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Sermon on The Wise Man built his house upon the Rock Matthew Chapter 7

By The Reverend Charles Royden 


Lesley Rochford gave us a real insight last week into the effects of the Tsunami, when she spoke about her time in Banda Aceh helping as a nurse those who were effected by the terrible effects of that natural disaster. It was very interesting speaking with her afterwards about the incredible things which some of the workers from Christians Missionary Agencies were saying about the Tsunami. Lesley told us that she was not excessively religious herself and when she went she worked with a Christian organisation. The Christians working there said that that the Tsunami was God's work, which God brought about to enable the Christians to go and work in that Muslim country etc. I guess in the same way that people attributed the Sars epidemic in Hong Kong to God, AIDs as a punishment of homosexuals etc. God it seems is fully occupied dreaming up new and more indiscriminate methods of torture.

So, I want you if you can to think back to those pictures which we saw last week and you will remember the scene on two of them. The area in Banda Aceh  was completely devastated, all the houses were demolished by the flood and storm, only one or two were left standing. Now you may remember being told also that many of the Mosques were not destroyed either. Now I am guessing that if God wanted to have a go at the Muslims he would have been a bit more accurate and made sure he demolished the Mosques. God was punishing Muslims, but he is a lousy shot?

The reason why the Mosques and one or two houses were left standing of course was - because they were built on proper foundations, they were brick built buildings. The poor, (the ones we are told God loves), it was their houses which were blown away of course. The poor lived in houses of wood and straw like the two unfortunate pigs, the Mosques were made of bricks and like the clever pigs house it did not get blown down.

So back to today’ reading which does talk about building sensibly on good foundations. Jesus is speaking at the end of the sermon on The Mount, that wonderful collection of material which tells us how Jesus thinks we should live our lives. Jesus has made all these statements about
learning to forgive one another etc.

Now Jesus knows that what will happen is that people will agree with his teaching, but go away and do nothing about it. I guess it is the same as we might behave about global warming. We read the scientific stuff which tells us that glaciers are melting, the environment is going into turmoil and we watch movies about it and we all agree that it is dreadful - and then we do nothing. It really is quite interesting that the country which produced the great movie 'The Day after Tomorrow,' has not signed up for the Kyoto agreement.

Jesus knows that somewhere between the head and the heart and the hands and feet good intentions get lost. We might agree that the following are good ideas

* If someone strikes you on the right cheek turn to him the other, * Love your enemies, * You cannot serve God and mammon, * do not judge, * do to others what you would have them do to you.

The problem is that we are all notoriously bad at implementing them.

So Jesus finishes his teachings of the Sermon on the Mount with a warning. If you fail to implement this teaching, if you just nod your head in agreement and then fail to act, the you are just like a house built on sand. You look great but you will end up wanting and you will be proved to be lacking in substance.

This teaching about building on the rock is not geared towards unbelievers. I am sure that there are sermons all over the place today extolling the importance of the wicked amending their lives and following the teachings of Jesus. But that is not what the passage is about. It is not directed as a criticism of the lost sheep who are outside fellowship. It is directed at us who hear and agree with the words of Jesus, but fail to let his teachings take root in our lives.

The teaching is delivered to people who all appear to be signed up disciples. The point which Jesus is making is that just because you look like a Christian and talk like a Christian, that is no guarantee that you are actually allowing the Word of God to take root and form the guiding principle for your life.

Jesus knew about building, he was a carpenter. So he used an illustration about building houses to try and draw attention to the laziness of human nature to. He knew how easy it is to hear things, listen to them, agree with them and then go out and do not one thing about them. And so He told the story to show the necessity of doing as well as hearing. It is not enough to know; it is not enough to agree. Every word is given that we may use it, put it into action and make it a part of the structure as we build a life.

Today in the Christian lectionary we embark upon a long progression of Ordinary Sunday's, they are green in liturgical colour. We will proceed through the Book of Matthew looking at the teachings of Jesus. The caution today is to ask ourselves, how much of it will make a real difference, how much will we allow ourselves to be changed by the teachings of Jesus, not just listen to it and think it is a good idea.

