Scripture: Matthew 7:24-28
A lot of the stories that Jesus told were parables. This means they were by design, fictional stories that were told to communicate a greater point. This morning’s scripture is an absolute great example of a parable. For the first century listener this parable really helped communicate that taking Jesus’ teaching seriously was the smart and sensible thing to do. This parable communicates that putting Jesus’ words into practice was the wise thing to do and ignoring his words would be foolish. After all they all knew that building a house on something as fickle as sand next to flooding water is a terrible idea. Who would ever do such a thing? The answer is we would, Americans would, as this video illustrates:
To spoil the end of the show the couple does buy that house for $349,900, which is unfortunate because just like Jesus predicted in his parable the statistical odds of that house surviving are very low. That house is located on Dauphin Island, which a publication by the Yale School of Forestry called the Unluckiest Island in America. In the past twenty years, the island has been hit by dozens of tropical storms and hurricanes. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, 450 out of the 500 beachfront homes on Dauphin Island were destroyed or severely damaged. Even a glancing blow by a weakened hurricane Nate in 2017 caused damage to dozens of homes. Each time this happens, a familiar process occurs. The home owners file a flood insurance claim and seek government help. The constant rebuilding of Dauphin Island is actually a point of sore controversy as over the years millions and millions of dollars have been poured into rebuilding homes that are literally built on the sand. These builders and homeowners must not be terribly familiar with the Bible, because in this morning’s scripture Jesus told them exactly what would happen too houses built on the sand. Due to beach erosion, many of these houses are numbered and in fact several plots that were beachfront property 40 years ago are now under water. Even if these are beautiful homes right on the beach, with amazing views, we have to admit that building there is foolish and rebuilding time and time again is doubly foolish.
Living far away from the beach, it is easy for us to shake our heads in disbelief and disgust at the waste, especially of taxpayer dollars, to rebuild doomed houses. Even though it may be foolish, the houses are rebuilt because the home owners want a beachfront house in a quiet, non-commercialized area. This, ultimately selfish desire, leads to foolish action of rebuilding time and time again. Jesus told this parable to illustrate that a wise faith puts his words into practice and a foolish faith ignores Jesus’ words. Many people have at various points built their faith on a foundation of sand, and just like the homeowners of Dauphin Island many people have rebuilt that faith of the very same foundation.
A faith built on a foundation of sand is one that does not full commit to putting into practice the words of Jesus. There are numerous ways that people do this, and any number of attitudes that could fit the metaphor of building on a foundation of sand, but I want to highlight two of the more common ways that I have seen people’s faith built on a foundation of sand.
The reason why houses keep getting rebuilt at places like Dauphin Island is because of federal subsided flood insurance. A reliance on insurance is why people built houses on sand, and it is also the reason why people built their faith on a foundation of sand. Unfortunately, there are people who treat faith as little more than eternal fire insurance. This attitude towards faith is less about following Jesus, less about being transformed by the love of God, and everything about making a deal to stay out of hell. This type of faith sees faith as a transaction, akin to making payments for a heavenly timeshare. People who take this attitude towards faith do the bare minimum as far as participation goes, and treat that bare minimum as little more than paying their premiums. They claim the Christian faith, but do not really live it out. Faith is treated as an accessory to everyday living, as opposed to being the reason for everyday living. When we treat following Jesus as little more than fire insurance then we are not putting his words into practice, because honestly the people who take this approach do not really know what Jesus said in the first place.
The second big way people build a faith on a foundation of sand, is they do not use a fully secure foundation. Jesus said that “who hear these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Notice Jesus did not say, just some of my words. This is the second way that some people do not build their faith on a secure foundation. They pick and choose which words of Jesus to put into practice. When we take all of Jesus’ words in perspective, we have to wrestle with the fact that Jesus said to do some pretty hard things. Jesus said we are to love our enemies. He said that we need to forgive other people the way God forgives us. And he said that he is the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through him. When we treat the words of Jesus like some sort of spiritual buffet, then we are not truly building our faith and anchoring our hearts to the solid rock of Christ. When someone picks and chooses to only follow the teachings of Jesus they are comfortable with, then truly they are like a person who builds a house on the sand.
The problem with a faith that does not have a firm foundation, a faith that is built on the sand is that it will not stand up to the storms of life. When someone’s faith is not built into the bedrock of grace and knowing Jesus then when the unexpected happens, the tragic happens, or life comes a little too fast then a flimsy faith does not hold. In the storms of life a weak faith is not a strong tower to seek refuge, it is a sunken wreck on the beach. When this happens, we can have a come to Jesus moment. We can realize that we have been foolish and build our faith nothing less than Jesus Christ and his righteousness. Unfortunately far too often that is not happens. Instead people either abandon the faith all together or like the people of Dauphin Island they rebuild. They go back to the same shallow faith, because it is at a comfort level they like and they do not see a reason to change.
