Storm-Proof

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 6:46-49

“Why do you call me, `Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

Luke 6:46-49 RSV

A HAUNTING QUESTION

I can’t imagine a more troubling question. Suppose Jesus had asked it directly of you or of me. How would we have responded? What would we have said? Jesus asks the question: “Why do you call me, `Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” There’s no good answer to that one, is there? There’s no conceivable defense against the charge it brings. The only appropriate response would be to bow our heads in shame and penitence.

Those to whom Jesus is speaking here have obviously had some association with Him before. They’ve heard His teaching. They’ve understood His claim upon their lives. They have in some way, at least, thrown in their lot with Him, identifying themselves as His followers. They invoke Him as Lord.

All of that sounds good, doesn’t it? This is certainly what Jesus would have wanted from those who heard His call. But there’s a serious problem with these who claim discipleship. They don’t do what Jesus says.

In the Greek language, the tense of the verbs always tells us something important. These are in the present tense, which means in Greek, continued action. It’s as though Jesus said, “Why do you keep calling me `Lord, Lord,’ when you keep on not doing what I say?” Both actions have become habitual. We’re always mouthing “Lord, Lord” and always disregarding what He tells us. Our failure in obedience is not a matter of occasional lapses. It’s a persistent lifestyle. There seems to be a total split between profession and performance, between our talk and our walk. Jesus wants to know why.

We don’t have to call Him “Lord,” do we? The call of Jesus always leaves people free to decide. No one compels us to say, “Lord, Lord.” But when we do, we make quite a commitment. Lord means “master,” “ruler,” even “owner.” To invoke someone as Lord means to call ourselves accordingly “subject,” “bond servant,” “one who belongs to another.” “Why say that,” comes the question, “if you have no real intention of living it out?”

We have a peculiar way of deceiving ourselves, don’t we? Our inconsistencies can be evident to everyone else, but we somehow don’t notice them ourselves. Remember Simon Peter? When the Lord gave him a vision on a roof top, he saw a sheet let down from heaven with all kinds of animals on it. In the Jewish dietary system, some of these were considered kosher and others not. When the Lord said to this leader of the apostles, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat,” Peter gave an interesting response. He said, “No, Lord.” He didn’t even notice how those two words contradicted each other. If you say “No,” then He can’t be your “Lord,” can He? And if He is your “Lord,” then your answer can’t be “No.” We can’t have it both ways, yet we keep imagining that we can.

You’ve known people – I have too – who cheat on their spouses and later marry someone else’s partner. That’s bad enough, but then they give it a “religious interpretation.” “This new love is so great,” they say, “it must have come from God.” They say they have never felt so close to the Lord as they do now. We scratch our heads and ask, “How does all that fit together?” Or a man commits a sordid crime, destroying a beautiful young life, then claims it was God who told him to do it. God – the author of life, the Lord of love! It doesn’t make sense.

But those glaring examples are not the only ones. All of us, every person who names Jesus’ name, get involved at times in self-deception. We all need to let that haunting question search us, “Why do you call me, `Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I say?”

While we’re thinking about that question, Jesus gives us perspective on what happens when people hear His word. Listen:

Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.

A TRAGIC SPLIT

Let’s take the sad part first, that tragic split we’ve been talking about between words and works. What are we like when we hear the word of Jesus, agree with it, confess our faith, call upon Jesus as Lord, but don’t follow through? He says we’re like idiotic builders. We’re starting to build a house without any groundwork. We don’t lay a foundation. We put the floor boards down right on top of the ground! We get that structure up there fast, and it looks very nice. We have our neighbors in for an open house and they think the place is lovely. Everything’s fine with our home while the sun is shining and the air is calm. But then the rains come and a flash flood comes sweeping down through the valley where we built. Winds start to blow at gale force and our house, to no one’s surprise who knows the real situation, simply disappears. There’s nothing left of it. That’s what our lives look like, Jesus says, when we hear Jesus’ words and don’t take them to heart, when we know the way but don’t walk in it.

Hearing the word of the Lord is the most wonderful privilege we ever have, but there’s something scary about it, too. We have no guarantee that it will do us any good. Conceivably we could be worse off after hearing it than we were before. It only blesses us when we welcome it and seek to walk in its light.

That’s where we so often fool ourselves. We think that just hearing will make us better. It’s like the little trick we play on ourselves when we walk into a library. We stroll about, walking amid the stacks of books, reading a title here and there, noticing new additions. When we walk out, even though we haven’t read a single one of those books, or even a paragraph in them, we can feel a little bit more educated, can’t we, just because we paced those halls of learning!

