The picture that goes with our service this week is of this wonderful small house balanced on top of a rock in the Drina River in Serbia.
It sprung to prominence because of this photo by Hungarian photographer Irene Becker that made the shot of the day on the National Geographic website in 2012, you can even download it as wallpaper for your computer… and since then the river house has become somewhat of a tourist attraction.
But few people realised that it has been there for over 45 years. In 1969 a group of teenage boys spent much of the summer swimming in the river and they would haul themselves out on this rock to rest and sunbath and warm up. But while it was a peaceful place it wasn’t that comfortable. So they used the wood from a nearby abandoned shed to build a platform on the rock. Then the next year they floated and kayaked wood and building materials down the river to build the house. They still use the house for holidays, time with friends and to just get away from it all.
The rock must be solid and the house well-built because While it may look idyllic in these pictures the house has withstood storms and floods,…
…it’s been battered by torrents and the debris they hurl down flood fuelled currents, sometimes just by the skin of its teeth. It’s a great illustration of the person in Jesus parable who builds their house on the rock, the person who builds their lives on hearing Jesus word and putting them into action… who show exceptional love in light of God’s gracious offer of blessing, the flood comes up and the storms rage against it but it remains solid.
Over the past month we’ve been working our way through Jesus sermon on the plain in Luke’s gospel. Today we come to look at Jesus conclusion: His final challenge to that large group of disciples who had gathered to hear him. He finishes with a question and a parable to illustrate what he is calling his followers to do. Again it’s one of Jesus most vivid word sketches. Again like the parables of Jesus about choosing which teacher to follow that we looked at last week it has an element of humour and absurdity about it… I mean who builds a house without a solid foundation...Right? Who calls Jesus “lord, Lord’ and then does not do what he says?… Again Jesus cuts to the chase, that at the heart of being a disciple is putting into effect the teaching of Jesus… Allowing Jesus to open our spiritual eyes and to work at changing us at a deep heart level so the fruits our lives produce will be Christ like…To Love our enemies and not to judge... That we will be merciful as our father is merciful.
One of the charms of the river house is the way it seems to be precariously balance on top of such a small rock. It almost seems to defy gravity and our better judgement doesn’t it? I don’t think it should work but it does. Again it’s an interesting illustration of the affront of Jesus words here that the solid foundation for life is to be found in hearing and obeying him.
AS we’d seen Jesusrevolution of grace of good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, release and liberty to the prisoner and oppressed and the declaration of the acceptable year of the Lord, had been going out to people the religious leaders of the day thought beyond God’s blessing that it had lead Jesus more and more into conflict with those religious leaders. In this sermon as well as giving ethical teaching to his followers Jesus places himself as the source of the true understanding and revelation of God. The sermon is about whose understanding of God’s character and kingdom is right.
It’s the same challenge that Jesus gives to the world today. The person of Jesus and living by his teaching is the only way to truly know God and live a life of exceptional love. It’s kind of like asking us to build our lives on that little rock that sticks up in the river… amidst the swirl of different understandings and a current of tolerance that no one can make an exclusive claim to spiritual authority and truth. But Jesus does. In the book of 1 Peter it talks about Jesus as the stumbling stone for many but also that the stone that the builder rejected has become the foundation stone, or the cap stone of the dwelling place of God. And Jesus stands as the contrasting rock for us, like the one in the Drina River that we either have to navigate round or land on and build upon. NT Wright sums it up beautifully by saying;
“Jesus radical offer of new and abundant life is so all embracing and hence so all-demanding , that people try to find alternative ways. But they must be resisted, or the house will come down with a crash.”
In Jesus question about what it means to call him Lord, Lord and the subsequent parable we see that at the heart of discipleship is not knowledge but obedience, it’s not hearing but putting into action. It’s not about having the plan but doing the building. Earlier in the year we worked our way through the book of James and saw how James talks of faith and says that faith without works is dead. While historically people have taken that and wrestled with it at a deep theological level, how does it impact on the doctrine of salvation by grace not works, and they are good discussions to have, but for James it was very much like Jesus that our faith in Jesus should result in showing kindness and exceptional love. If you remember in James it was about resisting the pull of seeking status and comfort but rather to be caring for the poor and the disenfranchised. It was hearing Jesus words and putting them into practise. John Blanchard comments… (click for quote on screen)
“It is only when we add the discipleship of obedience to the raw material of truth that we have a structure that will stand the test of life.”
