Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 7

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Instructions for House-building.

Jesus is bringing His famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’ to its conclusion. Endings of sermons, speeches and stories are epic; they are key to understanding everything the speaker intends. They summarize the main point—they reiterate the heart of the issue. If our attention wanders or our focus wanes anywhere, it is best that it not happen during the conclusion. We don’t want to miss the wrap-up.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is like that. It rises and falls in cycles of proposals and warnings. His conclusion brings his ideas to the apex. “Free at last!” he sings out, casting his vision for a unified country, a people no longer in bondage to racial injustice.

The conclusion of Jesus’ sermon is even more powerful. Its impact strikes the responsive listener with hurricane-like force. His words cut to the foundations of each of our lives.

“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).

Jesus sketches for us an image of two lives. He compares and contrasts these two people, describes their common experience and their differing responses. Those who live their lives by the often-challenging ethical demands of Jesus’ teachings are building under difficult conditions. The craggy foundation is high and there is much effort in climbing its heights each day to lift another post and lay another beam on its footing. The footprint from which they must rise has a definite shape and they must conform to it. Building a house on a rock takes everything they have and more.

Meanwhile, those who live their lives as they please, choosing to believe their own inner voice is rather to be followed than the words of God, are building on something that is attractive at the time. Sand is malleable and will take whatever shape the house-builder chooses. There are no hard edges that require the builder to adjust plans. There are no high and unyielding standards to which they must conform. What could be better than a beachfront villa with an ocean view—metaphorically speaking, of course?

Then comes the storm. Tornado-like winds drive pellets of rain against all sides of the two houses and torrents of floodwaters rise from below, thrashing both buildings mercilessly. When the storm subsides the results become visible. The house on the rock stands unscathed, while the house on the sand is nothing more than a splintered wreckage of debris.

What does it all mean? The storm is death. The houses are our lives. We each are given the freedom to ‘build’ our lives as we please. But each of us will eventually leave this world; each of us will experience death—there is no escaping it. What God gives us is the opportunity to prepare for the life hereafter in such a way that the experience of death will not harm us. That, says God in numerous ways throughout Scripture, is wisdom.

Here, at the end of Jesus’ famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’ Jesus gets specific about how to build our lives wisely. He explains that the wise put His words into practice. Jesus will many times during His life and ministry explain that every word He speaks completely conforms to the Father’s words and will. He is God in the flesh. When people like you and me practice what He preached we express our faith in Him. At times that faith is painfully stretched because practicing Jesus’ commands is hard work. But that, Jesus is saying, is what building on ‘the rock’ involves.

Our life choices matter for eternity; they reflect either obedience to Jesus’ words or careless disobedience. There is no middle ground. Hearing a sermon or podcast, scanning a blog explaining Scriptural truths, even reading the Bible is not enough if we don’t put Jesus’ words into practice in our lives. On the other hand, the simplest life lived in obedience to His words is able to build an indestructible edifice for eternity.

That’s good news and it is accessible to all. Now the challenge is to take advantage of it. We need to go back and take another look at the words recorded in Jesus’ sermon (Matthew, chapters 5-7), find His commands, and start doing them. There is enough in there to keep us busy for a while. It’s hard work, but it will be worth it, because there’s a storm coming.

(Photo Credit: Jose, M.B. [[File:Wave santander 2014 001.jpg|thumb|Wave santander 2014 001]])

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JUSTICE: IDEA OR ACTION?

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Fifty-one years ago, a man sat incarcerated in Birmingham, Alabama’s city jail, in the name of justice. Restricted from the activities that had brought him there, the man wrote a long letter, explaining, “What else is there to do when you are alone for days in the dull monotony of a narrow jail cell other than write long letters, think strange thoughts, and pray long prayers?”

That man was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the letter he wrote is known as “Letter from Birmingham City Jail”. The reason for his incarceration was the active nonviolent protest he and others were leading to end the injustices of racial prejudice. Where legal agency had viewed justice as being put into effect by jailing King, and where a group of prominent Alabama clergymen had denounced King’s actions, King’s letter challenged that idea of justice in a stunning public reply[1]. It’s worth reading.

His comments quite beautifully parallel the words penned by the Jewish Prophet Micah, twenty-eight centuries earlier, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah, too, has learned that justice is not merely an idea. It is not a word to be carved into beautiful and stately edifices at city hall and left there. It must be prayed for and acted upon. It must be the fuel that fires every person’s spiritual and social role if we say we love God and value justice. Listen to some of the phrases King pens:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“Groups are more immoral than individuals.”

“Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

“An unjust law is no law at all.”

“A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.”

“There are some instances when a law is just on its face and unjust in its application.”

“The time is always ripe to do right.”

“Right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”

He has many more eloquent and inspiring comments with which he describes justice. But he writes with more than just words. He has put action to those ideas and he calls others to do the same. I am convinced he spent many hours on his knees beseeching the Father for wisdom in that situation; complementing that, he devoted his time and energies, sacrificing his own liberty, to bring justice to a segment of society that was under oppression.

In King’s day, the bulk of the population held a passive stance regarding racial prejudice. The church reflected a similar acquiescence to the laws that oppressed a people distinguished and repressed by skin colour alone. It might be time to ask a searching question. What areas of injustice does our generation sit idly by and accept with equal apathy and passivity? Will our children and grandchildren look back at this era in disbelief that we, people of such affluence, influence and resources, blindly ignored and failed to act on behalf of a people similarly oppressed?

Perhaps it’s time to move from justice’s idea-forming stage and, through focused prayer, seek direction to begin to act justly. Perhaps there exists a group of individuals today that is denied legal personhood, like in King’s day. Perhaps they have been refused access to any of the tenets of the Charter of Rights. Might there be some who have been systematically oppressed, brutally destroyed, and carelessly disposed of? Surely not in our enlightened society…

 

[1] King, Dr. M. L. King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham City Jail”, 1963.