Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 4)

Text: Matthew 7:24
Anyone who hears these words of mine and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock.

Hearing and obeying

Today we hear Jesus talking about two men who each built a house. One man built his house on rock and when the rain poured down and the wind blew and rivers flooded his house stood firm. Jesus compares this to the house another man built. He chose to build his house on unstable sandy soil. The storms come and the owner is left with nothing but a ruin.

Jesus really isn’t telling us anything that we don’t already know. He is not only giving sound advice about how to build a solid house but also his advice is good common sense. Only a person with half a brain would build a house on unstable sand no matter how good the view or how prestigious the location might be. You just don’t do stupid things like that.

But Jesus begs to differ. People can be that stupid. We can be that foolish. Jesus’ parable about the two houses is about wise and foolish people - people like you and me. He isn’t giving us a lesson on how to build a house but a lesson on listening to what God has to say to us. He introduces his story saying, "Anyone who hears these words of mine and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock".

I need to make this clear at the beginning. This is not a story about people who hear God's Word on the one hand and people who refuse to listen to God's Word on the other. It’s about people who hear and obey and people who hear and disobey.

Really he is talking to the likes of us. There are those times when we hear and obey and other times when we hear and refuse to take any notice of what we have heard. Sometimes we are wise and put into practice what God tells us and sometimes we are foolish and prefer to do our own thing.
Often we don’t even make a conscious choice about not obeying because we regard what we hear as not suiting our present life style or circumstances so we instantly dismiss it as irrelevant and not give it another thought.

Some times we hear what Jesus is saying to us but we are quite selective in how we respond to it. Jesus says, "Love one another". ‘Yep I can handle that no problem. I can love my family and those who are close to me’. But as we say that we filter out the possibility that when Jesus says, ‘Love one another’ he also means that we care for drunks, drug addicts, the homeless, the hungry and those who simply waste their social welfare payments. We hear what Jesus is saying but we choose to put our own slant on his words. We might even say, I can love those sorts in theory but in practice no way. That kind of listening leads us to disobey.

There are other times when we hear what Jesus is saying to us, take it in and we have every intention of making some changes in our lives based on what we have heard. We have good intentions but nothing more seems to happen. As far as Jesus is concerned that is like the foolish man who knows what the right thing is to do but ignores it. He has the same choices and same resources as the other man but he chooses to build his house on the spot with the best view regardless of the advice his architect has given him about the type of foundation he is building on. Both men are faced with a choice – to obey or disobey.

As Christians this is our constant dilemma. In a perfect world this should not be the case. When God speaks to us through the Bible or when someone whom God is using as his spokesperson speaks to us, there should never be a doubt that what is being said is important and relevant to us.
This is our maker and saviour speaking to us.
This Word we are hearing is the same Word that called out at the beginning of time "Let there be" and mighty things happened.
When God speaks to us it is that same Word that called out "Be still" commanding the wind and the waves to stop and everything went calm.
This is the same Word that called out "Get up" and those who were hopelessly sick were healed and the dead were raised back to life.
When God speaks to us it is the same powerful word that called out from the cross "It is finished" – God's work of salvation has been completed.
When Jesus said to the disciples "I will be with you always" he speaks that same powerful Word into our lives today – this is a Word we have no reason to doubt.

Which ever way you look at it, when God speaks it is not something to be taken lightly. When God speaks he says what is important for our well-being now and in eternity. When God speaks he intends that his Word be heard and that the listener obeys.

James says, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says" (James 1:22 NIV).

We know from our Bibles that from the every beginning of the world people have had difficulty with all of this.
Adam and Eve heard God say to them "Do not eat" but chose to disobey.
Jonah heard God say, "Go to Nineveh" and he chose to disobey.
God told Solomon, "Do not worship false gods", and one of the wisest men to walk this earth chose to disobey.
God tells us to keep in step with the Spirit. "Let love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control be apart of everything you say and do" and we choose to disobey.

The Old Testament reading today hammers home the point that obedience and disobedience have consequences. God says through Moses,
"Today I am giving you the choice between a blessing and a curse— a blessing, if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; but a curse, if you disobey these commands and turn away to worship other gods"
(Deut 11:26-28).

God was pretty blunt when it came to his people listening and obeying and we know what kind of choices the people of Israel made. They heard God speak to them and they chose to disobey. Not that there was any doubt about what God had said to them and yet they chose to go their own way and of course there were consequences. Their enemies attacked them, destroyed their sacred places and took them off to a foreign land - away from the land that God had given them.

We know all too well that we are no different. We make bad choices – choices that in the end reflect our disobedience toward God. That’s what sin is all about. It involves the bad choices that we make that can have serious repercussions in our lives. From our own experience we know what bad choices can do to our lives and so one of the things that we teach our children is how to make good choices and avoid bad ones.

In France in the early l500s, Jean and Jeanne Cauvin (pronounced Chauvin) were blessed with two sons, John and Charles. With the encouragement of his father John chose to study theology at the age of 14. He received his doctorate when he was 23 and when he was 26 he wrote one of the world's great religious books. When he died in Geneva in 1564 he bequeathed to the world the great principles of democracy and religious freedom.

His brother, Charles, chose a completely different life style – he pursued a life of extravagance, lust and wastefulness. He became as well known for his play boy kind of life as his brother became famous for religious leadership and scholarship.

How do we explain the difference between these two men? John and Charles Calvin were brought up in the same home, had the same early influences, the same parents, went to the same school, shared the same Christian upbringing, were given the same Christian values from their parents and yet their lives turned out so differently. Simply, they both chose to take different paths in life.

And this is what Jesus is talking about when he tells the parable about the two men who build their houses – one on rock and the other on sand. Jesus is talking about people who hear what God has to say to them – one chooses to listen and build his life on the solid foundation of God's love and care and the other listens as well but chooses to build on unstable foundations where the first storm, trial and temptation ruins hopes and dreams.

If we were possible for us to choose well between right and wrong,
what is good and what is bad,
what should we do as children and of God and what we should avoid,
then our lives, the church, our community, in fact, our world would be different. Through listening to what God says we would better choices and take different directions.

This guidance is given to us through God's Word, the Bible. God tells us in black and white in what ways our lives can be changed and how we can have a positive impact on the lives of others. When we listen to God speaking to us then the choices we have to make will be ever so much clearer.

As we listen to what God is saying we also realise that as long as we are on the earth we will continue to make bad choices, I dare say, on a daily basis. We hear Jesus say to us again and again every day, "Your bad choices don’t affect the way I love you. I am still your brother; I will walk with you through the consequences of your bad choices. When storms strike and the very foundation of your being is shaken, I will hold you close and give you the strength you need when your strength fails. I will continue to extend to you the hand of forgiveness. I have died for you and nothing can change that".

That’s the message Paul is telling us today in our second reading when he said, "Everyone has sinned and is far away from God's saving presence. But by the free gift of God's grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free" (Rom 1:23,24).

Thank God for his clear message to us. His love and forgiveness are unquestionable. He will lead and guide you into his truth, and his truth changes lives.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
1st June 2008

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