Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | February 27, 2011

2011.02.27 “Working On a Building” – Matthew 7: 24 – 29

Central United Methodist Church

Pastor David L. Haley

“Working On a Building”

Matthew 7: 24 – 29

February 27, 2011

“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. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit – but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the 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.”

          When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying — quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.” – Matthew 7: 24 – 29, from The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson)

       There’s an old Gospel song unknown to most of us, although sung by everybody from Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass, to Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll. The name of the song is “Working On A Building,” and the words say this:

I’m a working on building

I’m a working on building

I’m a working on building

For my Lord, for my Lord

It’s a holy ghost building

It’s a holy ghost building

It’s a holy ghost building

For my Lord, for my Lord

        According to the final words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, we are working on a building, and that building is not the Log Cabin, nor any of our building, it is our life.

        I wish we’d had more time to spend on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew chapters 5 through 7, because it’s so foundational to Jesus’ teaching, and therefore to both Christian spirituality and ethics. Frankly, so much of what we hear about popular Christianity is cultural Christianity, highjacked by fundamentalism and right wing politics. It’s in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus sketches out a vision of what it might mean to live a truly Christian life.

        What we have heard has been radical. Who are the people God honors?  Not those we might expect. They are described in the Beatitudes: the poor, those who mourn, those who seek God, peacemakers. How are Christians to live in the world: as salt and light.  What is expected of us:  a goodness that “goes beyond” the letter of the law: embodied in a willingness to turn the other cheek, to give to all who ask, to go the extra mile, to love even the enemy, to pray even for those who persecute us. 

        Although we return to the Sermon on the Mount briefly on Ash Wednesday to hear what Jesus has to say about practicing piety, there are other important things I wish we’d had more time to explore. For example, the Lord’s Prayer, the Golden Rule (treating people the way we want to be treated), and Jesus’ caution about “not Judging:” how did we in the church miss that one? The rest of Matthew chapter 7 is filled with equally important sayings: Jesus warning about the two ways, the straight and the narrow; the two kinds of prophets, false and true; and two kinds of disciples: “talkers” and “doers.” “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who DOES the will of my father in heaven.”

        If you think the five Sundays we’ve spent on the Sermon on the Mount a lot, consider this: the late David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a Welsh preacher who served 30 years at Westminster Chapel in London, once preached 60 sermons on the Sermon On the Mount, each 50 minutes to an hour long.  But such is the nature of following a lectionary:  folks, it’s time to move on.

      To conclude his Sermon and to reinforce his point about doing and not just talking, Jesus resorts to one of his favorite teaching tools: a parable, the parable of the two builders. After all, Jesus was a carpenter, and must have known something about building. He also knew a lot about people, and knew how easy it is to hear something, even agree with it, and then go out and do nothing about it. I like the contemporary clarity Eugene Peterson gives it in The Message:

“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. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit – but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the 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.”

      It’s a simple but clear image. Each of us is working on a building, building a life, like a house. Some of us are still laying the foundation.  Some are stubbing out the rooms.  Others of us are way along, finishing up the final landscaping. Some of us have even found that every now and then we have to do some major renovation.

      Regardless of where we are in the process, it’s a life-time job. Everything we do, every word we speak, every thing we learn and every experience we have goes into the structure and becomes part of the life we build. We may think our deeds, actions and experiences are unrelated but they are uniquely fitted, nailed, cemented together in our building.

      When I was a fireman we used to do preplanning.  That is, we’d go out and tour new construction.  Some places – to save costs – would utilize newer lightweight forms of construction. The floors and the framing were more lightweight, less solid, and the ceiling rafters were held together with gusset plates, studded metal sandwiches binding joints. In a fire, they fail quickly.  We concluded that from the time we got a fire call for that house to the time we would arrive on the scene, that roof would likely be unsafe to get on. And then we would tour houses built according to traditional construction, with solid floors, solid walls, and nailed rafters. Even to walk through the buildings sounded different; they sounded SOLID. Which one would you want?  In the same way, Jesus suggests, “Don’t go cheap in building your house of life.”

      As we build, Jesus says that some of us build wisely, and some of us build foolishly, and in the end, it all comes down to the foundation.  In fact, both builders may even use the same kind of construction, but one is built on rock, the other on sand. 

      We might be tempted to say we know both kinds of people: people who build on rock and people who build on sand. We know people that wreck their bodies with alcohol or drugs, people that allow their passions to control and dominate their lives.  We know people who had rotten childhoods, bad breaks growing up, and now their lives are messed up.  We might guess those were the people Jesus was talking about, building their lives on sand, but they weren’t.

