The Rector’s sermon for April 7, 2019 - 5 Lent     



A Lenten Series:  THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT (Matthew 5:1—7:27)

Build on Rock (Matthew 7:24-27) – (6 of 10)


Today is lesson Number 5 in our Sermon on the Mount series.  Last week I talked about how God-incidents make up what we call…life…. and that continues even today.  I have been utterly amazed how many comments you’ve made about this series, how it has touched so many of you, how the message was exactly what you needed to here at that particular moment in time.  Ironically, the message is so simple!  I’m amazed also at how relevant the subject matter has been for a parish family that is beginning a search for a new rector:  You are blessed…you are salt and light…continue to pray and fast…don’t worry…certainly don’t judge.   If you are here at least fifteen minutes before the service, all those reminders are shown on the screen in front of you…in the hopes that you will be reminded of the power, purpose and relevance of Jesus’ teachings for us, 2,000 years later.  Today we look at the next critical point of Jesus’ teaching: Build on Rock!  The passage is taken from Matthew 7:24-27:


 “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.  Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and ignores it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand.  When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash”


Once again Jesus tells a story that anyone can understand, which in turn makes his teachings understandable and logical.  Jesus tells a story of two builders, not two dreamers who just talk about the house they’re going to build someday…not two philosophers, who go on and on about the value of the place they might call home…not architects who can draw a nice home on paper.  No!  Jesus gives us two builders; two persons in action-mode, if you will!  Jesus is practical and it’s important we recognize this.  In giving us builders, Jesus is talking about doing…about acting.  Both people in Jesus’ parallel stories build!  They make something, in this case, houses.  Jesus isn’t talking about theology or creeds or doctrine here, but practice.


Another thing the two builders in Jesus’ story have in common—besides being practical people of action—is that their homes are both tested by the forces of nature.  The quality of both buildings will be measured by their ability to withstand the assaults of storms, high winds and water.  These two builders are building in the real world where a storm can take a house down in a matter of seconds.


What’s the difference between these two builders?  Jesus says one is “wise,” and the other is “foolish.” And what makes the first builder wise?  He builds his house on rock, while the foolish builder builds his house on sand.  That’s the difference—rock and sand.  Rock is hard and solid; sand is soft and shifting. The wisdom of both builders is measured by their building’s durability in a storm.  One lasts, the other fails.


Now, while that seems to be the end of the lesson, there’s more to consider.  We need to be careful how we interpret Jesus’ story.  This is not a story comparing those who follow Jesus and those who do not.  As Jesus fleshes out the meaning of his story he makes it clear that both builders represent people who hear and listen to his teachings.  That’s what you do every Sunday morning.  You’re a captive audience!  And hopefully, hearing and listening to Scripture and to a sermon is something that naturally happens.  This story isn’t about one builder hearing and other not hearing; they both hear…they both listen.  You hear and listen at least once every week.  Listening to Jesus’ teachings today could be compared to reading the “words written in red” in your Bible.  We could say that both builders, the wise and the foolish, represent all of us who sit here in the pews:  we’re hearing; we’re listening; maybe we even participate in Bible study.  These builders know what Jesus has taught.  Even more, they may understand his teaching…just like us.


What’s the difference between these two?  You’ve probably already figured it out.  The wise one listens to Jesus’ teachings, understands His teaching, and puts them into practice.  In Jesus’ words, this one “hears these words of mine and does them.”  It’s about action.  The foolish one, in contrast, hears Jesus’ directions, grasps his teaching, but never does what Jesus says.   In Jesus’ words, this one “hears these words of mine and does not do them.”


The story of these two builders is really a story about what Jesus expects from those who listen to his teachings.  He wants more than showing up to hear him.  He wants more than praise for his amazing insights.  He wants more than an impressive theological library or a list of truths and values to believe in or even being able to rattle off memorized passages and scholarly knowledge.  He wants a life based on his teachings.  He wants us to put into practice what he has taught us.  It’s as simple as that.  He wants us to do his will…follow him… even when it’s difficult, even when the storms of life rage all around us…even when it looks like nothing is going right…even when it would be so simple to give up and go the way of the world! 


Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is not an ideology or a philosophy; it’s a blueprint for how to build a Christ-like life.  His teachings are so practical, aren’t they?  They may seem hard at first, but when we navigate our every-day life, our relationships, our decisions in Christ-like ways, the reward is far more than we can possible imagine.  The Sermon on the Mount is meant to show itself in how we live day-in and day-out, when life is easy and when life is hard.  It’s not just about what we believe buthow we live.


In the ancient Greek world, there was an ascending staircase of maturity.  It went from knowledge to understanding to wisdom.  Knowledge was about learning certain truths.  Understanding was grasping those truths so that you could actually articulate them.  Wisdom, though, was putting those truths into practice; wisdom was about doing them.   Jesus is saying that wisdom is putting his teachings into practice.


Let me give you an example that I know you can relate to.  You get sick… really sick…and your life is at stake.  You go to a doctor because you know this doctor will have the guidance you need to bring your body back to health and wholeness.  So this doctor prescribes a treatment that includes specific meds, surgery and even a strict diet.  Now this doctor has treated this illness before, you respect his opinion, and you decide to think about what you’re going to do.  You may ask for a second opinion, but wisdom would dictate that you follow the doctor’s orders.  You decide it would be foolish to ignore the recommendation of your doctor, especially if your life depended on it.  And if you do ignore the wisdom of the doctor, you best be prepared for any and all consequences, good or bad.


It’s like that with Jesus’ teachings.  They are meant to be done.  He wants to see us praying and forgiving, loving our enemies and helping the poor.  He wants us to make peace and show mercy.  He expects us to salt the earth and brighten dark places.  The early followers of Jesus understood this wisdom approach to Jesus’ teaching.  James writes in his letter that we must be doers of the word and not hearers only” (James 1:22-25).  Like in today’s Gospel, the love Mary had for Jesus and her understanding of who he was, moved her to act in a way that would surely elicit ridicule.  And it did.  But her actions were driven by wisdom.


In this season of Lent, as we listen to the words of Jesus, we relate them more in the shadow of his cross.  That cross of love and sacrifice has become for us a motivation to build our lives on what Jesus has taught.  We practice what he teaches not out of fear of judgment or simple obedience, but out of love and gratitude.  As we watch him walk through his passion and death, we see him practicing what he taught—humility, reconciliation, forgiveness, prayer.  He withstood his storms with amazing grace and strength, and he did that for us…in our place…so that we might live in heaven forever.


No wonder printing his words in red in the Bible makes so much sense.  It’s a reminder of the blood he shed when he suffered and died for us.  His love obliges us to be more than just good listeners.  We need to be hearers of his words, put into practice what he has taught us, and build our lives on the Rock of Jesus Himself, trusting that the gates of hell will not prevail against us (Mt. 16:18).


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