Founded on rock

Proper 4A
Genesis 6:9-22; 7:24: 8:14-19
Psalm 46
Romans 1:16-17; 3:22b-31
Matthew 7:21-29

It’s interesting, switching from the BCP lectionary to the RCL. The RCL doesn’t read the OT typologically (the OT lesson isn’t chosen to complement the Gospel reading). But that means it is often difficult to weave both ideas into a sermon. This Sunday, however, we have the flood (or at least one version of it), and the house built on rock or on sand.

The image of a storm (at sea) is a common one for chaos in biblical literature (and other literature as well). The Testament of Naphtali has the boat tossed about at sea stand in for the people of God. Qumran literature uses the contrast between the storm at sea with the tower on rock, or the city surrounded with walls for living outside the community and living inside the community.

The contrast between the two builders in Matthew is a pretty standard use of the “two ways” device so common in catechism. Proverbs has Wisdom’s house, with its seven pillars and the wanton woman’s house. Even Augustine’s City of God in structured around the two ways. This story, in Matthew, comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, so the words we are to hear and do are those words.

What strikes me is that the house is built upon a rock, just like Jesus’ says he will build his church on the rock of Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:18. Interestingly, the word “church” is only used twice in Matthew’s Gospel (not at all in the other Gospels): here, and at 18:17. In both places, Jesus tells his disciples (first Peter, and then all of them) that whatever they bind on earth is bound, and whatever they loose on earth is loosed (in John’s Gospel, specifically with reference to sin). In Matthew 18, the saying follows the community rule about being reconciled to a brother or sister (go first privately, then with one or two others, and then before the church). The rock on which the church is founded is the rock of reconciliation.

All of the instruction of the Sermon on the Mount has to do with living by the spirit of the law rather than the letter (you have heard it said, but I say to you). The purpose of the commandments is to make community life possible, not to give limits to acceptable and unacceptable deeds. A house built on such an idea will stand.

Even God seems to change God’s mind about destroying all flesh. Removing all flesh because of the corruption in human hearts didn’t work, so God will never do it again. God instead makes a covenant of reconciliation with Noah and his sons and all their wives and all flesh.

And, of course, Paul’s project in the letter to the Romans is to justify this new, mixed community. God’s righteousness and faithfulness to God’s covenants justifies this new way of being. It is God’s faithfulness demonstrated in Jesus’ blood (not our faith in his blood, whatever that might mean), which shows cause for this new group to exist, God being one, justifying the circumcision from faithfulness to the covenant, and the uncircumcision through God’s own faithfulness.

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