      Jesus is not even saying that living morally dutiful or civic lives is enough.  Although the failure to live in such a way is what almost brought down our society in the financial crash of 2008, and may still bring it down yet, although the failure to build a strong moral and ethical foundation early on has brought down many a life, that is not what Jesus is talking about here.  There were plenty of moral and ethical people around him, but he’s saying: ”That’s not enough.”    

      In this case, who Jesus is talking to here, are really people like us: people who hear Jesus’ words but fail to put them in action, people who fail to practice what we know. 

      And so we have to ask ourselves, “Are we the kind of people God honors, as identified in the Beatitudes, and are we honoring such people in life?”  Are we living as salt and light in the world, and how so? As difficult as it is, are we living a radical Christianity, going beyond that merely required?  Are we praying as Jesus prayed in the Lord’s Prayer, are we living non-anxious lifestyles? Are we practicing private faith, while living kingdom ethics?  Are we treating others the way we want to be treated, living in the non-judgmental way Jesus prescribed?  

      Finally, and most importantly, why does it matter?  Why does it matters whether we build on rock and not sand, why does it matters that we build upon the foundation Jesus lays? It matters because, sooner or later in life, the storm comes.  The rains pours down, the river floods, the tornado hits. Even building on the rock does not prevent the storm, it only helps us prepare for it. Jesus says, if we hear his words and do them; even when the storm comes, our life house will not fall. I don’t know about you, but “Collapsed like a House of Cards” is not an epitaph I want on my tombstone. 

        As a Pastor, I have a pretty good vantage point to observe construction underway. (Just yesterday, for example, I did a funeral AND a wedding. I tried to find somebody to baptize, so as to complete a pastoral triathlon, but didn’t succeed.)  I do baptisms, I see parents attempting to lay a foundation for their child’s life. Because as parents, if we’re fortunate or unfortunate, we’ve already had opportunity to experience the storms of life that are out there, and we want to batten up the hatches, especially for our children, that they might avoid them if at all possible.

        I do confirmation, and I get to know those children, now on their way to growing up, their bodies putting them in the game, their minds and emotions struggling to keep up. I hear how they’re doing, what their struggles are, especially their struggles with faith.  Unfortunately at this point, some of them still don’t know how bad the storms are that are awaiting.

        I do weddings, and I get to hear what couples want for their relationship, for their marriage, for their family.  Sure, some just want to get married, but some genuinely want their marriages to be built on faith, as the strong foundation for this house they are building.

        Then I do funerals, and I get to hear how it all turned out. What did they accomplish? How much did they love; how much were they loved?  What storms of life did they survive?  Did they collapse like a house of cards or prosper?  What kind of house did they build with their life? 

      Even if you’re not a pastor, you can observe it too. Just as Jesus had an eye for life as it played out around him, sometimes it is educational – not to mention entertaining – to watch the lives of celebrities played out in public, in ways that ours do not (thank God!) What they can teach us is that sometimes the storms which test us come in ways we may not even think, coming sometimes in our successes, which may be even more devastating than our failures.

      There’s been more than one Hollywood family struggling lately; Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan come to mind – but did you hear about the interview in GQ magazine with Billy Ray Cyrus, the father of Miley Cyrus, aka Hanna Montana?  (If you don’t know who she is, ask your children or grandchildren.)

Destiny Hope Cyrus, they named her when she was born, says Billy Ray, “because I feel like it’s her destiny to bring hope to the world.” Fortunately for Destiny Hope, the name didn’t stick. Because she was an unusually cheerful baby, her parents instead began to refer to her as “Smiley,” a name that, over time, lost its initial letter.

Just before moving out to Los Angeles to begin the whole Hannah Montana thing, the whole family was baptized together by their pastor at the People’s Church in Franklin, Tennessee. “It was Tish’s idea,” Billy Ray remembers. “She said, ‘We’re going to be under attack, and we have to be strong in our faith and we’re all going to be baptized.'”

Lately though, that hasn’t worked out too well. These days Billy Ray’s life is imitating a bad country song, and he’s got an achy breaky heart of his own.  He’s headed for a messy divorce, his record company just delayed his latest comeback, and his cherished 18-year-old daughter seems destined to rip bong hits at every party in the U.S.A. So much so that they’re even being parodied on Saturday Night Live, never a good thing.

When asked, “Do you wish Hannah Montana had never happened?” Billy Ray said:

 

“I hate to say it, but yes, I do. Yeah. I’d take it back in a second. For my family to be here and just be everybody okay, safe and sound and happy and normal, would have been fantastic. Heck, yeah. I’d erase it all in a second if I could.” (Chris Heath, “Mr. Hannah Montana’s Achy Broken Heart: No Wonder He’s Muttering About The End Times,” GQ Magazine, March 2011)

        How about us? How we doing building the house that is us? 

I’m a working on building

It’s a holy ghost building

For my Lord, for my Lord.

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