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Wood, Hay, or Straw

Sermon - 10/28/07
LeRoy Hershiser
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

1 Corinthians 3:10-17

We have just concluded a period of Prayer and Visioning with some 28 Prayer Triads - 3 people each, meeting together ten times these last three or four months in prayer and discernment, concerning the future life and mission of Eugene First Christian Church.  This is my response.  We set the scene with this story.

For the sake of time, I'll make the first part of it short:

Once upon a time, there were three cuddly little wolves with soft fur and fluffy tails who lived with their mother. 

One day the mother called the three little wolves around her and said, "My children, it is time for you to go out into the world. Go and build a house for yourselves. But beware of the big bad pig."

So the three little wolves built themselves a house of bricks, and the big bad pig came and knocked it down with a 
sledgehammer.

Then they built a house of concrete, and the big bad pig came along and took it down with a jack-hammer.

So, now we pick up the story:

"We shall build an even stronger house", the three wolves said, be because they were very determined. Just then they saw a truck coming along the road carrying barbed wire, iron bars, armor plates, and heavy metal padlocks.

Wolves (all): "Please, will you give us some of your barbed wire, a few iron bars and armor plates, and some heavy metal padlocks?"

They said this to the rhinoceros who was driving the truck.

"Sure", said the rhinoceros, and he gave them plenty of barbed wire, iron bars, armor plates, and heavy metal padlocks.  He also gave them some Plexiglas and some reinforced steel chains, because he was a generous kindhearted rhinoceros.

So the three little wolves built themselves an extremely strong house. It was the strongest, securest house one could possibly imagine. They felt absolutely safe.

The next day the big bad pig came prowling along the road as usual.  The three little wolves were playing hopscotch in the garden.  When they saw the big bad pig coming, they ran inside their house, bolted the door, and locked all thirty-seven
padlocks.

The pig dialed the video entrance phone and said, "Little frightened wolves with the trembling chins, let me come in!"

"No, no, no!", said the little wolves.  "By the hair on our chinny-chin-chins, we will not let you in, not for all the tea leaves in our china teapot."

"Then I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down!", said the pig.

So he huffed and he puffed and he puffed and he huffed, but the house didn¹t fall down.  But the pig wasn¹t called big and bad for nothing. He brought some dynamite, laid it against the house, lit the fuse, and...the house blew up.

The three little wolves just managed to escape with their fluffy tails scorched.

"Something must be wrong with our building materials", they said.  We have to try something different. But what?"

At that moment they saw a flamingo coming along pushing a wheelbarrow full of flowers.

"Please, will you give us some flowers?", asked the little wolves.

"With pleasure", said the flamingo, and he gave them lots of flowers.  So the three little wolves built themselves a house of flowers.

One wall was of marigolds, one of daffodils, one of pink roses, and one of cherry blossoms.  The ceiling was made of sunflowers, and the floor was a carpet of daisies.  They had water lilies in their bathtub, and buttercups in their refrigerator.  It was a rather fragile house and it swayed in the wind, but it was very beautiful.

Next day the big bad pig came prowling down the road and saw the house of flowers that the three little wolves had built.  He rang the bluebell at the door and said,

"Little frightened wolves with the trembling chins and the scorched tails, let me come in!"

"No, no, no", said the little wolves.  "By the hair on our chinny-chin-chins, we will not let you in, not for all the tea leaves in our china teapot!"

"Then I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down!", said the pig.

But as he took a deep breath, ready to huff and puff, he smelled the soft scent of the flowers.  It was fantastic.  And because the scent was so lovely, the pig took another breath and then another.  Instead of huffing and puffing, he began to sniff.

He sniffed deeper and deeper until he was quite filled with the fragrant scent.  His heart grew tender, and he realized how horrible he had been.  Right then he decided to become a big good pig.  He started to sing and to dance the tarantella.

At first the three little wolves were a bit worried.  It might be a trick. But soon they realized that the pig had truly changed, so they came running out of the house. They started playing games with him.

First they played pig-pog and then piggy-in-the-middle, and when they were all tired, they invited him into the house.

They offered him tea and strawberries and wolfberries, and asked him to stay with them as long as he wanted.

The pig accepted, and they all lived happily together ever after.

When we have a vision of the Church, what comes to mind: a building; an
organization; a pastor; a program? When we envision building the Church,
what are we thinking about?

In our introductory story, if we take it literally, we are talking about building buildings that will withstand the attacks of the world, only to discover that the real answer is to become flower children so that we can live happily ever after.

However, that story is a metaphor, and as with all metaphors, there is
much more to be discovered than what first appears.  Here is a case in
point in First Corinthians.

As you know, we would not have much of the New Testament after the
Gospels if congregations were not having trouble visioning what they
were suppose to be and do. The Church at Corinth was one of those churches.

In Paul’s salutation to the congregation at Corinth, he writes: “I give
thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has
been given you in Christ Jesus…so that you are not lacking in any
spiritual gift.”  That is certainly an encouraging and satisfying word!
However (wouldn’t it be great if there were no “howevers!” However, “I
have heard there is division in the church.”

