April 26, 2020
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
HOUSE BUILDING 101
Every week I write a sermon. Every week I preach a sermon. I got a couple of weeks off while we were figuring out this whole live stream thing. But usually it’s one sermon a week. Preachers get used to that. Sunday comes with great regularity, whether you are ready or not.
Here’s a question for you. Did Jesus preach sermons? The answer is, “yes.” You won’t find the word “sermon” in the Bible and you will rarely find the word “preacher.” Jesus is more often described as a teacher. It says, “The crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28-29). So he was pretty good at it.
He could draw a crowd. He could hold their attention. One day he preached so long the crowd lost all track of time until they finally realized they hadn’t eaten in a long time. They were really hungry. Jesus fed them. All 5,000 of them.
One good thing about live stream worship is that if you get hungry you can just get up and go to the fridge and I would never know. But I’ll try not to preach so long that you need to.
The best known sermon that Jesus ever preached is called the Sermon on the Mount. It’s not that long. It would take you about 14 minutes to read it from beginning to end. Which is probably a strong hint to modern day preachers on when to stop. It’s a hint few of us take. You can find the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. It’s three chapters in a row – Matthew 5, 6, and 7.
Clarke read for us today the very end of this sermon. Right after this is when it tells us “the crowds were amazed at his teaching.” It was an amazing sermon, beginning to end. But we’re just going to focus on the end.
The Sermon on the Mount ends with a story about two houses. One is built on sand and the other on rock. This is a lesson about building houses. Rock is a better foundation than sand. It’s a pretty basic lesson. So I’m calling this “House Building 101.”
But before we get to that, we need to talk about what Jesus is really getting at in telling this story. He’s not interested in teaching us how to build houses. Even though he knew how to do that. He was a carpenter. But he’s not teaching us carpentry here. He is teaching us discipleship. More than that, he is challenging us to be a disciple.
So the place to begin is with that word. Disciple. What does it mean? A disciple is a learner or a follower of a teacher. So a disciple of Jesus is a learner or a follower of Jesus. Real simple. Real clear. And yet we get so confused about this.
We think it means to believe certain things about Jesus. Like his deity, or his virgin birth, or his resurrection. If you don’t have correct beliefs you’re not a disciple.
We think it means to be a good person. Maybe not quite as good as Jesus, but close. Because you have to be a good person to be a disciple.
Jesus didn’t teach this. Jesus taught that a disciple is someone who is learning from him and following him. Period. Your Christian beliefs might still be developing. Your Christian character might still be forming. Your Christian discipleship might be in the beginning stages. Still, you are a disciple of Jesus as long as you have started the journey of learning from him and following him.
Maybe you’re taking piano lessons. If someone asks, “Are you a piano student?” you wouldn’t say, “I can barely play chopsticks.” That wasn’t the question. You don’t have to be proficient to be a student. You just have to have made the commitment to learn.
So, are you a disciple of Jesus? In other words, have you made that commitment? Have chosen above all else to follow him? Are you determined to live your life after his example? You don’t have to be a good disciple to be a disciple.
You can be a bad disciple. Jesus had twelve of them. It seemed he was always on their case. They needed a lot of coaching and a lot of patience. They weren’t very good at being disciples, but still they were disciples.
Does anyone remember SRA? It stood for Science Research Associates. It was a color-coded system that was supposed to make you a better reader. There was a different color for each reading level. You started with the color that was right for you and as you made progress you advanced to the next color. I wanted to get to aqua but I never made it. At least I wasn’t stuck at red. But the point was not the color you were at. The point was that you were on your way to becoming a better reader.
The twelve disciples were in the red reading group. But that didn’t matter. Not to Jesus. You had to start somewhere. And as long as they we following him and learning from him, they were on their way. Some day they might even get to aqua.
It takes following, it takes learning, and it takes one more thing. Obedience. If you are a disciple of Jesus, you will do what Jesus tells you to do. That’s the way it works in a classroom. When your teacher says this is how you do it, this is how you do it. I know this sounds old-fashioned to those of us who have been encouraged to question authority. But if you are always second-guessing what your piano teacher is telling you, you are going to have a hard time ever learning to play the piano.
A disciple is someone who seeks to obey Jesus with imagination and initiative and joy. The more you obey, the easier it is to obey. The more you obey, the harder it is to fall back into the old habits that are disobedient to your new way of living as a disciple of Jesus.
And so we come at last to the story at the end of the Sermon on the Mount:
So then, anyone who hears these words of mine and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain poured down, the rivers flooded over, and the wind blew hard against that house. But it did not fall, because it was built on rock. But anyone who hears these words of mine and does not obey them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain poured down, the rivers flooded over, the wind blew hard against that house, and it fell. And what a terrible fall that was! (Matthew 7:24-27)
It’s your choice. You are free to do whatever you want to do. If you prefer the ocean view of a house built on sand, that’s entirely up to you. But Jesus, your teacher, is telling you that would not be wise.
It’s such a simple story. There’s even a simple children’s song that goes along with it. You might want to sing along at home. Or you can go to the fridge now. I don’t care.
(YouTube: “The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock”) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zAjEjxX-DhA
This simple story is actually two stories. The stories are almost word for word identical. There is just one little difference, and that one little difference is the whole point Jesus is making.
