Welcome to the Rock
The Spontaneous Melodrama was fun. I love doing them because they are fun and makes you pay attention to the Word of God. Today’s text is one of familiarity. We hear the story and we nod our head because we have heard it before. We just acted it out, but now let’s hear it again from scripture. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and as I read concentrate on something that stands out to you as I read it. What phrase is your mind attached to? What word keeps playing in your head? Close your eyes and listen.
– Read Matthew 7:12-19 –
When I did this I found that this comforting and familiar text all of a sudden became uncomfortable. I am not sure what phrase or word popped into your head but for me it was, “the crowds were amazed at his teaching.” There was something about this text, the way Jesus was talking to them and his demeanor that made the crowd sit back on their heels and gasp at his authority. He spoke with more influence and weight then their scribes. They were astounded by him.
When I read this for the first time I thought that was weird because we are familiar with Jesus’ analogy here. We have heard the story of the two builders before. It is a good illustration that has stood the test of time but why was the crowd astounded? Why were they shocked beyond belief at Jesus’ words here? Why were they dumbfounded and in awe? Are we missing something here? Is there more to the story than we are getting in these 9 verses?
The quick answer is yes, we are missing the fact that these words end Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ sermon starts in the fifth chapter of Matthew and goes until this piece of scripture here. In chapter 5, Jesus starts with the Beatitudes and then goes on to talk about fulfilling the law and his teachings. He goes on to tell them how to live a healthy and spiritual life through giving of alms, fasting, and prayer. This is where we received the Lord’s Prayer. He talks about God and our relationship to God. In the last 16 verses he gives them a series of warnings. And that is where we find this piece of scripture. The story of the two builders is to serve as a warning to us followers, us insiders, us churchgoers. We are to look upon this analogy and be scared to look in the mirror. We should be scared because this warning is directed to all followers. I encourage you to go home and read the Sermon on the Mount for yourselves, it’s only three chapters of the Bible. Read it and I guarantee that once you finish the scripture for today, you will be like the crowd, and astounded at Christ teachings.
But where is the warning, the uncomfortable of this story? Where do the teeth start to cut our flesh in the fun little play we put on this morning? It starts in verse 21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Now that Jesus’ sermon is coming to and end he wants to make sure that those who heard it understand that they cannot sit idly by now. They heard the word, we read the word, and Jesus is telling us that we now have to do the will of the Father. We have to actually digest it and live it out in our daily lives.
He made free use of Christian vocabulary. He talked about the blessing of the Almighty and the Christian confessions which would become the pillars of the new government. He assumed the earnestness of a man weighed down by historic responsibility. He handed out pious stories to the press, especially to the church papers. He showed his tattered Bible and declared that he drew the strength for his great work from it as scores of pious people welcomed him as a man sent from God. Indeed, Adolf Hitler was a master of outward religiosity–with no inward reality! (Today in the Word, June 3, 1989.)
Now that is a crass example but the implications are the same for those of us who come to church day in and day out simply to check it off on our weekly to-do list. “Why I come to church every week. You can tell because the fourth pew back on the left on the right side is my seat because it has an imprint of my seat on it. I sing the hymns. I listen to the sermons. I say the prayers and repeat the creeds. That is who I am on Sundays. On Mondays though, I take advantage of the people by secretly charging more for my services. I cheat on my taxes. I drink too much. I enjoy flirting with people even though I’m married. I lie, belittle others, gossip about people, and think only about myself. I am a good Christian because I go to church every Sunday.” We know people like this. We ARE people like this. That is why Jesus’ words today cut so deep.
There are two men, one who builds a house on the rock and the other on the sand. Storms come, the winds blow, the water rises and in the end the house on the sand is washed away and the one on the rock is left standing. The house with the rock foundation is still standing in the end. The rock is the Word of God. We are called to live as the Word of God as our foundations. The scriptures are to give us guidance, support, strength, and wisdom. The most important Word of God is the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ. Christ is to be our example that we follow and whose teachings are to guide our everyday living. We cannot simply believe and know the Word of God though we are to also live them out. Together with faith and action we have a foundation that will never be shaken when the storms of life hit.
Jesus in this story doesn’t say that if you have your foundation on the rock you will never be hit by storms. He doesn’t say that being on the rock will shelter you from hard times, struggles and suffering. What does Jesus say? “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house.” We as followers of Christ should not be surprised when rain, floods and winds fall in our lives. Jesus never promises that when we become followers we will live sheltered lives. If bad stuff is happening to you it doesn’t mean you are not in God’s favor, it simply mean that life is happening. Life happens. Stuff goes wrong. People get sick. Debt stacks up. Times get tough. That is life. We should not come here and worship God and then be disappointed that life happens. Life is a series of mountain top and rock bottom experiences. Life is not nor will it ever be pain, sorrow, and struggle free. That is not the life Christ promises. He tells us that rain will fall, streams will rise, and the wind will blow.
I have often wondered if we put this on our sign out front how many people would come to church. What if we put up there, Come and join us we’re suffering and struggling. How many people would come ready to serve the Lord? Not many because we in this society don’t like the idea of suffering and struggling. We like things easier or more convenient, yet Jesus is not calling us to that type of life style. He is calling us to a life that hears the Word of God and then puts them into practice. In doing that we are called to suffer and struggle.
I love walking barefoot on the beach. I love the feeling of sand in between my toes. My parents just got new sand for the sandbox in their back yard. Dean and I were playing in it and both of us had our shoes off. I stood there wiggling my toes. The sand was cool, silky, and relaxing. The only trouble was that to get back into my parents house I had to walk across their gravel path. Rocks are not as comfortable as sand. In order to not get sand all in my shoes I had to carry them in my hands and gently and gingerly walk across the rocks. It hurt and I got off of them as soon as I could. I know where I would like to spend most of my time, in the sand, where it is comfortable and welcoming. Yet we are called to be people who are on the rocks and the rocks are, at times, uncomfortable, cold, hard, and tough.
Jesus ends his Sermon on the Mount by welcoming people to the rock. Welcome to a world that demands that you love your enemies. A world where the meek shall inherit the earth and blessed are the peacemakers. A world where we are to forgive others, we are to give of ourselves and our money to help the needy. A world where we are slaves to God and not wealth. Where we do attempt to pick out the speck in our neighbor’s eye without realizing there is a log in our own. That is the world that Jesus is calling us to. It is uncomfortable because it goes against a lot of what the secular world teaches. To live this life out, to be houses upon the rock, means suffering and struggle will occur.
Yet when the rains come, when the stream rises, and when the wind blows, we need to remember what the Psalmist wrote and what Joanne read, “Be still and know that I am God.” Jesus tells us that although the rock is uncomfortable we will make it through the storms because of God. Although the sand looks cozy and a better place to live we are still better off in the long run on the rock. Because it is there that we can cry out “Lord, Lord” and know that we will enter the kingdom of heaven. It is on the rock that we can rest assured that Jesus knows us.
As we come to the Lord’s Table today we can rest assured that when life gets uncomfortable on the rock, AND IT WILL, we have a foundation that is unshakable. We can have the strength and courage to get through it. We can stand here together, on the rock of the Word of God, singing together “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.”
And all God’s people said…Amen.