Hearing and Doing – November 17, 2019
Ezekiel 33:30-33, Matthew 7:24-29
November 17, 2019
Today is the “penultimate” Sunday of the liturgical year. You know I love cool words like that – words like “plethora,” “gargantuan,” and “sphygmomanometer.” (A sphygmomanometer is that thing that takes your blood pressure)
Well this is another one. “Penultimate.” “Penultimate” is the “Second to the last” of something. This is the second to the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Because the liturgical year ends, or should I say culminates, next week on the Sunday we call “Christ the King.” That is the culmination of all of the celebrations of the entire liturgical year. That’s what everything leads up to! Jesus Christ is King! And we’ll talk about that next week, of course. (And by the way, the Sunday after that… is Advent!)
But this is the penultimate Sunday of the church year. And I thought today I would give you the end of the Sermon on the Mount – the end of this, the greatest sermon ever. And I would remind you of the question I asked last week. How did Jesus decide what things he was going to say that day? As I said, he talked about being blessed. He talked about forgiveness. He talked about relationships. He talked about prayer. He talked about the problem with anxiety and worry. And he addressed the subject we talked about last week. “Be careful about what you value in this life.”
So here we come to the end. And I think this is the perfect ending! And it’s important as we think about Stewardship. Because, as he ends, Jesus tells this parable about two men. And he likens them to those who hear his words and do them, and those who hear his words and do not do them. He’s saying, “Ok, you’ve heard me. You’ve heard me say a lot of important things here! Now you’ve got to do them.” That’s a great way to end! Don’t you think?
Jesus is challenging us – and it is a challenge – to think about that. He is challenging us to think about the difference between talking about or hearing about our faith and actually doing our faith! And in Stewardship, it’s a matter of talking about or hearing about Stewardship, and actually doing stewardship! I think you’ll agree that’s important. It’s about follow-through! And that’s important in our faith and in our stewardship.
As I think about that, these words of Ezekiel come to mind. I found this passage by accident years ago, and I remember being amazed by it! If you’ve ever read Ezekiel, you know that he was asked by God to do some weird things in order to teach and challenge the people. And here in this passage we find God almost lamenting the lack of response of the people to all those lessons.
He says to Ezekiel, “As for you, son of man, your people say to one another, ‘Come, let us hear the word of the Lord.’ And they come and sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it. For with their lips they show much love, but their heart is set on their gain. And lo, you are to them like one who sings a love song with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument. For they hear what you say, but they will not do it.” (Ezekiel 33:30-32)
Isn’t that a great description? “You are to them like one who sings a love song with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument. For they hear what you say, but they will not do it.” I wonder if Jesus had those words in mind when he told the people about the man who built his house upon the sand.
Later in the New Testament, the Apostle James tells us the importance of being “doers of the word and not hearers only.” I’ll bet James remembered the words of Jesus. And I’ll bet he knew his Ezekiel! In recent years, there has been a catchphrase floating around that speaks to this as well. It’s a phrase that tells us that it’s important to “Walk the walk, not just talk the talk.” I’m sure you’ve heard that!
I hope you’ll agree that it’s not easy to go from “hearing” to “doing.” It’s something we need to be conscious of. It’s something we need to practice doing. It’s something we need to be willing to do. Because it doesn’t happen all by itself. And it might just call us to change. And we don’t like that. And we may not want to do what somebody is telling us. Or, in the modern world’s way of seeing things, we might not “feel like” doing it! And if you think about it, all of that involves the word “authority.” Does that person have the authority to tell us what to do? Will we heed their words?
That’s a real big part of this. We have to be able to trust the one who is telling us what we should do and how we should live. And that’s sometimes the hardest part! Because it means setting aside part of the control of our lives and giving that control to someone else. And that’s not easy! We do not easily concede that authority to just anyone!
But, that’s exactly what has to happen if we’re going to be doers of the word. God gives us his word, we have to be willing to do it. You see, in anything we’re asked to do, there is always the question of “why.” “Why should I do it?” There’s even the question of “Why should I listen to this person?” “Why should I heed his advice or follow his directive?” We all have within us that natural tendency to question authority. And in this we have to trust the authority of God!
All of those things are involved in this business of being “doers of the word.” And as you think about that, I want you to notice that Jesus took his example a little further. His parable hints of the consequences of not heeding his word. “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell. And great was the fall of it.”
There was a reason Jesus was telling them all these things – three chapters of things! He wanted them to have peace and blessedness in their lives. He wanted them to live good, solid, meaningful lives – like the man who built his house on the rock. That house was able to withstand the storms of life. He was giving them the advice, the teaching they needed to have – in order to live the life God wanted for them. Because that’s what God wants for his people. He wants them to be able to stand in the midst of the storms of life, to be able to handle adversity, to weather the storms, to have peace in all circumstances.
Think about it! Isn’t that what we want for our own children? We let them go, and we hope and pray that they’ve got what they need to handle whatever life throws at them. Can we see that that’s what God wants for us? And part of that “equipment” we need for life is the ability to hear and to do his word! But how often do we make other choices, and then we stubbornly stick with them, rather than admitting our mistakes?
I wonder what the people listening to Jesus that day thought about the second man in the story. I’ll bet they thought he was pretty foolish. Nobody would do what he did! Nobody would build a house with no foundation. And he had to know he was being foolish. But he went with it anyway! Think about that!
But that’s not the whole story here. Because the world is full of examples of people building, not necessarily without a foundation, but without a strong enough foundation. That’s the other thing to consider.
Sometimes I watch a show called “Engineering Disasters.” I believe it’s on “The Science Channel.” And often the show is about this very thing – building on inadequate foundations. The Leaning Tower of Pisa has that problem. They built it without a strong enough foundation. And there are modern examples of that. There’s an apartment tower in San Francisco that’s been slowly sinking into the ground ever since it was built. I’m told the library at the U. S. Naval Academy started sinking because they failed to take into account the weight of the books! And there are others! We’ve all seen pictures of multimillion-dollar houses along the California coast falling into the ocean because their foundations and the land they were built on have crumbled. There are dams, bridges, and roadways that have failed, or that have needed major repairs because their foundations were inadequate.
And I ask you, “Are there parts of our lives that are built on partially strong foundations?” We might ask ourselves, “What are the foundations in our lives that are not so strong?” You might ask yourself, “Am I being a partial ‘doer of the word?’” “And where can I see that there are cracks in the foundations of my life?” “What are the storms that have hit?” “How have I fared?” “And what might be coming?” “Is my foundation adequate to withstand the wind and the waves?”
The bottom line is that God wants the very best for us. So, he gives us the very best. He gave us his Son! And his Son gave us so much great advice. But do we take that advice? He knows what makes for a life that can withstand the storms. But do we listen? And when we listen, do we hear only? Or do we do?
And as we think about our commitment to him for the coming year, will our stewardship be one that’s about hearing and knowing, or will it be about doing?
Eternal God, help us to hear your voice in our lives. But more than that, help us to heed your voice and do what you call us to do. We thank you that you have given us your best, your only son, to be our guide and our strength. Help us to be constantly growing in our faith and obedience to him. For we pray in his name, Amen.