Both stories have a house. Everybody builds a house. Or we might say, everybody builds a life. Everybody is forming a character. Everybody is constructing a soul. You might be doing it badly or beautifully, but you are doing it. You are building your house. You are building your life.
We do this mainly by the choices we make. The way we spend our time. The things we say. The thoughts we think. What we do with our money. The people we spend time with.
We also do this by the choices we don’t make. Your marriage has some issues that need to be addressed, but you keep putting that off. You really need to lose some weight, but this coronavirus quarantine is a terrible time to go on a diet. You have this destructive habit that holds way too much power over you. You will deal with that later. Your house is also being built each time you decide not to decide.
Everybody builds a house.
Both stories have a house, and both stories also have a storm. Everybody faces a storm. This is not a story about how to avoid storms. There are certain places in the United States where storms are not as violent or destructive as they are in certain other places. That’s one reason I like Idaho.
You might be able to study weather patterns and find a place to live where your house is not likely to be blown down. But this story is not about that. In our lives there is no such thing as avoiding storms. They come to all of us. It doesn’t matter how smart we are, or how much money we have, or even how much faith we have in God. A storm is coming. You might say it’s here. Everybody faces a storm.
Our house here in Nampa was built by a highly recommended builder. His name was Brad Piper. Ten years ago the construction was underway. It took two months. You might recall that in 2010 there was not much else being built, so we didn’t have to wait long for our house to go up. Brad did a wonderful job. He did everything he said he was going to do and more. He exceeded our expectations. After we moved in, I would call him now and then with questions about our house. He was never too busy to get back to me.
On March 5, 2018 Brad Piper faced a totally unexpected storm. He died of a massive heart attack. He was 55 years old.
Everybody faces a storm. When they come, they surprise us, but they shouldn’t. Storms are part of life. Some are bigger than others. Some we don’t think we will survive, but we do. And eventually there is the big one.
A storm will come that will take us out. It’s part of life. “It is appointed to man once to die, and after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). It’s not that we choose to die, any more than we choose to be born. God is the one who makes both appointments – life and death. One day I will be accountable to God for how I lived my life.
Everybody builds a house. Everybody faces a storm. Those are the constants. Those are the same in both stories. The variable is the foundation we build on. We are either going to build our lives on the solid rock of Jesus, which means learning from him and following him and obeying him, or we are going to build our lives on something else. Jesus gets to the end of his Sermon on the Mount and basically he gives us an altar call. He says we have to decide. You do. I do. And not to decide is to decide.
Here’s our tendency. We tend to think we can decide part way. Split the difference. How about a little surrender? A little devotion? A little generosity? When we feel like it. When it’s convenient. How about a little help from God when we need it and a little distance from God when we want it?
But Jesus told this story in such a way that there is no middle ground. It’s an either-or choice. And isn’t it interesting that he doesn’t say the two men in this story are good and evil? He says they are wise and foolish.
Jesus understands us. He knows that we don’t choose to be evil. There have been a few people down through the ages who have made a conscious choice to be evil, but that is rare. We choose to be good, almost always. But then life happens. We just kind of do our thing. We go with the flow. We aim at nothing and we hit it every time. We do dumb stuff, not because we are evil, but because we are foolish.
Parents understand this. It’s a rare child who is wise. Our children do such foolish things. Especially when they are stuck at home and have way too much time on their hands. Our children do foolish things and then we parents ask a question that is just as foolish. We ask, “Why did you do that?”
“Why did you cut your sister’s hair until she was bald so you could make a little nest for baby birds in a Styrofoam cup?”
“Why did you shove Flintstone vitamins up your brother’s nose and leave them there until we had to take him to the ER so the X-Ray could show us that the problem was that he had Flintstone vitamins up his nose?”
“Why did you stick a light bulb in your mouth that was so big that you could not open your mouth wide enough to get it out again?”
“Why? What were you thinking??” Parents always ask that same question even though we always get the same answer.
“I don’t know.”
And that’s the same answer foolish grown-ups give.
“Why did you build your house on the sand?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why are you just as immature now as you were when you were a kid and had an excuse?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why are you doing the same stupid things and getting the same predictable results?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why are you waiting for the other person to take the first step in healing that broken relationship that is breaking both of your hearts?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why have you surrendered your life to Jesus so many times you’ve lost count, but you still aren’t learning from him and following him and obeying him?”
We aren’t evil. We are foolish.
So rock or sand? Jesus or self? Do what Jesus says or do what you want?
We all build a house. We all face a storm. We all have a choice – the one and only choice that truly matters eternally. What will your choice be?
Lord Jesus, you make it so clear. You make it so hard for us to weasel our way out of this simple choice. Will I or will I not be your disciple? Some of us have been kicking the can down the road for a long time. But moments come, this may be one, when we realize how foolish we have been. The wise man built his house upon the rock. That’s what wise men and wise women still do. Some of us have made this choice before. Some of us never have. Either way, we’re going to say to a prayer right now, repeating what I say line by line:
Lord Jesus, I am a sinner . . . I may not be evil . . . But I certainly have been foolish . . . I am not a good disciple . . . But I want to be a disciple . . . I want to learn . . . I want to follow . . . I will obey . . . And I accept your love and your forgiveness . . . I accept the victory over sin and death you won for me on the cross . . . I invite you into my heart right now . . . My life belongs to you . . . In your name, Lord Jesus . . . Amen.