It is most popular to think of the floods and torrents mentioned in Jesus parable as difficulties and troubles that can enter our lives and threaten to tear it all down. We use storm and rough waters as a way of talking about those things. It is true and comforting to know that this passage says that in knowing Jesus and putting his words into action in our lives we have a solid foundation that will resist and preserve through those troubles and storms. But we can miss some other truth from Jesus words here.
The first is that putting Jesus words into practise from this sermon give us the solid foundation for standing and withstanding floods of injustice and currents of evil in our world. In the many different pictures of the river house the one constant in drought and flood, still mornings or stormy days where you can just make it out amidst the deluge is the flow and current of the river, yet the rock and the house remain solid. The way to stand against injustice to effect change is to be about that exceptional love of Jesus. Detrick Bonhoeffer in his letters from prison talks of ministering both to fellow prisoners and with equal compassion ministering to his captors. While he had written a famous book on Jesus Sermon on the Mount it was only in that situation that he actually learned what it meant to put Jesus words into practise… We see the impact of non-violence in the civil rights movement and Ghandi’s use of Jesus teaching in his struggle for Indian independence. On a more personal level… When we talked about lovingour enemies I used the example of John Perkins a black American pastor and activist who was beaten by the Mississippi State Troopers and yet continued to work for justice and the gospel in that state… later in life Perkins was asked how did you overcome racism and bigotry…? and he replied “
We don’t like to think of God’s judgement that often, but this parable very much picks up the wording of the prophecy in Ezekiel 13 where God talks of sending storms and floods to tear down the shonkely built religion and state of Judea, founded on the words of the false prophets. The house in Ezekiel looked good on the outside it was whitewashed, a term that has come into our vocabulary from that passage to mean a cover up, here the whitewash tried to hide the building being structurally unsound. But God sees through the whitewash, God sees to the heart and so God would send his judgement. Jesus teaching here was to a large group of disciples gathered from all over the region and it acts as a way of sifting them and us. To distinguish between those whose affirmation of Jesus Lordship is nominal, or only on the surface, and those who embrace his message and let it flow into the very heart of them to the point that it begins to flow out again in such practises as those outlines in his sermon. It is this last group that are genuine in addressing Jesus with the words “Lord, Lord”.
Finally I want to briefly look at two ways this passage speaks to us today…
The first is a challenge to the church. Many commentators make a link between what Jesus is saying here and the great building project of Jesus day: Herod’s temple refurbishments in Jerusalem. In Mark’s gospel on the afternoon of Jesus triumphant entry they go sightseeing and Jesus disciples point to the wonder and splendour of the temple and Jesus says that it will be destroyed. Again it is not built on a firm foundation of obeying and living out God’s word in Christ… So it will not stand with the shift of empires. The church has built some amazing structures, both buildings and organisations. They are wonderful and amazing, some even stand the test of time. Sometimes however it is easy to see what we have built makes us seem more like the Pharisees who resisted Jesus teaching rather than Jesus and his revolution of grace. In New Zealand after the Christchurch earthquakes we have been asked to look at our buildings and our foundations to see if they are up to scratch. And it is a call for us to hear Jesus says that’s a good idea as well. It is a call to hear Paul’s call to the Corinthians that we had read out today, to look at what we have built on the foundation of Christ, or really if we are building on that foundation. Reformation and renewal and revival come from Jesus call at the end of his sermon on the plain to look to build on putting his teaching into action.
Lastly, that Jesus speaks directly to us individually today. This concluding parable has the feel of a TV show or a film where the fourth wall is broken. Where an actor turns from his filmic reality and looks or speaks directly to the camera as if aware of who is watching. It has the feel of the picture of a boat on tossing waves in CS Lewis’s ‘The voyage of the Dawn Treader” in the Narnia series where the water in the picture begins to spill into the very room the children are in. Because Jesus question talks of calling him “Lord, Lord” and at this stage in Luke’s gospel only two people have called Jesus Lord, Peter after the great catch of fish, and the leprous man whom Jesus heals, and his saying isn’t a critique of those two. Rather Jesus is speaking in a proleptic manner (Don’t worry I didn’t know what that meant either). He is speaking forwards to all who would later call him Lord Lord… the readers of Luke’s gospel and on into this room here today… and to those who read this on my blogsite...
… On what will you build your life? Have you found the rock the solid foundation for life of hearing Jesus words and putting them into action?...