Sand Castles and Stone 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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Stone castles and
sand castles. There is a pleasure to both, but one far outlasts the other.
sermon that day: The
childrenís bell choir performed.
The bell choir director then used a bell as the childrenís
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