Luke 6:39-49 (click to display NIV text)
March 10, 2013: Fourth Sunday in Lent
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock.”
Many years ago I was the coach of my son’s soccer team, when he was 7 years old. During the week we would work on having the players spread out over the field and have them practice passing the ball side to side. On Saturday mornings they would play a game, and all the players from both teams would cluster around the ball as it moved around the field. The pressure of opposition changed everything they had learned to do.
This week has been the Iditarod dog sled race in Alaska. In the first half of the race several of the mushers used unconventional strategy to try to get an edge on the competition. Martin Buser sprinted from the start, then took his mandatory 24 hour layover much earlier in the race than usual. Meanwhile, Lance Mackey drove hard to the halfway point, hoping to be first to that point and win a $7,000 prize, and then he took his 24-hour rest, which was much later than most of the teams. But this year the temperatures have been very warm, and with the warm temperatures came strong winds. So, in the face of wind, the strategies did not mean as much. Now it is down to who has the strongest dogs, rather than who has the best strategy. Buser held the lead all day Saturday, breaking trail in the soft snow and facing the strong wind. But it wore him out, and now he is fading out of contention. The opposition of the warm wind changed everything.
Our lives are lived under pressure, under opposition. Under the pressure of various types of storms and the resistance of competition we find that we need a teacher, one who can see what we cannot see, one who can guide us. Our strategies tend to fall apart when we face opposition. Under stress, we act like we are blind.
In our pressured lives we need to know how to care for ourselves, how to deal with the various planks that can hinder our sight, especially in the area of our relationships. Otherwise we become critical of others, in our attempt to make things work out for us.
In the competition that life brings we need to develop goodness of character, especially when the easy way, the short cut is a temptation. We need to develop honesty in the midst of a culture that encourages people to tell false stories to get their way.
In a busy life, it is important to follow our commitments with deeds, to actually do what we believe is right. We need to do the difficult work of foundation building. I learned many years ago working a summer job in construction that the carpenters liked to frame the house and do the finish work much more than building the foundation. But you can’t skip that first step in order to do what you like to do.
So Jesus tells a number of very brief parables to show us that as we live in a world of opposition, resistance and temptation, we need to develop lives of faith and obedience to him.
William Willimon wrote, “Only in the light of the Gospel is the complexity of human existence made understandable, purposeful and hopeful. Without it there is no meaning to the daily round of human life.”
Jesus says his disciples are not only to call him “Lord,” but are to actually do what he says. Joel Green writes, “On what basis might people refer to Jesus as Lord? They must listen, embrace his view of the world, be transformed in their dispositions and engage in the practices determined by the gracious character of God.”
Jesus says if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit. He says when you are blind, or when you cannot see what is ahead of you, you need a teacher, a guide who is trustworthy, who can see. Jesus is the one you can trust in life. He will not allow his followers to end up in the pit. A life that is under pressure must begin with trust. Who is it that you will follow? To whom will you entrust your life? It is the cross and resurrection of Jesus that show us he is the authentic teacher, the one who knows the way to the father, the one who can truly help us, the Savior. Place your life in his care.
Jesus talks about a speck and a plank in the eye. It is a bit of humor, although some people find it painful to think about that image. He is talking about the kind of “helping” that hinders. This is help that arises from a critical spirit. Criticism is a short term strategy for changing the behavior of others. Sometimes it is offered sincerely, other times it is intended to do damage. Criticism can work in the short term, but over time it is not effective. If all you hear is criticism, you will not flourish. If all you speak is criticism, you will not help anyone. Jesus calls us to think about how we treat others, how we speak to them. When you are under pressure, do you speak blame and criticism or can you be aware of your own behavior and do something about it. Here is the place of repentance, which is our willingness to let go of our sins, especially the ones we cherish. There is a Lenten call to worship that says it best:
“No matter what the burden of our past, how long we have carried it, how frightened we are to let it go…
No matter how dearly we cherish our sins, how much we seem to need their support, how frightened we are to let them go…
Christ calls us to freedom; to leave our burdens and sins with him.
He offers us now the strength of his presence.”
When we walk the road to the cross we experience that unburdening. Then we find we really can help others.
Jesus talks about good fruit coming from good trees. He calls us to look for figs from a fig tree and grapes from a grapevine. It is very easy to raise thistles and thorn bushes on your farm. It is much more difficult to plant and cultivate and prune grapevines and fig trees. But if you spend your life looking for a harvest of grapes to come from your briar patch, you will end up very frustrated and disappointed.
This is the issue of goodness. It is a call to develop a character that is true. If your speech is filled with deception and evasion and dishonesty, you will not develop a goodness of heart that leads to a significant life. If you are honest to God and to others you will find that people are much better able to deal with your failings than they are with your deceptions. But there is no deception at the cross. There the heart is laid bare. At the cross grace heals your heart, and then leads you to honest living and speaking. That is to say, honest words come from the heart that has been forgiven and been made new at the cross of Jesus.
Finally, Jesus speaks about foundation-building. This is the heart of the passage, hearing and doing. Obedience to the commands of Christ is the sure foundation in life. God’s grace is extravagant. The Messiah also lays down the law. Those who hear his words and accept his authority in their lives are also confronted by the need to do the will of God.
The cross leads us to faith and obedience. We trust Jesus, we experience his grace, we agree with the will of God. We embrace it and do it. Jesus speaks to disciples who have much to learn. We, like they, must come to the cross–not with our “wagon loads of virtue,” as Eric Hawkinson put it, but “Just as I am without one plea,” so that the renewal we seek might be thorough and complete. Come to the cross and find your life in Jesus.