I Corinthians 3:1-17, Matthew 7:24-27
January 27, 2008
A friend of mine had to have his house jacked up. (Half his house, actually!) It cost quite a bit of money, but he had to do it. You see, his house was built on a steep hill. And in order to create a level place, they had to dig into the uphill half of the property and then use that dirt to build up the downhill half.
Well the uphill dirt had been compacted underground for thousands of years. But the downhill half was only compacted by the builders at the time of construction. And apparently they weren’t able to make their half as solid as did “mother nature.” So that half settled over the years, and it was causing all sorts of problems. Cracks developed in the foundation, doors wouldn’t close. It was a mess. (Don’t worry, though. It’s fine now.) But isn’t it important to have a good, firm foundation?
The Scriptures we read today talk about foundations. In First Corinthians, Paul talks about Jesus Christ as being the foundation upon which our faith is laid. We also have this reading from Matthew which comes from the end of the Sermon on the Mount. There, Jesus tells this parable about the wise man who built his house upon the rock, and the foolish man who built his house upon the sand. (I wonder how it would have read if he talked about the “partially wise man” who built half his house upon the rock?)
There are a lot of hymns we could have used to go along with this metaphor of Foundations. We could have used one of my favorite hymns, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” That would have worked well. And, instead of our closing him, “The Church’s one Foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord,” we could have sung “How firm a foundation.” (Or, the not yet written hymn, “How Partially Firm is Half a Foundation.”)
This metaphor of the “Foundation of our Faith” is a common one in our Tradition. And it’s one I want you to think about today. As we began the new year, I asked you to “remember your baptism,” and with that the beginnings of your faith. Then last week I asked you to “consider your call.” Now I would like to ask you to think about the foundation of your faith? I believe that is just as important a question as the others.
Do you have a firm Foundation? Do you feel like your faith is solid and is built upon the rock? Or do you sometimes feel like you’re not sure? Maybe you feel like your foundation is a bit weak? Maybe you’re like my friend’s house. You feel like parts of your faith are strong, but other parts are not so strong. Perhaps you feel as though your foundation has been crumbling for a while, and you didn’t know it. And now you’re not sure what to do about it.
This metaphor is a good one, isn’t it? Because we can talk lots of different parts of our faith. We can learn new things and deeper meanings about our faith all the time, but without the foundation, it can all seem weak and tentative. Like a house, doesn’t matter how beautiful it is, or how substantially it’s built. Without a good foundation, it’s not going to stand – especially if the storms of life come and beat upon it!
I know it’s sad, but in recent years we’ve been given a lot of very graphic images of major hurricanes, floods, and Tsunamis. And it seems like there are new ones all the time, too! And in those pictures on our televisions, we’ve seen buildings of various size and various values being washed away by the forces of nature. (In High Definition!) And I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I see those videos, they make me think about this Biblical imagery of foundations. They make me think of Jesus words about the storms of life beating on these two houses – the one built on the rock and the other on the sand..
I want us to think about our foundations today. I’d like us first to think about the kinds of things that might be our “version” of a weakening of our foundation. For example, when we forget to rely on God, or should I say, when we forget to practice our reliance on God, and when we start to doubt God’s sovereignty and power and start to live as though our own power is sufficient, and we don’t need God, our foundation starts to crumble. Do you agree?
It’s a good thing that the beginning of the year also coincides with the beginning of Lent – sort of – depending on the year. This year it’s coming very early! That’s good because Lent is a good time to think about those very things. By whose power do we live this life? Can we rely on God? How have we been letting that reliance on God slip? Lent is a time for introspection, for looking at ourselves and our faith, and asking those questions. It is a time for renewing that reliance on God. It is a time for shoring up – for jacking up the foundations of our faith.
Let me suggest something else that might be akin to the crumbling of our foundation. And this is the more practical side of things. When we forget to do those things that are important to the “care and maintenance of our faith” that also causes our foundation to crumble. When we let our relationship with God grow cold, cracks may start to form in our foundation. When we forget our prayer life. When we let our Church attendance fall off. When we let disagreements and irritations with our brothers and sisters in Christ get the best of us. When we forget to forebear one another in love, when we hold back on forgiving one another. Those are times too, when it seems our foundations are crumbling.
The think to remember about our faith is that it’s not just academic. We cannot just believe. We must learn to grow in the practice and the living out of our faith. We must strive to fulfill our calling to be conformed to the likeness of Christ. We are being changed, and we are to be like Jesus. If our faith is just a matter of our beliefs, we may feel somehow that our foundation is weakening a little, and we may not know why.
Another way we need to think of “Foundations” is to think about that which is “foundational” in our faith. What are the basics of our beliefs. If you think about it, there are some parts of our faith that may be debated among believers. And this is where we sometimes have disagreements. And that’s ok. There are going to be differences in some of those things. Paul said we are to be of “one mind,” but that didn’t necessarily mean we were all to think and believe exactly the same way. But we are to forebear, to forgive, and to love! But it’s also important to try to separate out those things in our faith that are foundational, and those that are “debatable.”
Earlier in this letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes his visit to that city. By this time, he had begun to develop a reputation as being quite a good debater. And as I’ve mentioned before, the Corinthians liked that. Debate and the competition of debate had become quite the public sport in that city. And they had heard of this man, Paul. They knew he was good. And they were anxious for him to come to their city so that they could “take him on.”
Paul talked about that at several points in his letter. In chapter 1 he said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of is power.” In other words, “I’m not debating you. That’s not the point.” Then, at the beginning of Chapter 2, he said this. “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” It’s not the debate, but the message – the foundation – that was important!
Paul saw those two things as foundational tenants of the Christian faith – the Cross and Jesus Christ crucified. They were the things upon which all else were built. And you know, those are pretty good! If you’re thinking about which things are the foundational beliefs for you, that’s a good place to start – the cross and Jesus Christ crucified. We can discuss and debate many things among us. But I think there is always a need to separate out those things that are subject to debate, and those that are foundational. If we would do that, our foundations would be stronger, and we would go a long way in solving most controversies in the Church!
Paul saw one other thing as foundational. We find it later in his book, in the 13th chapter. By this time, Paul had already used a lot of ink trying to clear up some of their misunderstandings and giving them guidance with some of their debatable issues. But at that point he paused and said, “I’m wasting my time unless you understand this. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am nothing.”
Love is foundational to our faith. Paul tells us that Love, along with faith and hope, are the three abiding things in this world. And love is the greatest. And that means love that is different than the world’s understanding of love. That means love that is deeper and more powerful, love is not self-ish, but self-less. It means love which is the reason for the cross and Christ crucified. That love is the foundation of what we do as Christ’s followers. When we are striving to love as he loved, we will feel that foundation becoming firm – not crumbly.
So, how is your foundation? Do you feel like you’re building your faith on solid footings? Are you determined to keep working on your relationship with God? Are you ready to forebear one another in love, being slow to anger and quick to forgive? Are you sure of those things in your faith that are the solid bedrock? Do you know the love of God, and are you seeking to live that self-less, sacrificial, all-empowering love, the love by which God sacrificed all to bring us back to him. How is your foundation?
Eternal God, help us to build a firm foundation for our faith in you. May what we believe, and how we live, be based on the love you first gave to us in Jesus Christ. Help us to know you better, you who are our rock and our fortress, our God in whom we trust. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.