It is my sincere hope that all of us here today do not fall into that camp. It is my hope that our faith is built on the foundation of an assurance of what God did for us through his son Jesus. It is my hope that our desire is to be able to say “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” This leads to the question how do we ensure we do that? How do we make sure our faith is like the house built on the rock and not the house built on the sand? I think the key is in what Jesus states in this morning’s scripture. Jesus states we need to “put into practice” his words. It is not just enough to know them, but we have to live them.
This reminds me of something I observed once. For a little while my son took taekwondo lessons. The classes he went to were for children. One of the aspects I found most interesting is that kids of all belt levels trained together. Little four year olds with new white belts and high school aged black belts all did the same opening exercises together. Moreover, every class always began with the same opening routine. This routine emphasized the most fundamental positions and movements of taekwondo. Putting a skill into practice requires going back to the fundamentals again and again. This is true for other physical activities as well. Even at the highest levels of professional play, baseball players still start practice by throwing a ball back and forth. Basketball players still shoot free throws. The same is true of our faith. To have a faith built on a solid foundation we need to always be practicing the fundamentals.
Two examples of these fundamentals are the commandments that Jesus said were the greatest. Jesus said the greatest commandments are to love God with all of our being and love our neighbors. Putting these two commands into practice is a great step to take to putting the words of Jesus into practice in our lives. I can think of three specific, concrete ways we can practice these commandments and in doing so ensure our faith is built on a firm foundation.
The way that we can practice loving God, is through the practice of worship. When we gather together to corporately worship God we both express and reinforce our love for God. There is a lot of stuff we could do with an hour on Sunday mornings, so faithfully gathering to proclaim God’s goodness, to give thanks for God’s faithfulness, and learn God’s scriptures is a notable act of devotion. I greatly appreciate every Sunday, we are reminded why we are here. We are here to worship God. When we gather together for worship, we are expressing that God is worth our time and our energy, we are taking steps to ensure that our faith is not just something we do when it is convenient. Worshipping God is meant to be something we actively participate in, when we the songs and say the prayers that proclaim God’s goodness, majesty, and glory, then we are going a long way to putting into practice the words of Jesus.
The way that we can practice loving our neighbors is by serving them. When we serve others we show that our faith is practiced on more than just an hour on Sunday morning. If taking time to worship express our love of God, then serving others is taking time to express our love for them. One of the key aspects of Jesus’ ministry, especially in the gospel of Matthew, is that he has compassion for people. When we have compassion and seek to meet their needs without judgement, then we are putting into practice the words of Jesus. When we serve others we put our belief in mercy, love, and compassion into action. Serving others should be a fundamental practice of our Christian faith. It is one of the ways we lay sure foundation. One of the reasons that I am most thankful to be at this church, is because compared to churches of a comparable size there are so many opportunities to serve those in need. Between Kid’s Closet, the food pantry, and the free meal there are a lot of ways we have that we can love our neighbors.
Finally a way that we can practice both loving God and loving our neighbors is through giving. When we give of our resources to support the ministry of the church then we are both putting into practice our love of God and our love others. United Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton writes about how our giving practices a love for God in his book Enough. Hamilton wrote, “That’s how God looks at your offerings. They are not financial transactions or business deals. Your offerings are a way of saying, ‘God I am returning to you a portion of what I have and what I have earned to say thank you and I love you. I hope you will use this somehow to make a difference in the world.’ “
Our giving puts into practice our love for others because those funds and resources do help make a difference in the world. They create a firm foundation upon which the life giving ministry of the church is done on. It is an investment in the kingdom of God.
Worship, service, and giving are just some of the fundamental practices in our faith. Like the fundamentals in taekwondo, we should continue to practice these basics no matter how mature in the faith we are. By faithfully supporting the church, the body of Christ, with our presence, our gifts, and our service we laying down for ourselves a firm foundation. We are creating a faith that is important to us, and a faith that we are invested in. May we be willing to honestly evaluate the foundations of our faith. If in doing so, we find that we have built our faith on the sand, then may we relocated to higher ground. May we strive to put into practice the words of Jesus so that we are like a wise person who builds on a rock. May we build a firm foundation for our faith so that we can proclaim “On Christ the solid rocks I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”