Sunday, February 26, 2017

building on sand

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.

Our Gospel reading today might be termed the parable of the wise and foolish builders. The wise man's house has its foundations upon rock and is secure against all that might threaten it; the foolish upon sand and is washed away. Our Lord tells us that it those who hear and obey his words who are like the wise man; and those who do not are like the fool. If you detect an ominous tone in this parable, you would not be wrong. For in it Jesus is telling his followers that those who are obedient to God will be rewarded; and that those who are not will be punished.

Now we live in an age in which many people do not like to be reminded that heaven is not the only option when it comes to the next life. And such as they might decry this passage as being threatening, an attempt at frightening them into being good out of a fear of divine punishment. But I think it would be wrong to interpret our Lord's words as a threat. He is Truth incarnate and therefore speaks only the truth; and therefore when he tells us that there is one fate for those who hear and obey and another for those who do not he is simply laying out the facts. And he does so with the purpose of warning us of the dangers that we face.

Now, of course, being warned of dangers can worry people. I remember, for example, when I was in the army that we were warned that some of the areas in which we did training exercises was home to Black Widow spiders. Now, black widows are, as I am sure all know, highly poisonous. Their bite will not generally kill a healthy adult but it will make them quite ill and is certainly no pleasant thing. So any time we got the news that we would be training in a place where they were commonly present not surprisingly made some of the troops quite nervous. Some people, of course, are terrified of spiders, even soldiers, which only made things worse.

So you can well imagine that when we were in those parts of the training grounds, living in tents, there was a good deal of careful checking of boots in the morning before putting them on. Typically, we'd peer into them, then bang them together vigorously, then turn them upside down and shake them even more vigorously, and then, provided no unwelcome guest had fallen out, shove our feet into them with great force, on the theory that if one had managed to stay ensconced inside our military issue shoe leather then the swift entrance of a foot into the boot would crush any deadly spider before it had a chance to bite our toes through our thick military issue socks. And, not surprisingly, once the boots were safely on, a careful checking of the tent corners followed. I remember on several occasions finding that the night had indeed brought a dark arachnid among us; but the problem was easily solved by the donning of my thick leather gauntlets and gently but carefully escorting the uninvited guests from the premises and back out into the woods.

So a serious enough problem. But people were careful and I never heard of anyone being bitten during my time there. However, imagine the authorities had chosen not to warn us. People certainly would have come to harm. Fingers and toes would have been painfully nibbled by the unpleasant lady spiders. And the excuse that 'we didn't want to worry people … or have them think we were trying to frighten them into being careful' would have sounded pretty weak indeed.

The fact is that warnings serve a purpose. And a little bit of concern over what the consequences might be if we fail to heed those warnings serves a purpose also. And just as the fear of being bitten by a poisonous spider kept us on the lookout for their presence in the army, so in life the warnings of Christ as to the consequences for those who do not listen to his word and obey helps keep us on the straight and narrow path.

And, as I draw to a close, I think it important to remind you why it is that our Lord gives us these warnings. It is because he loves us. Warnings, after all, are not given to inspire fear, but because we either love those we warn or have a duty of care toward them. And just as the warning about black widows did leave us all cowering with fear, neither should Christ's frighten us. For our Saviour has not only warned us, he has provided us with the means to be safe. He has given us the rock on which to build so that no danger may ever threaten us and we may come safely to the end of our lives to be with him in heaven. This what he wants – and he wants it so badly that he was willing to take flesh and suffer and die on the cross so that we might indeed by saved. All we have to do in return is trust in him and choose wisely. And I pray that you all will. Amen.  

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