Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Mike Turgeon “The house that Matthew built: Rootedness” May 30, 2010
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.
And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell--and great was its fall!"
Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. Matthew 7:24-29
I Rooted in justice.
I’m curious about two things here: the words that Jesus is saying, and the people he is saying them to.
First, when Jesus says,
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock,”
I want to know what words is he referring to. Yes, I want to be like a wise man who built his house on rock, so on what words should I be acting?
Our scripture today comes at the very end of the Sermon on the Mount. Our 6 verses are really the last of the 82 verses that make up chapters 5 and 6 of Matthew’s Gospel. It’s all one piece, really.
The Sermon on the Mount was a teaching rather than a sermon. In sermons very often, one is ‘preaching to the choir’ so to speak. You assemble the believers, you crystalize the message, and the preacher points in the directions the leader wants us to go. And in the best of sermons, the entire body or congregation is left with a clear understanding of how to accomplish the mission.
The Sermon on the Mount is not that.
The Sermon on the Mount should really be called the Teaching on the Mount. In all of chapter 5 and all of chapter 6 Jesus is teaching the deepest wisdom available at the time. Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher, and that is what rabbis do. They take what is out there to be taught, then they bring it to the people in a way they can digest it.
So which of the words of Jesus should we be acting on?
A quick survey of Jesus’ teaching topics in the Teaching on the Mount reveals a breath-taking scope of wisdom Jesus had assembled: he was speaking about prayer, fasting, worry, self-deception; he taught on the law and the prophets; on marriage, adultery and divorce; on anger, retaliation, judging others and how to treat one’s enemies; on money, treasure, giving, and hypocrisy; Asking and Receiving, the Narrow Gate, the Golden Rule, and he probably could have thrown in a Partridge in a Pear Tree while he was at it.
In the House That Matthew Built, what we’re calling Matthew’s Gospel for the purpose of this sermon series, the entire document is organized for the benefit of the church. It is like a constitution for Jesus followers on how they should conduct themselves as the Body of Christ.
And as our American Constitution is rooted in all persons being equal under the law, we find here that Jesus’ teachings are rooted in a similar principle.
What words would Jesus have us act upon? We need to back up about 70 verses to the opening of chapter 5, a section commonly known as the Beatitudes. Beatitude, meaning a blessing. In this teaching, Jesus leads with his best material.
Reading the Beatitudes in sequence, you hear the thread of justice ring out. Not just-us, but justice. There are a number of ways to define justice. Listen for one as you hear these:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:1-10
This thread of justice makes me want to ask, what was the situation to which Jesus was speaking? Now we can read Roman and Jewish history to find out; we can watch documentaries on the Historical Jesus, or Jesus through the Centuries, and other such enlightening works.
But when we stop and string together just who it is Jesus is blessing here, we get all the background we need. Blessed are the poor, those in mourning, the meek, those hungering and thirsting, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted.
Nowhere in there do I hear about blessing Wall St. investment bankers, politicians, oil company executives and lawyers. Jesus came to re-arrange the kingdom of man on earth into the kingdom of God on earth. In the kingdom of God on earth, all creatures have worth; all persons will be saved, not merely those with access to power and resources. The only tool Jesus has to work with? His life and his death, and your hands and your feet.
I’ve often referred to the Eight Beatitudes as the positive version of the Ten Commandments. In the Ten Commandments we learn what we shalt not be: don’t be a killer, a thief, an adulterer, or a disobeyer of one’s parents. In the Beatitudes, we learn of how we should be: be meek, be pure in heart, be a peacemaker, hunger and thirst for justice.
A couple things about justice. Were each one of us to look deeply into our souls, most of us would likely not prefer to have justice be done to us. If by justice we mean rendering to every one that which is his due. If I’m going to get as good as I give, I’m in deep trouble. Come on, let’s be honest. We would prefer that we get mercy, and that the other guy get justice.
