February 10, 2019 Sermon
Jesus Made Known:
The Solid Foundation
First Scripture Reading: Matthew 7:1-5, 12-14
7 “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
12 “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Second Scripture Reading: Matthew 7:24-29
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”
28 Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, 29 for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
Message – “Jesus Made Known: The Solid Foundation”
Jesus is the solid foundation, right? He said it himself, right?
I know, while in worship we sing songs with lyrics declaring Jesus as “the Church’s one foundation” or lyrics proclaiming Christ as “the solid rock [on which] I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, or even lyrics considering “how firm a foundation” is laid for our faith “in God’s excellent word.”
We sing the lyrics of these songs, and we probably think Jesus gave us these lyrics, these words, this notion, but, did he…really?
My friends, we’re here in the midst of the season after the Epiphany, the season during which we seek to discover anew through the gospels who God identified Jesus to be…so that we can ensure the Jesus we worship is the same as the Jesus God sent, the same as the Jesus of scripture, rather than some Jesus of our own invention or even the invention of those who came before us, some Jesus made by us and made to fit our likes rather than THE Jesus given by God, regardless of what we like. Discovering Jesus’ true identity as found in the gospels, THAT is our task in this season.
And today, we consider what God was communicating about Jesus’ identity through the words of Matthew 7, the words Jesus spoke that have given so many followers of Jesus the idea that one of Jesus’ identities made known by God in scripture is as “the solid foundation.”
But, in these verses, did Jesus actually tell us he’s the solid foundation and all other ground is sinking sand?
Let’s hear from Jesus again:
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”
Well, there you go. We’ve heard from Jesus…now let’s consider: did Jesus actually tell us he’s the solid foundation?
I would suggest the answer is, “Kinda, sort of.” Let me explain.
At first glance, it might sound like Jesus is identifying himself as the solid foundation; I’ve known many Christians who’ve interpreted these words in this way. Digging a little deeper than first glance…when Jesus spoke these words, he was telling a parable. In other words, Jesus was making a point, rather than telling us to treat these words like an allegory and try to figure out who or what the rock represents, who or what the sand represents, who or what the rain represents, or really, who or what anyone or anything in the story represents.
And to understand the point Jesus was making, it’s helpful to understand something about the weather of the time and place in which Jesus spoke these words. First century Palestine was characterized by two primary seasons: a dry season and a wet season. If a person decided to build a house during the dry season, that person could successfully build a house that would be perfectly suited for that season, perfectly stable, whether built on sand or rock. The key difference between the two people in Jesus’ story – the difference between being wise and foolish – wasn’t about intelligence but rather about planning and preparation; it was about building a house that could withstand what could – and in all likelihood would – come in the future, when the next rainy season arrived. Which means Jesus’ point was about PREPARATION. Those who “hear and act” on Jesus’ words will be prepared to live the best life possible now when everything is fine and dandy, AND they will be prepared to live the best life possible even when things in life start falling apart around them. THAT was Jesus’ point. This parable is truly about the difference between those who act on the will of God and those who do not.
What does this have to do with Jesus’ identity as the solid foundation?
The answer is this: Jesus is not actually identifying himself as the solid foundation here; rather, Jesus is identifying his TEACHINGS as the solid foundation; He’s identifying God’s will as the solid foundation. I know that’s a subtle difference, but it’s an important one. This isn’t about Jesus your friend being there for you. This isn’t about a relationship with Jesus. This isn’t about so many of the things I hear Christians suggesting it means for Jesus to be the solid rock on which we stand. No, this is completely about Jesus’ teachings about God’s will being a solid foundation for a life that can thrive through all difficulties…IF we hear and follow Jesus’ teachings. Remember, these verses at the end of Matthew 7 are the culmination of three chapters of Jesus’ teachings that we call “the sermon on the mount,” a sermon I told you last week is more of a set of teachings than a set of proclamations or preachings. Jesus isn’t identifying HIMSELF as the solid foundation here but is identifying his teachings as the solid foundation. Build your life on these teachings and you will thrive. Build your life on these teachings, and you can survive whatever metaphorical storms that come along. Jesus is the GIVER of the solid foundation…not the foundation itself…at least according to Jesus’ own words in Matthew 7:24-27.
Which ought to get us wondering: what are these amazing teachings that are the solid foundation for the best life possible?
