Friday, May 27, 2005

Pentecost 2 - Year A

If you’ve hung around our house for any length of time you’ll know, that in our house, Rebekah owns the tools. If the gate to the backyard gets unhinged, Rebekah digs out her tool box and re-hinges it. If the weather stripping needs replacing, Rebekah gets down on her hands and knees makes sure no outside air gets in. If the kids’ playhouse does not come pre-assembled, Rebekah is outside with her drill and hammer, boring holes and hammering the walls of the house together.

We decided a long time ago that, after a few mishaps, I was not allowed near the tools.

(But in my defense, it’s my testosterone she summons when we hear a strange noise in the backyard at night or when a telemarketer calls)

So, I take it at my wife’s good word that Jesus makes some pretty strange claims about building houses.

Rebekah tells me that it is actually very easy to build a house on sand. You just drive some stakes into the ground, pile extra sand around the edges of the walls, throw a piece of plywood over the structure, and -voila! – you’ve got yourself small hut.

But, of course, Jesus was right. A beach hut wouldn’t stand up to the weather. Especially our southern Alberta wind.

But Rebekah also tells me that building a house on a rock wouldn’t be her first choice either.

“Do you know how hard it is to pound rocks?” she asks emphatically.

That was probably what Jesus’ listeners thought when they heard this story. “A bizarre little tale,” they probably mumbled to each other. “But they probably thought the comparison was very appropriate.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock…” Jesus says. What words was Jesus talking about?

How about:

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” “Be holy, as your heavenly Father is holy.” “Forgive others when they sin against you.” “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” “You cannot serve God and money.” “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.” “Enter though the narrow gate.”

In other words, Jesus is saying, build your house on a rock. It’s not easy, but who ever said the road to salvation would be paved?

Jesus tells the story of the wise and foolish builders as a climax to his Sermon on the Mount – often called the Magna Carta of Christianity.

In contrast, he says that some folks who can name the name but who just went after the fun stuff, the stuff that didn’t cost them anything, won’t be recognized when they enter the gates of the Kingdom. It’s those who walk the road with Jesus, the road of self-giving love, the road of reconciliation, the road that leads to the cross, that bear the marks of the crucified saviour that enter the gates of the kingdom.

But Jesus wasn’t giving us a method of earning our way into the kingdom. Jesus didn’t give us a checklist of items to fulfill or hoops to jump through in order to get our ticket punched at the doorway to heaven. But Jesus showed us how God wants God’s people to live in the world.

Ken Haugk, founder of Stephen Ministries, tells a story about Bruce Bickel, former director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Chicago. Bickel had been a navy pilot in Vietnam. He and several other soldiers had taken under their wing an orphanage about eight miles from their base.

One day, during an enemy mortar and rocket attack, the orphanage was destroyed. Bickel drove down to help children wounded in the attack. He brought a severely injured 8-year-old to an army hospital. One doctor explained the need for blood, and that the best chance for a match would come if Bickel could persuade some of the unharmed children to donate blood for their friend. Bickel explained the need, and one 10-year-old boy volunteered.

While the blood was being drawn, Bickel held the hand of the boy who was donating his blood. He began to sniffle and whispered a question to Bickel,

“What was that?” Bickel asked, bending his head nearer to the boy.

“How long will it take me to die?” the boy repeated. The boy thought he had volunteered ALL his blood.

That boy knew how hard it was to build his house on a rock.

15 years ago, two teenage boys got drunk and took a car out for a joyride along the rural roads down the Nova Scotia/New Brunswick border. A young man was walking home from work at the side of the road. The driver of the car thought it would be funny to scare the guy because he knew him from school. But instead of scaring him, he killed him, as well as his friend in the passenger seat after the car left the road and hit a tree.

Charges were laid. The boy was convicted and sentenced. The parents of the boy in the passenger seat moved from Nova Scotia; their pain was too great and their anger too raw. The mother of the boy who was hit while walking home, however, decided that she wasn’t going to live with bitterness and anger.

She wrote letters to the boy who killed her only son. He was too ashamed to write letters back.

As time went on she decided to visit him. Her friends weren’t sure that this was the right thing to do. They were afraid that, when she saw the boy - now a man - face to face, she would lose it.

She brought her pastor along for support. As they waited in the visitation room no one spoke. The prison chaplain waited with them and a guard was waiting just outside the door. The grieving mom chewed her fingernails and her pastor lightly tapped the table.

Finally, the door opened and the man came in. The mom got up from her chair, looked him in the eye, and embraced the man who killed her son, while tears streamed down both their faces.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” was all he could say.

“When you get out, you’ll come live with me,” said the woman.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because we already lost two lives, we aren’t going to lose one more.”

This woman knows how hard it is to build a house on a rock, because she’s still building it.

Neither the boy in Vietnam nor the woman in Nova Scotia gave any thought to how they might measure up to God, but they knew, somehow, a little of how God wants us to live. Maybe they knew, like Jesus listeners, that we - that you - are the light of the world, blessed in our grief, blessed in our poverty. While that may sounds strange to our ears, I think the Vietnamese boy and the grieving mom show us what Jesus meant by that: it is out of our pain and poverty that we can reach out to the world.

It’s those who walk the road with Jesus, the road where love for our neighbour are signposts along the way, the road where painful but life-giving reconciliation point us to God, the road fraught with thickets and brambles, scratching and piercing our skin, making us look something like the crucified saviour who speaks these tender words in our ears, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of my kingdom.”

May this be so among us. Amen.


Blogger Larry said...

Hi, Kevin,

Wonderful sermon you've written. This is a hard Sunday to do, so much written, so many threads in the fabric of our Lord's teaching. It comes clearly through that we live it, sometimes like it, sometimes not like it, and that love is the strength that supports both those journeys. The love of God.

7:00 AM  

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