by The Rev. Charles Henrickson
Real estate agents will tell you there are three things that determine the value of a house: 1) location; 2) location; and 3) location. That old line may be somewhat exaggerated, but the point is clear enough: Location is extremely important in determining value. Where a house is located can make a huge difference in its value.
Now if that saying about “location, location, location” is true of the physical houses we build, how much more important is it when we talk about the spiritual “house” that everyone builds for him or herself. Where you build makes a huge difference, the difference between life and death. The location that will mean life for you is the rock-solid foundation of Jesus’ words. Any other place you choose to build--all other ground is sinking sand.
Our text is from the Holy Gospel for today, Jesus’ parable of “The Wise and Foolish Builders”: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
The wise man built his house on the rock. The foolish man built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, and in the end there was only one house that was still standing, the house built on the rock.
Now notice several things in this story. Both men build a house. It’s not that one man builds and the other man doesn’t. Both build. No difference there. And there is no difference indicated in the type of structure or the outward appearance of the two houses. Both may have looked just the same, just as fine, on the outside. Nor is there any difference in the types of adversities that come against the two houses. The same rain, the same floods, and the same winds beat against both. No, the only difference mentioned is that the wise man built on rock and the foolish man built on sand. Location, location, location made all the difference.
What then does this parable mean? It is assumed from the outset that everyone is going to build a house. And it’s true. Everyone does build his house, the house of his life, upon something. The question, though, is this: What are you building it on? On rock or on sand?
Whatever you build your life on is really your god. Luther explains this in the Large Catechism, under the First Commandment: “What is it to have a god? Or, what is one’s god? Answer: To whatever we look for any good thing and for refuge in every need, that is what is meant by ‘god.’ To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in him from the heart. . . . If your faith and confidence are of the right kind, then your God is the true God. If, on the other hand, your trust is false, if it is misdirected, then you do not have the true God. . . . To whatever you give your heart and entrust your being, that, I say, is really your God.”
So everyone has a “god” of some sort. Everyone “builds a house,” to return to the imagery of our story. Whether or not it is the true God, whether you are building your house on the firm foundation—that is the question, that’s what makes the difference between standing and falling.
The houses that people build may not be all that different in their outward appearance. The life of the hypocrite and the life of the true Christian may look fairly similar in some respects. That’s the point of a hypocrite, after all--he looks like the real deal. The Pharisees’ whole aim in life was to look good before men. So they worked at it. They made a good show. Their house looked good from the outside. But appearances can be deceiving. Imagine a magnificent, multimillion-dollar house overlooking the ocean on Malibu beach. You wouldn’t know by looking at it that ultimately it’s going to be worthless. You won’t know that until the waves come and wash it away, and it crashes and crumbles like a house of cards.
Looking good on the outside is not all there is. Once I read an article about the many houses built by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Gorgeous, beautiful houses. Striking in their appearance, way ahead of their time. But what doesn’t get noticed, until you look at them more closely, is what bad shape they’re in. They looked good for a while, for a number of years even. But over the passing decades, they haven’t stood up very well. Roofs are leaking. Gaps have developed in the walls and windows, large enough for mice to run in. The Frank Lloyd Wright houses now take more money to maintain every year than they took to build in the first place. The house may look good on the outside, but will it hold up over time?
That leads us back to our parable and to the afflictions that come against the houses that the two men built. And those afflictions are no different. The same rain, floods, and winds hit both houses. They test severely the roof, foundation, and walls of each house. And it’s not a question of “if”; it’s a question of “when.” It’s only a matter of time before the storms of life hit each one of us. Everyone suffers afflictions--financial setbacks, bad health, personal tragedies of all sorts. Sometimes all it takes is one of these to expose our faulty foundation, and the person recognizes this and repents and “re-locates” to Christ, the only solid rock. But some people manage to escape most of the afflictions of this life. They think they are immune to the rain, floods, and winds, and so grow smug and self-secure. What they don’t realize is that there is one affliction no one will escape, and that is death. And after death comes the judgment. How will they be able to stand on the Day of Judgment, when they stand before almighty God? How about you? What have you been building on? What is the foundation for your house? Will it stand the test?
