The Rev. Dr. Fred G. Garry
“To Find the Rock”
Scripture Reference: Matthew 7: 24-28
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 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, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!’
Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching.
For many years I owned an Isuzu Trooper. Loved the car and so did our mechanic and his wife. Each year Steve and Karen would thank me for contributing to their kid’s college fund. Usually the annual repair was around $500.
This repair had two phases. Phase one was when I dropped off the car and waited for Steve and Karen to call with the estimate. For me this was like an annual trip to Vegas: I was betting on the Trooper. Phase Two was after the estimate. Kathy and I would argue about purchasing a car that didn’t require an annual contribution to someone’s children. The year of the new transmission was a close one, but the Trooper was a trooper.
Be it a car or a doctor’s visit or a meeting with an accountant, there is the moment where you are waiting for the hit, the cost, estimate. Many of us have said, “what are we talking about Doc? Most people have had the moment where you gulp at the cost of what it will take to fix something.
Not too long ago I had one of those moments right out here in the doorway to the basement of the sanctuary. If you have walked around this part of the sanctuary you know the floor is “wonky.” Floors are not supposed to be “wonky.” There was an engineer in our basement under this floor estimating and designing a repair. The thing is I’m OK with most assessments. There is a reasonable range for just about any type of renovation. There is except when you are talking about foundations. Foundations can be miniscule like “repointing” or they can be catastrophic as in “ruined.”
The engineer took his time and did a thorough job. Finally he emerged and said, “you’re going to be alright; this is not a moment of disaster.” Well, he didn’t say that exactly. He spoke of joists and mortise and tenons and weight bearing and brackets. But in the midst of his engineering talk there was the great news: the wonky floor will be fine with a modest repair.
I wanted to say to the engineer, “the Trooper rides again,” but I thought that would confound the kind man. The foundation is fine echoed in my head as I walked through the cemetery. That was a good day.
Today we come to the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount and the teaching, the last in a series of more than forty, the teaching today is odd if you think about it as a place to finish. We are ending with the image of a foundation. One could argue that a foundation is where you are supposed to start. A foundation should not be a last thought.
The end as beginning could be a way of reading Matthew here. That is to say, now you can build your life. All of these teachings, the beatitudes, the antitheticals, the disciplines, the riddles, and now the imperatives are the stuff you can use to build a life. It could be that; take these teachings and with them build the kingdom of God. Not bad.
I prefer to think of his last teaching though as a true moment of finality. This is not a moment to say, every end is a beginning. Rather, I see this as the moment where Jesus has finally reached the end of us. It is as if Jesus has been excavating our soul. With each teaching he was removing a layer, or strata, to reach bedrock, the foundation of life.
Whether beginning or end, this teaching— build your house on the rock and not the sand— is very simple and straightforward. Anyone who has built something large or with multiple stories knows you need a firm foundation to carry the weight, to keep the house from sinking or worse. What is not straightforward, what is unclear is this: what is our foundation? What is our rock?
Isn’t Jesus our rock and our redeemer?
While “Jesus” is usually the correct answer to most questions of faith in the Christian Church, Jesus is never the answer in the Sermon on the Mount. This might strike you as odd, but the Sermon on the Mount has nothing really to do with Jesus. These are teachings of him not the teachings about him. More to the point, the Sermon on the Mount is about our life, our freedom, our possibility. The only time Jesus spoke directly about himself was the teaching last week where he said, if you talk about me in terms of power you don’t know me. The only other moment of self-reference was in his prayer. He tells us to begin, “Our Father.”
So, I’ll ask it again, what is the rock, the foundation of our life?
Having followed Jesus for a while, the best answer I have found is this: what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful is our foundation, our rock. With these we build our life. This is not very theological. Paul might suggest the rock is the blood of Jesus or the cross of Jesus or the resurrection of Jesus, this is the foundation he told the church at Corinth that God has made for us. Jesus is our foundation. But blood and crosses and empty tombs, while true and good, are not what Jesus teaches the crowd. No one is bid to wait upon the resurrection to build a life of freedom. Jesus simply calls us to build.
This is the Sunday before Thanksgiving. This is the time each year when I call upon Abraham Lincoln, ask him for guidance and perspective so to give thanks.
