The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
September 19, 2021
Sometimes you read consumer warnings on products and wonder, “What kind of fools do these manufacturers think they’re selling to?”
The following warnings were actually placed on products: On a Duraflame fireplace log: “Caution – Risk of Fire.” On a Batman costume – “Beware, cape does not enable user to fly.” On a bottle of hair coloring: “Do not use as an ice cream topping.” On a cardboard windshield sun screen for cars: “Do not drive with sun screen in place.” On a portable stroller: “Caution: Remove infant before folding for storage.”
Sometimes we read a parable from Jesus and wonder, “What kind of fools does He think He’s teaching?” Isn’t it obvious we must do what He says if it’s to do us any good?
Actually, wisdom is not ever something we can take for granted. Every year well over half a million Americans undergo heart bypass surgery. After each of them, doctors tell their patients the surgery is only a temporary fix and won’t do them any long-term good unless they change their lifestyle. They must watch their diet, exercise regularly, reduce stress, and so forth; or they’ll still suffer an early death due to heart disease. You’d think most people under such conditions would do what their doctors tell them; but study after study has shown only about 10% do.
Ten verses before today’s scripture, Jesus distinguished between the easy road that leads to destruction and the hard road that leads to life, and noted that few make the wise choice.
Back in Jesus’ day, many who could afford to have a house built their own house; and, unlike today, almost everyone knew how and where to do it. In that agricultural society, everyone had a good eye for judging pieces of land, whether to appraise it for producing crops or for locating a house. For example, everyone was familiar with wadis, what we’d call arroyos or gullies. Everyone knew that 99% of the time those dried-up, sandy water channels provide protection against the elements and some nice vegetation, but that 1% of the time – once the inevitable violent storm strikes – those gullies become flash flood channels whose racing waters demolish everything before them.
In this parable two men are building themselves houses. From what Jesus tells us, we may assume they have equal ability and they produce houses of equal quality. Location is the only difference between their two homes. One is built on rock and the other on sand, sand like one might find in a wadi. The first builder Jesus calls “wise”; and the second, “foolish”. The first bore in mind how, sooner or later, a violent storm would threaten to destroy his house and he prepared for that eventuality. The second built where he knew better than to build. His shortsighted choice resulted, not from a lack of knowledge, but from a lapse in judgment.
Maybe he was lazy and saw it required less effort to work with sand than hard rock. Maybe he was impatient and wanted to make an easy job of it to get it done fast. Maybe he was so taken by the site’s views that he lost sight of its dangers. Maybe he just saw himself as lucky and likely to beat the odds, as if bad things only happened to other folks.
The brutal but blessed truth is that, at one time or another, storms threaten us all. Storms may come in different forms: a broken relationship, an illness, an accident, an economic downturn; but storms hit everyone eventually. Thus, we are wise if, when one hits us, we don’t ask, “Why me?” but, “Why not me? Am I so exceptional I should be spared the common fate?”
One good thing about a storm is that it shows how well we built our house of life, how well we chose our foundation and how deeply we embedded ourselves in it.
Jesus offers Himself to be the secure and stable foundation of our life, the rock no storm can dislodge.
To build a life on Jesus is to build a life in Jesus. We do that by digging down deep into the solidity of His steadfast love and immoveable strength and embedding our hearts in the everlasting reality of His grace. We do that best by establishing ourselves in the way of obedience – in the way of doing what Jesus says.
The island of Manhattan consists almost entirely of granite, as hard and durable a rock as you’ll ever find. To stand strong and long, a New York skyscraper has to sink into that granite anchors called “piles”, concrete or steel columns driven into the ground, sometimes 250’ down. The piles create an unbreakable connection between the building and the rock. That connection holds the structure together and keeps its upright.
Likewise, to build a resilient, enduring, upright life, we have to drive deep spiritual anchors into the rock that Jesus is and embed our life in His. We do that by doing what He tells us: such as spending time alone with Him one-on-one each day, joining the rest of the family of faith in worship each week, and serving others and the community time after time. Our keeping connected to Christ through obedience makes us invulnerable in the inevitable storms this world throws at us. That’s the brutal but blessed truth!