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Edward F. Markquart

Sand Castles and Stone Castles

Pentecost 2A     Matthew 7:21-29

Sand castles.  Like most of you, I grew up making sand castles.  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, and now we were there on a lake shore, with a plastic bucket, shovel, some cookie cutters and alot of water and alot 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.

And time again went by, and we visited the sandy shores of the Pacific Ocean, driving up the Oregon coast line and seeing miles upon miles of sandy beaches, and through the years, with bucket and shovel and cookie cutters, we again made sand castle after sand castle.  And that is true of many of you here today.  You have spent time at the ocean beaches, with their endless miles of sand, and you have spent time building sand castles.

When I think of sand castles at their best, I think of the sand castle building events down at Alki Beach in West Seattle, where 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, like in a wonderland of sand fantasies, and we marvel as we walk from one creation to another.

And before you know it, within six hours, the tide comes in and wipes it all away, so 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.

And 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, so 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 donít 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.  This past spring, my wife and I were able to worship in London in Westminster Abbey, this great cathedral with its stain glass and stone walls reaching hundreds of feet above us.  And as our eyes stretched up hundreds of feet above us to experience the beauty of the interplay between stone vaults and glass windows, we knew that we were part of exquisite artistry that took centuries to build. 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.  And then we visited the London Tower, with its thousand year old foundation built of rock.  If  things are going to last for a thousand years, they must be built out of rock;  wood doesnít do the trick.  And outside the Tower of London was the foundation from a Roman wall, and the Roman wall was two thousand years old, and it, too, was made out of rock.  And my memory flew to the walls of Jerusalem and the walls of King Solomon, made out of rock, and it is 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.  That 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.  Itís a way of seeing life and the way you live your life.  Stone castles.  I saw many of them in England. 

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 Jesusí occupation of being a carpenter and builder of houses.  Jesus said:  ďThe 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.Ē 

And with no explanation, the people understood the meaning to that parable.  That 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.

And what is the good foundation according to this story?  It is those who hear and do the teachings of Jesus, those who hear and put into practice the spiritual and moral values that Jesus has been describing in chapters five through seven of the Gospel of Matthew.

Let me illustrate.  Letís suppose you have been having some medical problems and go to the doctor and he or she diagnoses your illness as cancer and suggests that you need a combination of chemotherapy and radiation and that your kind of cancer is often responsive to this medical combination, that you may in all likelihood prolong your life by taking chemo and radiation.  Your oncologist is one of the most respected in Seattle.  But what if you hear your respected oncologist but donít do what he or she tells you?  Or do only part of what you are told to do?  The chemo but not the radiation? The radiation but not the chemo?   Is that smart?  Is that wise?  We listen to the cancer specialist and we do all that he or she suggests that we do. 

Or, letís say that you are having lower back problems and you visit a physical therapist who has had much success in treating similar back problems.  Letís say that your physical therapist gives you a series of six exercises that will take twenty minutes every day.  The therapist suggests that if you put these exercises into daily practice, your back will be much improved.  But what if you hear these instructions but donít do them?  That you hear these instructions, but only do half of them, half of the time?  Is that wise?  No, it is rather foolish if you want help with your lower back pain. The key is putting the advice into practice. 

Or, letís say ;that you are going to build a house on the steep hillsides of West Seattle where the land moves often with heavy rains.  You visit a soils engineer/architect who has successfully built many homes on the steep-banked high hills of West Seattle, and this engineer and architect tells you the many things that have to be done in order for your house to remain standing there in West Seattle.  But what if you hear these instructions and you do only half of them, or a portion of them;  if you implement some of the designs  but not the whole?  Is that wise?  No, not if you want your house to stand on the dangerous hillsides of West Seattle.

And likewise with Jesus, the master builder and master carpenter.  In Matthew five, six and seven, he has been teaching about life in his kingdom, about a blessed life that is ruled by prayer and kindness and forgiveness.  He has been giving us an architectural design for life, a way of living, a way of loving, a way of worshipping God.  And he concludes his teachings with a parable that says:  A person who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who builds his house upon the rock.  The wisdom is in the doing; in the follow through. The wisdom is in the putting these teachings into practice, in order that the storms of life donít destroy us. 

