MATTHEW 7:24-27

JANUARY 24, 2016

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)


             Maybe you heard about the woman who walked up to a little old man rocking in a chair on his porch. Though weathered and feeble, he had a content smile on his face.

            “I couldn’t help noticing how happy you look,” she said. “What’s your secret for a happy life?”

            “Well, I smoke three packs of cigarettes a day,” he said, waving a wrinkled hand through the air, with a smoldering cigarette between his thumb and finger. “I also drink a case of whiskey a month, eat fatty foods, and never exercise.”

            “That’s amazing!” said the woman. “So, how old are you?”

            Twentysix,” he answered.

            If we were going to build a healthy body, we would not follow this young man’s example.

            How about building a healthy marriage? Where would we look for models? You may have heard about the woman who inserted an ad in the classified section of the paper: “Husband Wanted!”

            Two hundred of the letters she received in response read, “You can have mine!”

            Or how about building a significant life in Christ? Where would we look for guidance? Well, that’s what we are considering in our current sermon series, and today we look at the fourth thing to consider when building such a life.

            The passage we read today comes at the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It is about two builders who built two houses on two different types of foundations with two different results. As we continue our sermon series on building a significant life in Christ,” I want us to note the importance of building such a life on a sturdy, rock-solid foundation. In so doing, I want us to consider three things.

            First, consider the commonalities. By that I mean, note what the two builders have in common.

            First, they both had heard the words of Jesus. It’s not like one heard and the other didn’t. No, they both heard the words of Jesus. Note the common thread in verses 24 and 26. Both verses begin with the words, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine … “ Both builders, the foolish one and the wise one, have heard Jesus’ words.

            Second, both people had a reaction to Jesus’ words. The reactions were different, but each had a reaction to what Jesus had said. Just about every Sunday that happens to us. We like what was read or said or we dislike what was read or said. We take to heart what was read or said, or we ignore what was read or said.

            Third, both builders shared a similar dream. They wanted a house, a shelter from the elements, a safe place to raise a family, a comfortable place to call home. Our daughter works for Gallup and they surveyed people from around the world and from every religious perspective and the one thing that all of them had in common whether from the good ol’ USA or India, whether Christian or Jew or Muslim or Buddhist, the one thing they wanted more than anything was to provide for their families. That same desire cut across geographical and religious boundaries. What the two builders in this story wanted more than anything else was to build a house.

            Fourth, after building their houses both builders faced a Katrina, Hurricane Sandy type of storm. I find that disappointing. I wish following Christ, I wish doing the right thing, would inoculate us from trouble, especially catastrophic trouble, like that described in this storm. And by the way, this is not a minor storm. This is not losing the charge on your cell phone. This is not having a flight cancelled. This is not having the furnace go out. This is a major storm. This is a Tower of Terror storm.

            Have any of you been on Disney’s Tower of Terror? It’s an accelerated drop of 180 feet. I did it once. That was enough. I found myself saying a “Hail Mary” on the way down and I had not been a Roman Catholic for years. The storm Jesus describes here is that type of storm. The type of storm that causes the bottom to drop out of our lives.          Someone is in an accident and the bottom falls out. Somebody dies, and the bottom falls out. Somebody leaves, and the bottom falls out. Somebody calls with a word about a suspicious-looking mass and the bottom falls out.

            Both builders faced this type of storm, a Hurricane Sandy, a Katrina, a Tower of Terror type of storm. So, consider the commonalities in this parable.

            Second, consider the contrast between the two builders.  While there are several similarities, there is one major difference. It had to do with acting or not acting on Jesus’ words. It had to do with putting into practice what Jesus said to do or not putting into practice what Jesus said to do.

            The one who decided not to act on Jesus’ teachings was like the man who built his house on sand.  That is to say, he built his house with little preparation. He found a spot for his house and began to build. Sand is not a good place to build a house. Sand is unstable. It shifts. Sand can never provide a firm foundation.

