Matthew 7: 21-29, Pentecost 2, Building on sand or rock

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Did you ever make sand castles when you were a child? I had a sandbox, a plastic bucket, shovel, some cookie cutters, and with a little water, I could make the sand castles of my childhood dreams. Making sand castles in my sand box was part of my early childhood, and may have been part of your early childhood as well.

Time went by, and I out grew the sandbox. Then we went to the lake shore, with a plastic bucket, shovel, some cookie cutters and a lot of water and a lot of sand. Hundreds of yards of sand, on the shores of Spirit Lake in northern Iowa. And you too, in all probability, visited the sandy shores of some lake of your childhood memories and made your sand castles.

When I think of sand castles at their best, I think of the sand castle events down at Alki Beach in West Seattle. Sand castle building enthusiasts are given a plot of sand, about thirty feet by thirty feet, and with their team of ten people, they create exotic sand castles and sand dragons and sand animals. There are teams of professional sand sculptors who travel the sand beaches of the west coast, weekend after weekend during the summer months, and they create exotic, incredible artistry in the sand. And we the public, walk through this myriad of sand sculptures, all glorious in their detail, a wonderland of sand fantasies, and we marvel as we walk from one creation to another.

Before you know it, within six hours, the tide comes in and wipes it all away. Hardly a trace of the artistic beauty remains; and with a few tides coming and going, there is not a single trace of the sand castles and sand dragons.

This whole process becomes a metaphor about life.

Joy comes in the building of the sand castles; that no matter what we build in life, it will collapse with time. Time destroys everything. Joy comes not from leaving anything permanent, but joy comes from the brief moments of building and the pleasure of creativity during the time given to each of us on this earth. The pleasure is in the momentary building of the sand castles; not that they last, and this truth becomes a metaphor about life. Sand castles. There is a truth about the pleasure of building sand castles that don’t last very long.

Stone castles. But there is also a pleasure in building stone castles that last, not merely for six hours, but for centuries and even for thousands of years. When I think of stone castles, I think of England with all their lovely stone castles that have stood for hundreds of years. The architectural design and plans and foundation go back one thousand years. And the pleasure was not in creating something beautiful which lasted six hours until the next tide, but the pleasure was in creating something beautiful that was going to last for centuries.

If things are going to last for a thousand years, they must be built out of rock; wood doesn’t do the trick. Outside the Tower of London is a foundation from a Roman wall, two thousand years old, and it too, was made out of rock. The walls of Jerusalem and the walls of King Solomon, made out of rock, three thousand years old. If it is going to last for centuries, it must be made of rock.

And this whole process becomes a metaphor about life. Building stone castles gives great joy to living, knowing that you are part of the process of building a castle, a nation, a church that will last for centuries, for eons, for long periods of time. And there is a joy that comes from being part of something which is much larger and longer that yourself and your immediate pleasures; that the bricks you lay in the cathedral may last for centuries. What you do can be a small part of a grand design. It’s a way of seeing life and the way you live your life. Stone castles.

It is with these images that we approach the Gospel story for today. Jesus is at the close of the Sermon on the Mount, at the very end of Matthew five, six and seven, where he has just finished his many teachings about the beatitudes, prayer, forgiveness, not judging others; where he has laid out his spiritual guidelines for the Christian life. At the very end of these teachings, he tells a parable, and this concluding parable reflects Jesus’ occupation of being a carpenter and builder of houses.

Jesus said: “The person who hears these words and teachings of mine and does them, puts them into practice, is like a wise man who builds his house upon the rock. And so when the rains fall and flood come and winds blow and beat against that house, it will not fall. Why? Because its foundation is on the rock.

On the other hand, the person who hears these words and teachings of mine and does not do them is like the foolish man who builds his house upon the sand. And so when the rains fall and floods come and winds blow and beat on that house, it will fall. Why? Because its foundation is on the sand.”

And with no explanation, the people understood the meaning to that parable. Our lives are like houses, like the walls and windows of a house. If we build our life upon a good foundation, when the storms of life come, our life will remain intact. If, on the other hand, we build our life on a poor foundation, when the storms of life inevitably come, our life will be shattered into ruins. Why? Because the foundation is worthless. We all intuitively know the need for good foundations for anything to last.
Edited and used with permission. 

To read more of Rev. Edward Markquart’s sermon