And it is not a legalism that Jesus encourages us to follow this new law of love with all its various subtle parts and applications, just like it is not a legalism for a oncologist to want you to follow the whole plan, just like a physical therapist wants you to do all the exercises, like a architect wants you to implement the whole design.  There is a wisdom to doing all that is suggested.  There is a strength that comes from doing the whole plan.

Nor is this is a call to an unrealistic perfectionism, that somehow we can miraculously and completely follow Jesusí law of love.  No, Jesus is not calling us to superhuman perfectionism whereby we repeatedly condemn ourselves for not following his loving design for our lives.  But rather, there is a spiritual wisdom, a maturity, that helps us grow in putting his teachings into practice in our lives.   

It is foolish to cheat on the foundation.  No matter what you are building in life, you donít want to cheat on the foundation.  Cheat on the adiaphora, cheat on the trivial, cheat on the non-essential, but donít cheat on the foundation.

Let me illustrate.  Three parables.  I was talking to Clyde Hume the other day, a successful builder and contractor who belongs to our church.  He told me that to build a house, you donít lay a slab of concrete on the ground and build a house on it.  How foolish.  Here in the Seattle area, the footings for a house need to be twelve inches deep.  Why twelve inches?  Because the depth of frost here in our area ranges from six to eight inches and you donít want the frost to slip down under the foundation because that freeze could break the foundation. Foundations must be twelve inches deep and twelve inches wide on which to build your house. Go ahead and cheat on the windows, the wallpaper, the paint if you have to save dollars; but donít you ever cheat on the foundation.  You canít see the foundation after the house is built; you will be able see the wall paper and windows and impress people with them, but what is most important is what you canít see and impress people with, the foundation of a home.  If you want a home to last fifty years, you never cheat on the foundation.

Second parable.  You never cheat on the foundation of a highway if you want it to last for fifty years.  Letís say that you are building a highway similar to I-5.  You donít simply poor deep layers of concrete and expect it to last.  How foolish.  Instead you prepare a foundation.  Level grading.  Then a membrane of smaller gravel.  Then another thick layer of larger rocks.  Then reinforced steel on top of the larger rocks.  And then you pour the thick layer of concrete.  If you donít have a good foundation for that highway, it will buckle and twist over time.  If you are short of money and have to cheat, cheat on the road signs or something cosmetic.  But if you want your freeway to last fifty years, you never cheat on the foundation.

Third parable.  Letís say you want to build a skyscraper that is fifty stories high, you never cheat on the foundation.  That foundation needs to sink deeply into the ground to hold that building up.  O yes, people will be impressed with the beauty of the architecture and the high vaulted atrium and that it is one of the tallest buildings in the city;  but that which they canít see is most important.  The foundation.  The foundation will determine whether or not that building withstands the storms for fifty years.  You can cheat on the atrium and decorative arches but never cheat on the foundation. 

And likewise, you never cheat on the foundation of your marriage.  If you want your marriage to last fifty years, whether or not it is the first, second or third marriage;  if you want this marriage to last, you do not cheat on the foundation.  Where you put into practice loving the way Jesus wants you to love each other, where you put into practice forgiving each other as Jesus teaches, where you put into practice being servants of one another the way Jesus was to everyone.  Where you put his values and spirit into the realities of your daily lives, when nobody is watching. 

Marriage couples can be as phony as two dollar bills with their love.  A married couple can be fighting like cats and dogs, friends show up and we are so nice and kind to each other, and as soon as those friends leave, we can be back to an icy cold relationship. We married couples can be so phony about our love.  Out in public, we can give the appearances of a healthy, loving relationship.  But the foundation, that which is invisible to the public eye, the way we actually treat and care for each other behind closed doors, that is what is important.  You can not have a great marriage without a solid foundation, and that foundation is doing and being the love of Christ to each other.

And your children need a good foundation also.  And donít cheat on the foundation for your children and family.  If you want your children to be able to stand up to the hurricanes and storms of life, they need that good foundation inside their souls. 