Additional Material

Commentary Hearers and Doers
Our lectionary readings from now until Advent are going to be concerned very much with the Gospel of Matthew. The passage from Matthew today has been taken from what we call the Sermon on the Mount. It contains many rules for Christian living. This particular passage today comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. By this stage in Matthew we have already been given the following teaching by Jesus
To let our light shine so that people might see our good works and give glory to the Father (5:16)
To keep and teach the commandments (5:17-20)
To deal with anger and to resolve conflict (5:21-26)
To maintain proper marital relationships (5:27-32)
To speak honestly without fanfare or oaths (5:34-37)
To act in generous and loving ways -- even toward our enemies (5:38-48)
To give alms and to pray in secret (6:1-6)
To forgive (6:14-15)
To seek first the kingdom of God (6:24-34)
To refrain from judgment (7:1-5)
So now at the end of his teaching Jesus challenges his hearers to be either obedient to his words or disobedient. Jesus does this by using the teaching method of a parable. On the face of it is an easy to understand story, but parables have a way of presenting truth in very clear and uncompromising manner.
Jesus told this compelling parable with a powerful message about two men who built houses. One man built his house on sand and his house fell down when the weather got really bad. The other man built his house on the rock and his house stood firm in spite of the storms. So far s good, we all agree that we should build on solid foundations, we should copy the man who built on the rock.
The Jesus comes in with the punch line. The difference between the two men is not that one man is a believer in Jesus and the other is not. Both of the men listen to the words of Jesus. What distinguishes them is that one man put the words of Jesus into practice and tries to live by them. The other man hears the words of Jesus and might think that they are fantastic, but he does not live by them. The lesson is clear, listening to the words of Jesus is a start, but ultimately useless if we don't live out what we believe.
That is why the Sermon on the Mount has been called the Christian Magna Charta, the Christian Manifesto, the Design for Life, and the Rules for Christian Living. Jesus is telling his followers that belief in him is about what we do when we get up in the morning. How do we live our lives in the choices and decision which we take? In the Sermon on the Mount we read the Beatitudes, the Lord's Prayer, and the Golden Rule. Jesus deals with murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, revenge, and worry. Jesus gives instructions on prayer, giving to the poor, fasting, judging others, and saving money.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells his followers -
* If someone strikes you on the right cheek turn to him the other, * Love your enemies, * You cannot serve God and mammon, * do not judge, * do to others what you would have them do to you.

It is very easy to agree with these statements completely and then go out and behave differently. We can accept statements as being completely true, but nevertheless we can be utterly complacent and not allow ourselves to be changed by what we have heard. The teaching of Jesus from the lesson in Matthew Chapter 7 this week, challenges any of his hearers who have that shallow kind of response. The message is clear, if you follow Jesus you do what he says, otherwise you might just as well not bother following him at all. It is a hard message, but it makes sense, being a Christian is not just about things we believe in our heads, it is about how we live and show that our faith makes a difference.

The storm in the parable can be seen as the Last Judgement, or any time of testing. What is clear is that Jesus makes the assumption in the parable that both men experience storms. The wise man who tries to live out his faith and the foolish man for whom it is only skin deep, both face storms. Faithfulness to Jesus does not mean the absence of storms. Our faith is a strength to us in times of distress not a means of protecting us from them in the first place. How often have you hard somebody say, I don’t know what I have done wrong to deserve this? The importance is not what torments assail your life, it is how you face them.
A faith that is built on Christ, the solid rock, is a faith that endures emotional upheavals, floods of sorrow, tempests of grief and hostility. A faith built on Christ endures our economic upsets, our sorrows and our grief. But building a house of faith on rock is a slower process. It takes more effort, stamina, patience, and imagination. Building a house on the rock is a lot harder, you work and work and at the end your house looks no better than the one built on the sand. Superficially they can be seen as both being good houses. The difference is only seen when the going really gets tough.
Another rabbinical parable said
'A man whose knowing exceeds his doing, is like a tree with many branches and few roots.'
The benefit of a tree having great roots is that when a drought comes then the tree can survive.
Bishop Ryle put is clearly when he said,
‘Sound doctrine and holy living are the marks of true prophets.’
And so the Sermon on the Mount is brought to a conclusion with a warning from Jesus. His words are not just to be heard but also to be done. Choose - wisdom or foolishness. Words without action and action without faith are both shallow and not what God wants for us. Jesus is not impressed by our pious words, rather he looks for sincerity in our good living in obedience. Charles Royden

What do we do when faced by people we really do not like? There will be many different reasons why we don't get on with certain people and why they don't get on with us. It can be really hard to get along with people who are rude and selfish and some people can just wind us up for no special reason. The Sermon on the Mount gives us guidance on how we should behave towards these people. Even if we feel like punching somebody in the face, instead we must show good manners and be polite, turning the other cheek. When we feel that somebody has really pushed their luck and deserves a right talking to, then we should forgive. God's way for us is one of learning tolerance, understanding and forgiveness, especially to those we really hate! Charles Royden