Who is My Foundation?
Coniaris: No Other Foundation (Treasures from Paul’s Letters vol.1, p.7)
When we hear the word foundation what do we think of? Some may think of a charitable trust or fund that receives money from donors and then distributes grants to organizations and causes based on the foundations mission statement. Leadership 100 is an example of a foundation. To be a member a person must donate $100,000, which can be donated all at once or $10,000 payments can be made over 10 years. That money is placed in an endowment, and the proceeds or interest is used to fund various ministries of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. That is their sole purpose, to support our archdiocese and her ministries. Leadership 100 just received its 1,000th member and that means their endowment is closing in on $100 million. You can learn more about Leadership 100 at their website www.L100.org.
When others hear the word foundation, they might think of the foundation of a building or structure. This type is the part of the construction that reaches underground, sometimes several hundred feet, to form the base on which a house or a store or an office building or a skyscraper will be built upon. Even a small deck on a home requires some type of foundation. Why is a building foundation necessary? Because without, the structure will often lean one way or another, even if only a few inches, and that can cause damage or in the worst case a total collapse. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is an example of a structure that did not have a proper foundation. We have all seen earthquakes destroy buildings that often did not have an adequate foundation.
In today’s Epistle reading (1Corinthians 3:9-17), from the Ninth Sunday of Matthew, we hear the Apostle Paul addressing the people of Corinth. He says, “I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it… that foundation is Jesus Christ” (vv.10-11). What is St. Paul talking about? I don’t think he is alluding to a financial foundation like Leadership 100. He’s obviously talking about some type of structure but the foundation is not “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw” (v.12). Nor is it made out of concrete or steel. The foundation Paul refers to is a person and that person is Jesus Christ. So what type of building does Jesus Christ serve as the base? St. Paul actually answered this question in the first verse of today’s passage when he says, 9For we are God's servants, working together; you are God's field, God's building” (v.9). Later in the same passage, St. Paul says, 16Do you not know that you are God's temple? (v.16).
We are God’s building! We are God’s temple! Thus, the Church is not just a physical building but more importantly it is a community of people working together as God’s servants. The foundation of the Church is the person of Jesus Christ and the superstructure is made up of people, human beings created in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). We are not just any old building but a sacred one—a holy temple!
During the Divine Liturgy, right before the Creed, the priest recites the hymn, “I will love Lord my strength. The Lord is my foundation, my shelter/refuge and my deliverer.” Ἀγαπήσω σε, Κύριε, ἡ ἰσχύς μου, Κύριος στερέωμά μου καὶ καταφυγή μου καὶ ρύστης μου. Many of our faithful do not notice this hymn because it is only sung by the choir when the bishop is present. However, there is nothing preventing a worshipper from reciting this hymn while the choir sings, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: the Trinity, one in essence and undivided.” Nevertheless, this hymn that is recited is a direct quote of Psalm 18 1I will love You, O LORD, my strength. 2The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. 3I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies. (Psalm 18:1-3)
Notice in the hymn it says “My foundation,” not “a” foundation, not “our” foundation. This speaks to the personal nature of our relationship with God. Thus, each one of us individually and personally is a building—a holy and sacred temple. St. Paul is speaking about this personal dynamic between us and God when he continues in today’s passage. 12Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — 13 the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done.
The “Day” is the Day of Judgement at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The “fire” is the fire of God’s love. It will burn away all the superfluous content of our life like material things--money and possessions. But most importantly, the fire of God’s love will burn away our sins. In the wild fires of California, when they consume a neighborhood of homes, the houses are often burned to the ground. What is left? What is the only thing one can see afterwards? The only thing visible is the foundation, the concrete floor and the block walls. In like manner, the fire of God’s love will burn away everything in our life and what will be left? Only the foundation of our life will remain and the question is: “What will that foundation be?” Will it be Jesus Christ? If not, then we really have nothing at all, not even ourselves.
Yet, we don’t have to wait until the Second Coming to discover the foundation of our life. Every time we are tested by crisis, every time our life is rocked by trauma or tragedy, we will see the foundation. Just like Peter in today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 14:22-34) when Peter sees Jesus walking in the water in the waves and the wind of the storm. Peter is also able to walk on the water as he obeys Christ bidding and continues to keep his eyes on Him who is our strength, foundation, shelter and deliver. But as soon as Peter focuses on the wind and the waves of the storm, it is then that he steps off the foundation of Christ and begins to sink. Is this not the same thing that happens to us in the storms, crises, traumas and tragedies of our life? If we stay firm on Christ as our foundation, we are able to weather the storm. If we get distracted with our suffering and the adversity we face, then we falter.
Listen to Jesus’ parable of the house built upon sand or rock.
24"Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. 26But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall." (Matthew 7:24-27)
Earlier in the same chapter as today’s Epistle, St. Paul explicitly names the rock that Jesus is referring to:
1Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3all ate the same spiritual food, 4and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. (1Corinthians 10:1-4)
In the Parable of the Landowner with Wicked Servants, Jesus reveals the importance of how we relate to Him as the rock in our life:
42Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD'S doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes'? [Psalm 118:22-23] 43"Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. 44And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder." (Matthew 21:42-44; see also Mark 12 & Luke 20)
No wonder St. Paul warns us in today’s Epistle reading, Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. (v.10). The consequences are dire if we are not careful how we build on Christ the rock. We must be careful to avoid building bigger houses, cabins, cars, jobs on the foundation. These things will not last. They will eventual fall and fade away; and so will our soul if it is too attached to these types of material possessions. We must be careful to build on the foundation of Christ with prayer, worship, fasting, almsgiving, tithing and things of a spiritual nature and purpose.
In conclusion today, let’s listen to the Apostle Peter sum up the message about Christ the foundation:
4Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, "Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame."[Isaiah 28:16] 7Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, "The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone," [Psalm 118:22] 8and "A stone of stumbling And a rock of offense." [Isaiah 8:14] They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. 9But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. (1Peter 2:4-10). Amen!
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5And it came to pass, on the next day, that their rulers, elders, and scribes, 6as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. 7And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, "By what power or by what name have you done this?" 8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: 9If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, 10let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. 11This is the 'stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.' 12Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:5-12)