"Rock Solid "
by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts February 20, 2005
Preached at Irvine Presbyterian Church
Copyright © 2005 by Mark D. Roberts
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Scripture Reading: Matthew 7:24-27
24 "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 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. 26 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. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell-and great was its fall!"
The House Goes Down
If I were Ali Kabiri, I'd be in a foul mood these days. Just a year ago Ali and his wife, Sima, finished building their dream home, a $2.5 million beauty in Anaheim Hills. But, after living in it for only eight months, they noticed cracks developing in the foundation. Then, the cracks became gaping fissures as Ali and Sima's home began to slide down the slope on which it had been built. Before long, local officials ordered the couple to leave their property, and they watched helplessly as their house continued to collapse. Finally the city of Anaheim had to tear it down in the interest of public safety. So, I can only imagine how upset poor Ali Kabiri must be today. I'd be a wreck!
What caused his house to break apart? The answer is quite simple: It was built on a slow-moving natural landslide that had not previously been identified. The foundation of Ali's home was not laid on solid ground, but on unstable soil. And, with all of the rains in January, the dirt began to move, taking Ali's house with it.
If you're going to build a home, whatever you do, make sure it's built on terra firma, on ground that will support the building and not give way.
Jesus on House Building
People in Palestine in the time of Jesus knew this basic fact of construction. You see, many of them lived in areas that were dry much of the time. But when the rains came, parched areas became flooded, and dry wadis became torrential rivers. Houses built on instable soil would be washed away. Only houses built on solid rock would remain intact, unhurt by the floods. So, of course a wise man would build his house on rock, not on sand.
Jesus uses this analogy to make a point about how we live our lives. He assumes that storms will come our way. Life won't always be sunny and bright. At times we'll be barraged by difficulties, temptation, and suffering. But we'll be able to withstand these challenges if we have built our lives on rock, not sand. And how do we do this? Jesus is very clear, isn't he? "Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock" (v. 24). Conversely, "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" (v. 26).
What's the crucial difference? Acting upon the words of Jesus. Doing so is wise, and strengthens us for optimal living. Not doing so is foolish, and sets us up for certain failure. It's really that simple. If you want to be wise, if you want to live a fruitful life, if you want to endure when difficulties come your way, then do what Jesus says.
Why Is Acting on Jesus's Words So Important?
Now the simplicity and directness of Jesus's analogy may be troubling to some of us. After all, don't we emphasize salvation by grace through faith? Don't we believe that we are saved through faith, not works? If so, what sense can we make of Jesus's encouragement to act upon his words, not merely to believe them?
Let me respond to these questions, first of all by noting that you can't really believe the words of Jesus without doing something. Sure, you could believe some of what Jesus said without doing anything. But his message wasn't merely a "sit-back-and-relax-while-I-give-you-some-religion" kind of message. He proclaimed the presence of God's reign on earth, and he called for a response to that proclamation. "The time is fulfilled," Jesus said in Mark 1, "and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news" (Mark 1:14-15).
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that biblical belief isn't simply affirming the truth of something. It's also putting your trust in something. So when Jesus says, "Believe in the good news" he doesn't mean merely, "Acknowledge the truth that the kingdom is coming," but rather, "Acknowledge the truth that the kingdom is coming and invest your life in this truth."
This dimension of believing is made especially clear with the imperative "repent" (1:15). What does it mean to repent? More than we often think when we use this English verb. According to one Greek lexicon, the Greek verb used here means "to change one's way of life as the result of a complete change of thought and attitude with regard to sin and righteousness" (Louw & Nida, s.v. metanoevw). The dictionary entry for this verb, metanoeo, continues, "Though in English a focal component of repent is the sorrow or contrition that a person experiences because of sin, the emphasis in metanoeo . . . seems to be more specifically the total change, both in thought and behavior, with respect to how one should both think and act" (emphasis added).
So, there's no way to believe in Jesus's message, really to put your trust in it, without action. It's not just that faith without works is dead, as James writes in his letter. From a biblical perspective, faith without works isn't real faith. It's mere belief. And this isn't what Jesus wants from us. Jesus wants, not simply to change your mind, but to change your life. He seeks, not simply your confession, but your commitment.
In return, Jesus offers the fullest, richest, most meaningful life possible. It's the life of the future beginning now. It's abundant life. And it's a quality of life that endures even when the inevitable storms come. If you want that sort of life - and, when you think of it, who wouldn't? - then you need not only to agree that Jesus had right ideas. You need to put your trust in him and his ideas, and to live according to them. You need to hear his words and do them.
Doing the Obvious
Now I'll admit that many of Jesus's words can be hard to understand. Moreover, some of Jesus's words are relatively easy to understand, but hard to do. In my experience, Christians can use this dual difficulty as a way of getting out of obeying what Jesus commands. When Jesus calls them to hear and do his words, they respond, "Well, that's fine. But some of Jesus's words are pretty confusing. Scholars can't even agree on what they mean." The unspoken conclusion of this argument is: "So I'm going to keep on believing in Jesus without feeling compelled to do what he says."
