Sun, 22 August 2021
1 Corinthians 3:9-17; Matthew 14:22-34.
Here's the text of the homily I was going to give. Instead of it, I preached on what "the day" has declared in our lives over the last couple of years. It was partially prompted by recent events in Afghanistan (I worked the Afghanistan situation for several years as an intelligence analyst).
Homily – Building a House of God
1 Corinthians 3: 9-17; St. Matthew 14: 22-34
A building set on a firm foundation, made well and of the best materials is both more durable and more suiting than one thrown together on the weekends with leftover scraps. Which method describes the temple that is you?
Three points from today’s Epistle reading, each of them explores what St. Paul means when he says that ; “You are God’s building… his holy temple.”
The First Point: St. Paul is using a metaphor. He is comparing us to a building in order to teach us something we have not realized about ourselves. We may think we know more about what it means to be a Christian than we do about being a building, but what if we are wrong? St. Paul – and all of our other teachers – try to bring us to the truth by stating it plainly; but one of the problems with being human is that we hear such plain speaking in a manner that matches our expectations. It is rarely transformative in the way we need. We think we know what it means to be a Christian, so when someone tries to tell us a better way to do it rarely sinks in. On the other hand, we probably haven’t thought much about how we are like buildings, so the hope is that the metaphor of the building will make it through our defense systems in order to challenge us to live better. There are many ways in which we are certainly NOT a building, but let’s see how we are, and what that says about living the Christian life.
The Second Point: every building needs a proper foundation. If this foundation is ourselves (the “contractor’s grade” default option), or even something so noble as our families, our work, our friends, our community, or our, then no matter how well we build that house, it will not last. The only proper foundation for the house that is each one of us, is Christ Himself. Our imaginations may have a hard time with this. Many of us grew up singing a wonderful song; “On Christ the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand” – now what is the child’s imagination to do with such an image?! But this song is based on Christ’s teaching towards the end of His “sermon on the mount” (St. Matthew 5-7), where, after telling everyone to dedicate themselves completely to love and service in God’s name, He says that this kind of life will make them like the wise man who built his house on the rock, and his house survived every buffet; and those who do not are like the fool who built his house on sand, and his house fell with a great crash (St. Matthew 7: 24-27).
Our foundation must be on Christ; and not the Christ of our imaginations or as we think He is or want Him to be (this is just sand by another name); but on Christ as He really is. And there is no better way to learn who Christ really is than through opening ourselves completely to the prayer, worship, teachings, and experience of the Orthodox Church. St. Paul is speaking as an Apostle of this Church when he says; “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation.” We must center our feet squarely on the unmovable source of power, love, and truth; and that source is Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
The Third Point: it matters what sort of materials you use. St. Paul puts it this way;
“Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.”
We understand what this means, because we have seen what happens to buildings that were made poorly of cheap materials ; and we can compare them with the buildings that were made well and of the best materials. The best materials are sometimes harder to get, and it takes more effort to build something to last. I remember the fort my friends and I built in the woods using left over scraps from our basements and garages. It was so cool – but it did not last. I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences. Think about his: If we knew that we were meant to live somewhere for thousands of years – perhaps even forever, wouldn’t we take the time to build it well? Or would we throw something up as the mood struck us and hope for the best? And yet isn’t that the way we act; putting Christian spackle over the walls we threw up willy-nilly based on what are hearts desired in any given moment?
In the metaphor, the materials are gold, silver, stones, wood, hay, and straw; but in real life, the materials are your actions. How have we lived? Have we been chaste? Self-sacrificing? Charitable? Patient with others? Have we followed the counsel of our ego; the wisdom of the age; … or the guidance of Christ and His Church?
We can pretend that all actions are the same (God loves us! He can bless the things my heart truly desires!), but St. Paul is pointing out that they are not – there is an objective standard for judging our actions. A straw house will be blown down by the first hungry wolf that comes to the door; a brick house will stand up to his huffing and puffing. The spiritual wolves [fire] will destroy the man who has built his life in deceit and selfishness; but cannot harm the one who has built his life in love and repentance.
So, in conclusion, I ask you: have you built your life on the solid rock that is Christ? Is it the real Christ, or is it one that simply suits your fancy? Are you sure?
Have you intentionally laid the walls of your house brick by brick with humility, love, patience, long-suffering, and charity? When a bad brick was laid in, have you repented of your misdeed, rooted it out, and repaired the damage? Have you constantly checked for leaks and performed the maintenance necessary to keep your house secure from the constant abuse of the elements?
And last of all, have you filled this house with the only thing worthy of such a temple: the Holy Spirit of God Himself? For as St. Paul ends today’s lesson; “For the temple of God is holy, whose temple you are.”