Sunday, May 19, 2013

Words to Build Your Life On - Luke 6: 46-49; 8: 4-21

Last week we saw the devastating power of wind and storm when several tornados struck the Midwest.  The forces of nature are truly humbling and awe-inspiring.  They remind us that there are definite limits to our powers as human beings, that we are finite creatures who must wonder that we live and breathe at all. In his Sermon on the Plain, Jesus has been teaching us how to live the eternal kind of life as his followers…a life that can stand up to every disaster and challenge.  In response, there were plenty who politely nodded “Yes, Lord, that’s right sir.”  But he noticed that many still failed to take him seriously; and so he concludes his sermon with a parable about how to survive the severe weather patterns of life… 
46 "Why do you call me "Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I tell you? 47 I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. 48 That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house."
Two Foundations to compare (46-47). In Jesus’ parable…he describes two builders: The one who builds on a rocky foundation is like the one who “comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them” (47); while the one who builds on sand is like the one who ignores my words altogether.  Hearing and doing the word is a recurring theme in Jesus’ teaching…In a similar parable, The Parable of the Sower & the Soils (Luke 8: 4-21) Jesus compares the good soil which receives the seed and bears much fruit to those who listen his word “hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance” (8:15).  Jesus even defines his true family by this criteria where he says “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (8: 21). 

If nothing else, we have to admire Jesus’ confidence here! He knew that his words and deeds decisively revealed God’s life-saving truth; yet we find no trace of pride or arrogance in Him here.  Only love…love even for his enemies. When Jesus speaks of the wise person who “comes to me,” he is talking about a life lived in close community with Him: "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Come to me that you may have life (John).  Where are you staying master?  Come..come and see!  When Jesus says “hear my words” he means that we are to focus our full attention on his teaching.  Giving anything our full attention today is difficult.  Two recent studies, one by Carnegi Mellon University show that “typical office workers only get 11 continuous minutes to work on a task before interruption” by texting, email and social media.   Students average only 2 minutes. It also maintains that “multi-tasking while doing academic work” profoundly affects the encoding of memories and leads to learning that is “spottier, shallower, less flexible.”  The study suggests that those who learn when and how to resist the ping, buzz and beep of their mobile tech. have a distinct advantage in life. When Jesus counsels us to love our enemies, to give to those in need, to take a careful inventory of our own sin before pointing out the sins of others; when he challenges us to speak the truth and live lives of unbreakable commitment he is not trying to ruin our lives…but to bless them and protect them which is why he wants us to listen to him carefully.

So Jesus challenges us to listen carefully to him…and that means not only an intellectual grasp of his words, but a willingness to act on them.  In school the goal is to demonstrate mastery of information, but Jesus’ goal is more than that…it is moral and spiritual transformation. Therefore the one who acts on what he hears will be like one who builds his house on bedrock rather than on sand.  Building our lives on the words of the most influential person in human history makes objective sense…yet many of us don’t do it. Why?

Three Reasons that the foolish builder acted unwisely:  
Reason #1  The foolish builder didn’t trust the advice of the Master Builder.  Jesus said that some cry, “Yes, Lord!” but then do what they feel like. How many times have we said to someone, “Yes sir!” and then did the opposite…whether it was a teacher, our parents or a boss at work or perhaps even the contractor remodeling our house! Obviously this builder was given different advice about how to build in a flood zone, but chose to ignore it, which is why it is a good illustration of Jesus’ point. Some prefer to build on another (or no) foundation because they don’t trust that Jesus has the best information available on how to build houses and lives; or they like Jesus’ words but don’t buy that He is the Son of God.  The fact that Christ tells this parable at all proves that his response to such a person is not angry denunciation…but a sincere invitation to “come and see,” to make an experiment of walking in his ways, for if he is indeed the way, the truth, and the life, than the blessings of patterning our life after his - will become self-evident. I can’t think of a single time that I’ve regretted trusting in the way of Christ.  If I have any regrets, it is the times that I’ve chosen to ignore his words and ways.

Reason #2  The foolish builder didn’t take the long view.  He didn’t think he needed to prepare for the Big One that probably wouldn’t come. For many, life seems just fine without Jesus.  They don’t see the need.  Storms are more theoretical then real and the need for flood insurance seems unnecessary. 

Notice that when Jesus speaks of storms he says, “when” and not “if.”   “When the flood arose…when the river burst.” Storms are not an “if” - they are a “when.” They’re not a possibility; they are a certainty. We don’t talk about “if” an earthquake will ever hit Los Angeles again, we talk about “when.”   We don’t realistically talk about “if” we ever get sick, we talk about “when.”  I don’t do my estate planning because I think I may die, I do it because I know I will. 

