Three years ago, my in-laws celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They decided to have a special mass for family and friends, to mark the occasion, and they asked me to pick the readings and preach. And I selected this gospel reading that we just heard, about building a house on rock.
It is a beautiful statement about what it takes for a commitment to last — whether it’s a commitment to another person, to a cause, or to a faith.
This gospel passage asks us to literally consider what we use as the basis for living, the foundation. Look under the surface, it tells us. Go deep. Consider what lies beneath. And make sure the foundation is strong.
Because there will be storms.
Every marriage has them. Every life has them. But Christ offers us a way to endure the wind and the rain, and stay firm in the face of the sleet and the snow.
Over the last several weeks, we’ve been hearing every Sunday excerpts from the Sermon on the Mount. We were reintroduced to the Beatitudes – all the things that can make us “blessed.” We were challenged once again by the bold idea to “love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.” And just last week, we were reminded to not worry about what tomorrow will bring, but to “seek first the kingdom of God.”
Then, in today’s reading, Christ sums it all up.
“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”
It’s all there.
But what goes unmentioned here is how difficult it is. It isn’t easy to build on rock. It’s so much easier to build on sand.
When I was 12, my parents moved to a new house on a couple of acres, in Maryland. We had horses, and we needed to fence in part of the land. Some of it was done by hand: there were these shovels, like clamshells, that we used to dig into the ground for the fence posts. And one of the guys who was digging the holes asked me to give it a try.
Well, as you can probably tell, from looking at me now, I’m exactly the kind of person you want to do heavy manual labor.
I tried it a couple times, and they almost had to carry me out on a stretcher.
My arms ached for the rest of the week.
To put in a fence, and do it right, you have to dig deep into the earth, about three feet, through the toughest rock, and the hardest earth.
A couple years ago, I drove past that house where I grew up, and the fence was still standing. It had withstood 40 winters, and 40 springs, and 40 summers and falls – and it was still there.
Putting up that fence was hard work. But it paid off.
Living the gospel is hard work. Following the teachings of Christ is hard work.
But it pays off.
Think back on what we have heard these last few weeks, what Jesus has asked us to do. Be poor in spirit, merciful, a peacemaker. Be perfect, and holy, like your heavenly Father. Love your enemies. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Trust in God to take care of you.
These teaching are solid, and unflinching, and difficult.
These teachings are not sand.
They are rock.
And just as it’s hard to dig into rock, it’s not easy to burrow into these lessons.
It’s so much easier to NOT try to be perfect and holy, to be just good enough to get by. It’s easier to just settle for sand.
But if we don’t live out the gospel message, and hold fast to our faith, the rock of our lives, what will happen when storms come?
What will happen when the company decides to downsize, and you find yourself laid off? What will happen when the x-ray shows a suspicious spot? What will happen when you get the call late at night with news you never expected?
If we don’t have that secure foundation in faith, what will any of us do when we find that the forecast for our life has changed – that a devastating storm is about to hit?
We might give in to despair, or cynicism, or spite. We might surrender to fear or doubt.
Or, if we have built our lives on the rock of Christ, we might find comfort in trusting in God’s will, and knowing that He will never abandon us, even in the most severe of storms.
As we prepare to move into Lent this week, and a season of deep prayer and penitence, look back on the lessons we’ve been given. Re-read the gospels from the last few weeks. Dip into Matthew’s gospel and pray over the entire Sermon on the Mount. There you will find a foundation to which all of us can cling during times of trouble, and times of testing.
Let the rains fall and the wind howl.
With the gospel beneath us, and God beside us, we will be safe and secure.