Living in What You've Built

Matthew 7:21-29

The rescue of a woman who had been
trapped for 50 hours (Dujiangyan).
Source: Wikimedia Commons
I was struck a few years back by heartbreaking photos out of China of grieving parents standing near collapsed schools in which thousands of children died in an earthquake. Examinations of those schools by engineers and other experts revealed faulty construction and cheap materials. Parents blamed official corruption and negligence for failing to ensure that the buildings were safe.

In a New York Times article, Lin Quiang, an education official in Sichuan province, related what he saw after the earthquake. He was one of the first to reach Beichuan, one of the worst hit areas, and there, he saw the destroyed Beichuan Middle School, where hundreds of children died. Yet about 1,000 yards away, Mr. Lin also saw a Hope Project school, which had been built in connection with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Donors for the Hope Project had strictly overseen construction — and, as a result, the building was largely undamaged.

“Its construction quality was ensured under the donors’ supervision,” Mr. Lin said. “But most of the collapsed schools had no such supervisory mechanism.”

He added: “If we hadn’t left loopholes for corruption, the collapsed buildings could have been as solid as the primary school.”

Wise builders. Foolish builders.

It is significant that Jesus ended the Sermon on the Mount with the parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders. Throughout the long day Jesus had been preaching to the vast multitude. They listened to him with amazement and awe. But Jesus warned them that listening was not enough. It is never enough simply to listen to the words of Jesus, even though we may listen with reverent approval. If His words are to have any genuine effect in our lives we must not only hear them but act upon them. They must be lived out everyday.

To drive the point home, Jesus told the compelling story of two builders who each built a home. On a nice day, standing inside these homes, going from room to room, one might notice little difference between them. Even from the outside one might say they were virtually indistinguishable from each other. But, said Jesus, the difference would be found in the foundations, one built upon the rock and the other upon sand.

And with no further explanation, the people understood the meaning of that parable: that our lives are like houses. If we build upon a good foundation, when the storms of life come, when we are shaken, our lives will remain intact. If, on the other hand, we build on a poor foundation, when the storms of life inevitably come, when our world is shaken, our lives will be shattered into ruins. Why? Because the foundation is worthless. We all intuitively know the need for good foundations for anything to last.

And what is the good foundation according to this story? It is those who hear and do the teachings of Jesus, those who hear and put into practice the spiritual and moral values that Jesus has been describing in chapters five through seven of the Gospel of Matthew.

We need to understand that we are all involved in building, and that the house we build is being built according to a code. Let me ask you: what code are you using to build your spiritual home?

Now, there are all kinds of building codes in the world. You ask someone in construction or architecture and they will tell you that building codes are a complex and confusing body of regulations. Building code regulations are written, rewritten and interpreted by thousands of builders, manufacturers, architects, engineers, fire marshals and inspectors. To complicate matters, there is no common language, no uniform building code in the United States that acts as a common guide. Some communities develop a unique code while others don't have a building code at all.

In the community that we call the church, we have a common language, a uniform building code and it’s called the Bible. And I would suggest that if you are going to build a home that you start in the fifth chapter of the book of Matthew and read to the end of the seventh. If you are going to build a home, Jesus said, you must build upon something solid. There are no words more solid on which to base your life than these words from the Sermon on the Mount.

The Sermon has been called the Christian Magna Carta, the Christian Manifesto, the Design for Life, and the Rules for Christian Living. It contains the Beatitudes, the Lord's Prayer, and the Golden Rule. It deals with murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, revenge, and worry. It gives instructions on prayer, giving to the poor, fasting, judging others, and saving money.

Just listen to these guidelines from the Sermon on the Mount that have echoed through the ages:

Blessed are the poor in Spirit (in contrast to the spiritually proud and self-sufficient) for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

You are the salt of the earth (preserving the good and bringing flavor to life).

You are the light of the world. Let your shine before others that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Let your "Yes" be "Yes" and your "No" be "No.”

If someone strikes you on the right cheek turn to him the other also.

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

When you give, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.

Bless our Father in heaven and pray for deliverance from the evil one.

Remember that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

You cannot serve God and Money.

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.

Do not judge or you too will be judged. For the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Do not throw your pearls before swine.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find.

Seek first the kingdom of God.

Do to others what you would have them do to you.

Enter the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction.

Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing. By their fruit you will recognize them.

Is it any wonder that when Jesus finished saying these things that Matthew says, "the crowds were amazed at his teaching?"

So, it is no coincidence that Jesus wraps up His sermon by saying there were those who were wise and they built their house upon the rock and there were those who were foolish for they built their house upon the sand. Build well.

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