Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 4)

Text: Matthew 7:24-27
Anyone who hears these words of mine and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain poured down, the rivers flooded over, and the wind blew hard against that house. But it did not fall, because it was built on rock. But anyone who hears these words of mine and does not obey them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain poured down, the rivers flooded over, the wind blew hard against that house, and it fell. And what a terrible fall that was!

When life sucks

What do you do when life sucks?
Iím sure you know what I mean.
What do you do when you find that you are at your wits end, nothing seems to be working out for you, and you just feel like screaming?
What do you do when you suddenly find yourself without a job because the company you work for is downsizing? Itís not your fault that this is happening but you are the one who suffers.

What do you do when you think everything is going well in your marriage and out of the blue your spouse announces that he or she is leaving you for another person? Life sucks when you are on the receiving end of something unexpected and undeserved.

What do you do when the doctor tells you that a recent medical test has revealed that you have cancer? You had no idea you were ill; life had been good, and now suddenly this news falls on you like a truck load of bricks. You canít help but think Ė this isnít fair - it sucks.

What do you do when someone you are close to Ė a friend or family member Ė maybe a young mother or father or child Ė is involved in a car accident? That person is an innocent victim of someone elseís stupidity. It sucks that through no fault of their own they are now disabled for life and will have to rely on others for the simplest everyday need.

Near the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus turns his teaching to foundations and tells a parable about two men who each set about building a house. TV programs tell us that itís all about "Location, location". Back in Jesusí day it was no different. Where you build is so important.

In 1174, the Italian architect Bonnano Pisano began work on what would become his most famous project. A separately standing bell tower for the Cathedral of the city of Pisa. The tower was to be eight-stories and 56 Ĺ metres tall. There was just one "little" problem - builders quickly discovered that the soil was much softer than they had anticipated, and the foundation was far too shallow to adequately hold the structure! And sure enough, before long the whole structure had begun to tilt... and it continued to tilt... until finally the architect and the builders realized that nothing could be done to make the Leaning Tower of Pisa straight again.

It took 176 years to build the Tower of Pisa and during that time many things were done to try and compensate for the "tilt". Foundations were shored up; the upper levels were even built at an angle to try to make the top of the tower look straight. Nothing worked. Fearing it would fall, millions of dollars were spent recently by the Italian government to strengthen the foundations.

A tower or a house is only as good as its foundations. How foolish it would be, Jesus implies, for a person to put thousands of dollars into building a magnificent house, with beautiful interior decor and the latest household gadgets but forgetting the simplest pre-requisite. The ocean view from the balcony might be breath-taking but if the builder hasn't paid adequate attention to what is buried under the building, namely the foundations, the house and its occupants are heading for disaster.

The two houses that Jesus described looked okay. To the observer there was no difference Ė but that was on a fine day. But when the first severe storm came along, one was reduced to a pile of rubble.

The man who sat amongst the rubble, looking at his neighbourís house standing tall and strong in spite of the storm, must have contemplated how much life sucks. He has spent as much or even more on his house and look at it now.

But Jesus doesnít have much sympathy for the man sitting amongst the rubble that was once his magnificent house. He says that a person is a fool if he allows himself to be buried in his own house.
A person is a fool if he throws away his money on those parts of his house that have no function except to build up his own glory, while at the same time economises on the most important and very functional part of the house, the foundations.

When life sucks what does Jesus consider to be solid foundation material on which to build our lives? He says, "Anyone who hears these words of mine and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock." Thatís the solid foundation on which Jesus wants everyone to build. This is one of the most important pieces of advice that we are given. Note again Jesusí words, The person "who hears these words of mine and obeys them" is building his or her life on a safe and secure foundation. If you really want to know where to find true wisdom, help, strength, encouragement, support, and comfort listen to what Jesus has to say and obey. When life sucks there is nothing that can replace building your house of life on rock Ė the rock of Jesus.

Without a doubt there will come those times in life, when we will simply say, "It sucks". This is where the foundations on which we build our life becomes so important. Jesus is saying to us, "Itís foolish to hear God's Word but not believe it, to not put it into practice, and to not "build" one's life on it". He said, "The people who are really blessed are the ones who hear and obey God's message!" (Luke 11:28 CEV).
James says something similar when he wrote
, "Obey God's message! Don't fool yourselves by just listening to it (James 1:22 CEV).

