Saturday, February 4, 2023

“The Foundation” - February 5, 2023

Text: Matthew 7:1-14, 24-29

We are on our third Sunday looking at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  When Phyllis was our emergency pinch-hitter three weeks ago, she got us started.  She just picked out a scripture for Sunday morning the night before, focusing on "you are the light of the world," not knowing what I would be doing on the following Sundays.  That was definitely the work of the Spirit.   

The Sermon on the Mount is chock-full of teaching – much of Jesus’ important teaching to his followers is found in these three chapters of Matthew.  There are the Beatitudes, being salt and light, love your enemies, teaching about prayer and the Lord’s Prayer, consider the lilies of the field and do not worry – God will provide for you.

And then in our scripture this morning, there is so much.  Jesus speaks of not judging others but rather being able to be self-critical, being able to see our own flaws and failings – the log in our own eye.  There is that wonderful phrase of not throwing pearls before swine.  He talks about seeking, knocking, and asking, knowing that God wants to give us good things.

Our scripture this morning included what we know as the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  It is a way of living that Jesus says is pretty well a summary of the law and the prophets.  If you can follow this teaching, you will be in good shape.

There is so much to be found in the Sermon on the Mount - this is really the core of Jesus’ teaching.  The way that Phyllis and I alternated verses in our scripture reading today was by design.  Each snippet was a teaching that could have been a sermon in and of itself.  We could have spent weeks in the Beatitudes and weeks on the Lord’s Prayer and we could probably spend a full year looking at the entire Sermon on the Mount if we wanted to.  

But we’re not, not this year.  This morning we are going to look at the last part of today’s reading.  Jesus gives all of this teaching to his disciples, some of the best known teaching in the Bible, and concludes with these take-home words.

“Everyone who hears these words of mine” – and he is talking here about the whole Sermon on the Mount – “everyone who hears these words and acts on them is like the wise person who built their house on the rock.  The rains fell, the floods came, the wind beat down on the house but the house was secure because it was built on rock.  But if you hear my words but don’t act on them, it is like building your house on sand – the rains come, the wind blows, and the house falls.”

Jesus is talking about a faith that can survive hard times.  When those storms of life come, we need to be ready.  We need to be prepared.    

Jesus says that there are those who build their houses on sand.  When the storms come, the foundation will wash away.  And there are those who build their houses on rock.  Those houses are solid and will withstand the storms.

We know that when it comes to life, the storms will certainly come.  Storms can hit us suddenly and without warning.  There are also those storms that we can see coming on the horizon but can do nothing to stop.  

The theology class is discussing a video series about how religion has changed since 9/11.  It is amazing how much has changed in our world and in our society in the last 20 years.  One commentator described the change that we are experiencing in our culture as white water change, meaning that it is as fast and furious and sometimes as treacherous and turbulent as the white waters of a raging river.

The question for us is, How do we find stability?  How do we make our journey through life when so much is changing and changing so fast?  What is sturdy and stable and dependable in a time of such rapid change?

Jesus knew about rising waters and shifting sands of life.  There had been political upheaval brought about by the Roman occupation of Palestine.  It was a time when corruption in high places and competing religious and political factions made life disjointed and conflicted and just plain messy.  It was a time when many people lived at a subsistence level - one injury, one illness, one emergency away from disaster.  

Jesus speaks to people who have come out to hear him, people who want to follow him.  These are people facing difficult times, living hard lives, and Jesus speaks to them about how to live in such difficult times.

The foundation is crucial, says Jesus.  You have to build your lives on that which is solid and dependable.

Last spring I noticed that some cracks had appeared in our basement wall.  We wound up having to have some foundation repair work done.  We started looking into it, got a couple of estimates, and we started noticing advertisements for foundation repair all over the place.  If you watch the local news at 6:00 or 10:00, every other commercial is for foundation repair.  Almost every day, I see a truck or van from some foundation repair company in a driveway.

Over times, houses can settle, and sometimes the soil was not compacted as well as it should have been when the house was built.  Foundation problems, it turns out, are very common.

Jesus knows this.  And he knows that building on sand is inviting disaster.  He suggests a very firm and solid foundation - the rock of faith, the rock of hope, the rock of love.  He says, “Anyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them is like the person who built his house on the rock.”  Living by Jesus’ words is something you can absolutely build your life on.