Last week I spent the day with my second Cousin Rick, who is an expert marksman and outdoorsman…a genuine cowboy.  While tracking an elk his horse’s hind legs lost their footing and he began to tumble end over end down a steep ravine taking Rick with him.  As he was tumbling a thought came to him matter of factly: “So this is what it’s like to die.”  God had done an incredible miracle in his life about 7 years before and so he was a bit more prepared this time.  Amazingly, he grabbed the side of the cliff as the horse went down. He said he felt something like a tap on his shoulder, and then a voice, “Son, you’re doing better.”  Rick has a distinct feeling that he’s here to learn… and one of the biggest lessons he’s here to learn is that he can trust God in all things, even death.  We need to prepare for the Big One.  I’m amazed that every year people spend up to 8% of their salary on a one in a 175 million chance of winning the lottery…and yet are unwilling to bet on the much more likely possibility that they are going to die and meet their Creator…a God who wants us to know Him; and to prepare us now for a never-ending life, not apart from Him, but with Him.

Reason #3  The foolish builder didn’t want to toil that hard.  When all is said and done, some of us don’t actually choose to do what Jesus asks because it sounds like too much work.  In reality, not doing what Jesus says is vastly more difficult and painful.  

In Bangladesh last month Rana Plaza, a garment factory with 3000 workers inside, collapsed like a pancake.  It was built without the right permits on land that used to be a pond. The weak foundation was threatened even further when the owner added four floors to what was once a five-story structure. On April 23, the owner, Sohel Rana, called in an engineer to inspect the building and appease worker concerns. The engineer took one look at support pillars on the third floor and was horrified. The cracks were deep – and there were a lot of them. The building is unsound, he said. No one should be inside! Rana dismissed those concerns. The factory owners were callous. They couldn't afford a work stoppage if they intended to keep their foreign clients happy. The industry generates more than $20 billion a year.  So they gave the workers an ultimatum: Miss work, miss pay. The next morning there was a loud rumble…Pillars crashed. Support beams punched through windows. Dust and debris clogged the air.  Thankfully 2400+ were pulled from the rubble…one girl after more than 17 days;  but more than a thousand died.  Now listen to this: on the day the building was declared unsafe the owner boasted, "This building will stand a hundred years!”  What destroyed that building and so many lives?  The weak foundation on which that factory was built was simple arrogance and greed.  Jesus does not want to see us destroy our lives or hurt the people around us by building unwisely. The decision to do what Jesus says is best is not just good for us…it is life-giving to those around us, but it is…

One Decision only you can make.  Jesus tells this parable because he wants us to make a wise decision…to choose carefully.  In the end, the reason to build on the foundation of our Lord’s words and ways is…

  • Not because we will be guaranteed a storm-free life.  Both houses in Jesus’ parable experienced storms, and Jesus does not tell us that just because we follow him we are guaranteed blue skies and sunny weather.
  • Not because our house will miraculously grow into a mansion.  Some teach that when you “get religion” you are guaranteed prosperity and comfort.  If that was true…we’d have 5000 in worship every Sunday.  Jesus doesn’t entice us with promises of prosperity, he challenges us to live lives of generosity… to share our food with the hungry, to provide for our families, and to invest in His kingdom.
  • In the end, the biggest reason to build on the foundation of our Lord’s words and ways is this: Our house will still be standing after the storm! Jesus ends his sermon with a crash: “and great was the ruin of that house.”  The reason he is teaching us the way to live the eternal kind of life is that he wants to save us from that crash…to save us from messed up lives and messed up eternities (2 Corinthians 5:1).

But to build on such a foundation is a decision we must make.  It begins with a simple prayer…a prayer not just that we would be spared from the stormy winds of life…but that the mighty wind of his Spirit would fill us with his presence & power.  Yesterday I was driving out to El Segundo and saw what seemed like hundreds of sailboats cruising across the ocean on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.  John Ortberg rightly points out that when Jesus calls us to follow him, listen to his words, and act on them, he is not asking us to do all the work…like rowing to Hawaii, which would be pretty exhausting; nor is he suggesting that we just sit back and drift across the Pacific Ocean as though we were on a raftassuming the work is all on Him.  In reality, coming to Christ, listening to him and acting on his words is more like sailing.  We don’t control the wind, but a good sailor knows how to catch the wind and ride it…this happens as we confess our sins and receive His grace, learn from Him in community with his people, spend time in His word, love and serve others in His name, and invite Him to empower us with his Spirit etc.  

Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit that blew through the Upper Room like a “mighty wind” (Acts 2:1) and shook the house where Jesus’ disciples were praying.  That wind, The Perfect Storm, was our Lord’s gift to his followers, and when it came….it gave them a new foundation of faith, it overcame their fear,
it overwhelmed their doubt, it filled them with courage and power to walk with him, and it is His gift to all  who would come to him, hear his words and walk in his ways.

Risen Lord, forgive us for listening to Your words, but failing to put them into practice; for building our lives on shaky foundations and with poor materials; for thinking that we didn’t need to prepare for the inevitable storms of this life. We have paid the price, yet we know that You can rebuild what has been flooded, whether in our church, our homes, or in our own lives. May the mighty wind of Your Holy Spirit blow through us today, helping us to turn from what we know is wrong, and to walk in Your ways.  May the wounded and the downcast be refreshed and healed. May words of wisdom and encouragement be spoken among us. May others be drawn to You and Your saving grace through our testimony. For You are our hearts’ one desire and our one unshakeable foundation. Amen. 

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