LUKE 6:46-49

8 Sep 2013


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           When we moved to Omaha in July of 1975, Trudy and I quickly learned the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning.  We didn't have tornado watches and warnings in Southern California.  We didn't have tornadoes in Southern California.  We were house sitting when we first moved here, and a tornado watch appeared on the television screen and Trudy and I panicked.  What should we do?  Where should we go?  We called  someone from the church to ask and they calmed us down and explained the difference between a "watch" and a "warning."  They told us a tornado watch means that the atmospheric conditions are ripe for the development of a tornado.  A tornado warning, on the other hand, means that a funnel cloud has actually been sighted in the area.  If the National Weather Service issues a watch, just be alert.  If the National Weather Service issues a warning, however, take cover. 

            In our passage for today, Jesus issues a warning rather than a watch.  It's a flash flood warning rather than a tornado warning, but it's a warning.  He tells the story of two men, each of whom builds a house, but they make different choices, and their stories have different endings.  Please note, however, that the two men are more alike than they are different.  We might miss that fact because our natural instinct is to focus on the difference between them.  Before we can appreciate their difference, however, we need to note a great similarity between them.  And by the way, my sermon outline is a little weird today.  I don't know what went wrong.  Maybe it was the short week, having Monday off, I don't know, but here's the sermon outline.  We'll begin with similarity number one, then go to the big difference, and then end up with similarity number two.  Got it?  Similarity ... difference ... similarity.  Here we go. 

            The first great similarity is the weather.  They both deal with a flash flood, apparently the result of a great gully washer, a great downpour, and the first man is wise, having laid a solid foundation, and the second man foolish, having ignored the importance of a rock-solid foundation.  By the way, according to Matthew's version of the story, which is the more familiar version of the story, the second guy builds his house on sand rather than rock, but Luke doesn't say that.  He just says he didn't lay a proper foundation.  But note a very important fact in the story.  Both guys, the guy with a solid foundation, and the guy with no foundation, both get hit by the storm.  I find that disappointing.  I would very much like to believe that the wise, the righteous, and the faithful, those who build on the rock, would be exempted from life's storms, from tornados and flash floods, but not so.

            Our sense of fairness, and perhaps our theology, expects that where the wise man chooses to build, or how the faithful person chooses to live, is a place less susceptible to storms.  And there is a scriptural evidence for that.  In the Old Testament Law, as well as in the Psalms and Proverbs, there is a straightforward cause-and-effect paradigm: obedience brings blessing, while disobedience yields disaster. 

            At the same time, however, the Old Testament people of God were not naive on this point.  They cherished the stories of Joseph and Job, and others whose sufferings were unfair and undeserved.  Many of the Psalmist's prayers are cries for justice in the midst of persecution and troubles.  And the faithfulness of people like Jeremiah, Daniel, and Nehemiah seemed only to create trouble for them. 

            The path of the righteous, we discover, has mixed results.  On the one hand, the path of righteousness steers one clear of all the self-inflicted troubles that come with sin and wickedness.  On the other hand, in this fallen world, the path of righteousness may also lead a person directly into the troubles of persecution and unjust suffering.  So here's the point once again.  Both the wise and the foolish builder live with the same weather.  That is the first great commonality they share.  Saints and sinners alike experience life's storms.  

            On the heels of the great similarity comes the great difference between them.  Their weather is the same.  How they weather it is not.   

            Growing up in Southern California we went to the beach a lot.  Santa Monica Beach, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Zuma Beach, we went a lot, and when I was young boy only half of our beach fun was playing in the surf.  The other half was playing in the sand and a standard part of playing in the sand was building sandcastles.  My friends and I would build elaborate structures.  We would work on tunnels, bridges, and towers, adorned with stones, sticks, and seashells.  In the end, of course, our sandcastle's fate was always the same.  The tide would come in, and devastate our project.  Gradually we watched our work being undermined, crumbled, and washed away.  It comes with the territory, for that is the nature of sand. 

            Such vulnerability is harmless enough in a sandcastle.  In fact, it's rather fascinating to watch.  When it happens on a larger scale, however, it is truly disturbing to watch.  We have all seen news footage of people's homes being battered and twisted by hurricanes, or leveled by tornados, or suddenly disappearing down the side of a hill in some California mudslide.  It's a disturbing scene. 

