Howard Carter is a Presbyterian minister and church planter in Auckland New Zealand. In this blog he reflects on God, life, the scriptures, family, Church and church planting, film and media and other stuff. Join him as he reflects on the Journey.
Sunday, November 4, 2012
How Solid Is The Ground We Build On? Matthew 7:24-28
Roofs being blown off, houses groaning, creaking and
straining under excessive storm conditions, whole streets and neighbourhoods in
danger of being swept away by storm surges and other being left as nothing more
than a pile of flotsam swirling in the anger flood waters of rivers, waves
eating their way towards now precariously teetering seaside villas.These are some of the images that have filled
our TV screens this week as Hurricane Sandy has swept its way across the
Caribbean and onto the urban areas of the eastern seaboard of the United states.
These Images could
easily fit into the much loved parable which Jesus finishes the Sermon on the
Mount with. How solid is the ground on which we build?
At the same time in
our own nation we have to deal with that very question, in the aftermath of the
Christchurch earthquakes. Nightly we hear from the inquiry in the CTV building
collapse. We are only just beginning to feel the tremors from that earthquake
on our city, our architecture and on our church buildings. There is a big
shake up happening, Insurance prices and expectations go up and new building
regulations come in to affect and have their effect. SOme of historic church buildingsd and congregation are going to have some challanges and may be facing a buildingless future.
How solid is the ground on
which we have built?
More than that as we are going through times of societal
change and upheaval, the structures and models we have built which we call
‘church’ also come into question, will it stand or fall? One commentator says we’ve made doing church
so complex that it can only be pulled off weekly by a highly trained full time
competent professional. It has to do with rituals and buildings, running
programmes and events and keeping an organisation going.Whereas Mark Woodley saysin the sermon on the Mount
“Jesus commands us to follow him along a
simple humble path embracing our spiritual poverty, hungering for
righteousness, showing mercy to others, overcoming our contentious anger and
sexual lust, speaking and standing by honest words, loving our enemies,
greeting the unlikeable, trusting God for our daily needs, breaking the cycle
of hatred and judgement. These are the single Jesus ordained ways to please
How solid is the ground on which we have built?
Jesus finishes his Sermon on the Mount his exposition of
this simple humble path following him with a parable which outlines what is a
solid foundation for life in the kingdom of heaven. It’s a much loved story,
it’s one we probably learned as a child, but it’s one that really challenges us
again and again. It’s one that invites us to choose, to choose what we build
our lives individually and corporately on. ( for the children's story in this service I used a great lego-mation version of Jesus parable... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjoqMrFXx-k )
How Solid is the ground on which we have built?
It’s the story of two builders who each build a house. We
are not told that one was a bad builder and the other a good builder, we are not
told weather you could tell the difference between the houses or which of the
two was the best. They may have been built to the same design, it was common in
Jesus day, they may have been built using the same material, its common in our
day, they may have been like con tractors on a cookie cutter suburban
development. We don’t know what we do know says Jesus is that one was wise in
determining what he would build upon and the other wasn’t and the only time
that it showed was when it really mattered when the storm came.
Both builders Jesus says had heard Jesus
words and I find it rather ironic that at the end of the Sermon on the Mount,
Matthew says that everyone who heard Jesus said he spoke with authority that he
was unlike the other scribes and teachers of the Law. The wise builder built on
hearing Jesus words and putting them into action in his life. The foolish builder,
may have built is on thinking about Jesus words, respecting Jesus words,
worshipping Jesus words even, we don’t know all we do know is that he did not put them into action. The
difference says Jesus when the storm came was the difference between building on
rock, it stood, and sand, the whole thing fell down no matter how well it was
You’ll notice in Jesus story that both the Builders faced
the storm, Jesus words are not a way of avoiding the storms of life, nor are
they a way of avoiding a final judgement, both of which Jesus has in mind here.
In the three stories Jesus had used leading up to this concluding parable;
Jesus had mentioned the context of a final judgement. The two ways lead to
life, or destruction, the trees which bore bad fruit would be cut down and
tossed into the fire, there were people said Jesus who would say ‘Lord, Lord’
and yet in that final judgement Jesus would say I did not know you. Life in the
kingdom of Heaven that will survive those times is built on hearing Jesus words
and putting them into action in our lives.
NT Wright says that part of the background to Jesus story
here is the fact that in Jerusalem at this time they were still in the process
of rebuilding the temple. The structure that was the centre of the Jews worship
and their religion, Herod was a great builder and this was his pet project. The
temple was built on a rock, one which the religious leader said would stand the
test of time and storm and flood. We know this because in Jerusalem today it is
where the great mosque is built and it is known as the dome of the rock.Yet this is the building that Jesus said he
would destroy and rebuild in three days, it is the building in 70 AD that was
destroyed by the Romans.
