Wise or Fool? Building a House on Sand
Even the only slightly biblical literate person is capable of recollecting something about building on rock versus building on sand. Context? No idea (the culmination of the Sermon on the Mount). Citation? Uh, one of the book with Jesus? (Matthew 7:24). Purpose? Well… that’s what we are going to talk about, but first a story.
This story isn’t important in and of itself. Its one of those stories whose important lay in how its representative of so many stories. I was sitting in a room of students in the Doctor of Ministry program I was in, a joint class across two different programs with students from two different seminaries. We had just finished reading books by John McCain and Barack Obama and we were having a conversation on the intersection of faith and politics and one person said, “I just can’t agree with him because of X and because that is not what scripture says is right. And I stand on the Word of God.”
That person all but quoted Matthew 7 in that moment. I’m building my house on the Word and it’s a rock, its unyielding, its absolute, its right… and everything else is wrong. But interestingly, and you likely see where this is going now, that person was in the minority opinion in that room filled with people who all: 1) love the Church, 2) work in or alongside the Church (or spiritual care community) for a living, 3) see the Bible as unique and authoritative, and 4) have at least one degree in pursuit of a another in the use of the Bible as an expression of that shared love and for the purpose of that work to which they have been called by God.
The professor engaged that person, “But can you see how someone else might read the Word and come to a different opinion about what it means that might open the door for the candidate’s sense of what is right?” The answer was no. This colleague was standing on rock, had built their house there, and could not imagine compromising… because that would be opening them up to consequence of Matthew 7: “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” And on that day I began to realize something about myself. I have built my house on sand. It is the only faithful way for me. And I don’t think that makes me a fool. Its exactly what I think Jesus’ has called me to do. So… am I not standing on the Word of God?
Let’s jump again for a moment. In fact, lets imagine this whole post is building a house and its going to stand on four beams – we have three beams so far. The first was the Matthew’s parable of rock and sand. The second is the idea that scripture has only one meaning and we cannot deviate from it. The third beam lies in the fact that Matthew isn’t the only one who tells this story. Luke also tells the story of the Sermon on the Mount… except its on the plains, its short and to the point, and it has more woe and punch. Then it too ends in this parable. But listen to this difference in what is said:
I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”
In this account the difference is not that one builder (the wise one) found a good solid rock surface and built there while the other (foolish) built on shifting sands. The difference is the work that went into providing a foundation. “That one… dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock… the (other) one… without a foundation.” I like to think then that both builders were stuck trying to figure out how to build on sand. The foolish builder set up a house like the one of the lazy little pigs in The Three Little Pigs… any ol’ thing will do. But the wise builder knows that sands shift and life brings the unexpected your way and so they dug down into the sands to find where there was rock and sunk a foundation down into it to anchor the house. After building they both look the same from the outside. And they are both built upon sand, but the one – the one that will stand through the floods and winds that life brings our way – is the product of deep digging and discerning work upon which we really stand. And the importance to me is that what was never true here is that there was an unambiguous space of absolute sureness upon which to build. Hard, interpretive, investigative, agile work was always going to be required to find a way to both “go with the flow” and be anchored in something deep and abiding.
Fourth beam time – bringing it all together. I always imagine it would be nice to see the world in stark black and white, and to imagine that I could always be right in how I read scripture and even how I read the lay of the land in which I live. I always imagine it would be nice too if God really did all the work for us by just telling us exactly what to do, think, and believe. But I’m either deeply unwillingly, and just not wired, to actually see that as a viable way for my life… or even the way God calls me into relationship with God. One thing that is true of both Mathew and Luke’s accounts of the Jesus’ sermon is that he describes an attitude towards life rather the prescribes an exact set of actions. Be merciful. Be hungry. Take care not to be rich! Seek Peace. Mourn. Don’t be well liked! Taste like me – don’t talk like me. Forgive. Love your enemies. Work out your faith, but not in ways that call attention to your goodness. Don’t worry and don’t judge and trust. Above all… trust. (like in something that isn’t so sure….)
These are the stones upon which our house is built. No good creeds here. No declarative statements that make life black and white and no exposition of what it means to love, of if he really means that wealth is bad, or how far exactly we have to take this whole meek thing anyway….
We are standing on sand after all. Deeply anchored… but always shifting. I can be no other – and on this “rock” I will build my house.
So yes I think I stand on the Word of God… but I don’t think it looks anything like a house built on stone. I think its shifts and moves underneath me. I think I don’t always know when I’m inbounds and out of bounds or even if there is such a thing. I think I can’t always tell what parts are even God’s words and what parts are words I put in God’s mouth. But I also feel deeply anchored in these words… the good ones and the bad ones and most particularly the hard to live with ones. And I’m standing on the sandy words of God discerning these good stone foundations upon which we may tred forward with the good news, and I am grateful and needful of all the people willing to dig and discern alongside me to find those stones together.
THIS! is the Word of the Lord, thanks (I think) be to God.