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Matthew 7:21-28

Built to Last
Sermon preached November 1, 2015
Opening
After a long, dry sermon, the minister announced that he wished to meet with the church
board following the close of the service. The first man to arrive and greet the minister was
a total stranger. You misunderstood my announcement. This is a meeting of the board
members, explained the minister. I know, said the man, but if there is anyone here
more bored than I am, then I'd like to meet him.
Into the Scripture
At the end of a very long sermon that Jesus gave, no one at all was bored. No, instead
they were astonished by it. And by him.
Our passage comes at the end of the sermon on the mount. The largest single body of
Jesus teaching. Previously, Jesus had preached in local synagogues and put forth his
mission statement, saying in him Gods kingdom was breaking into the world. In him,
God was coming to heal and save us and this sin-blighted world. In him, the hopes and
dreams of all the years were coming to life.
And now, in the sermon on the mount, Jesus describes in detail what life in Gods new
world is supposed to look like.
Its a world that will be turned upside down - you see that in the Beatitudes - no
longer are the blessed of the world the rich and powerful, those who use violence
to get their way - no, now with Gods rule, the poor and mourning, they are
blessed; the ones who have a fire in their bellies for justice and fairness, they are
blessed; those who solve conflicts not by crushing your enemy with force, but
with peace, they are blessed.
And its a world where an awful lot is expected of those who would follow Jesus
and work to bring this new world. Forgive your enemies, pray for people who are
trying to harm you; share your stuff without question.
And its a world where God rules over our lives and we can relax - we can pray to
a God who has the heart of a father, Jesus tells us - we dont have to worry, we
can trust God to care for us, we can talk to God in prayer, in confidence that he
hears and answers us.
Now that, is a very long, and very audacious sermon. And the Lord sets a very high
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standard, a very demanding standard, for how we live with him as Lord.
My goodness - many of us pastors would never dream of preaching something this
audacious, this demanding. Many pastors are scared to death to mention money in
a sermon. Many pastors are scared to death to address church conflict in a
sermon. Many pastors are scared to death to address a political issue in a sermon.
We dont want to offend anyone. We dont want people to be mad at us. And we
surely dont want people to hear us and decide theyre not coming back to church.
Like some years ago I preached at a church during a pulpit exchange and it
was a pretty mild, an isnt it swell we can come together as one church
and do these nice pulpit exchanges, maybe we should do more stuff like
this kind of sermon - and after the benediction went to the back to greet
people and the first guy who came up to me said, Nice sermon. Too bad
nobody can do it. And he stomped off. Geez....
But nobody minded that the sermon on the mount was long. Or what it demanded.
How did they react? Matthew tells us that people were astonished at Jesus long,
audacious sermon. And he uses a Greek word that is stronger than astonished - jawdroppingly amazed is more like it. And why - not just the content, but because he spoke
with authority. The religious leaders and teachers of the day - they would quote other
scholars, other sources, to make their arguments. Moses said...the great rabbis said.
Jesus said, I say to you...
Authority. I am reminded of the story of the time a man a man went to see a doctor
about a headache. A large, authoritative-looking nurse was behind the receptionists
desk. Id like to see the doctor, said the man. I have a headache. The nurse said
sharply, Go into that room, close the door, and take off your clothes. But maam... he
protested. Go into that room, close the door, and take off your clothes! she said again.
Well, what did the man do? He went into the room, closed the door, and took off his
clothes. Suddenly he realized there was another man in the room with him. He also had
his clothes off. He said to the other man, I cant believe Im standing here like this and
all Ive got is a headache. To which the other man complained, You think youve got
problems! I just came in to read the meter!
Authority. Jesus had it, and not because he was large and threatening. Not, it was
because he was the Word of God in the flesh, speaking Gods words to us. And then,
Jesus had the audacity to conclude the sermon with what we read - Anyone who hears
these words of mine... MY words. Not like me, preaching from and pointing to the
Word of God in the scriptures. No, Jesus says, MY words.