            And it's worse still when the wreckage is not a structure but a life.  That's what Jesus is talking about, of course, in his flood warning parable.  The carnage that comes from a fragile foundation in a human life is even more tragic than the sight of a building being devastated by some natural disaster.  We've all seen it.  We've seen lives buckle and crumble.  Of course, unless we are very close to the situation, we may not see it coming.  It's difficult to perceive from a distance that a person's foundation is being gradually eroded away.  The final "crash" often catches us by surprise when it comes.  "I had no idea," we exclaim when we hear the news.  "I had no idea he was going through that."  "I had no idea that was going on in her life." 

            As a pastor, I have done a fair amount of counseling with folks usually precipitated by some storm in their life, and I have thought sometimes, while trying to help someone cope with the present storm, that perhaps a variation of Jesus' parable would be appropriate.  Perhaps there is a third category of people:  those who did not build on the rock at first, but who frantically run to find a firm foundation once the storm hits. 

            The real estate agent will readily tell you the axiomatic truth of his or her trade: "Location, location, and location!"  As a pastor I would bear witness to my work's version of that truth: Foundation, foundation, and foundation!  In my roles as a preacher and a teacher, I endeavor to help people build on the rock while the sun is shining.  In my role as a counselor, however, I reckon myself out there in the rain and the wind with them, trying to help them find the rock to build upon,  to get them through the crisis.  It's a desperate effort.         

            In Florida a man came to see me.  His wife was a regular worshipper, he only worshipped on the big three ... Christmas, Easter and Mother's Day, and their marriage was falling apart, and he wanted to patch it back together.  His wife wanted a divorce and it caught him by surprise, and as we talked I realized this guy had no solid foundation in his life.  As the wind blew, and the rains came, he was frantically trying to grab for solid rock on which to rebuild his marriage, but unfortunately that house had begun to slide down the hill.

            So that's the difference, how they weathered the weather.  That brings us to the second great similarity between the two house builders.  The first, you remember, is the weather.  They both get caught in a flash flood.  The second similarity, it turns out, is their opportunity.   "I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them," Jesus says, and he goes on to describe the person we think of as the wise house builder.  "But the one who hears and does not act," Jesus continues, "is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation." 

            The second great similarity between the two house builders is that both persons heard the Word.  Both had the opportunity to build on the rock, which is obedience to God's word.  I suppose that's why we are right to think of the two builders as "wise" and "foolish."  If the difference between them was that one had heard the life-changing, life-saving Word and the other had not, then we might label them "lucky" and "unlucky," "fortunate" and "unfortunate."  But they had the same opportunity.  They heard the same Word, but in the end, one responded wisely to the Word, and the other did not. 

            In so many of the parables Jesus presents us with a choice of characters.  Are we more like the priest and the Levite or the Samaritan?  Do we more closely resemble the wise virgins or the foolish ones?  Do we live like the first two stewards or the third who buried his talent in the ground?   And here, too, in this parable: both characters experienced storms, and both characters heard the Word, but each one responded differently to what he heard.  Which of the two builders are we like?  Have we acted on what we have heard from the Lord?   

            Every so often we hear the story of a scam artist who manages to bilk some poor, trusting souls out of their life savings.  He makes promises, he offers guarantees, and they invest most or all of what they have in his proposal.  But then both he and their money disappear, leaving them devastated.   The original scam artist, of course, was known as the most subtle and crafty of all the creatures in the Garden.  He, too, made promises and guarantees.  Eve believed him, and in the process she and Adam lost virtually everything they had.  And still today Old Redlegs tries to sell folks a bill of goods.  Or, in the parlance of our parable, he tries to sell us a piece of property. "Come build your life here," he urges. "Here you'll have everything you need!" 

            Well, not everything.  Not a firm foundation. 

            We human beings keep buying property and building structures on flood plains, fault lines, and along hurricane-vulnerable coasts.  It's a calculated risk, and many thousands of folks seem willing to take it.  There is no calculated risk when it comes to the life-storms represented in Jesus' parable.  We do not need to assess the probability of being hit by one, or several, of these storms.  They are a given, and yet, people still go merrily on, building vulnerability into the structure of their lives. 

            We have been advised early and often not to "put all our eggs in one basket."  After all, the prudent key to sound investing in our world is to diversify.  That's fine when only money is at stake.  When it comes to the weightier matter of our life's foundation, however, diversification is not so wise.  "All other ground is sinking sand," declared nineteenth-century hymn writer Edward Mote.  The wise ones have discovered, when it comes to investing our life, our hopes, and our faith, we need to un-diversify.  

            The sun is shining.  It's a good day to build.  Foundation.  Foundation.  Foundation.