A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, August 14, 2016
Texts: Matthew 7:21-29 (The Message)
One of my favorite parables is the Parable of the Three Little Pigs. Now don’t reach for your Bibles. I’m pretty sure you won’t find it there. But it would fit nicely alongside Jesus’ image of the carpenters or builders who choose to build their houses on rock or sand. Remember, the first little pig is in a big hurry so she throws up a house made of the most common and easy to work material she can find – straw – and then runs out to play. The second little pig is very taken with the latest retro fashion and so she constructs a house of sticks because that is the latest thing. Then she invites her chicest friends to admire how cool her house is. The third little pig – well, she is something of a practical plodder. She chooses to build her house of plain old bricks. It takes quite a while to place and secure all those bricks so her play time is limited. The cool folk all point and laugh at what an ordinary house she is putting together.
But when the Big, Bad Wolf comes to town, looking for lunch, where do they all end up? “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down” is his mantra. It’s not difficult to imagine how meaningful that threat is when your house is made of straw. Whoosh! It’s gone. Sticks don’t stand up much better to the powerful wind from the wolf. Each successive little pig escapes by the “hair on her chinny chin chin” to the third little pig’s house where they live happily ever after because everyone knows that no matter how big or bad or full of hot air, a wolf cannot blow down a brick house.
Solid foundations, solid structure, when the winds come howling. It doesn’t matter if the winds blow from the weather or winds blow from a wolf at the door, a brick house, on a rock foundation, will survive every time. As I mentioned last week, my mother’s house is on my mind as we try to sell it. In many ways it is quite a fine house. It was custom built for my mother and step-father. They had the wherewithal to build the house from the best materials available and on a firm foundation. It was their dream home and it withstood a lot, even as it provided much joy. But it is some 40 years old now and, when it comes to the market, the realtors advised that we empty it and leave it un-staged so prospective buyers might see and admire its “bones,” the skeletal structure of the building, because whoever buys the house will surely want to re-model it to their own taste. So what we’re selling is not so much a home as a solid framework from which the next owners can create their own home. As the young folk so quickly observed last week when I showed them the picture of the empty house and the one of the family around the table, it’s the latter that looks like home. It’s more than the foundation, more than its “bones,” that make a home.
Still, a home needs a solid frame and a sure foundation if it is to survive and thrive. Now when Jesus tells the tale of the wise and foolish builders, he is not talking literally about the construction business. It’s a metaphor for something that might be even more important amid the threats and challenges of living in this world. Something that we might build a life on. Something in which we could anchor our community. Foundational words!
Oh, I can hear you. That’s ridiculous. Words are easy and talk is cheap. That’s even more foolish than the pigs that made their house of straw and sticks or the carpenter who builds his house on the sand. But wait. Let’s dig a little deeper into what Jesus is saying about foundational words. In Matthew’s gospel, this image of building houses comes at the very end of the Sermon on the Mount, that great collection the sayings and teaching of Jesus that begin so beautifully with the Beatitudes. This is when you’ll want to pull out your Bibles and read back through chapters five, six, and seven of Matthew. I’m pretty sure you will find there words to build a life on, words to anchor a community in, foundational words that make a world – God’s Beloved Community.
Of course, it’s not literally the words themselves, the letters and symbols that lie there, unmoving on the page on which we want to pin our hopes. As with all language, these words only serve to carry the meaning that must be met and become the bricks with which we build our homes. Richard Beaton commenting on today’s text observes, “This final story summarizes the entire Sermon on the Mount. The message is clear: discipleship occurs in the everyday practices of Jesus’ followers.” Hear that? If words are not truly foundational, not put into practice they are meaningless. He continues, “Jesus’ words here balance the misunderstanding of Paul in today’s Christian world that can be distorted into a gospel of grace without ethical demand.” Sounds like Bonhoeffer writing about “cheap grace.”
Beaton insists that “Jesus is not suggesting that a new law replace the old [as we have noted recently]; rather, love for and devotion to God must be accompanied by a life that honors God. Or to put it another way, becoming a follower of Jesus is to decide to become a member of his society and is marked by a willingness to live one’s life according to the values and beliefs of that society.” That sounds a lot like foundational words to me, words that carry true belief and value, founded in Christ’s vision of God’s Beloved Community. Thus Beaton says, “One becomes part of the people of God. Jesus’ invitation is an invitation to an encounter with God and a different way of living life.”
Let’s stop for minute and play a little game. Let’s imagine that we are building our lives or constructing our community. What are some of the foundational words on which we might want to rely? [The foundational words our congregation shared this morning were:
Honesty Responsibility Kindness Trust Constancy Humility Love Respect Patience Generosity Service Presence
Now here’s the rub. Beaton tells us that “…we all have a set of assumed beliefs, what we think we believe. And then,” he says, “we have our real beliefs, which are revealed in our behaviors.” He observes, “For Christians in the West we affirm and make much of doctrinal statements, views on social justice, poverty, or even what it means to be truly spiritual. Our challenge, however, is to align our practices–the behaviors of our workaday lives–with our stated beliefs.”
To give Paul a fair shake, I am reminded here of some important words he wrote in the 13th chapter of his first letter to the church at Corinth. “If I speak in the tongues of humans or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, J. B. Phillips). There’s a foundational word for you – love. Perhaps there is no other word that is more foundational, nothing more dependable for building a life or constructing a community than the steadfast love of God as lived out in Christ Jesus.
You may have thought this morning that I mined my hymn resources for every hymn that refers to foundation. I imagine there are a few I missed. For some of us old timers, I believe the first hymn that would come to mind is “The Church’s One Foundation,” which affirms that “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord.” But I find some of the words in that hymn troublesome and so I have come to prefer my mentor, Rod Romney’s version that we sang this morning:
The church’s strong foundation is God’s eternal love.
Through mystery of creation it entered from above.
Through Spirit still descending with love we can’t refuse,
It needs no staunch defending, but comes as God’s good news.
We share Christ’s way of living, shape future as he would
Cross borders of forgiving and share our humanhood.
We hide not in tradition, in creeds make no last stand,
But find in love’s position the Kingdom is at hand.
Sing out in celebration, of love renewed, restored,
As we in consecration live out the healing Word.
The church’s strong foundation is God’s eternal love and we, in consecration, are called to live out this healing Word. If we’re not careful, we might find here a foundational word to build a world on. Amen.