How firm a foundation

Published 9:35 am Friday, June 6, 2008

Beginning with the beatitudes, Matthew’s description of the Sermon on the Mount is one of the most moving passages in the gospels. Sisters and brothers in Christ, you are the salt of the earth; the light of the world — the ones who have both the ability and the responsibility to be righteous. Love your enemies…don’t brag about it when you do the right thing…forgive the people who hurt you, because God forgives you…use your money well — where your treasure is, there your heart is, too… Your heavenly father has counted the hairs of your heads, and even though the way won’t always be easy you never need to worry about your needs in life or in death, because God’s hands hold you… Treat others the way you want them to treat you. And don’t steer clear of the narrow gate — the one other people avoid — because most people aren’t heading in the right direction. But seek God’s kingdom first, and you’ll have all that you need.

Jesus concluded the Sermon on the Mount with these words:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on a rock.

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“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, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house and it fell — and great was its fall!”

Great crowds followed Jesus to hear him preach. They listened to his words, rapt. But Jesus knew that after the sermon they’d go home. Would they take anything they had just heard with them?

We’re all better at hearing, even hearing and believing, than we are at acting. How many of us believe that “you are what you eat”? Are we a carrot stick or a chocolate chip cookie? How about exercise — how many of us believe that we should follow the Mayo Clinic guidelines and get at least 150 minutes of moderately strenuous exercise a week?

How many actually do? Here’s a more serious question: How many people here know that every time we take a breath, a child dies from hunger? How many have sent money to your church’s World Hunger Appeal, or to Loaves and Fishes, or to the Salvation Army’s Food Pantry this month?

What is our information- to-action ratio?

Jesus knew back when he preached the Sermon on the Mount that he was talking to people like you and me. People who want to be close to Jesus, but who really don’t want to have change, or to do anything that we don’t want to do. Someone hurts us and it feels good to hold onto that grudge — we don’t really want to forgive them. We see someone who is treating someone else unfairly, but that’s not our problem, is it? We don’t want to be salt and light. Besides, we can’t change their minds. We want to share that interesting piece of information we suspect might be true about our neighbor with someone else — we’d like to get their opinion on it, find out if they think it’s true ­— that’s not really gossip, is it? No, we wouldn’t like it if someone speculated about us, but come on, they’ll never know…

Does the fact that we’ve been baptized and steeped in the teachings of Jesus make any difference in our lives? The foundation of our lives is the Lord who gave his life for us on the cross. Are we building on that foundation? Do we do the right thing when the stakes seem small and no one is looking? Every day, with every word and action, we’re building the house of our lives — the house we have to live in. Jesus and his words will not be a second story addition to our homes, a spare room we visit one day a week.

He will only be the foundation for his followers.

What’s our information- to-action ratio when it comes to the words in red?

God is so good. When we look back on our lives, the times when we have lived out our faith and followed Jesus’ teachings — even when it seemed hard — have been our times of greatest blessing. When we forgave someone who hurt us, God freed us to move on with our lives. When we loved our enemy, it took away their power over us. When we gave to someone who needed help, we were so blessed. The times we have built on the rock may not have been easy, but they’re the times that we have been the most alive.

If it seems easier to compromise our faith than it does to be salt and light — Jesus reminds us that in a world where life is difficult, following his teachings is the wise thing to do. Storms will come, and anything in our lives that is not rooted in Christ will be destroyed. And speaking of roots — as we welcome the Holy Spirit into our daily lives, being a Christian really feels more like being part of a garden than it feels like building a house. We bear fruit not because we’re good people, but because we were created to bear fruit. When we’re rooted in Christ the foundation, we are recreated in the image of Christ. There is a momentum in the life of faith, for better or for worse.

When our momentum is toward the Jesus, following his teachings becomes more natural to us (even easier in a mysterious way) than not following them. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us and regenerates our lives.

Grace to you and peace, brothers and sisters in Christ.