And if you put MY words into practice, he says, you will build your life on a
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foundation that nothing can ever shake, you will build your life on a foundation
that will last forever.
But...if you hear my words and dont put them into practice, youre like a person
who builds a house on pile of sand and then a flood comes and knocks it down
and washes it away.
What the Lord is doing here, is pushing people to make a decision - are they just going to
listen to what he says and walk away, or are these words to live by? Or like Kyle Edelman
puts it in his great book Not a Fan, are you going to move from a fan to a follower of
Jesus?
The question for us
Fans of Jesus think he said some pretty cool things, and it stops there. Followers of Jesus,
build their whole lives on Jesus Christ. Followers of Jesus in congregations, build their
churches on him and his words. Jesus words, become words to live by.
And so, a question for us - on what foundation have we built this church?
Lets start with us
In a literal sense, you can go down into the basement of the sanctuary and you can stand
on the foundation of the church - its cement over rocks and dirt, probably some debris
left over from the Franklin Hotel that stood on this spot before it burned in 1864. But in
the metaphorical sense - what is this church built on? What is this church really about?
Some churches are about being a club for the successful and powerful
establishment of the community. And being a member of that church and being
admitted to the inner circle, like getting elected to a board, is a clear sign that you
are somebody, in that community.
Some churches are built on a foundation of what you could call a ruling family.
Where members of that family remind people that their great-great-great
whatevers founded the church way back when. And where that ruling family
controls what goes on in that church. And nobody dares threaten it.
Some churches are built on a foundation of keeping the peace. Maybe because of
a previous painful conflict, nobody wants to go through that again, so any idea,
any person, who threatens the peace with a daring idea, with challenging the status
quo, is quickly squelched.
Some churches are built on the foundation of their history. They were founded
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centuries ago, and the purpose of that church is to celebrate that long-ago history,
keep alive cherished traditions no matter if they are useful to God or not, and
anything that threatens those traditions, is quickly shut down.
How does this happen -the church of Jesus Christ, being built on a false foundation?
Why does this happen? Kyle Edelman puts it like this, The biggest threat to the church
today is fans who call themselves Christians but arent actually interested in following
Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that
it requires anything from them.
Jesus has a very clear warning about building a life or a church on any foundation other
than him and his words. When the storm comes, when times get tough, and when at the
end of time the Lord judges whether we belong to him or not - if were not built on him,
we will crash and fall.
Koininia Farm example
Bottom line, a church that is not built on the person and words of Jesus Christ, is not a
Christian church at all.
In the 1960's Clarence Jordan founded Koininia Farm near Americus, Georgia as a
Christian community that built friendships across the lines of race, class, gender and age.
Not surprisingly, the farm was controversial and constantly in trouble. On one occasion,
Clarence approached his brother Robert, who would later become a Georgia state senator,
to be the lawyer for the Koininia farm.
Robert said, Clarence, I cant do that. You know my political aspirations. If I
represented you, I might lose my job, my house, everything Ive got.
We might lose everything too, Bob
Its different for you.
Why is it different? I remember, it seems to me, that you and I joined the church the
same Sunday, as boys. I expect that the preacher asked me the same questions as he
asked you. He asked me, Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior? And I said
yes. What did you say?
I follow Jesus, Clarence, up to a point.
I dont believe youre a disciple. Youre an admirer of Jesus, not a disciple of his. I think
yo ought to go back to the church you belong to, and tell them youre an admirer, not a
disciple.
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Well now, if everyone who felt like I do did that, we wouldnt have a church, would we?
The question, Clarence said, is, do you have a church (at all)?
Im going to be blunt and I dont want to hurt anyones feelings or make anyone mad, but
that is all through the American church and present here at Central as well. Following
Jesus - up to a point.