Then Paul tells two stories: one about someone planting seeds, and
someone else watering the seeds, noting that it is God is who gives it
growth. Paul continues with this story: our lesson today from 1 Corinthians:

“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert
builder, and someone else is building on it. Nevertheless, each one
should be careful how they build. For no one can lay any foundation
other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any one
builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay
or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will
bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test
the quality of each person’s work. If what they have built survives,
they will receive his reward. If it is burned up, they will suffer loss;
they themselves will be saved but only as
one escaping through the flames.”

“Wood, Hay, or Straw” or as our metaphor says, “Brick, concrete, armor
plates and 37 padlocks.”

I. WHAT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT BUILDING THE CHURCH?

What shall we build and what materials shall we use?  Is the writer really thinking about building a building? What is he really envisioning?  What is it he was trying to get them to understand?

There is a simple song by Avery and Marsh, which some of you may have
heard, called, “I am the Church!” The first verse is:

The Church is not a building,
The Church is not a steeple
The Church is not a resting place,
The Church is a people.

Then the chorus:

I am the Church, you are the Church,
We are the Church together.
All who follow Jesus, all around the world.
Yes, we’re the Church together.

According to Harper’s Bible dictionary the English word for “Church”
is a translation of the Hebrew word gahal, which the O.T. applies to the
people of Israel when assembled for a religious purpose (“when”, not “where”).

The concept is an important link between the Old and N.T.  In both
Testaments, the life of the religious person, whether Jew or Christian,
is not understood in terms of a merely individual salvation, but as
involving membership in a divine community.  We note that the word,
“Church” is NEVER used in the N.T. to refer to a building of any kind.

For Paul the Church is in some very real sense, (and again a metaphor is
used,) the church is the earthly “body” of Jesus Christ.  He is the “head” of the body, and individual Christians, each with his or her own function, are the “members.”

In our lesson today Paul, in spite of Avery and Marsh and Harper’s, is using the picture of a building to describe the Church.  Here, Paul is concerned about:

  • What is used as a foundation
  • What materials are used, 
  • Are they worthy or unworthy,
  • And whether in the end it is fireproof or inflammable.

So what is it that Paul recommends?  Well, so long as one thinks of actual building materials, one will look upon the list given by Paul as absurd.  Gold and silver ornaments might be used, but who would put jewels into the structure of a building?  Not even mentioned are Brick, stone, concrete, and metal, used to keep the enemy and those not like us out.

Clearly Paul’s emphasis falls on the really important point: THE QUALITY
OF THE MATERIAL THAT IS BEING PUT INTO THE BUILDING. That building will
be, and is to this day, put to the test of fire.  In so far as it is composed of wood, hay, or straw, the consequence will be utter destruction. Remember, we are looking at how to build the Body of Christ, the Church, which is congregations, people, you and me.

The basic foundation for Paul, for the Corinthians, for us, is to remember what is build must be upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, not someone or something else. not someone like Paul, Apollos, or not even ones pastor. “Gold, Silver, Costly Stones“, are mentioned.  Precious, durable work that stands the test of divine judgment, symbolic of pure Christian doctrine and living.  Here also is, “Wood, hay, or Straw”, symbolic of weak, insipid teaching and life. (Which, I might add if you haven’t noticed, you will not find in this place.)

II. SO WHO ARE WE TALKING ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT
“BUILDING THE CHURCH?”

Listen to what is written in Matt. 16:18 about the Church: Just after
Peter has confessed to Jesus, that he is “the Messiah, the Son of the
Living God”, Jesus replies: “And I tell you, you are Peter and upon this rock (those who make this confession) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”  No “Wood, hay, or straw,” there.

Therefore, Peter is the first “rock” who will build upon that foundation. Others will come, and continue to come, since then, and as they make the same claim about Jesus, “You are the Christ.”  Therefore, the Church is built up, stone by stone, rock by rock.  All different sizes, shapes, and colors, from all around the world.

Then this reminder from Eph. 4:11-13: “For the gifts he gave were that
some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors
and teachers.”  Now obviously all of these are mentioned to be OUR
servants, our pastor, to provide us with programs and other things to meet
our needs, to make us feel good! - Right?

I have been wondering: What would it be like if every pastor and staff
person in our congregation was here not to serve us, (contrary to what
many may believe), but to teach us and help US grow and serve as the
Body of Christ.  So our pastors and staff would ultimately be trying to
work themselves out of a job because, we the saints, have finally caught
on that this faith, this Body, this Church, is not just for us.  It is for everyone. (Of course, I would never suggest working yourself out of a job if I were not a RETIRED minister
J)

There is more: Eph. 4 continues: “…the saints (are here) for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

“Unity of faith!”  We are working at it but there is still a lot of “Wood, hay, and straw” messing things up - isn’t there. “Mature knowledge of the Son of God” I don’t know about you, but I still have a lot of wood, hay and straw mixed in with the building materials here.  “…to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”  Wow!  Later in I Cor. 12:27 Paul reminds us once again: “…YOU are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”  No getting lost in the hay field.