However Jesus kingdom
would be built on a rock. In Matthew 16Jesus had asked his disciples who do you say I am and Peter had
responded by saying ‘you are the Christ, the messiah’ and Jesus said on this
rock will I build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
Jesus Kingdom and its people will be based on faith in Jesus as the saviour and
messiah.It will be a rock of faith, but
faith put in to action.
Now historically and theologically, people have wondered
what Matthew means in this parable. Some have seen it as some sort of salvation
by works… we earn God’s favour by doing what Jesus says. To do so is to forget that the Sermon on the
Mount starts with the beatitudes a revolution of grace, in which as John Stott
puts it ‘Jesus gives veiled testimony to the fact that he is the saviour of the
poor, the sorrowful etc. It is Christ who by his life death and resurrection
invites us into his Kingdom, to follow him. Obedience is the response we have to the
person of Jesus, in John’s gospel Jesus sums it up like this ‘if you love me
you will keep my commandments’.DA Carson,
clarifies where putting Jesus words into action fit in by saying,
“entrance into the
kingdom, then does not turn on obedience after all- not the obedience which
earns merit points but which bows to Jesus ‘Lordship’ in everything and without
Equally this passage stops the gospel from becoming what
Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls cheap grace. It stops responding to the gospel simply
becoming an insurance policy for an eternity in first class, a ticket for
heaven, and says that Jesus actually meant what he said and invites all who
would follow him to live out radical discipleship in the here and know. It’s
grace we are offered in Christ, he died for our sins, he made the way for us to
come back to know God as close as a little child know their parents, to have
our sins forgiven, but it is a costly thing to respond to.
It is so wonderfully and poetically summed up for us in the
last line of Isaac watts famous hymn ‘when I survey the wondrous cross.
“were the whole realm
of nature mine
That were and
offering far to small
love so amazing so
Demands my life, my
soul, my all”
How solid is the ground we are building on?
All the way through our exploration of the Sermon on the
Mount we’ve had Dietrich Bonheoffer’s words as a motivation as a lens which
we’ve been looking through…
“The restoration of the church will surely come from a
new kind of community,
which will have nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising
adherence to the Sermon on the Mount in imitation of Christ. I believe the time
has come to rally people together for this.”
In the end there is no other way for us to restore the
church because it is exactly what Jesus says at the end of his sermon. I want
to leave you with a couple of thoughts about how we go about being this kind of
community.Please Jesus finished his
sermon with the story of two builders not a blue print for us to follow, so
this isn’t just a three of four step answers to everything.
First, the context of Jesus teaching was in a big crowd and
they all heard his words and thought he had great authority, but it was his
small group of disciples who followed him every day and lived with each other
who actually formed the basis for this new community.
It’s a daily journey following Jesus reading and being read
by Jesus words. Ghandi it is reported by some read the Sermon on the Mount at
least once a day. We need to read and reflect on it and all Jesus words till
them become part of u, they form part of our decision making process, they come
to mind first before we react in a situation, they need to be the lens through
which we see each other and the people round us. Psalm 119 which we had read
from this morning is a wonderful long acrostic poem, it’s a soppy love poem
about the word of God, scripture. Psalmist has written about how they read it,
memorise it, and put it into action.
Secondly, it’s a group
thing, we need each other to help us live this out. Jesus spent three years
with a small group of people so they would see how he lived it out and be able
to pass it on to others.I’m not saying
we need to fit just another meeting or group into our lives but we need to find
a small group of people, four or five, who we can meet with and pray together,
study scripture together confess our sins together and pray for those who we
are being salt and light to. I don’t know what the best thing to call them is
cell groups, home groups, life groups. But a small group of people who are committed
to intentionally help each other build their lives on living out Jesus
Lastly Bonhoeffer actually found himself living out Christ’s
teaching in prison. I’m not suggesting we all need to go to jail. But there was
something about stepping out of a comfortable life into a situation where he
found himself confronted with suffering and evil that meant that all the other
stuff, the acting, the religious games we can play just seemed to melt away. He
learned what it meant to love, even his enemies. The only thing he had to offer
others was the Christ light he had found. The Sermon on the Mount leads on to
stories of Jesus encountering pain and suffering and conflict, with healing
grace love and faith in Matthew chapters 8 and 9, and then sending his
disciples out to do the same in Matthew 10. We need to do the same to follow
Jesus out where the people are. To be salt and light and do church where life
Howard Carter is a Presbyterian Minister in his early fifties. He is the minister at St Peter's Presbyterian Church Ellerslie Mt Wellington. A congregaion that is wanting to face the challange of being Christ's body in a twenty first century, multi-cultural, multi-generational, suburban environment. "it's challanging", says Howard, "I feel totally inadiquate, but rely on Jesus, who is able to be strong in my weakness".
Yes he's married to Kris and has four children. So he'sboth blessed and busy.
Howard posts the messages he preaches on Sundays (the long posts with heaps of images), the occasional reflection, prayers he writes for services (when he's in a liturgical mood) and movie review.