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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Words of wisdom are offered to us every day. Some sayings are profound. The ancient philosopher Seneca sighed, “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” And the great educator James Joubert instructed, “To teach is to learn twice.” Such words of wisdom are meant to inspire and encourage.
Some words of wisdom are to entertain and make us smile. Adults, of course, are not the only wise souls in the world. Children possess words of wisdom as well. Consider this, “Never let your mom brush your hair – when she’s mad at your dad.” Or, “If your sister hits you, don’t hit her back. It’s always the second person who gets caught.”
Still other words of wisdom are meant to challenge us to make a difficult choice. The words we have heard today spoken by Jesus may sound familiar. They do after all begin with the comforting and consoling cadences of the Beatitudes. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you are hungry now, for you will be filled.” But then there is that unfamiliar second portion, the woes, “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you are full now, for you will be hungry.” These words of wisdom are a challenge for us. We just don’t like to imagine that everything we have worked for and built up in life, and every bit of wealth we have collected, may be in vain and taken away
My friends, Jesus wants you to be like the tree planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season. Jesus wants you to trust in the Lord and to be a blessing. He wants you to rejoice and be glad. And like the wise man who built his house on solid ground, Jesus wants you to make wise, careful decisions, using good materials, to give meaningful purpose to your labor. But Jesus also warns of the unhealthy, dangerous choices that are a part of life. All can be for naught. So, this morning, let us consider what it to build our lives and houses wisely upon the rock of Christ.
You may be surprised to discover that the words of the Beatitudes occur twice in the Bible. The more familiar version is found in St. Matthew’s Gospel. It is the opening proclamation of good news on the Sermon on Mount. There are no woes in that version. The second version of the Beatitudes is what we have read today in St. Luke’s Gospel, including the woes. Even the setting differs. In Matthew’s gospel, the Beatitudes are lofty, from the mount on high, but in Luke’s gospel, Jesus comes down to a level place to speak candidly, openly and frankly with the crowds. Jesus offers his words of wisdom for life, and, a choice. In both sermons, Jesus concludes with the parable of the two men who built their houses upon the sand and rock.
The wise man in Jesus’ parable knew how to build a house. He knew that a house built even on a rock, must be built solid with good materials to withstand the elements. “The rains fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on the house.” The solid foundation did not spare him from these storms. There are, of course, occasions in life when the signs of disaster are clear, and where peril is expected. You and I, we have learned to live with life’s little, unscheduled trials. And so we ready ourselves for these occasions. There are no shortcuts. You need to build with good materials and time.
Twenty plus years ago, I served as the Interim Pastor of Bread of Life Lutheran Church for the Deaf in South Minneapolis. I did not know many more signs than Jesus, Peace be With You and Amen. But the congregation loved to tell the story of the pastor who once served a deaf congregation. He fumbled through his sermon each week and although he had a good background in sign language, the pastor didn’t know the sign for “testament.” So every time he referred to a Scripture verse, he had to spell out the word Old or New and then the word Testament. One Sunday morning the pastor got creative and invented a sign for the missing word. When he read from the Psalms, he signed “Old” and then made the sign for the letter T. The congregation giggled. Then, when he read from the Gospel of John, he signed “New” and did the same T sign. Again the congregation giggled. After the service, some of the parishioners were still giggling as they greeted the pastor. Finally, a member told him: “Do you know what you read today? You read lessons from the old and new toilet?” Sometimes, you see, there are no short cuts in life.
Unfortunately, many people today choose to build a house easily and quickly on anything but a solid foundation. They see no need to select building materials that will take time and energy. Many marriages are set up on sand. They have been built upon a weak foundation of dreams. Many families dwell in houses built with no foundation at all. Mothers and father, husbands and wives, fail to devote time to the care and nurture of their families. The promises of such houses are weak and short lived. And when they fall, it is a great fall. The wise, however, live with a different perspective. They do not know what tomorrow will bring, whether it will be laughter or tears, but they trust that the solid foundation of Christ’s love and mercy will support them. In the midst of sorrow and pain, they can rejoice and be glad.
The late actor Christopher Reeve, in his book, Still Me, talked about playing Superman, and the glib definition he had of what a wise, hero was. In those days, he said: “A hero is someone who commits a courageous action without considering the consequences.” But later as a paraplegic he discovered that a hero is much more- it is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. Yes, wise men and women know that life may see troubles and tribulations, pain and sorrow- but they will dwell securely in a house built on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ.
The wise man in Jesus’ parable also knew that he had to build his house to last. It was to be a place that would reflect his values, and ultimately teach others, including his family the example they should follow and embrace. It is how we build a life of faith.
An elderly carpenter was preparing to retire. He told his contractor employer of his plans to leave the housing industry and to live a more leisurely life with his wife and family. He would miss the paycheck, but he wanted to retire. They could get by. The contractor was sorry to see his good worker go and asked if he could build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter said yes but over time it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end a dedicated career.
When the carpenter finally finished his work, his employer came to inspect the house. Then he handed the front-door key to the carpenter and said, “This is your house… my gift to you.” The carpenter was shocked. And what a shame! If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have done it all so differently.
So it is with us. We build our lives, a day at a time, often putting less than our best into the building. Then, with a shock, we realize we have to live in the house we have built. If we could do it over, we would do it much differently. If only we could choose wisely in life. For you cannot go back. Yes, you and I are the carpenters and every day we hammer a nail, place a board or erect a wall. As someone once said, “Life is a do-it-yourself project.” The same is true of the choices of faith.
Sometimes in life, we need a wake-up call to prevent us from making foolish decisions or developing a poor attitude. That is why Jesus comes down from the lofty places to the level ground to speak to us face to face. While the basic message of his ministry and teaching was that of blessing centering on the good news for the poor and lowly, the woes come to us as an urgent call for self-examination to those whose ultimate trust no longer rests on the Lord. Jesus warns of the danger of possessions and privilege, and challenges his followers to take heed, to be on guard and to be open to changing the priorities in their lives.
Jesus, however, does not insist that the rich give up all their possessions, nor does he demand an elimination of all economic differences in the world. But Jesus does warn the rich of their abundance, and the poverty of others, and that this distinction is not in accordance with God’s will, nor with the spirit of his holy kingdom. So, Jesus challenges his woeful listeners: What are you going to do about it? You are going to have to make a choice with your life. Will you be wise or foolish? The rich cannot be saved with their wealth intact. They must free themselves from the burden and seduction of their wealth and spend themselves in the service to others. And it is just as true for the poor in this world.
Trust in the Lord only, and rejoice and be glad, yours is the kingdom of God. This is the foundation upon which wise men and women build their houses and their lives. There is nothing else like it. Not wealth, nor riches; not power, nor authority, can ever take its place.
My friends, we are surrounded everyday with words of wisdom. There are words to inspire and encourage. There are words to entertain and make you smile. And there are the words of Christ, that invite you to choose wisely. The choice you make today helps build the house you will live in tomorrow. Therefore, choose and build wisely! Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understand keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.