            I think of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Did you know that it was recently in danger of falling? That rightfully alarmed the Italian government, so on February 27, 1964, the government of Italy requested aid in preventing the tower from toppling. The wanted, however, to retain the current tilt, due to the role “the tilt” played in promoting the tourism to the town of Pisa. Soon thereafter a multinational task force of engineers, mathematicians, and historians gathered in the Azores islands to discuss stabilization methods. It was found that the tilt was increasing due to the softer foundation, the softer ground, on the lower side of the tower. Finally in 2008, after decades of restoration work, scientists and engineers said the Tower at it’s present angle is now stable for another 200 years.

            Not acting on Jesus’ words is like building a Leaning Tower of Pisa. Jesus gives us all sorts of counsel on how to build a life. If we choose not to follow his advice, then he says, “Good luck with that life of yours. It won’t hold up. It will begin to lean, and then eventually fall.”

            In contrast the other man built his house on rock. He put into practice the teachings of Jesus. He worked on loving God, loving his neighbor, loving him self. He practiced forgiveness and kindness and mercy and grace. He heard what Jesus had said and he acted on what Jesus had said. He built his house on bedrock. He was a doer of the word, not just a hearer of the word.

            Milton Erickson, a well-known and well-respected psychiatrist, was asked to counsel an elderly woman who was quite depressed. Erickson went by her home. During the visit Erickson noticed three well cared for African violets. Each was a different color and next to them was an empty pot in which this woman was clearly going to propagate another plant. This lady was a talented horticulturist. Erickson said he wanted to prescribe something for her feelings of depression, but before he did so, he wanted her word that she would fill it. She agreed.

            Erickson said, “Depression isn’t your problem. Your problem is that you aren’t being a very good Christian!”

            The woman was startled. “What do you mean?” she responded. Then he pointed out her talent for growing African violets. It was a gift she was keeping to herself. He told her to purchase pots and transplant leaves to grow more of these beautiful plants. When she had an adequate supply he wanted her to put an African violet in each of the pots and send one of these violets to the mother of every baby born to a member of her church. Then she was to send one to every member of her church who was hospitalized.

            After he left, she began to think about what he had said. She decided to give it a try. She took an African violet to a friend who had recently lost her husband. Then another to a family who just had a new baby. Soon this became a regular part of her life.

            About ten years later, an article appeared in the local paper. It was titled, “African Violet Queen Dies - Mourned by Thousands.” Evidently, by living out her Christian faith and sharing her talent for growing African violets with others, this woman discovered a meaningful and satisfying life.

            Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock . . .”  

            Finally, consider the consequences. The parable tells us that the rains came, the floods followed, and the winds of destruction blew. This image, however, is not just about some terrible storm in life. There’s more to this parable than that. This is also an image of God’s judgment. In the end, both houses were subjected to a terrible storm of judgment. One house stood, the other was totally destroyed.

            And concerning the house that was destroyed, Jesus said, “and great was its fall!” In other words, there was nothing left to show for the life lived within it. There was nothing left of hopes, dreams, plans, and efforts. Everything was destroyed and swept away as if it had never existed.

            So is a life built on the wrong foundation.

            Let me close with this. A seminary professor was teaching one summer at Princeton University. In the dining hall he encountered a young, female student. He asked her what she was studying.

            “Theology” she replied.

            “Oh really,” he said. They talked more. She was a Roman Catholic nun but had not been one for very long. Formerly a buyer for Macy’s in NY, she said, “I had a nice apartment and everything was going my way. In fact, I was engaged to be married. About two months before the wedding I prayed and thought, thought and prayed, and then called my fiancé over and gave him back the ring.”

            Some months later, she was wearing her nun’s habit on the subway and right in front of her was her former fiancé. She said hello and he said hello . . . they both cried and said good‑bye again.

            The seminary professor asked, “Does it hurt?”

            “Very much,” she replied.

            “Then why did you do it?” he asked.

            She said that she did it because “not everyone lives by the principle, ‘If it feels good, do it!’”

            Wow! “Not everybody lives by the principle, if it feels good, do it.” It’s not enough to simply believe in Christ’s teachings. If they are going to help us live successful lives, we must put them into practice. “Everyone who hears these words of mine,” says Jesus, “and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock . . .”