AoP/FTE Preaching Camp Sermon #3: Foundations
For the first time ever, I have obtained a video of my preaching! And I think this sermon really encapsulates my growth at preaching camp. (Don’t worry. If you don’t want to watch the video, I’ve included the text below). Enjoy!
Text: “‘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!’” (Matt. 7:24-27, NRSV)
Ancient people knew much about foundations, and many of them built their own houses. But we live in the modern era of specialization, and many of us couldn’t build a house if our lives depended on it. Today I want us to take a journey into the first century and, for a moment, experience the power of what Jesus is communicating.
Imagine with me that you are a Roman living in the late 1st Century CE. Imagine that your father is an officer freshly returned from serving the Empire abroad. He is given high rank and a house in Rome. You’ve never been to Rome, but you’re excited. And as you enter the city from the south, you are confronted by the massive Flavian Amphitheatre, what history will eventually call the Colosseum.
The outer wall extends nearly 165 feet into the air, looming over downtown Rome and blocking your view of the splendor. Glittering white marble clings to Roman brick over a circumference of nearly 2000 feet, and half as many gods glare down from niches on the wall. 50000 people stream in through 76 entrances, and the smells of death and glory linger in your nostrils.
But eventually, your father offends the emperor. Don’t worry, he’s easily offended. He ships your family off to a provincial backwater: Judea. Worse, he sends you to the Galilee, to the city of Sepphoris, one of the few that refused to participate in the recent rebellion.
At Sepphoris, you encounter another marvel of Roman engineering. There, rising from among the squat little Jewish houses is a glittering jewel of the empire: a civil basilica like those in the Forum. Even in this backwater, you find fluted columns and fine statuary and the most sumptuous mosaic carpets you’ve ever seen. And despite the fact that you can’t understand a word of the garbled language most of the people are speaking all around you, you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that life can’t be all bad in a city that still cares about its public spaces.
And then you flash back to reality, wherein only one of these two magnificent structures survives. Why is that? Why can you still go to the Coliseum and walk not only its substructures, but even its highest levels while the basilica lies ruined? I can answer that question in one word: foundations.
See, the Romans in Sepphoris cheated. Instead of building solid foundations, they dug hurried trenches and used a soft chalk stone to level the rough bedrock. The walls that were built on those foundations quickly crumbled when a massive earthquake hit the Galilee in the 4th century CE. And great was its fall!
The Colisseum, by contrast, has survived earthquakes, fires, invading Goths, world wars, even usage as a quarry for the building of new structures in Rome. For nearly 2000 years it has dominated the Roman skyline and captured our imaginations. It all depends upon the foundation that you lay.
Too many times we are like the builders at Sepphoris. In our desire to raise something beautiful and magnificent, we hurry the foundation, replacing the best materials with something just good enough. There’s nothing inherently wrong with chalk, but it is not a foundational material. And just as often, we build our foundations on good things while missing out on the best.
An example: Consider our previous pulpit. I think we all complained about how small and insubstantial it was, and yet most of us clung to it for safety, all the while knowing that we could be even more firm if we would just step back and plant our feet on the ground.
Some of you here today may feel like that. You may know that you are founded on chalk and desire to have a stronger foundation. Some of you maybe resonate with the fool. You labored and labored, but the rains came, and the house fell. And some of you may have thought you were being wise, but when the rains came, your house fell, too. Some of you may feel abandoned, alone, alienated. Some of you may feel like you have no desire to rebuild.
For those of us who feel more like the foolish man than the wise man, I have good news. I just happen to know a carpenter who deals in foundations. I just happen to know a carpenter who was probably there at Sepphoris and warned the builders that building on anything besides firm and unshakeable bedrock was foolish. I just happen to know a carpenter who was himself rejected by human builders, but he’s a carpenter who became the chief cornerstone. I just happen to know a carpenter who never said that foundations couldn’t be rebuilt, a carpenter who offered his own body as the foundation of our new relationship. Yes, I just happen to know a carpenter who takes special joy in tenderly collecting the pieces of a broken house and using them to rebuild something beautiful upon the strong, immoveable, unshakeable foundation. In fact, I just happen to know that those rebuilding projects are his favorites.
So take heart! Let the rains come and let the wind blow. Let them buffet and batter the house of your soul and know that if your foundation is in Christ Jesus, you will not be destroyed by the storm. And even if your foundation is shaky, and your house blows all to pieces, take heart. Because when a house blows all to pieces, all that’s left is the bedrock. And there’s no better place for Jesus to begin rebuilding.