In a couple of weeks we will celebrate Peace with Justice Sunday. You don’t often hear the word Peace linked with justice except maybe on special occasions. But when you think about it, could there ever be peace without justice? If I’m seeking an advantage over you, and I have the means to enforce that advantage, you might submit to me because perhaps you feel you have no good alternative; but I suggest you likely will not submit peacefully, at least not peacefully in your heart. You may back down from me because I have more powerful means, but you will harbor resentment.
Me taking advantage of you because I can is an unjust situation; and un-justice is like a festering sore--unless that sore is addressed in some way, aired out and allowed to heal, then it will do damage--it will either ex-plode, creating havoc upon many innocent by-standers. or it will im-plode, causing untold damage within your heart and soul. Without justice, there will be no peace.
These, then, are the words that Jesus would have us act upon. The rootedness we speak of in The House That Matthew Built is the root of justice, the making right of things, leveling the playing field.
These are the words that Jesus is referring to when he says to this crowd: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”
And that leads me to my other point of curiosity here--the crowd that Matthew speaks of. Just who are these people? The last line of this passage says something about the crowd, that they were “astounded at his teaching.” This is an important bit of information, that they were astounded. Not curious, not appreciative, not moved, but astounded. “...for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”
Matthew tells us this is not a small crowd but a great crowd. And if we look at the last few verses of Chapter 4 we hear this:
“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pain, demoniacs, epileptics and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee...Jerusalem and from beyond the Jordan.” Matthew 4:23-25
Who is in the crowd that day? Mostly the curious rather than the committed. The ‘buzz’ going around about Jesus swept up quite a few.
And this crowd was not accustomed to authoritative teaching, they were used to the scribes. Yes, the scribes had authority but they were not authoritative. Now, how can that be? Well, back then it was the scribes who had the most thorough understanding of the law, but mere legalistic knowledge was not enough to automatically bestow respect. You see the difference?
In the eyes of the crowd, it wasn’t simply what Jesus was teaching, it was who Jesus was in the first place. Matthew is speaking about authenticity. Sure, the crowd was responding to what Jesus was saying, but mostly they are responding to who Jesus is being.
The search for authenticity is endless. Everyone seeks it, people are hungry for it. Sometimes you can’t define it but you know it when you see it. Authenticity is the stuff upon which foundations are built. One does not gain true authority without authenticity.
So, my curiosity is satisfied. Jesus calls us to act on his words which are rooted in justice and embedded in God’s kingdom on earth. I can build my house on that foundation. Indeed, Matthew did and it became the operating instructions for the church.
Like the crowd I am persuaded by the authenticity of Jesus. Through his life, death and resurrection, he offered new life and I can choose to claim it every day.
But this is where I need help, where you need help, where we need to help each other as the church. I have this heart that I give to Jesus, but I have this mind that is a bit of a trickster.
And every morning my mind and my heart have this dialogue and it goes like this: My heart says, “Today, you can act like Jesus.” And my mind says, “No you can’t.” My heart says, “Come spend an hour in prayer with Jesus.” My mind says, “Go get on your computer, there’s some cool stuff there.”
And the more toys and distractions I accumulate, the more sophisticated this dialogue becomes.
My friend, Gayle Pickrell, told me a timely story this week about her and her husband’s trip to Ventura in Southern California. The house they stayed in was built 40 years ago right on the beach in that beautiful crescent-shaped bay.
Well, they stayed a week but it wasn’t much of a vacation in the sense that all week long construction workers were depositing very large boulders all along the neighborhood in front of these homes.
And every time a boulder was put in place, the entire house shook from it.
The idea here is to use the rocks in an attempt to keep the rising sea water from re-claiming the beach and eventually the homes themselves.
Now, as we know, it doesn’t rain in Southern California, but the flood risk is real.
This is kind of like my morning dialogue, what will I decide each day? The beach is there, the rocks have been brought in, where will I begin to build? My decision will tell the tale about how wise a person I am going to be that day.
Can you and I put our hearts together and act in concert as wise people? I believe we can, with the help of Jesus Christ.