made that claim with legitimacy!
That God sent His perfectly sinless Son to pay the debt of sin we have accrued (death, resurrection, ascension) and one day He is coming back for those who have believed in Him.
“They stumbled because they disobey the message – which is also what they were destined for! But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light!”
That’s the message!
Peter was present when Jesus told a parable about two houses that were built, one on a rock foundation and one on shifting sand. Right at the end of the 3-chapter Sermon on the Mount Jesus says it’s not good enough to simply say the right things, you have to believe them. “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. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)
You can see that this is more than mere happy platitudes. Christ is calling us to faithful obedience!
Peter reminds us of this truth.
Paul, in his 2nd letter of leadership advice to Timothy, the young Pastor in the Turkish city of Ephesus, tells Timothy, “God’s solid foundation is still sturdy with this sign: the Lord knows those who belong to Him, and everyone who confesses the Lord’s name must avoid wickedness” (II Timothy 2:15)
What is the Foundation of your Christian faith? Do you believe the Gospel message? Is your trust in God’s reliability as the only means of salvation growing? When the storms come, when the rain comes down, when the streams rise, when the winds blow and beat against our faith, will we fall? Or will we stand firm because of the Foundation of God’s power and love?
The foundation upon which our Christian faith is built is this: there is ONE, true, living God! And God is so BIG, strong, faithful, trustworthy, LOVING that he is the foundation of everything, including our very lives. Yet this same (giant-sized) God made possible a very personal relationship through His SON.
Let’s not be like the Tower of Pisa – while it still stands, it stands as a leaning curiosity. May we stand straight, with the believable Good News that comes through Jesus Christ.
This Easter Season, this Resurrection Season, let’s claim the Right Foundation: the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of Jesus, the God who claims you as His own.
If you heard God calling your name today, if you sense that Christ’s death and resurrection was meant for you today, if you want your life to withstand life’s storms today – drop a note in the Offering Plate, and I’ll get with you later this week. Let’s dedicate, rededicate, our rocky past into service as living stones today!
Happy Easter Season! Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!
Bettridge, Becce; Living Stones: The Making of an Eternal Fellowship; Presbyterians for Renewal; Louisville, KY; 2012; Pp. 19-24.