Jesus has been speaking to the crowds who had gathered.  And we read that the people marveled, saying that he spoke as one with authority.  These weren’t just words for Jesus.  This was authentic, this was real, this was from the heart.  He wasn’t just talking about God; he had a deep connection to God.

Jesus had just spoken powerful words, but he concludes by saying that words are not what matter the most.

I’ve got a question for you: Five frogs were on a log.  Four decided to jump off.  How many were left?  Answer: Five -- because there’s a big difference between deciding to do something and actually doing it.

“Everyone who hears my words and acts on them will be like the wise person who built on the rock.”

Earlier in chapter 7, Jesus speaks of those who will call out “Lord, Lord” but are not interested in actually doing God’s will.  Having the religious lingo down is not what matters.  Having a trove of religious knowledge is not what really counts.  I mean, winning at Bible Trivia is great, but it’s not something to build your life on.

Being a decent and respectable person is admirable.  It is definitely better than being an indecent and unrespectable or disrespectful person, right?  But that will not carry us through the storms of life.   

“Everyone who hears my words and acts on them will be like the wise person who built on the rock.”  Listening to Jesus’ words and acting on them.

Author and pastor Eugene Peterson translated the Bible into everyday English – his translation is called The Message.  I love the way he translates this verse:

These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living.  They are foundational words, words to build a life on.  If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock…

But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach.  When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.

I love that translation because it has a kick to it – it gets at the urgency of what Jesus is saying.

Jesus is following a long tradition in scripture, because building references abound in the Bible.  The Psalmist says, “Unless the Lord build the house, the laborers work in vain.”  The Church is referred to by Paul as “God’s building,” and Hebrews speaks of God as “the builder of all things.”  Jesus himself is called the cornerstone.  And speaking of death, Paul says, “We know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, eternal in the heavens, not built by human hands.”

“Building” is an image we may use to talk about faith.  We all know that when it comes to building, the foundation is crucial.  Mess up the foundation and you have a real problem.  

Even before the beautiful bell tower in Pisa, which we know as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, was completed, it was obvious there were problems.  The soft, sandy soil wasn’t stable enough, and the foundation was too shallow for the height of the tower.  They have worked to stabilize it for centuries, most recently by pumping concrete into the ground.  It would have been a whole lot easier to just build a good foundation right from the start.

They can’t go back and rebuild the foundation for the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  But we can continue to lay the foundation for our lives.  It’s never too late and we’re never really finished.

We have been thinking about all of this in an individual sort of way.  Jesus talked about the wise person.  The smart carpenter.  But building our faith is not is not something we do completely by ourselves.  It’s more like a Habitat for Humanity build, with a whole bunch of workers who give of themselves to see that the house is built.

We lived in an Amish area before moving to Ames.  In Amish communities, they will have barn raisings.  It is a community event.  Everyone turns out.  Men and boys are building, women are cooking.  Everyone works together to build a new barn, and it is a wonderful social occasion for the community.

Building our faith – building our lives – is like building a Habitat House.  It’s like a barn raising.  It involves the community.  It involves all of us.  It takes a church.

Now just to look at a couple of houses, you wouldn’t necessarily know which one had a good, solid foundation.  In Jesus’ parable, the strength of the foundation was seen only when the storms came and the waters rose.

So often, that is the case.  We only know how strong our foundation of faith is when we are tested.  I have known people who had to endure heartache and tragedy and difficulties in life that seem almost overwhelming, folks who have been called upon to meet enormous challenges, and who were able to do so with a strength they themselves may not have even known they had.  The strength of their foundation was seen in the midst of the storms of life.

How do we weather the storms of life?  When illness comes, or heartache, or divorce, or when we lose our job, or when our children are in trouble, or when we are just plain scared, what do we hold on to?  The foundation we have built our lives on does matter.

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like the wise person who built their house on rock.”  And what are Jesus’ words?  What is the message he has been proclaiming?

God blesses those whom the world does not consider blessed.  God loves us and wants our words and actions to honor each other as fellow children of God.  God wants us to engage in acts of mercy and worship not so people will notice us and be impressed but simply because that is who we are.  God desires that we help each other rather than judge each other.  God wants us to see that the best way to love God is to love each other.  

Jesus teaches his disciples – both then and now - what it means to be human, what it means to be children of God.

The foundation, the rock on which to build our lives, is Christ.  Not just knowing Jesus’ words, but living Jesus’ ways.  Living our lives in the love of God is the foundation that will see us through the storms of live.  May it be so.  Amen.

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