No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 4:11)

A couple of years ago, my brother Tim and I became masons! Now before you call up the Board of Directors of Synod or the elders at St. John’s in New Minden, Illinois, let me explain. Actually I’m not talking about the lodge kind of mason, but the brick and mortar kind. I’ve done a little brick and tile and mortar work in the past, so my brother, Pastor Timothy Mueller, now in his 24th year as pastor of St. John, New Minden and St. Luke, Covington, Illinois, volunteered the two of us to tuck-point the foundation of the church building at Covington. I readily agreed!  It’s actually become a stress-reducer for us and we do enjoy working together. We have no pressure, no restrictions, no deadlines and no guarantees. We’re just doing our best to help out a small congregation and occasionally enjoying a bit of a diversion.

It’s really not as big a job as it sounds. The foundation consists of three courses of broken field stone (Brechstein) topped by five courses of soft red brick. The structure is basically sound but the 100+ year old mortar is soft and crumbling on the outside. We dig it out to the required depth with a grinder and hammer and chisel, then fill it in with new mortar and finish it off. Don’t look for flaws – there are plenty, but that’s not the point. We want to help the building last another 100 years. Well, maybe another 50 anyway.

Working on the foundation of St. Luke’s church got me to thinking about the scripture above. As the hymn writer says it:

Christ is made the sure foundation, Christ, our head and cornerstone. Chosen of the Lord and precious, binding all the Church in one; Holy Zion’s help forever and our confidence alone.  (LSB 909, st. 1)

Just as a building has to rest on a sure foundation, so the Church rests on Jesus Christ alone. He is our head and cornerstone. On Him alone we are built. His Word of Law exposes our death, but only so that His Word of promise can call us to life.

That’s why the only power in Christ’s church is the power of the Word of God. Only the Word of God forgives sins. Only the Word of Christ gives life. Only the Word of God shows the way, as the Word of God made flesh in Jesus said Himself:

I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.  (John 14:6)

There’s our foundation. So what’s the problem? What is happening in our churches? Could it be that for us the mortar between our bricks is crumbling a bit? (Here’s where my analogy breaks down somewhat, but bear with me.) Or perhaps it is more accurate to say we are slipping off the foundation at times.

What do I mean?

We say we believe in the Word of God. But do we truly believe the Word actually works? What would be evidence of a lack of faith or a weak faith in the power of God’s Word? When we…

  • Let the world shape and form our beliefs and values rather than the Word.
  • Assume that “everyone” in our community “goes to church.”
  • Think that the Word of God works for me but it probably will not work for _________(you fill in the blank).
  • Keep the Word of Christ for ourselves rather than speak it to others.
  • Make excuses for our failures to plant the seed of the Word.
  • When people blame the pastor or church workers blame the people.
  • When the Word does not seem to work on our time table we think we need to add something to the Word to make it more effective.
  • When we fail to do our best to communicate in ways people will hear and understand.

We in the Lutheran Church are the Church of the Word. I am writing today on the 1st of October, the month of the Reformation. The Lutheran Church is always reforming, refocusing on the Word.  And is not reformation simply another word for repentance? It is significant that the first of Luther’s 95 Theses posted on October 31, 1517, reads: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance” (AE 31:25).

Indeed, our Lord Himself began His ministry with the words, “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Our Lord calls to us, His Church, “Turn away from the empty promises of the world and trust me! I have life, real LIFE for you, found in my death and resurrection.”

Here is the sure foundation for life: “This is eternal life,” Jesus prayed, “that they know You [Father] the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). We in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod also need to hear our Lord’s Word to the church in Ephesus, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance… I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand  from its place, unless you repent…” But He ends with a promise, “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:2-7). 

Examining our lives by the Word, the Spirit of God leads to repentance. And when we hear the Gospel promises, the Spirit increases faith and forms our life in Christ. Only God gives life!  Then renewed, refreshed, restored, forgiven in Christ, we live in faith and in obedience to Christ’s command to “go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel…” (Mark 16:15). With Spirit-given faith in the power of the Word, we seek to sow the seed of the Word wherever and whenever we can, all in response to the grace of God by which we are saved. Living in repentance and faith, we are led to say, with St. Paul, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16).

So… when it comes to tuck-pointing a foundation, Tim and I are easily seen to be rank amateurs. But here’s the eternal foundation for the Church, solid, sure, all tuck-pointed and firm forever – our Lord Jesus – for “Christ is made the sure foundation.” On Him alone we stand.

A blessed month of the Reformation to all!

 —Herbert C. Mueller
First Vice President