The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany (A)
February 19, 2017
Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 3:11–15
Peace be unto you from the One who is God incarnate, our Savior, Christ Jesus. Amen.
Dearly Beloved of the Lord,
On March 15, 1986, at 11:24 a.m. all was well at the Hotel New World in Singapore. It was just another day with hotel guests and visitors coming and going and the staff doing their respective jobs. Less than one minute later, this six-story building was nothing but a pile of rubble, flattened, trapping 50 people. Seventeen were rescued, thirty-three died.
Needless to say, there was a lot of initial speculation as to what caused this disaster and one by one, possible reasons for the same were eliminated until one remained. It wasn’t an earthquake, bomb, gas explosion, etc.
As it turns out, the building collapsed because of a faulty foundation. You see, the structural engineer miscalculated the weight that would be upon the same. He calculated the building’s “live load” (that is, the weight of the building’s potential inhabitants, furniture, fixtures, etc.) but completely omitted the building’s “dead load” (the weight of the building itself).
It was a deadly error, one that you may be surprised to know the vast majority of people in this world make every day… regarding their foundation not of some physical structure, but rather spiritual in nature. We are talking about the spiritual foundation which they have built for themselves and on which they now stand, live, work, play and carry on life precariously… totally oblivious to the danger and the imminent and sure disaster that will come.
Regardless of what that foundation consists of… is made up of… apart from the foundation of Jesus Christ… theirs will collapse and what was built upon it will be reduced to rubble. It will all come crashing down… if not in life, certainly at the end of life… at the moment of death… the moment of truth.
Interestingly enough, the same holds true for many Christian men and women, many Christian marriages, many Christian households and many Christian congregations. Oh, not about their foundation. If it is Christ, they have no better one. Rather, it is what Christians choose to build on this foundation. What you and I build… what we become… what we do with our lives, in our lives.
Looking to our Epistle lesson, we see that St. Paul is not addressing unbelievers here, but rather believers… first the members of the Christian Church in Corinth specifically, and then all members of Christ’s Church down throughout time who would read this divinely inspired message.
Simply put, he is talking to us, the Lord our God is speaking to us, through His servant Paul to take heed… take care… to take stock of what we do, where we go from having the solid foundation of Jesus Christ instilled and established in us in Holy Baptism.
The truth is, just as a building can have a solid foundation, but a shoddy structure built upon it, so can we. We read:
“No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)
Needless to say, there are building materials and then there are building materials. Ones that will last… others that will not… certainly not on the “Day” as Paul refers to the Last Day… Judgement Day… and the testing by divine fire that will take place.
If we look at the building materials that are mentioned in our text, we see that only one stands up to fire. Wood, hay and straw will certainly not. Those of you who have been to our Reformation bonfire down through the years know that we use to get bales of hay to sit on and at the end of the night or whenever we got bored, we would through a bale into the fire and watch as it was instantaneously consumed.
Such materials are but kindling. And then as for gold or silver, both have their melting points. Which leaves us with the far greater fire resistance of precious stones.
In the Book of Proverbs, we hear that the godly woman is more “precious than rubies.” (Proverbs 3:15)
In the Book of Isaiah, notice how the Lord God Almighty speaks to His chosen people about what shall be theirs as well as their children’s:
“My kindness shall not depart from you, Nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,” Says the LORD, who has mercy on you. “O you afflicted one, Tossed with tempest, and not comforted, Behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems, And lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of rubies, Your gates of crystal, And all your walls of precious stones. All your children shall be taught by the LORD, And great shall be the peace of your children.” (Isaiah 54:10-13 NKJ)
The application of all of this to you and me, my friends… in our lives right now and every minute, hour and day moving forward from here is really quite simple.
In Holy Baptism, the Lord your God has graciously established the very best foundation for you… on which you now stand. It is Jesus Christ… the Rock on which you now stand… the Rock that cannot be moved or shaken… that which is permanent, eternal and sure.
But what have you and I built upon it? What have we done with our life, in our life and how eternal, sure and certain is it? Will it not only stand the test of time in the here and now, but the test of fire and what will be for all eternity?
We read in God’s Word: “Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:13-15)
So you have the Christian man and woman who yes, confesses Christ and are part of His Body, the Holy Christian Church… but in their lives they do not make good and godly decisions… or go in good and godly directions… or surround themselves and involve themselves in that which is good and godly.
In other words, what they have built upon their sure foundation in Christ Jesus is made up of things like wood and hay and straw. They will… God’s Word says… “suffer loss” … suffer needlessly, go through varying degrees and amounts of pain, anguish and grief that didn’t have to be. Though, because of their faith (and only by faith as is the case with all of us) they are still saved.
And this compared to the Christian man and woman who confesses Christ… are part of His Body, the Holy Christian Church… and in their lives, by and large… with the help of the Holy Spirit… do make good and godly decisions… do go in good and godly directions… do surround themselves and involve themselves with that which is good and godly.
In other words, what they have built upon their sure foundation in Christ Jesus is by far and wide made up of precious stones. For them… whatever loss happens (because none of us is perfect)… it will be so minor and inconsequential… that which really adds up to no loss at all.
We know, dear brothers and sisters, the key factors which bring about this latter scenario. We know the only means by which we can make good and godly decisions, go in good and godly directions, surround ourselves in all aspects of our life with that which is good and godly. It is all by the grace of God… all, as we said, by the mighty working of His holy Spirit… all by us being constantly and continuously in His Word and applying the same to all aspects of our lives… to all that we do and say… how we think… how we view things, act and react.
The truth is, apart from Christ… apart from His Word and His Body, the Church… we cannot begin to gather and build with precious stones, lasting stones.
So… the question that all of us need to ask of ourselves and ask of others who we care about is … watcha buildin? And what have you already built? It is worth, for all of us, close examination and consideration… serious scrutiny.
What we will all see… living in this oh-so weak flesh of ours…is that there are things upon the foundation we have in Christ that need to be removed and replaced… things in our daily lives that should be dismantled and discarded… done away with. Things, for which, yes, we need to repent… to ask our Lord for forgiveness for what we have sadly put upon, placed upon the divine foundation He has established in us.
And the Good News is… there is forgiveness, full and complete. The Good News is that in Christ we can start anew… start fresh… have a new beginning with a clean and pristine foundation upon which to build our lives from this moment forward. It is not too late, never to late.
How patient, loving and forgiving is God toward us… and this in Jesus Christ, through Christ and Him crucified. Wow… a clean slate… a clean foundation for us all… which begs the question – “Whatcha gonna build?” Amen.
May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.
2/19/17 The Rev. Mark H. Hein
St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL