This week we conclude the Sermon on the Mount by looking at what Jesus teaches about the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-27. Everyone builds a house, and while it may not be a literal house, everyone is building a form of ‘house’ perhaps better described as character. Everyone is constructing a soul, badly or beautifully, on purpose or by accident, with God’s help or on your own.
The house we build will, like our actual physical place of homes, experience seasons of blooming and seasons of storms. No matter how hard we try, the storm always seems to come. Not by having more money or being really smart. Not even by having a lot of faith in God and praying real hard. Jesus says the storm will come. So join us this week as we look at how to build our lives on a strong foundation so that when the storms come, we will be able to stand strong.
I will seek to understand Jesus and his way of life.
I will seek to do what Jesus says above everything else.
I will build my life on obedience to Jesus.
I am making a decision to be a disciple of Jesus.
Two thousand years ago, in a remote part of the world, an obscure carpenter turned rabbi walked on the shore of a lake where there were two fishermen, very ordinary men, named Peter and Andrew. He said to them, “Follow me,” and they left their nets and followed him. Then he came to two more fishermen, two brothers, James and John, with that same cryptic invitation — “Follow me,” and they left their boats and followed him. One day he came to a man named Levi, a tax collector (a despised profession in that day), and he said those same two words — “Follow me.” Levi got up, left his booth, left his profession, left his whole way of life and followed this man Jesus. We wonder in these stories (at least I do) what else Jesus might have said or what else these people might have known about him, but the writers of Scripture don’t tell us, because they only want to focus on this single command, on those two words. Jesus, whatever you think of him, walked around issuing what might be called the grand invitation — “Follow me.” Sometimes people would say, “Yes.” And for them it meant many things — high adventure, learning, poverty, suffering, and frequent failure; but meaning and hope; and then ultimately death. Everyone is going to die. The only real question is if you’ve found anything worth dying for. Sometimes he would issue this invitation and people would say, “No.” Maybe that meant they chose security or comfort instead. We don’t know, because we’ve never heard from these people again. Since the beginning of this year, January of 2022, we’ve been on this journey through what has been the most impactful sermon in history. It’s called the Sermon on the Mount because Jesus gave it on a little mountain. And all of these months, from January until now, have pointed toward this moment, toward this message, toward this day for you and me. At the end of Jesus’ sermon, having announced what he called his “good news” — that life with God, in the presence of God, in God’s favor, in God’s care, and God’s forgiveness is now available to anyone — available to you, available to people the world had written off… Having brilliantly described what it is that makes someone a truly good person from the inside… Having explained why, in the care of his magnificent Father, you simply have nothing ultimately to worry about, nothing to be afraid of… Having articulated how it is really the love of God expressed through the Golden Rule that is the foundation of reality, that is most real… Jesus devotes the last portion of his sermon to clarifying for people the great decision of life — Will you become his disciple or not? Now, I want to take any mystery out of this word disciple, because a lot of people think there’s something mysterious about it. Many people think the job of the church is to make Christians, and they think of Christians as people who hold certain beliefs, particularly certain beliefs about Jesus, and that as long as they affirm the right beliefs or trust in those beliefs in the right way they get to be forgiven and have to be allowed into heaven when they die, and that’s the difference between a Christian and someone who’s not a Christian. So they never deal with the fundamental choice, which is — “Do I actually intend to do everything this man Jesus taught? Do I intend to follow him?” Jesus never said to anyone, “Become a Christian.” The word Christian is used in the Bible only three times, and then just as a little nickname for disciples. The word disciple is used in the Bible 269 times, and simply means — a learner or a student or an apprentice or a follower. There’s no vagueness. There’s nothing mysterious about it. If you are a learner, you know it. If you want to learn how to play golf or how to speak another language or how to do brain surgery, then you become a student of someone through lessons or YouTube videos or a book. You choose in an appropriate way to be with them, to learn from them how to do what they do, how to become like them. And you know if you’re doing this or not. If someone asks you, “Are you learning to do brain surgery?” No one says, “Well, I’m not sure. Let me think about it. Maybe.” You may not be a good student, but you know if you’re a student or not a student. So the question is — are you a disciple of Jesus? Have you chosen above all else to follow this man, to identify with him, to do what he says, to live as he would live if he were you? Now, I want to share with you something that’s real important as you consider this — being a disciple doesn’t mean being a good disciple. It doesn’t. You can be a really bad disciple. You can be really bad at discipling. It doesn’t bother Jesus at all. Half the time we see Jesus with his disciples he’s correcting them for what terrible disciples they are: * “Oh, you of little faith. * “Could you not stay awake and pray with me for one hour? * “What were you arguing about? Who’s the greatest? * “You will deny me three times. * “Get behind me, Satan. * “How long must I put up with you? * “Have I been with you so long and you do not know who I am?” They were terrible at being disciples. But it didn’t matter. You may be terrible at being a disciple. It doesn’t matter. It’s okay. Jesus accepts you as his disciple, good or bad, simply on the basis of the fact that you’ve chosen to be with him, to learn from him how to become like him. So Jesus says the fundamental decision you face if you want to be a disciple is this — Will you actually do what he says to do? Will you obey him? That’s a word we don’t like to hear in our day. Obedience is often thought to be kind of a bad word in our day. It’s generally not a compliment to be called obedient. Teachers will praise kids by saying to their parents, “Your child is a leader” or “Your child is a risk taker” or “Your child is gifted or talented.” In the Bay Area where we live, obedience is so poorly thought of that one of the great compliments in our day is to be disruptive. I heard about a teacher who told a set of parents, “Your child is disruptive,” and they high-fived each other. They didn’t realize it wasn’t intended to be a compliment. Obedience school is for dogs. A friend told me he was taking his hunting dog to remedial obedience school. I immediately wanted to know, “Do they have one of those for humans?” When we think of obedience, we think of someone who is robotic or compliant or a weak-willed conformist. Of course, Jesus wanted none of those. Jesus didn’t say, “I have come that you might be a weak-willed conformist and do whatever you’re told by anyone for no good reason at all.” A disciple is someone who seeks to obey Jesus with creativity and imagination and initiative and discernment and boldness — joyfully not grudgingly — as the power of God to transform gets into what the apostle Paul called the members of your body — in your little hands, what they do; in your little feet, where they go; in your little eyes, what they see; in your little mouth, what it speaks — into the habits that mostly make you, you. When this happens, obedience, life, creativity, joy, and love flow out of you quite naturally… With constant humility, as you realize the only way to live in the kingdom of God is through receiving daily nourishment from the Word and the Spirit, which is a reprieve from the train wreck that would otherwise be your ego and sin… With great courage, for it will often mean standing in noncompliance under great pressure… With moments of great inspiration when you’re gripped by the realization that the only explanation for Jesus’ unprecedented impact is that he is the most magnificent human being who has ever lived… And it is the greatest opportunity for any human being who has ever come along to become his friend, to identify with him, to stand alongside of him, to be taken up into what it is he’s doing in this great world he’s created… And that no matter what else happens in your life you cannot miss that. So at the end of this great talk, Jesus presses urgently for a decision from every listener to his grand invitation. He says you are at a great crossroads, know it or not. You will either choose the narrow gate that is obedience to him in all things — “I will seek to understand and with his help do what he says above everything else.” Or you will choose the broad gate, and that’s just simply anything else. You will either become a good tree that is flowing with so much inner goodness — that ceaseless flow of thoughts, feelings, intentions, and desires inside of you that no one else can see… will become so good they will eventually become words and actions and generosity that will make other people when they look at you say, “What a good God God must be to do something like that.” Or you’ll rot — and ego, self, pride, smallness, pettiness, greed, bitterness, and anger will make you worthless to yourself or anyone else. You stand at a great crossroads. This is Jesus, and now these are his final words in the Sermon on the Mount. Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. Matthew 7:24-27 In the eyes of Jesus, there’s no good reason not to do what he said to do, because what he tells us to do is the best. Rightly understood, it’s just the best. It’s not compliance. It’s not mechanical. It’s not a rule book. It requires discernment and judgment. It means becoming a person radiant with goodness. It’s just the best. There’s no good reason not to do it. Imagine you applied to (and got accepted at) the greatest company in the world, and you were to report to the CEO. He’s not just a brilliant leader and a creative wizard; he’s deeply invested in your personal development, and he said to you, “I want you to work on this project. I want you to develop this competence. I want you to build this team. I want you to care for this client so you can become a magnificent contributor.” And you said, “No. I don’t intend to do what you tell me to do. I want to be on staff, I want to get a paycheck, I want to have an office, I want to receive benefits, but I want to do what I want to do.” How long would you last there? Imagine you got selected to be part of the greatest team in the history of athletic competition. The coach is not just a strategic genius and an inspirational figure; he’s deeply committed to seeing you excel. He says, “I want you to do these drills, watch these videos, study this playbook, practice these exercises, serve this team.” And you say, “No thanks. I want to be on the roster, I want to wear a championship ring, I want to have the uniform, I want to get endorsements, I want the banner to belong to me, but I don’t intend to do what you tell me to do.” How long would you last on the greatest team in the history of the world? (Which, by the way, is the Golden State Warriors.) Now imagine standing before Jesus one day and trying to explain to him why you didn’t ever fully intend to do all he said to do. Now, maybe you think you have a good reason for that, but people far wiser than me in his way of life will tell you selective obedience will simply not usher you into the kind of life Jesus has for you. Selective obedience just won’t. There’s a line in the Big Book of AA that I love. These are people who know they stand at a great crossroads between life and death. Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked his protection and care with complete abandon. There is one who has all power—that one is God. May you find him now! To make our condition clear, to make this decision as urgent and unmistakable as possible, as he often does, Jesus tells a story. These are actually two little stories we’ve just read, and the way to understand them is you kind of set them side by side and look at what is similar in each story, and then you look at what the variable is. Where is it different? When you locate the difference, you get the point. Alright, so Jesus tells two little stories, and we need to look at what’s similar and what’s different in each story. The difference is where we discover the point. In these two stories, everyone builds a house. That’s not different. You could replace the word house with the word life. We might put it like this: Everyone is forming a character. Everyone is constructing a soul, badly or beautifully, on purpose or by accident, with God’s help or on your own. Everyone builds a house. Everyone builds a life. We do this mostly by the choices we make, most of which we just don’t think about: * “How will I spend my time? * “What words will I speak? * “What are the thoughts that will occupy my mind, and where will they come from? * “What will I do with my money? * “What people will form me and shape me? * “What will my life be about day after day after day after day?” Very often, we deal with this by trying to put decisions off: * “Should I work on my marriage that I know at some level is in trouble? * “Should I deal with this habit that I know is a deep flaw? * “Should I care for my body? * “Should I address this drinking problem that at some level I know is serious? Then not to decide becomes its own decision with its own consequences. That’s just the way it is. Everyone builds a house. You cannot avoid this. I cannot abdicate responsibility for this. I can’t put this on my parents or my peers or my boss or my family. It’s built mostly on NOT what has happened to me, which is what I often focus on, but on those tiny little decisions I’m making or not making all the time. Everyone builds a house. A second constant is everyone faces a storm. This is not a story about storm avoidance. We wish it was. We would like to be able to go someplace where there’s better weather. I used to live in Chicago. Now I live in California. Where is the weather better, Chicago or California? California. Thank God for California. But this is not a story about leaving Chicago and moving to California. There’s no way to do storm avoidance in life. Not by having more money or being real smart. Not even by having a lot of faith in God and praying real hard. Jesus says the storm will come. One of my best friends in college was married with three boys. He was the kind of guy that never met a stranger. He always had time to talk. Just a fun guy. He loved to laugh. We both moved to California after attending college and grad school in Chicago. He was also a pastor so we shared a passion for God and his church. He would invite me to teach at his events. I would invite him to teach at mine. So we spent a lot of time together on camps and retreats. Consequently, we shared a fairly deep relationship. One day when he was just 42 years old, he called me with the news that he was diagnosed with cancer. He told me it was not an aggressive cancer, so he was going to be able to do treatments and remain working. About a month later I got a call from his wife who let me know Ron had died. The storm came. For me, while I miss Ron, the storm came ten years ago and has passed. But for Jen and her three boys the storm was very painful and lasted for quite a long time. Everyone faces a storm. Somehow they surprise us though. We think we shouldn’t experience the storm. We think we’re too smart or too strong. You see, the strength of the storm will reveal the foundation of the house. Now, you should know that in Jesus’ story he’s not just talking about problems in general. He has something in particular in mind. In the Bible, a storm is often used as an image of the judgment of God, how God doesn’t intend to let this world go on being messed up. He will disrupt it and set things right. The story of Noah and the storm and the flood, if you remember that, is an expression of the judgment of God on a messed-up world, a wicked world. That’s the idea behind Jesus’ storm in these two stories. The writers of Scripture say every human being is appointed once to die. Whatever you think about this, every human being is appointed to die. You didn’t get here because you chose to, and it is appointed that you will die and then face the judgment of God. I will be accountable to God for my life. So will you. So everyone builds a house. Everyone faces the storm. Now, the variable in this story is the foundation you build your life on. You will either build your life on obedience to Jesus — identifying with him and by grace doing what he says with his help. Or you will in your attitudes, in your words, in your actions, in your relationships, and with your money do something else. So what’s your choice? I need to tell you this — “Half measures availed us nothing.” See, my problem is I would prefer half measures. * I’d like a little surrender when I feel like it. * I’d like a little devotion. * I’d like a little generosity. * I’d like a little help from God when I need it and a little distance from God when I want it. But you can’t live in half a house. It’s striking that when Jesus describes these two people he doesn’t say, “Here’s a story about a good man and an evil man.” He says, “There was a wise man and a foolish man.” Jesus knew this about us — we don’t usually choose to be evil. Life kind of happens. Parents understand this. When kids do something they shouldn’t do — something destructive, something foolish, something infuriating, parents almost always ask them the same stupid question — “Why? Why did you do this foolish thing?” “Why did you cut your sister’s hair until she was bald in order to make a little nest for birdies in a Styrofoam cup?” “Why did you shove Flintstones vitamins up your brother’s nose and leave them there until he had to be taken to the ER to find out through an x-ray that he had Flintstones vitamins up his nose?” “Why did you stick a glass light bulb in your mouth that was so big you could not open your mouth wide enough to get it out again? Why? What were you thinking?” Parents always ask that stupid question, and children always respond with the same answer. “I don’t know. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It just happened.” “Why did you build your house on the sand?” “I don’t know. It just happened.” * You see, no one gets married and plans on getting divorced. * No one meets someone at the office and plans on having an affair. * No one has a child and plans to neglect them or wreck them or hurt them. * No one goes out in the world and plans on being greedy or selfish or racist or just not caring about human need and spending all their money on themselves. * No one plans to go through life bitter, joyless, in despair. * No one plans on going to hell. It just happens. So, rock or sand? Follow or not follow? This is the great commitment that God sets before every one of us today through Jesus. It’s important that this commitment, if it’s made, be made soberly and clearly and not in a moment of temporary emotion. That happens sometimes in churches, but then when the emotion fades the commitment does too. Jesus’ advice on this, given in the gospel of Luke when he tells another story about a little building project, is “Count the cost. Before you decide, count the cost as best you can.” So I want to give a moment to do that. Really, there are two costs to count. One of them is the cost of discipleship. That’s a wonderful phrase from a great Christian writer by the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I’d ask you right now in this moment of decision that you count the cost of being a disciple. There will be a cost. * What does it mean for me to surrender my will to Jesus? * What does it mean for me to lay down my ego, my reputation? Very often there will be something in particular — a habit or a relationship, something you will have to give up. * Maybe it’s around money. * Maybe it’s around sexuality. * Maybe lying. * Maybe anger. * Maybe words. * Maybe a relationship. It’s often this way for people. Now, the cost is not that I will just try grudgingly every day really hard through my willpower to obey Jesus’ rules. The idea is that I identify with him, and through his grace I arrange my life now around practices, relationships, and rhythms through which I receive true inner goodness, life, and grace from the heavenly Father. Of course, it’s a lot like getting married or having a child, where there’s a lot you don’t know at the beginning, but as best you can you count the cost of being a disciple for you. Then, much less often talked about, there is the cost of non-discipleship. What is the price you will pay if you don’t follow Jesus? For me, that life would be a crushing burden of chronic disappointment, aloneness, isolation, and enslavement to ego, desire, image, and reputation. Just a soap opera every day — Fear, greed. Fear, greed. Fear, greed. “Will I get what I want?” Then despair and a meaningless death. For me, the cost of discipleship is exceedingly small compared to the cost of non-discipleship. Now this counting of the cost lies before every one of us. And with this clearly before you right now comes the question of decision — will you follow this man? When Jesus was teaching, something happened deep in the souls of the people who were sitting there, something that may happen for you right now. God just works this way. I know he does. Your heart starts pounding and your mind starts racing and something inside you says, “This is it. This is what I’ve been looking for my whole life long, but I didn’t know it. * To be cleansed and forgiven of all my guilt and regret and the stupid stuff I’ve done through grace poured out on the cross in his sacrificial death. * To know God. * To have a life that has something beyond just worry and fear. * To not be a slave all the time to my desire for sex or safety or money or image or reputation. * To be a part of God’s plan in his great world. * To have confidence beyond death. I must have this. I would rather have what this man has and give up everything else in the world than to have everything there is in the world and give up this man. So I’ve made up my mind. I’ll pay whatever the price is. I’ll do what he says. I’ll go where he wants. I’ll be what he says I ought to be.” Those he called to follow him would leave the crowd and would become his disciple. They would become a follower of Jesus. They would identify with him. They would love him. They would walk through life as his friend. Imperfectly of course. Have you done that or have you not? Where do you stand? We’re going to have a little time for you to count the cost and talk to God about this. Again, not “Am I Christian?” or “Am I a believer?” or “Will I go to heaven?” but “Have I become his disciple?” We’re going to put a statement on the screen now that might help you with this. These words are an expression of this decision. I am making a decision to be a disciple of Jesus. I commit to studying his life and to learn from him how to live life like him. We’ll just have a moment or two of silence and prayer now before Michaela and the team lead us in a closing song. Maybe you made this decision a long time ago but it would be good for you to write down those words on a card, and maybe sign it as a way of affirming, “This is what I’m doing with my life,” and you might want to keep it in your Bible or on your desk, if it would help you. If not, don’t worry about that. Maybe you’re new to exploring faith and you’ve never thought about this as an option. Maybe you want to write these words on a card and take some time to to think about it, and eventually, if you’re ready to make this decision, then just sign it and maybe have someone else witness it in some setting that would serve you well. Maybe you’re ready to make this decision today. Maybe you’ve thought of yourself as a Christian, a believer, but you’ve never gotten really clear on, “Yes — to obey him is my priority above all else.” If it would help you to sign this in the next few moments, do that. Put a date on it. If you want it to be witnessed, maybe have a close friend or family member sign it as a witness. Or bring it to Blue Oaks on a Sunday and I would be happy to sign it. If that’s not an option, send it to me and I’ll sign it as a witness and send it back to you. You see, for all of these months now we’ve been listening to these amazing words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, and now this is a joyful moment for us. We’re devoting ourselves to doing exactly what Jesus asked, to giving our most honest responses. So take a moment or two right now. Just look at these words. Maybe bow your heads and close your eyes if you want to. Just talk to God. Talk to Jesus today. Give him your response, as honestly as you can, to this grand invitation. Blue Oaks Church Pleasanton, CA