Give Me a Place to Stand
“Give me a place to stand and I shall move the world.” Those words are attributed to Archimedes, the 3rd century B.C. Greek philosopher and mathematician.
For the previous two weeks I have preached on texts from the The Letter to the Hebrews. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, this letter, really a sermon, is addressed to Christians who are discouraged and drifting. The are drifting from their confession of faith in Christ, and they are drifting from one another in the congregation, the community of faith.
The Preacher of Hebrews is engaged in an Archimedian project. That is, he would give them — or remind them of — a place to stand, something solid of which to take hold in the storm.
Words from the a hymn catch well what the Preacher of Hebrews is saying,
“On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
I suspect that many liberal and progressive Christians are reluctant to claim such solid ground, to sing such robust lyrics, for fear that it may sound like Christian triumphalism. Or, to put it another way, as if such assurance may seem a put-down of all other faiths and their adherents.
While such assurance could be either or both of those errors, it doesn’t have to be. Not at all. Our fear that it might be deprives us of something essential: The assurance of faith. Solid ground. A place to stand.
That, it seems to me, is a basic human need, and one that we neglect at our peril. If we’re going to expose ourselves to uncertainty and change, as we should, we also need some things that are certain, that are solid. Lacking that we become reluctant to risk, to explore.
For me an image that works in this regard is that of the spelunker, or those intrepid explorers of underground caves and caverns. Such people tie a rope to a fixed point outside the cave, prior to a descent within. That fixed point allows them to explore. Christian faith is a combination of solid ground and courageous exploration.
It’s a truism to say that these days the ground is constantly shifting under our feet. It’s a cliche that the only thing really certain is change. But there is truth in cliches and truisms, or they wouldn’t attain that status. There is so much change all the time in our world, our society. So little that seems reliable.
All the more reason for solid ground, for a place to stand, as a part of our faith. It is a besetting sin of liberal and progressive Christians to underestimate this aspect of faith. We urge ourselves to embrace change, to see God in change. But perhaps miss the need for what is unchanging. So proclaims the Preacher in Hebrews, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (13:8)
In his “French Press” column today, David French mentions a hymn that sustained him during his service in Iraq. It communicates a necessary sense of solidity in what must have been an overwhelming and frightening situation. Here are the lyrics he quotes from the hymn, “In Christ Alone.”
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand
When Martin Luther was hauled before the Diet of Worms, under threat of excommunication, to answer charges of heresy, the Pope’s legate (combination representative and lawyer) asked Luther, “Well, Brother Martin, what happens when you are abandoned by the German princes? What happens when you are abandoned by the German people? Where, Brother Martin, where will you be then?”
To which Luther answered, “Then? Why then as now, in the hands of Almighty God.” Luther had a place to stand, and he did change the world.