 Let me illustrate.  My old sermons are like a diary for me; they keep track of personal anecdotes.  For example, in my sermon twenty four years ago on this text, during that service on June 1, 1975, I baptized Karyn Miles who is here at this worship service today.  I said the following words to her parents twenty four years ago:  ďJerry and Eileen, God has been so good to you in giving you your child, not a little girl but a twelve pound girl.  She came out half grown, half football player, a very large baby.  Jerry and Eileen, donít cheat on the foundation that you give your little child.  If you are short of time, cheat on other things.  Cheat on your recreation.  Cheat on your golf game.  Cheat on your work.  Cheat on the amount of TV you watch.  But donít cheat your child. Donít cheat your little Karyn out of the foundation that she needs.  A home of security and love and peace and prayer and quality time together.  Please, donít cheat on the foundation of her life.Ē  It pleases me to see Karyn here today, a fine young Christian woman, one of our loyal youth advisors for the kids.

The world today, twenty four years later? We are even more short of time than we were a quarter of a century ago, and when you are short of time, you are going to cheat on something.  Something, somewhere, is going to give.  But donít cheat your child on that which the world canít see, behind closed doors, hidden from public view....the quality of prayer and  love and forgiveness and kindness and commitment that Jesus spoke of.  Put these into practice in your home.  Never cheat on a foundation of a childís life.

And our culture and nation need a strong foundation based on the moral law of God and love of Jesus Christ.  Like stone cathedrals in England, so also nations and cultures;  if a nation or culture is to last, it must be build on  a strong foundation of rock, something that will last through the ages.  It is not only individuals and couples and families that need strong foundations;  so do nations and cultures.

Let me illustrate.  That Sunday morning this spring when my wife and I had the privilege of worshipping in Westminster Abbey, that stone cathedral was so impressive, that itís beauty had stood for centuries.  But what was inside that cathedral was equally impressive.  Inside the cathedral was like a monument to British history, with poetís corner where all the great English poets are buried.  But there were also larger-than-life

statues of British heroes e.g. Wilberforce.  I had really like Wilberforce in history, him being one of the first abolitionists, who fought for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire.  And the statue of Wilberforce was terrific, with his long narrow face and impish smile and curly locks of hair; and the quotation underneath the statue was wonderful.  The words said, to the effect:  Along with the moral giants of that time in history, Wilberforce fixed the character of his era.  And I grabbed the words,  ďfixed the characterĒ of his era.  Wilberforce, along with his colleagues, created a world in which there was moral law and moral virtue and moral character throughout public life; not a perfect world by any means, but there was a moral foundation that under girded the British Empire.  And I am convinced that one of the reasons that the British Empire lasted so long is because it was built on rock, on the moral values of God.  Only rock can endure for centuries, exposed to the storms of wind and rain; wood cannot.  There was a reason that the British Empire lasted so long.

Rock.  Good foundations.  We come to the end of Matthew five, six and seven where Jesus teaches about the spiritual and moral values of his kingdom, and he concludes these teaches with the wise words of a carpenter:  ďThose who hear these words of mine and do them, put them into practice, are like a wise man who built his house upon the rock.  And when the storms of life came, the wind, the rain, the floods, when the storms of life came... Jesus did not say ďifĒ the storms of life come;  not ďifĒ but when the storms of life come, your house will be able to stand, if it is built on a good foundation.

Stone castles and sand castles.  There is a pleasure to both, but one far outlasts the other.  Amen.

 Childrenís sermon that day:  The childrenís bell choir performed.  The bell choir director then used a bell as the childrenís sermon.  Everybody enjoyed the sound of the bell and the beautiful shape of the bell; but nobody could see what held the bell together.  The director they took a screwdriver and unscrewed a long, hidden screw.  She showed the children all the parts of the bell e.g. the bell, clapper, handle, washers, etc., but what held all the parts together was this one long screw that no one could see when the bell was one piece.  So children, what is invisible that holds all the pieces of our life together?  Yes, Jesus Christ.  It is similar to a foundation underneath a building that no one can see.  It is under ground, invisible to eye, but the building couldnít stand without it.

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