I’ve known church people who really like sermons in which the minister tells them off. He rips them up and down about their failures and lapses, their wretched hypocrisies. He thunders God’s judgment upon all such ways. And these people go away feeling better! It’s a kind of catharsis for them. They aren’t going to do anything about it. It doesn’t occur to them to make any changes in their lives, but they consider that they have done their bit for the week. They’ve endured the preacher’s tirades as a kind of penance, and now they’ll go back relieved to business as usual.

We who preach can fall into the same trap. We can begin to imagine that because we have studied a passage, thought about it, preached on it, waxed eloquent over it perhaps, and been complimented by a parishioner, we have thereby fulfilled all righteousness. We’ve done it all. It hardly occurs to us to ask about what we’ve preached to others, “Have I actually done this? Am I making a serious effort myself to live this way?”

But Jesus warns that our little ways of self-deception don’t hold up indefinitely. The life we build in that kind of dividedness is like a house of cards. The first rain can dissolve it. The slightest wind can blow it away. There’s no staying power in religion without obedience. We miss all the blessing of calling Jesus “Lord” when we disregard His plain words.

BUILDING WHAT WILL LAST

Now let’s look at the bright side. Let’s hear what the Lord says about those who come to Him, hear His word, and then set about to do it. This person, says Jesus, “is like a man building a house who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock.” This builder knew something about construction. He knew that a house is only as good as the foundation on which it stands. He knew that if you’re going to build high, you need to dig deep. And to support an impressive structure, there has to be something solid underneath.

It certainly helps when you’re shopping around for a house to know who built it. I’d be especially interested to know if the construction company was local and had been operating in the area for a good while. When you build a house here, and another one there and then move on, you aren’t around to be held accountable for the long term. It’s over the years that workmanship quality shows up, whether it’s shoddy or sound. And those who know buildings tell me that among the warning signs to look for are cracks in the foundation.

I have a friend in Ohio who bought a house and discovered only later to his great grief that the foundation was in terrible shape. Sizable fissures had opened up in it, but these had been artfully painted over by the previous owner. My friend had nothing but trouble and expense in trying to get that sagging structure shored up.

The great Danish philosopher Kierkegaard has written a powerful little piece on reading God’s Word. He says something like this, “Suppose you receive a letter from your sweetheart in a foreign language. You very much want to know what the letter says. So you gather about you grammars and dictionaries and lexicons and work on figuring out what the letter says. It’s hardly like reading. You’re struggling to come up with some semblance of a translation. You’re not really reading it yet. But now suppose you’ve struggled through all that and you’ve gotten some help. Now it’s typed out before you and you sit down to enjoy reading it right through. Suppose further,” says Kierkegaard, “that the letter contains a request from your beloved. She wants you to do something that will mean a great deal to her, something difficult, even dangerous. So you read the letter through, and now you understand it. It’s all clear. But have you really read your sweetheart’s letter? Only,” says Kierkegaard, “when you are hastening to do the thing she wanted of you.”

It’s that way with reading and hearing God’s Word. You aren’t really doing that when you’re merely looking up words, making a translation, or studying learned works. Even when we’ve done all our study, when we feel we’ve grasped the message, we’re only reading and hearing the Word in a way that satisfies God’s heart, when we’re setting our hearts to do it. That doesn’t mean that our record is perfect, not that we aren’t groping at times to know just how to go about it. But our heart’s desire and life purpose is to obey. That is what matters.

If you build your house that way, Jesus said, you won’t need to worry about the weather. “When a flood arose,” He teaches, “the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built.” There’s no testing, no adversity that can undermine the lives of people bent on doing the Lord’s will.

CHRIST THE ROCK

But there’s one more thing I need to say about that. Don’t look on this as though it only means obeying Jesus’ commands. In Christ, God has come to us and done wonderful things on our behalf. Jesus Himself, as Son of God and Savior of the world, is the heart of His message. To take the word of the gospel seriously means to commit ourselves to Christ Himself, to welcome His transforming friendship, to keep on growing in the knowledge of Him.

The obedience Jesus is looking for is the obedience of faith, what rises in our hearts and from our lives because we know ourselves wonderfully loved, redeemed at great cost. So the words we need to respond to are not only those that say, “Do this,” and “Shun that,” but also gracious words of invitation, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden.” We need to respond and come. Words like “abide in me and I in you, for the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine” and then words like “Go and make disciples of all nations.” We need to heed those. Obedience is ultimately not to commandments but to a living person. The bedrock on which we build is Christ Himself.

One of the great images of God in the Old Testament is that of “the Rock.” He’s the One who does not change in the midst of the flux and chaos all around us. To believe means to establish ourselves upon God the unchanging foundation. That’s what’s in the background of these little vignettes from life. To hear the Word of God in the right way, we need to sing from the heart, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” And then let’s spend the rest of our lives with grateful hearts, seeking in everything to please Him.

Prayer: Father, we thank You for the great privilege of hearing the Word of the gospel. Help us all to respond and do it. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.