I had a great time a couple of weeks ago working on our Habitat House. It is really a neat project. Hundreds of people Jews, Muslims, Christians all come together to help build a home for a family that does not have one. Almost no one volunteering knows what they are doing, myself included. I had to ask for several Band-Aids within the fist hour. And yet all of us are there because we want to help, because we want to contribute in some small way to another person’ s happiness.
Frances Caldwell and I worked together one Friday a couple of weeks ago along with this great Hindu gentleman named Sid. We spent our day working on the roof nailing up shingles. When we were finished and heading home that afternoon it was a great feeling to look up and be able to say that we had laid those eight rows of shingles. That was our contribution, our mark on that new home.
When I read our gospel for this morning I couldn’ t help but wonder what kind of homes are you and I building for ourselves? Not our homes on Park, Tuckahoe, or Toddsbury but our spiritual homes the homes we literally live in, the homes of our lives, where every decision we make is another 2×4 nailed in and every act another brick put in place. If what we build in life is really our spiritual home then when life is over and done what will we have built for ourselves. In the spirit of our interfaith build what is the habitat we are erecting with our humanity?
It is an interesting and important question. Jesus says pretty clearly that is only those people who construct their lives on him who build well in the end. Anyone can appreciate what Jesus has to say, admire his many lessons, but that matters little if you are not willing to act on those teachings. Only those who struggle to put into practice what Jesus teaches are building their lives on a solid foundation. All others are on slippery ground.
What kind of ground are you building on? Does your life rest on the belief that – succeed or fail, live or die, it’ s all up to you, you make your life, you control your life, you are running the show? If so then it only takes a major illness, an unfortunate accident, one bad decision to let you know you’ ve built on quicksand. Jesus wants us to know that in order to build well our lives must be built on something larger than ourselves. In order to build well our lives must be built on God God’ s Word, God’ s will, God’ s ways. The Bible says that all human beings whither like blades of grass, we are here one day and gone the next, we come from dust and to dust we will return. We are fallible, fickle, fragile creatures who have no real foundation if that foundation does not rest on God.
Every morning I have to make myself stop and sit and remember. Like most of you, my to do list seems a mile long, my responsibilities feel overwhelming, my challenges are many. But if I don’ t remember what this day is about, if I don’ t remember who I am, then my day will be built on shifting sand. Literally, before I drink my coffee, before I take a shower, before I check my calendar and my emails I have to sit myself down and pray. I have to remember that I am God’ s creation, God’ s child, God’ s servant. I did not make my own life, I did not make this day, I am not my own savior. I have to remind myself that everything I have is gift and the best I can do is live in gratitude. I have to make myself remember that I am commanded to forgive when I would rather hate, to give when I would rather horde, to love when it is so easy to just not care. Every morning I have to make myself stand on the right foundation in order to build something with my life that is straight and true. And priest or not, believe me when I tell you there are many mornings when I miss the mark.
For some people the truth of these words pose a great threat. Many people have built on the wrong foundation but nevertheless they have worked hard to build up their lives on a grand scale. Their spiritual homes may rest on pride, ego, ambition or the search for power but they have built their lives into great mansions, enormous dwellings that have come at much expense. For these folks the idea that they must tear it all down, pull it all apart in order to re-lay their foundations is absolutely terrifying. I have known so many people who have clung to their lives at all costs, knowing deep down inside that they are building on a lie but unable or unwilling to let go of so much effort. Like a drowning man trying to float on a hunk of iron they struggle to keep their heads above water believing all the while that if they just try a little harder they can make it all work. But they can’ t, they won’ t if they are building their lives on anything but Christ as their foundation.
Let me ask you this – what is the purpose of church on Sunday morning? What is the purpose of our worship life together? Some people think the purpose of church is to make them feel better about themselves. Some people think that church should entertain them. Some people think that church ought to simply bless whatever it is they are already doing with their lives. But they are wrong. The purpose for us being here today is two-fold. First we are here to thank God for the innumerable blessings in our lives. We are here to stop look around and say thank you. Thank you that my heart is still beating, thank you that my brain is still working, thank you that I have made it through another night and thank you that I have yet another chance to live not for myself but for you dear God. The second reason we are here is to remind ourselves again and again about our real foundation, our real hope, our real purpose in life. We are here to break the spell of the world that says it is all about my needs, my desires, my happiness. We are here to sing and pray and feed all the while reminding one another that real happiness lies in aligning our lives with God’ s eternal will. We are here to learn once again that if I struggle to save my life then I am destined to lose it and only by losing my life in God’ s life will I find it once again and everything else thrown in.
But there are a couple of things we need to remember. First, Jesus does not say that people who build their lives on him will be free from troubles or storms that shake us to the core. The fact is the storms of life will hit the committed disciple just as easily as they hit those who are merely observers. Obedience to Christ is not a protection from trouble; it is a protection in trouble. A solid foundation does not prevent storms; it keeps the house standing. If anything, Jesus promises just the opposite to build our lives on him is to invite trouble, not avoid it.
Second, Jesus does not say that if we build our spiritual lives on him they will become some kind of impressive mansions. There is not greater heresy in our modern age than the belief that faithfulness leads to worldly success. Faithfulness guarantees no success at all. The only impressive thing about this house, this life built on Christ, this life of following and not just hearing is that after the storms pass and the winds die down, the house is still standing. For the Christian, the only way to survive the storms of life is to follow Christ.
In the end, there is no grand plan for being a disciple. There are no easy answers or quick fixes. Building the lives our God desires for us is a moment by moment struggle to make the right decisions and choose the right paths. Just like building a home it is one board at a time, one nail at a time, one day at a time. Amen.
The preceding two paragraphs are adapted from a piece by Leonard J. Vander Zee.