Since these amazing teachings are three chapters worth of teachings, it would be nice if Jesus gave us some kind of summary teaching, wouldn’t Fortunately, he did. You’ve probably heard of it before by another name: the Golden Rule. Jesus said, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”
If you think about it, this really is quite the summary of all of Jesus’ teachings in these three chapters:
- Be peacemakers – treating others how you would want to be treated is how you make peace;
- Hunger and thirst for righteousness – God’s righteousness will lead you to treat people with the kind of love with which you would want to be treated;
- Love your enemies – because even your enemies should be treated the way you would want to be treated;
- Don’t act out of anger, or commit adultery, or vengeance – because you wouldn’t want anyone to act these ways toward you;
- Give to people in need;
- Don’t judge people;
- Don’t hoard up stuff for yourself on earth but use what you have to help people in need;
Y’all Jesus just spent three chapters telling us in various ways to treat other people right, all other people: friends, family, people in need, even enemies.
And then He told us that doing so is like building on a solid foundation, is good planning for when the rain might start falling. Can’t you imagine why?
When your storm comes:
- And you need a shoulder to cry on;
- Or you need some money to buy food and gas until your next paycheck;
- Or your house gets flooded and you need a place to stay for a while;
- Or you need someone to forgive you for something stupid and insensitive you did in the heat of the moment;
When your storm comes, will you be better off in that time of needed if you’ve alienated everyone around you or even just ignored the needs everyone around you in THEIR time of need….or will you be better off for having made solid relationships by taking care of the needs of others when you had the opportunity to do so because times were good for you?
And regardless of good times or bad, regardless of whether the sun is shining for you or the storm clouds are forming, are you better off when you cultivate good, solid relationships by treating others like you desire to be treated or when you treat others somehow less than you would want to be treated? Aren’t positive relationships an amazing thing ANY time, not just when you’re in need?
Y’all, Jesus’ teaching that is the solid foundation, it’s not rocket science; it’s not something you don’t already know to be true. We all know that WE would prefer to be treated like we would prefer to be treated…so it just makes sense that it’s true for others. And since God made us to be relational beings, it makes sense that we can live our best lives when we’re doing everything we can to cultivate good, strong, positive relationships with EVERYBODY we encounter…and even try to forge good, strong, positive relationships with people we haven’t encountered…yet.
It makes sense. So, how/why do we mess this up? Why do we choose something less than best – best as stated by the One we say we follow?
I’m sure you know the answer…and it fits so perfectly with Jesus’ parable. Even though it’s best to plan for all seasons, good times and bad, it can be so easy to get short-sighted, it can be so easy to get relationally lazy. When we’re not in trouble, if we get a little lazy with our relationships, we don’t usually see any negative ramifications. When it’s not storming, a house built on sand is every bit as good as a house built on rock. So we can start focusing on some other things more than we should:
- Maybe watch television instead of giving attention to a relationship;
- Maybe surfing the internet instead of helping people;
- Maybe focusing in on one relationship and forgetting about so many others;
- Maybe playing games or sleeping or taking some me-time instead of building relationships with others.
During the good times, we can do these things without seeing overt negative consequences, so we do them a little more and cultivate relationships a little less. And we take it a little further, and a little further, and a little further, not realizing how far astray we’ve gone until a storm arrives, maybe even a storm of our own making because we got so lazy with God’s Golden Rule.
Jesus doesn’t want that for you. I don’t want that for you. Fortunately, Jesus gave you this solid foundation to follow: be intentional about taking time to cultivate good relationships:
- Put down that book or that television remote or video game remote or internet keyboard or even cell phone and spend time in real relationship with the people you love.
- After worship today or any Sunday, go out with others in your Church family and get to know them, to really know them.
- Invite someone new into your circle of close friends, even over to your house for dinner – each time you do this you’ll have a new close friend, someone you can trust and rely on.
- Take intentional time to go help someone in need. If you don’t know anyone in need, open your eyes, lift your head up, and look around. There are people in need everywhere.
- Go on a mission or work trip to expand your relationships beyond the borders of this city or this state or even this country.
- If you’re struggling with where to start, simply pick a day and time every week and simply write down in your physical or mental calendar something like, “time to build relationship”: new relationships, old relationships, seemingly dead relationships – it doesn’t really matter.
Y’all, God, through Jesus, has told us this is the best way to live – treating others as we would like to be treated. Hearing and doing this – this is how to live best. If you think you know better than God through Jesus, why are you here? If you don’t think you know better than God through Jesus, then, well, it’s time to get started or to continue what you’ve already started.
And, just for the moment, I’d like you to think about something: what kind of amazing place would this world be, if everyone started living by God’s Golden Rule? [1st Service: If time permits, have this conversation and the next.] Or on a smaller but more manageable scale for us: what kind of amazing place would FCCGJ be if everyone in this congregation and then everyone we contact started living by God’s Golden Rule?
For me, the answer is simple: it would be heaven-on-earth; it would be the place Jesus came to usher in; it would be the place I want to live. Amen.