Our passage today, this final teaching, the lesson of sand and stone is fitting for him. From 1860 till his death in 1865, Lincoln lived through the storm, the flood, the treacherous wind of war and hatred. We were very lucky, fortunate to have him in that moment. For his life was honest, true; his character was good; and his heart sought what is beautiful. This was rendered obvious. The foundations of his life were revealed; his life was laid bare, excavated at it were.
Usually when I seek Lincoln, I am not sure what I will find or hear. He has never disappointed, but always surprised me. This year though I knew before I turned a furtive glance; I knew what he was going to say. I even imagined him just staring at me, waiting for me to say it. It is his great call to courage. Endeavor to persevere; endeavor to persevere.
Most scholars of Lincoln offer the source of this perseverance, his courage, as arising from many hardships, and many setbacks. Lincoln knew failure and loss before half the nation rejected him. The list is well known, but today it might be good to remember.
1818 his family was forced from their home and his mother died;
1831 his business failed;
1832 he ran for the state senate and lost, lost his job; was denied entry into law school;
1833 he went bankrupt and carried this debt for the next 17 years;
1834 he ran for the state senate and won;
1835 he was engaged to be wed and his fiancé died;
1836 he suffered a nervous breakdown and spent six months in bed;
1838 sought to become the speaker of the state senate and lost;
1840 ran for the position of elector, lost;
1843 ran for congress, lost.
1849 he applied for the job of land officer and was rejected;
1854 he ran for the U.S. Senate and lost.;
1856 he was nominated but not chosen as the vice presential candidate;
1858 he ran for the U.S. Senate again and lost;
1860 he was elected the president of the United States.
When the winds and rain and floods of life come, we must endeavor to persevere. These challenges will reveal our foundation. With what have we built our life? Do we know the truth and speak it; do we know what is good and offer it; do we find beauty in others and love them? These are the materials to build the foundation of a life of courage. This is the rock.
The sand, well, the sand is the opposite. Lies, untruth, falsity: houses have been built on these; hatred, anger, vengeance: how often lives have been constructed on such bitter sand. What is ugly and ignoble and degrading: we know these as well. We know the ruin that comes from these. We see houses built on such sand.
Each year at this time I look to Abraham Lincoln and each year at this time I make an appeal to you, I beg you to consider faith as the foundation and not fear. The stewardship campaign we hold each year is the moment where we build the budget and review the programs and take stock of the congregation. But, for me, what this time is truly meant to accomplish is to begin or continue down a path of faith where fear is more and more left behind.
The true goal of generosity of spirit is freedom, a freedom that offers courage. Jesus speaks quite often of money and possessions. He does so for one reason. We must recognize the surety we find in them is a house built on sand. This was made clear to me when we made our first step toward tithing. What I thought was about money and security was really fear. Could I find security in truth, in goodness, in beauty? This caused great fear. What will happen when the storms come and flood and the wind? What will happen to me?
What happened was my eyes were opened to what is real ruin. We ruin our lives with fear and falsity. And the opposite, our lives find freedom in courage and faith.
As this is the last teaching on the Sermon on the Mount, I want end with a summation of what Matthew gathered together. And the summation is fitting for today, this time, this place in which we find ourselves. The summation is this: freedom is possible. This is the good news Jesus preached. The kingdom of God is at hand for me and for you here and now. Lesson after lesson, section after section of the sermon all comes down to this: you and I can find and live what is true and good and beautiful and in this living there is freedom. And from this freedom we will draw courage. We will find the strength so to endeavor to persevere.
The winds will blow, the floods will rage, and the storms will come upon us. Weeping may tarry through night; but we know the truth: joy will come with the morning.
We are living in a time shaped of too much anger, too much fear. We have seen the fruit of falsity and deception; we know the root of greed and avarice. But we are not these. We know what is good and true and beautiful and we can live them. Jesus didn’t call his disciples to wait for God to build this life, to make justice or to bring truth. Jesus told his disciples to seek it, to venture out without fear, to find the heart and know its desire. We are to put down anger and vengeance. Not someday, not when God makes it so. Today.
Remember the rock of our soul: what is good, true, and beautiful. Let us build a life of freedom granting courage for the facing of these stormy days. Amen.
- Proverbs 8:22 - 32
- Matthew 7:24 - 28