III. HOW DO WE BUILD UPON JESUS AS THE FOUNDATION -
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

Is the foundation the TEACHINGS of Jesus?  Is it the LIFE, DEATH and RESURRECTION of Jesus?  Is it in the KNOWLEDGE we have of Jesus?  Is the
foundation upon which we are to build the MORALS espoused by Jesus?  Is
it the TRUTH we discover about Jesus?  Does to build upon the foundation
of Jesus as Messiah mean that we build upon the NAME of Jesus?  Were not
the Crusades done in the name of Jesus?  Doing things in the name of Jesus does not guarantee it is the will of Jesus.

Do not misunderstand.  The answer is “yes” to all of these.  However, the
Scribes and Pharisees were adamant about following the Scripture and the
Law, doing all those things as the way to get right with God.  And in there effort to fulfill Scripture and the LAW and so satisfy God, they missed the Good News. It was good people doing bad theology.

In seems to me that in some quarters of the Christian faith today we see
repeated the same approach to the N.T. as Scribes and Pharisees did to
the O.T. and it is still good people doing bad theology.  It may be satisfying, but it is not redemptive, and so people are missing the really Good News.

Some may think the best way to save ones self was by taking the offensive-
take what they want or think they need, and destroy anything he could not
have (like the big bad pig in the story). Others may think they can save themselves by building bigger, better houses, stronger defenses, built with steel walls and 37 padlocks (like the three little wolves in the story).

SO, AGAIN, WHAT IS THE WILL, THE MISSION, THE PASSION OF JESUS:  THE THING HE WAS TRYING TO GET ACROSS TO US UPON WHICH WE ARE TO BUILD THE CHURCH?

If Jesus is the Christ, if that is our confession (and it is) - the
foundation upon which we are to build - we respond in thanksgiving not
only with words but with deeds of compassion.

In the O.T., it is written that the prophet Micah spoke about the will
of God:  “What does the Lord require of you but to DO justice, and to love
kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Again, I have been wondering:  Did God choose Israel just to save them?
They thought so.  God chose them to commission them for a task to be done
beyond themselves!  They were blessed to be a blessing to the world.

As testimony to the fact that Israel, the chosen people of God, did not get it, - thinking it was for THEIR good, Jesus came to human kind, and at the beginning of his ministry, in the synagogue, in the town of Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he proclaimed: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…” 

So again, I wonder:  Did Jesus come just to save us, like Israel, or to
commission us -to bless us to be a blessing to the world?  Later in Matthew‘s Gospel Jesus makes it clear: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

The ultimate ethic of God is Compassion.  The ultimate ethic of Jesus is
Compassion.  Not the kind proclaimed to get votes, but the kind that reaches out to the poor, the disenfranchised, and now the vetoed.  Is not
THAT building upon the foundation of Jesus?  Doing God’s will is to LOSE
ones life to SAVE it.

CONCLUSION:

How did that Big Bad Pig and the Three Little Wolves in our story finally learn to live together? It was through the sweet fragrance of flowers. surrounding them, infusing them with a new Spirit, permeating them and changing their lives.

As testimony to the fact that many of us, even to this day, do not get it - thinking it is all about just our salvation, the Holy Spirit of God has come to human kind.  We are discovering anew the value of the sweet fragrance of the Spirit of unity and service in the church, a unity not for our selves because we are right, but for our mission because we are called.

The one Spirit active in the baptism of all believers, and in the commissioning of apostles by the risen Lord, made the churches one in their identity in God’s sight, united in a single body of Christ.  We are commissioned - “GO!” (or as Dan would say, “GO Ducks”).  We have been blessed to be a blessing - “DO!”

However, that in no way diminished the variety and controversy, which has characterized the life of not just the Church in Corinth, but also every church to this day. The unity of the Church has always been a matter of the discernment of the Spirit, not ideological consensus.

That’s what our Prayer Triads were all about!-- discerning the Spirit. Although it is true that the church is bound to Christ, it is not true that Christ is trapped in the church. He came to express God’s love not just for Christians and our churches, (Think “congregations”) BUT FOR ALL PEOPLES ALL AROUND THE WORLD.

Considered in itself, the Church is an ambiguous body of people at best, a flimsy structure, like a house of flowers, that seems an unlikely place or way to live.  But to consider the Church in itself is to consider an abstraction, (unless you still think of it as a building you go to on Sundays.)

It is in its every-renewed testimony to Jesus as Messiah that the Church transcends itself and fulfills its calling.  That is the foundation on which we build, not with “Wood, Hay, or Straw“, but with words of testimony and deeds of service, led by the fragrance of the Holy Spirit of God.

God’s invitation to rejoin Him by accepting and magnifying His unconditional love challenges all of us to risk experiencing each other as rooted in love, love as rooted in life, and life as rooted in community, with the fragrance of
His infinite Spirit of love and mercy covering all.

Then indeed, we can all live and serve together happily ever after, where,
as we will pray this morning: “…(God’s) will is done on earth as it is
in heaven.” 

Amen.

 


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