Now I think it's important and, for the most part, possible to understand and obey the difficult sayings of Jesus. But, for right now, I'll grant that some of what Jesus asks of us isn't altogether clear. So at this moment, let's not worry about the confusing commands and teachings. Let's deal only with those things that are obvious. Let's begin now to build our house on the rock of obedience, even if we won't be able to finish construction until later, when we have a better sense of what the difficult sayings of Jesus actually mean.
Are you with me? Are you willing to do the straightforward stuff?
Before you say "yes," please realize that many of the obvious commands of Jesus are the hard ones - not hard to understand, but hard to do. Many run against the grain of our culture, our upbringing, and even our own intuition. Taking Jesus at his word requires trust. It often requires the courage to do the right thing even when it seems scary. Yet, I truly believe that as we live out the teachings of Jesus, we'll discover a new way of living that makes far more sense than the ways offered to us by the world. Moreover, we'll build the houses of our lives so that they persevere even in hard times. And, to top things off, we'll build a church together that is solid and healthy and vital, a church that is able to shine with the light of Christ into the dark world around us.
So are you willing to do what Jesus says? Will you live as a wise person, not as a fool? Will you build on the rock of Jesus's words?
Two Specific Acts of Obedience
In the time I have left today, I want to mention two specific actions that, I believe, are essential to your life and to our life together as Irvine Presbyterian Church. I'm not going to mention love today, not because it isn't the most important action of all, but because sometimes we get lost in the maze of meanings assigned to love. Instead, I want to focus on two commands of Jesus that are very clear and simple . . . and often very hard to do.
1. Seek Reconciliation When You Have Been Wronged
In Matthew 18:15 Jesus says, "If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one." He then goes on to say that if this doesn't bring about reconciliation, get help from other people. But I want to focus on the first part today. The command of Jesus could be summarized: Seek reconciliation when you have been wronged. Let's examine the text of Matthew 18:15.
"If another member of the church sins against you." Jesus doesn't refer here to only a big, fat, nasty sin. He means any sin. If someone in the church hurts your feelings, or speaks rudely to you, or gossips about you, or whatever, then it is your responsibility to go to that person. Jesus leaves no room whatsoever for the idea that the guilty party has to come to you to confess. Rather you must take the initiative. (In Matthew 5:23-24 Jesus makes the opposite point. In fact both parties have the responsibility to initiate reconciliation.)
"Go and point out the fault." Notice carefully, Jesus says "point out the fault." Just the offense against you. Not everything that person has every done that's wrong. Not what others have experienced. Just the sin done against you. That's all you're to deal with in this encounter. (Of course it may turn out that you've wronged the other person, and your sin will need to be dealt with also.)
One other thought about "go." I think it's incumbent upon us to actually have a face-to-face encounter with someone when that person has wronged us. I know it's so much easier to write a letter, or, God forbid, to send an e-mail. But here's a rule of thumb to hang onto: Jesus says: "Go!" Do it in person. Period. Impersonal communication causes much pain, and rarely produces reconciliation.
"When the two of you are alone." Did you catch that? Don't try to confront someone on the patio after church. Or in a place where others can hear. Do it in private, where the issues can be dealt with openly, and where pride doesn't get in the way of confession.
"If the member listens to you." Jesus is well aware that sometimes people will not listen when they are confronted, even if the confrontation is gentle and comes in a spirit of love. That's why Jesus goes on to say that if the one-on-one approach fails, get help from others.
"You have regained that one." Friends, this is the point of Christian confrontation: regaining relationship, reconciliation. It's not getting even. It's not teaching the offender a lesson. It's not winning. Rather, it's earning back relationship. It's mending what is broken so that you, the relationship, and the church might be whole.
Now people sometimes wonder when they should confront another person. Ideally, the confrontation can happen on the spot if both parties are healthy enough to handle it. For example, the other night at dinner I was teasing my daughter Kara. I didn't mean to hurt her feelings, but I did anyway. Kara, whose emotional health sometimes astounds me, said, "Daddy, I don't like what you just said. It hurt my feelings." Embarrassed, I tried to make a joke and dodge her confrontation, but Kara remained firm. "Daddy, I don't like it when you do that. It's not nice." I knew she was right, so I was able to swallow my pride, admit that I had been unkind, and ask for her forgiveness. The whole thing was over in a couple of minutes.
But often confrontation isn't this easy, especially if the hurt is deep. If you find yourself very angry at someone, or deeply wounded by someone, then I would encourage you to take some time - but not too much - to calm down and get some peace. Spend lots of time in prayer. Perhaps talk it over with one - and only one - mature brother or sister in Christ, preferably someone wise enough to challenge you as well as support you. Ask the Lord to give you a desire to "regain" fellowship with the one who wronged you. Do not confront until you genuinely want reconciliation. And if this is taking you too long, get some help. Undue delay in confrontation is sin, and is hurtful to all parties, not to mention to the church.
