Monday, February 24, 2014

Epiphany 7 of Series A (1 Corinthians 3:10-23)

Once upon a time, three little pigs lived with their mother in a sturdy stone house. One day, the three little pigs came to their mother with a decision. “We love living with you, mom, but we all feel like we need to spread our wings. We’re going to go build churches.” Their mother was taken aback, but she was proud that they had such a noble ambition. She had plenty of words of encouragement for the three little pigs, but she also had a warning. “Be careful how you build, dear sons. God takes this work very seriously, and Saint Paul says, ‘Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.’ Whatever you do, take special care that you don’t overthrow that foundation.” The three little pigs, filled with the overconfidence that afflicts every young seminarian, just rolled their eyes and said, “Yes, mother.” Then they were off to seminary, and four short years later, with their toolkit in hand, it was time for the three little pigs to build churches.

The first little pig, careful to follow his mother’s advice, began to build his church on a steady, rock-solid foundation, the foundation provided by the skilled master builder Saint Paul. “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it… No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus.” His foundation was the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a foundation that would be steady and firm, enduring in a dangerous world. And that was a good thing, because the materials he chose to build upon that foundation were not nearly so steady and firm. He took several opinion polls, and he found out that unbelievers want a church that believes very little. They want a church built with the straw of acceptance and tolerance, a church that has no problem with any sort of lifestyle that people want to live. They like the idea of God, but only if he doesn’t say anything of substance, only if he doesn’t make any demands on their lives or call on them to believe anything very specific. So, rather than the bricks of God’s Word, he used the straw of worldly wisdom to build his church. And people loved it. The straw church was praised on television, in the newspapers, by politicians and celebrities. The material the first little pig used made his structure remarkably flexible, able to move with every wind of the culture. Women pastors, living together outside of marriage, abortion, the authority of the Bible, Jesus as the only foundation, homosexuality, open communion; the church swayed this way and that on whatever issue came up. The first little pig came dangerously close to disobeying his mother’s advice and overthrowing the foundation; in fact, the foundation was often obscured by a mess of straw, but it still stood.

And that was a very good thing, for one Day a wolf came along, breathing the fires of Judgment Day. He came as Saint Paul had warned: “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.” The wolf came on a Day that the little pig didn’t expect, and he was hardly ready. “Little pig, little pig, let me come in,” the wolf said. “Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin,” the straw covered hog replied. The wolf took a deep breath. “Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll burn your house down!” He really didn’t need to huff and puff that much, for one spark set that straw church ablaze. The little pig thought he was lost, but then he remembered the foundation. He clung to the solid base of his flimsy church, and remarkably, the fires passed over him, leaving him scorched and singed, but alive.

The first little pig fled to his brother’s church, built, as their mother had warned them, on the foundation that St. Paul laid, the solid rock of Jesus Christ. The base of his structure was the perfect life of Christ, His substitutionary death, and His victorious resurrection. That was the foundation, but, as he kept telling people, “We have to take the next step and build this church ourselves.” His brother built with the straw of ‘love’ without holiness; this second little pig built with the wood of holiness without love. In other words, this was church held up by the sticks of the Law, the sticks of rules and principles. Those who lived in a way contrary to God’s Word weren’t tolerated as at the straw church, they were shamed out of the community; it was abundantly clear that they weren’t welcome in a church filled with such holy people. The foundation of Jesus’ death and resurrection was assumed, so he covered his roof with sticks of self-help, better principles for living, forty days of one thing or another. The wooden church wasn’t nearly as popular with the cultural elites as the straw church, but it was popular with the people. They loved his practical sermons and the entertaining worship. In fact, this little pig held up his structure with the wooden beams of his own personality. His church was so great because he was so great; his charisma, his preaching, his leadership made this church grow and prosper, and soon even his brother was caught up in the wonderful energy of this place.

That is, until the Day the wolf showed up. Saint Paul had warned them, and now that Day had come. “Little pig, little pig, let me come in,” the wolf said. “Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin,” the self-righteous pig replied. The wolf took a deep breath. “Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll burn your house down!” This second church didn’t burn nearly as easily as the first, but it still burned. The two little pigs thought they were lost, but then they once again remembered the foundation. They clung to the solid base of the burning church, and as if by a miracle, the fires passed over them, leaving them scorched and singed, but alive.

The two little pigs fled to the church of their brother. Now this was much different looking structure than their churches of sticks and straw. It was despised by the world, shunned by its neighbors; it looked old and decrepit. The two were ready to call on their brother to leave while there was still time. But then they noticed something—the foundation! It was certainly the same foundation upon which they had built their churches, the foundation of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. But this foundation was there for all to see, not obscured by straw or sticks. And this church was built into that foundation, not simply upon it. The walls were rock-solid, and when one looked closely, they could see they were made of gold, silver, and precious stones. The walls were simply an extension of the foundation; this sturdy structure was built of the solid bricks of the Bible, Absolution, Holy Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. The beams of love and holiness formed the roof; in this church God’s Law was proclaimed to condemn sin, and His Gospel was proclaimed to forgive it. This was one church that would not sway in the winds of culture; here was something steady in the whirlwind, a refuge for the broken and sinful. There was only one thing missing: their brother! The two little pigs called his name, and he stepped out from behind a wall. “What were you doing, hiding?” they asked. “Actually yes,” he replied. “I hide behind the walls of this church so that all the focus can be on the foundation; that’s all that matters, not me or anything I do.”

At that moment the wolf came along, breathing the fires of Judgment Day. The third little pig wasn’t surprised, for he had built with Paul’s warning in mind. As before, the wolf walked confidently up to the door. “Little pig, little pig, let me come in,” he said. “Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin,” the three pigs replied. The wolf took a deep breath. “Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll burn your house down!” And he huffed, and he puffed, and the fires of judgment burned against the church, but nothing happened. This church stood firm. The wolf expended all his breath, and finally the waters of baptism spurted from the unbroken walls, quenched his fire, and swept the wolf away.

Why did one church stand while the others fell? It was all in the materials. Don’t think for a moment that we here are a church built entirely of brick, and all other churches are built of wood and straw. We are all tempted to build our churches with substandard materials, and Paul calls us to examine ourselves and see how we are like the churches of wood and straw. No church and no Christian can ignore Paul’s words: “I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds on it.” You see, when it comes to building a church, the foundation makes all the difference. Those three little pigs were not saved because they built well, nor were they destroyed because they built poorly. They were saved because they clung to the foundation. They were saved, in short, by Jesus, just as you are. His death, for you. His resurrection, for you. “So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos of Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” Christ builds His Church, He builds your faith, on a solid foundation, a foundation that will survive the fires of Judgment Day. And because you belong to Him, you have everything; you have victory over death, you have overcome a world of sin and suffering, you even have the future, because your future is eternal glory. It’s all yours, because you are more than conquerors through the cross and empty tomb of Jesus Christ. Put not your trust in men, whether they are good builders or not; put your trust in Christ, and seek a place where the Church is built with precious stones, not sticks or straw. It is Christ who saves, not men, and He has saved you, you are Christ’s, and the big bad wolf has no hold upon you; his fiery breath is extinguished by the water of your Baptism, He is crushed by the mighty foot of your Savior. In the Name of Jesus, the foundation to which we cling, Amen.

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