One symptom of the disease is how so many people seem to think they can do this
Christian thing by coming to church, by participating in Christs mission to the
world, when its convenient. And Ive noticed for a lot of people that church,
worship, Christs mission is the last thing on the priority list and the first thing to
go if something else comes along. If thats you, I suggest you are building your
life on sand and it wont support you when the storms of life come, as they will.
But churches that follow Jesus Christ, are about doing his will, first and foremost. About
obeying him, even if the cost seems high, even if the way seems long and hard
One cool thing that is emerging among us is a desire to know the Bible - to know these
words of Jesus. Kind of basic - that you have to know the words of Jesus, the teachings of
Jesus, to put them into practice as he counsels us to do - but we must do more and better,
and we shall.
But then we move from knowing to doing
In September I was invited to preach at the installation of service of my friend Tony
Lorenz at First Presbyterian in Carlisle. I worked up a sermon for the installation service
based on Jesus parable of the Good Samaritan. Pretty good sermon. But it was just
words. And words without putting them into practice - they are worse than worthless,
they condemn us. And God is so good that he reminded me of this the night of the
installation service. Susan and I drive up to Carlisle and find a parking spot out back of
the church and Im getting out of the car, grabbing my pulpit robe and my sermon on the
parable of the Good Samaritan, and right as I stand up and close the car door a man walks
up to me and says hes hungry and asks me for money so he can buy dinner. I have in my
hand a sermon from the parable of the Good Samaritan - what am I going to do, say no?
But the doing is where the fun and challenge starts
If were a church that is built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, we have a wide-open,
blow-your-hair-back adventure in our future. Because putting Jesus words into practice
isnt following some kind of harsh, narrow, restrictive rule-book - its the beginning of
following him out into the world. And amazing stuff happens.
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Heres one story of that happening, from a woman named Rachelle Starr:
As a girl raised in a Christian home, I had never been in a strip club in my life.
But I felt this calling from God to reach out to women in the sex industry...going
to a strip club isnt exactly typical for a church-raised girl. But...I knew God was
calling me to action. He wanted more out of me than just having feelings of
compassion...He wanted me to do something...
In 2008, I started Scarlet Hope, a ministry that reaches out to women...in the sex
industry. We take big, (comfort-food) style dinners to strip clubs...In some clubs
we fixe hair and make-up so we can get some one-on-one time with the girls. It
gives us the opportunity to pray with women in the middle of a strip club. How
often does that happen?
Through this ministry Ive seen hearts changed and lives touched as many of these
ladies have turned to Christ for forgiveness and a new beginning...my heart and
relationship with Jesus have also been drastically changed. I have seen Jesus
show up many times in the back of a strip club dressing room. Many dancers have
opened up to us, sharing their struggles, asking for prayers and some have even
accepted our invitations to church.
...I never thought Id end up...doing such radical work for God, but thats the kind
of (Christian) God was calling me to become.
You build your life, you build the life of your church on the words and person of Jesus,
get ready for the most exhilarating ride of your life.
Closing
A few years back, a test was conducted at the Institute for Business and Home Safety in
Richburg, South Carolina. Researchers constructed two 1,300-square-foot houses inside a
$40 million laboratory and then observed how a simulated hurricane would impact the
homes.
The first home was built according to conventional standards. The second home included
reinforcement straps that connected every level of the building, from the foundation all
the way to the roof. Then the researchers turned on giant fans, creating gusts of wind up
to 110 miles per hour (equal to a category 3 hurricane). In the first two experiments,
which lasted under ten minutes, both homes survived the intense winds. But when they
tried a third experiment, turning on the fans for more than ten minutes, the conventional
home began to shake and then collapsed. In contrast, the home with the floors and roof
reinforced to the foundation sustained only cosmetic damage.

Tim Reingold, an engineer working on the experiment, summarized the results with a
pointed question: "The bottom line you have to ask yourself is, which house would you
rather be living in?"
Good question. What kind of life do you want to build? What kind of church, do we
want to be? It all depends on having the right foundation. Amen.