There’s a story about a woman whose life was going all wrong. She was in her late 20’s. Her short first marriage had just failed. She had a small child to care for. She was out of a job. She was relying on government benefits to survive, and feared that she would soon be homeless. And she was depressed; the kind of depression that makes you wonder whether life is really worth living.
She had always been scared to death of failing and now, that one thing she had always been terrified would happen had indeed happened. She was, in her own eyes and she believed in everyone else’s, a complete failure. To put it another way, she had hit rock bottom.
I’ll come back to her, but think for a minute about that phrase: rock bottom. When we use it we are often talking about the absolute nadir of our lives. You may have heard it said of someone who is going through some struggle that they just have to hit rock bottom on their own before they will get better. I believe that’s true.
I believe that because I’ve had my own rock bottom moments and so, probably, have many of you. These are the times when nothing has gone the way I’ve planned, or I’ve failed in some spectacular way, or something has happened that has felt so devastating that I haven’t been sure how to get back back up again. That’s rock bottom, and it hurts just as surely as falling on rock.
It’s hard not to think of “rock bottom” when we hear today’s Scripture. Jesus is telling a parable, a story, about two men: one wise, and one foolish, who are both building houses. One man gets everything he needs to build his house, but then he picks out where to put it, and he chooses to build it on sand. It’s fine for a little while but then the rains come, and the wind and floods, and the whole house is washed away.
The wise man does something different. He gets all of his materials, and he chooses to build his house on rock. So the rain and winds come, even the floods, but nothing is able to touch his house. It’s built on rock, and that means it is built to last.
If that story sounds familiar to you it’s probably because we all heard a similar story as kids. It’s the story of the three little pigs. One big builds with straw, one sticks, and the last bricks. When the big bad wolf comes around, the first two houses fall apart, the the brick house does not. Both stories have the same message: build well, build solidly, and you will withstand whatever comes next.
This is what we teach our kids. But this is what, so often, we forget as adults.
So what does any of this have to do with rock bottom? Well, as it turns out, we’re teaching your kids about rock bottom in Sunday school class today. All the parents are second-guessing their decision to come to church right now. But really, it’s okay. We’re teaching your kids the story of the house built on the rock, and we’re teaching them about where to build their spiritual homes, and by extension, where to build their whole lives.
Jesus was trying to teach his disciples about the value of making something solid your bedrock. This passage comes at the end of his sermon on the mount, when he was trying to teach the crowds what it meant to follow him, and to live a holy life. And he was trying to show them how our foundation matters.
If we have a sandy foundation, one that is always shifting on us, one that is not stable, then our spiritual lives are about as stable as a house of cards. And let’s be clear…there is a lot of sand out there. There are a lot of things that tell you they are important, but are not. At the end of the day, they are as worthless as quicksand. But if we have one that is as solid as rock, as steady as can possibly be, then even when the winds and rains and even the floods come, we will survive.
And here’s what’s important to remember: the winds and rains will come. Jesus did not say that the man who built on rock would have good weather. He was going to face all of the same storms. So will we. And yet, the man who built on the rock, he would make it through.
So here’s the tough question: how do we get that firm foundation?
I’d like to tell you that it’s easy. Just trust in God and do the right things, like what Jesus taught the crowd. I’d like to tell you that if you raise your kids that way they’ll build their houses on rocks, and they will never fall. But the world doesn’t work that way.
The reality is that all of us have to learn this the hard way. Each one of us is human, and that means that each one of us has a foundation that could use a little work. We build up our hopes and our dreams, and then a storm comes, and we find that our foundations were more sand than rock. That’s when we have to get out our hard hats, dig deep, and lay a new foundation, one that allows us to truly be embedded in the love and grace of God.
Sometimes we get a little warning, and we’re able to do some quick emergency repairs. But sometimes, the house comes crashing down, and we have to rebuild once again.
The woman at the beginning of this story, the one who had lost everything and hit rock bottom, she knew what that was like. And her story has come to inspire me. And so I want to tell you a little more about her.
The woman’s name is JK Rowling. She is arguably the most successful writer of the last 25 years. And she told this story in a commencement address that she gave to Harvard students several years ago. She told them about how she was by every measure an abysmal failure before the age of 30, and about how she had absolutely hit her rock bottom.
And then she something that I’ve come back to again and again. “Rock bottom,” Rowling said, “became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
At rock bottom she began to write a story about a young wizard named Harry Potter and his friends. She didn’t know what would happen with that story. She submitted it to publishers and it was rejected time after time. It ended up in the slush pile of a publishing house, a place manuscripts go to die, and an editor just happened to pick it up and decided to take a chance on it. And the rest is history.
I don’t tell you that story to say “go and write a bestseller”. I mean, if that’s your thing, go for it. I tell it because it shows an incredible truth: hitting rock bottom is not the worst thing that can happen. Indeed, perhaps it is a blessing in disguise. Solid rock, no matter how we get there, is the only place from which we can hope to build something that will truly last.
Over the next three weeks, from now to thanksgiving, I’m going to be preaching on what it means to invest our lives well. During this same time we are conducting our stewardship campaign, so I’ll be talking about what it means to be good stewards, good investors, of our whole lives and all we have been given.
Each one of us has been given exactly one life to invest. Today we start this series by talking about the foundation we choose to build our lives upon. It could be that your spiritual life is rooted in the solid foundation of rock bottom. Or, it could be that you feel the sand shifting below your house as we speak. Here’s the good news. Even if that’s true, God’s love and grace are the rock upon which you can rebuild. And unlike any other kind of real estate, that love and grace know no limits…there’s plenty of land for all of us.
On this All Saints’ Sunday, I’ll close with this. I know this is true, because others have helped me to find a good foundation upon which to build my life. They’ve shown me where to set up my spiritual house, and they’ve taught me how to survive the winds and rains.
Maybe that’s true for you too. Maybe there has been someone who has been with you at rock bottom, and helped you to look around, and to find hope there. Maybe they’ve laid that solid foundation with you on that rock. God knows I have had those people. My guess is you have too.
The beauty of the Christian life is that we all get second chances at solid foundations. And the obligation of this life is that, once we have, it’s our job to help others to have the same. In large part, the measure of our lives will have nothing to do with how big we build our own houses, but in what we do to provide solid foundations to all we know, and especially to the next generation.
We do this, because God has worked through so many others in order to do it for us. And so, on this All Saints’ Sunday, let us speak the names of the ones who have gone before us, in the sure hope of God’s rock solid love…