June 12, 2022 – Graduation Sunday
Scripture: Matthew 7:24-29
Any history buffs here today? If so, here’s a little test of your architectural knowledge of historical buildings. This is a picture of a cathedral somewhere in Europe. That’s all the information I’ll give you at this point. Anyone know the name of this cathedral? How about if I include this part of the photo?
Now does anyone know the name of the cathedral, which is named after the city in which it’s located? It’s the Pisa Cathedral, located in Pisa, Italy. It’s famous for its bell tower, which we all know as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Here’s another view of the cathedral with the tower clearly visibly leaning.
So, how did the tower come to lean to one side? It wasn’t designed be this way. It was designed to be a perfectly vertical eight story (185 feet) tower. About four years into construction, somewhere around the second or third story, one side of the tower began to sink into the ground. At that point, they stopped their work to try to figure out a solution. For political reasons, that stoppage lasted almost 100 years! By the time construction began again, they’d determined that there was nothing they could do to straighten it out. What was their solution to the awkward lean? They tried to mask it visually by building the upper floors with one side taller than the other
So, what was the cause of the sinking? Was it a poor workmanship? An inferior grade of materials? Neither of those were the problem. The real problem lay beneath the tower. It turns out it had an extremely unstable foundation. The portion of the foundation they built was too thin for a structure of this magnitude. But more significantly, the soil itself was too soft to support the weight of the tower. From the very get-go, the problems with the bell tower stemmed from the type of foundation upon which it was built. It was built upon a poor foundation.
You graduates have spent the past twelve to sixteen/seventeen or so years building an important foundation for your lives. Unless you win a ton of money on a game show or the lottery, your financial livelihood will probably be built upon your academic foundation. By and large, the kinds of jobs that will be available to you will be built upon that academic foundation.
I was a junior in college when I received my call to pastoral ministry. At that time, I was so excited about my call that I was ready to immediately change my course of study and go straight to seminary. When I told my pastor about my call, I was surprised to learn that in The United Methodist Church, a Master of Divinity degree is required for ordination. In other words, if my desired vocation was to be an ordained pastor in The United Methodist Church, academically, I had to earn both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Because in our faith tradition, seminary is graduate school. So, in my case, that was the academic foundation necessary to live into my desired vocation.
Now, school’s important, but it’s not the only foundation our lives are built upon. Your life will be about way more than the manner in which you make your living. Or the size of a house you live in. Or the kind of grownup toys you play with. Or where you go for vacation. There’s an aspect of life which I believe is actually far more important than all those things, and it has everything to do with how well things are going *in here* (hand over heart). I’m talking about your soul—and everything in life which reflects your spiritual wellbeing.
When I say that the spiritual aspect of life is more important than everything else, I realize this flies in the face of how most of us view it. I think many of us, including lots of Christians, tend to view the soulish aspect of ourselves as peripheral to what’s real. That is, to what we perceive to be real: those things we can see, and touch, and hear; as well as those things which we can ‘feel’ emotionally, such as love, anger, joy, and even sexual desire. From the perspective of our material world, these tend to be what guides the choices we make in life. And I totally get that; when I’m hungry, I’m driven to eat. And if my physical life is threated by a very real possibility of starvation, it’s quite likely that I’m going to do things that I might not normally do in order to feed myself or those I love.
But even with that in mind, Jesus once asked, “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mark 8:36) His point is pretty clear. There’s nothing in this world that’s worth having at your fingertips if it comes at the expense of your soul. In the end, an abrogated soul will leave a person feeling empty and without meaning and purpose no matter how full the bank account, how big the house, how beautiful the family, how influential the position, or how vast the knowledge. But on the flip side, this world is full of people who have very little money, a small or meagre place to live, are not beautiful by the world’s standards, have no influence and power, have very little formal education, but because they’re actively walking with Jesus, they’re full of joy. They feel full and blessed.
You want to know what I think makes the difference between the two? I think it comes down to the foundation upon which a person builds their life For you, the foundation you choose to build the rest of your life upon will make a huge difference in your experience of this life as well as your eternal life.
The short passage of Scripture Deborah read for us earlier comes at the end of Matthew chapter 7, and it begins with Jesus saying, “Everybody who hears these words of mine….” The obvious question is what are the words he spoke which they would have just heard? So, we have to look back in the chapter and identify what he’d been talking about. A quick reading chapter 7 reveals that he was teaching them. The topics he touched on included the importance of refraining from judging one another; the golden rule (treating others the way you want to be treated); that God will always respond to our calling on him; that the “gate” which leads to destruction is wide and, conversely, that the “gate” which lead to life is narrow; that the true heart of a person is revealed by the kind of “fruit” they produce in life; and, finally, a teaching about who will be in and who will be out on Judgment Day. In short, they’re teachings about how God expects us to live in this world when it comes to our relationship to other people, our relationship to God, and in relationship to ourselves.