Now there are plenty of spiritual real estate agents in this world who will tell you where to build your house. They’re busy trying to sell you one of their building sites. But the problem is, they’re located in the sand. The sand is easy to build on, you know. It’s lower down than the rock, it’s easy to get to, and lots of other people are building there. What are some of these sand-sites? Let’s call them by name. There’s Pleasure Valley: Life is a beach; fun is the name of the game. There’s Greenback Acres: Money is the root of all happiness; more and more stuff is the goal. Another sand-site is Good Works Courts: If I think of myself as basically a good person, and I do works that look good and that people praise and that make me feel good about myself, then God must be pleased with me. And then there’s Church Estates, a deceptively sandy site, because the person living there builds near the rock, but not quite on it. He goes to church, perhaps out of some sense of duty, but he doesn’t actually build his life on Christ and the gospel.
So where are you going to build? On the sand or on the rock? What is it to build on the rock? It’s not just that you come to church and let the sound waves hit your ears. Notice what Jesus says about each of the builders. He starts out in each case by saying, “everyone who hears these words of mine” (Matthew 7:24 ESV.) Both the wise man and the foolish man hear the words of Jesus. But for the foolish man, that’s as far as it goes: In one ear and out the other. No connection to heart and life. “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them. . . .” (Matthew 7:26 ESV.) The words of Jesus do not become the foundation for that man’s life. However, the sensible thing, the wise thing, is to do something with the words of Jesus: Believe them, trust in them, build your life on them, these life-giving words of Jesus.
“These words of mine,” Jesus says. Who it is that is saying them--namely, Jesus--that’s what makes them life-giving words and the only firm foundation for your life. Listen to his words: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6 ESV.) And so we realize we have no righteousness of our own to count on, but we rely instead on Christ to give us what we need. These too are the words of Jesus: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ESV.) Jesus gives us rest from the load of the law, for he took our guilt on himself and bore our punishment by his death on the cross. These are his words also: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die; yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” John 11:25-26 ESV.) “These words of mine,” Jesus says. “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63 ESV.) The words of Jesus are words to build on. And they are words for you. Listen to his words to you today: “This is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
Once when a lot of people were turning away from Jesus and no longer walking with him, Jesus asked the Twelve if they wanted to leave also. But Peter said to him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68 ESV.) And so the question remains: To whom shall we go? Well, the answer is, we go to the same Lord Jesus. And going to Jesus always means going to his church. For it is here in the church that we hear the living voice of the gospel. Here in his church our Lord Jesus speaks to us through the preaching and the teaching and in the sacraments. The church is where you will hear these words of Jesus to build your life on.
Not too far from here, in southern Illinois, right along the Mississippi River, there is a little town by the name of Valmeyer. In 1993, when the floods hit, the town of Valmeyer was wiped out, literally. When the floodwaters receded, the citizens of Valmeyer decided they needed to do something bold. So they moved the town. That’s right, they relocated the entire town onto higher ground. By 1996 they had finished the rebuilding project, and they rededicated the town. Now it is sometimes called “New Valmeyer.”
Friends, God has relocated us from the sinking sand of our foolish, flood-prone lives, and he has moved us up onto higher ground. Now we have a firm foundation, and that foundation is Christ. The solid rock on which we stand is Christ himself. His words--“these words of mine,” Jesus says--these are words to build your life on. Building on the words of Jesus is the only safe place to build. It’s the only place that will stand the test, now and at the Last Day. When the rain falls and the floods come and the winds blow, your house--the house built on the rock--will stand. It’s all about . . . location, location, location.
The Rev. Charles Henrickson is pastor of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Bonne Terre, Missouri. Pastor Henrickson has led breakaway sessions at the HT conferences in Colorado Springs (2006) and Asheville
Created: June 4th, 2008