You see, itís easy to hear God's Word. We listen to it with our ears, we nod our heads in agreement, but no sooner have we closed our bibles or walked out of the church, than we forget what we have heard. We continue on our way without really taking in that the words we heard is God's message to us personally for our every day journey; that God is speaking to us as individuals and offers us his words of encouragement and hope especially in those times when life sucks.

The problem is that we donít associate what we are hearing with what is happening in our every day life. The words of Jesus donít penetrate to the point of making any changes in the way we face our problems or the way we live. This is what Jesus meant when he said, "Anyone who hears these words of mine and does not obey them (that means doesnít actually apply my word to what is happening in their every day lives) is like a foolish man who built his house on sand" (Brackets mine).

Nothing delights Satan more than when we listen to what God has to say but donít really hear it. We let it go in one ear and right out the other side. We hear it but it makes no impact on our lives. When this happen, it might be just the moment God is telling us something really important that will sustain us in a future storm.

A fact of life in this world is that there will always be storms. No one is immune to them. Jesus isnít telling us here to find storm free areas to build houses. Rather he is telling us how to build in order to withstand the storms that will come. This is a story about foundations. Itís about the strength and help that comes from God when life sucks.

When life sucks how does Jesus advice help us? Letís look at a few examples.

Jesus says "Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). How many times have we heard that verse? Jesus invites us, urges us, almost commands us to seek him out when life sucks. He promises to give us rest, to teach us how to cope when things get us down. He promises to take on his shoulders the yoke of our burdens and work with us in overcoming those things that threaten us. He promises us the kind of peace that only comes from knowing that Jesus is our helper and friend. But what happens is that we hear all this with our ears but when the chips are down too often we forget Jesusí invitation to "Come to him". We prefer to struggle on in our strength as diminished as this might be.

St Peter urges us, "Leave all your worries with him (God), because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). To take God seriously means to take him at his Word. The apostle pleads with us to take all of our worries to God. God loves us. He only wants the best for us. He wants to help us but what do we do? We struggle on as if God hadnít ever given us this invitation. When life sucks, it seems that everything we know about God's love for us is sucked away by our troubles.

Jesus said, "For only a cent you can buy two sparrows, yet not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father's consent. Ö So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows! (Matthew 10:29,31). When the hassles of life get us down it is only a small step to start believing that no ones cares, no one really understands, not even God. Again Jesus invites us, "Donít be afraid. You are without a doubt precious in God's sight. His love will not desert you. Even though you go through the darkest valleys, he will with you (Psalm 23)". Johnís gospel records Jesusí words, "I will never turn away anyone who comes to me" (6:37). When life sucks Ė how wonderful is that!

Jesusí story about the wise man who build his house on rock and the foolish man who built his house on the sand urges us to ask ourselves, "What is that rock solid foundation that will get me through the tough times Ė the times when I feel alone in my troubles Ė the times I think no one understands Ė the times when my strength and resources have all dried up and drifted away like a morning fog. How seriously do I take the invitations of Jesus to my Lord, my shepherd, my helper and strength?"

Peter Kreeft said this, "Jesus is there, sitting beside us in the lowest places of our lives.
Are we broken? He was broken, like bread, for us.
Are we despised? He was despised and rejected of men.
Do we cry out that we can't take any more? He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
Do people betray us? He was sold out himself.
Are our tenderest relationships broken? He too loved and was rejected.
Do people turn from us? They hid their faces from him as from a leper.
Does he descend into all of our hells? Yes, he does. From the depths of a Nazi death camp, Corrie ten Boom wrote: "No matter how deep our darkness, he is deeper still." He not only rose from the dead, he changed the meaning of death and therefore of all the little deaths - the sufferings that anticipate death and make up parts of it" (Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith, Zondervan 2000).

That about sums up the firm foundation that Jesus gives when life sucks. I know that most of us will struggle with the circumstances that life throws at us at some time (some of you are facing these struggles right now). I know that most of us will have those moments when we will question God, accuse him of not caring, try to rely with our own strength, but even then his love never fails and keeps on inviting us to come to him with all of our burdens, to trust his love for us. We can rely on his promise, "I will give you rest".

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
29th May, 2005
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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