Sisters and brothers, what I've just laid out for you - really, what Jesus laid out for all of us - is very clear. And it's also one of the most frequently disobeyed of all of the commandments of Jesus, in general and in our church in particular. We don't like confrontation, so we don't do it. We'd rather harbor our hurt and feel like victims. Or we'd prefer to get relief by gossiping about the person who wronged us, often in the form of a prayer request or something we've got to "share" with someone else. But Jesus is clear, abundantly clear. So if you want to build your life on the rock, and if you want this church to be solid, then do what Jesus says. When you are wronged, go to the person who wronged you and reconcile. Just do it!
The second imperative of Jesus upon which I want to focus today is really the flip side of the last one. In Mark 11:25 Jesus says,
Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.
What's the second command? Simple. One word: forgive!
What is forgiveness? At the risk of being simplistic, let me say that forgiveness is giving over to God the wrong done to you. It's saying to God, "Okay, Lord, I'm not going to hold onto this offense any more. I'm surrendering it to you." Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. Though it usually leads to feeling better, forgiveness generally comes prior to feeling better. When I forgive I say to the Lord, "God, this person really hurt me. But I'm giving it all to you. I do not want this offense to be a breach in relationship any further. I will not harbor it my soul. Here you go, Lord, here's the hurt."
Now I want to make sure we all understand what Jesus is not asking us to do in forgiving. First, he's not asking us to say "That's okay." Forgiveness isn't saying that what was done to you is okay. In fact it's implying that it wasn't okay. Only real wrongs need to be forgiven. Second, Jesus is not asking us necessarily to understand why somebody did something wrong. Yes, this can help us let go of our hurt feelings sometimes, but forgiveness is choosing before God to let go of the offense, even if you don't understand why the offender did it. Forgiveness is deciding that you won't get even, that you won't punish the offender either through your actions or inactions. Third, Jesus is not asking us to pretend as if the hurt has completely disappeared. This sort of healing process takes time, and forgiveness contributes to the healing, but it's not the same as feeling better.
The command to forgive is often a very hard command to obey, isn't it? If someone has really hurt us, the last thing we want to do is to forgive. We'd much rather hang onto our pain as a means of self-protection. We'd much rather grovel in self-pity than regain relationship with the offender. Yet Jesus couldn't be much clearer. He says that if you have anything against anyone - and that's pretty inclusive, don't you think? anything against anyone - you should forgive. Period.
Now I know that many of you in this church have a hard time forgiving. I know it because sometimes I've been the recipient of your lack of forgiveness. But much more often I've seen what your unforgiveness has done to your primary relationships: your marriages, your families, your friendships, your ministry teams, and even your own personal health. Usually, if you struggle to forgive, it's because you've experienced a lot of hurt in your life. Forgiveness is scary because it means taking down the walls that protect you, and you're afraid to do this.
So what should you do if forgiveness doesn't come easily for you? For an answer to this question I turn to Ephesians 4:32-5:2. This passage reads:
[B]e kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Notice the close connection here between your forgiving others and your experience of God's forgiveness. On the one hand, you are to forgive in the same way that God has forgiven you in Christ. On the other hand, the experience of God's forgiveness empowers you to forgive others. The more you realize the magnitude of God's forgiveness for you, the more you will be a forgiving person. Show me an unforgiving person, and I'll show you someone who hasn't experienced very much of God's grace. Conversely, show me someone who forgives readily, and I'll show you someone who has been baptized in God's gracious forgiveness.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, let me ask you a few questions:
Do you want a full life, a life that will be resilient even in hard times? If so, then hear and do the words of Jesus!
Do you want to be a part of building a healthy, strong, God-honoring "house" called Irvine Presbyterian Church? If so, then hear and do the words of Jesus!
Do you find some of what Jesus says difficult to understand, then start with the obvious stuff. Hear the words of Jesus and do what you can understand. The rest will come in time.
Finally, brothers and sisters, I believe almost every single one of us in this room today needs to act on two simple commands of Jesus:
1. Seek reconciliation when you have been wronged.
In a moment we're going to pray, and I'm going to ask the Lord to reveal to you if you need to seek reconciliation or if you need to forgive. Let me encourage you to let down your defenses to God's Spirit, to be open to what God will reveal to you. It's possible that you have already done everything Jesus asks in this regard, and that you have nothing more to do, for today at least. But I expect that many of you will be convicted of your need to obey Jesus in the matter of seeking reconciliation or forgiveness or, as is usually the case, both.
Dear friends, may we be a church built on the rock. May we be a church full of people who hear and do the words of Jesus!