And then in v. 24 he brings it all together by saying, “Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise builder who built a house on a rock.” On the other hand, he adds, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and doesn’t put them into practice will be like a fool who built a house on sand” (v. 26).
Let’s take a quick look at two statements laid side by side. First, note what they have in common. In both situations, the persons in question hear Jesus’ words. They both listen to him and hear what he has to say. Where they contrast is in their response to the teaching. Some, after hearing the teaching, will put what he says into practice….while the rest of them don’t put them into practice. The folks who comprise this second group hear Jesus just as clearly as those in the first group, but instead decide to not order their lives according to what Jesus is here teaching.
Now, the fact is, this is a choice we all have. We can choose to listen and obey, or to listen and not obey. No one, including God himself, is forcing us to respond one way or another. It’s our choice. But it’s important that we be clear about the consequence of the choices we make. Jesus says that choosing to apply the teachings we find in Scripture to our day-to-day lives is like building a house on a rock solid foundation. Whereas choosing to disregard the teachings of Jesus in the Bible, thereby living according to your own standards and the world’s standards – what naturally seems best to most of us – is akin to building your home of sand. Or the bell tower of the Pisa Cathedral on soft soil.
The consequences of these two choices are polar opposites. Choosing to build your life on a foundation of rock results in your house remaining steadfast and in place through all the storms of life. On the other hand, choosing to build your life upon the foundation which like sand—life according to your own wisdom and that of the world—is in reality foolishness, and ultimately results the house falling on account of the storms. Again, notice what both situations have in common. People living on either foundation experience same storms of life. Upon both the rains fall, the floods come, and the winds blow. The storms of life are common to us all, but our ultimate experience of them will depend upon the foundation we choose to construct our lives on.
In the end, there is only one solid and sure foundation in this life and in the life to come. And that foundation is Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 3:11 Paul tells us that “no one can lay any other foundation besides the one that is already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” What we build on top of that is up to us; the house itself is the whole of each of our lives. But what you build it upon will determine what happens when the storms come along. And they will! Not only does being a Christian not mean that we won’t be exposed to the challenging elements of life, but Jesus even tells us that because we follow him, we can expect certain challenges to come our way. Jesus is the sure foundation for strong spiritual well-being.
So, here are a few things that are not foundational to our spiritual well-being. They’re important, but they’re not foundational.
One is going to church. Yes, a life of worship is important, and it’s a mark of discipleship. But simply coming to worship, even on a weekly basis, isn’t the foundation for spiritual well-being.
A second is giving your money or your time and energy to the church. Again, those are important things to do, and they can certainly be markers of spiritual vitality, but in and of themselves don’t qualify us for the Kingdom of God. If you’re relying on your connections to and support of the church to give you a sense of purpose or importance, then at some point you’re bound to become disenchanted and fall away. What do I mean by that? Well, I can’t tell you the number of people who’ve fallen away from their faith because they were disappointed with what they found in the church. The fact is, we’re broken people trying to serve other broken people. We’re anything but perfect. And if you have the expectation that the church itself will somehow provide you with what you need to weather the storms of life, you may at some point walk away discouraged because it doesn’t live up to your expectations.
Being in relationship with Jesus is first and foremost. Reading and studying God’s Word, whether alone or as part of a group, is important to help foster that relationship. And then, connecting with a church, serving others, giving of yourself—these can be expressions of your spiritual vitality just as long as it’s grounded in a relationship with Jesus Christ wherein we’re learning to live in obedience to him.
Finally, whatever the world can offer you, as tempting as it may be to make getting it a high priority in life, especially in your stage of life, in the end it’s a sandy, unsupportive foundation.
Let me close with a word of good news and hope. The nice thing about the foundation called Jesus is we don’t have to build it. It’s already there. He’s already there. And not only do we not have to build this foundation, but if it ever gets to the place where your life is “sinking” in one way or another, and you come to the realization that you’ve actually been building your life on the sand and not the rock, switching your home over to the rock foundation is only a prayer of repentance away. This world is full of people who changed the course of their lives after realizing they were on a sinking ship. God will never turn you away if you ever get to that point. Jesus said, “There’s more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives” (Luke 15.7). It’s never too late to change over to the foundation of rock. But let me encourage you to be proactive in this matter, and to choose TODAY the foundation of rock for your life, who is Jesus Christ. Let’s pray…