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!-Matthew 7:24-27
George Burns, comic from a few years back, put it this way: The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible. As a preacher, I take his point. And I have often had that point made to me as I stand at the door and greet congregants at the end of the service.
As we come to the end of the Sermon on the Mount, we note a good beginning (the Beatitudes) and a good ending (today’s passage about foundations). But contrary to what Mr. Burns has to say, there was plenty of good stuff in between. Life changing, history shaping material. At its conclusion, the Sermon on the Mount winds up with a challenge to think about our lives. On what are we building those lives? How would you describe the foundation on which you are building your life?
A priest I admire often tells his congregation that suffering is the promise that life always keeps. Maybe that’s a slightly more dire variation of the saying that into each life some rain must fall. The premise of Jesus’ counsel is that the rain and floods and wind will inevitably happen. That’s not in question. The question is how we will be sustained in those moments.
Are we founded on rock or sand? What would a foundation on rock look like? What does a foundation of sand represent? The great hymn, Christ is Made the Sure Foundation, speaks of a life that finds its stability, its strength in Christ. St. Paul spoke about the importance of being rooted and grounded in love. That stands in contrast to a life built on a foundation that can’t handle the storm and ultimately proves itself insufficient to meet the crisis. We don’t have to look far to find lives built on ever-shifting ground, offering perilous illusion of permanence and stability.
Take some time this week to re-read the whole Sermon on the Mount in one sitting. It’s three chapters (Matthew 5-7). The sermon starts strong, by saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” which has been translated “Blessed are those who know their need of God.” In the guidance that unfolds before the conclusion is reached, there are all kinds of ways to find a solid foundation. Despite what George Burns had to say, focus on the riches of those verses. Which of those ways speak out to you?
Years ago, when our family was going through a crisis, my mother sat us four kids down and made us begin to memorize the text of the hymn printed above. I thought it was kind of a dumb idea. But she was smarter than I am. Needless to say that was a few years ago. But over the years, the words of that hymn have sustained me, in everything from drizzling rain to torrential downpour to hurricane-force winds. May you find grace to discover a firm foundation, one upon which you can build a life, for this life and the next.