‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and do not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.’
Jesus gives a stern warning, expressed as another vivid story, told slightly differently but also in Matthew’s gospel. Listening to wisdom but not putting it into practice is like building without foundations. Eventually the ﬂoods will come, and you’ll know soon enough what sort of building you’re living in.
Jesus’s hearers probably saw an immediate allusion to the great church building project of their day: the completion of Herod’s rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, but the message is relevant to everyone. Building projects are an illustration, not the entire scope of this story. It’s about lives not our chapels.
Jesus told stories that were vivid and easily memorable, through which people of every age and in every part of the world can hear something pertinent. Children in the British Isles know about building sandcastles on beaches, and old people in Bangladesh know about floodwater rising up into houses. The question is: do our plans and schemes look good on the outside, but ignore our souls? Are we building without a foundation? These are not optional extras, but cut to the heart of the matter.
As we ask those questions about ourselves, do we maintain the generous, free-spirited approach that we see in Jesus? Jesus’s radical offer of new and abundant life is all-embracing, and hence all-demanding, which sometimes lead us into trying to ﬁnd other ways. But they must be resisted, or the house will come down with a crash.
God, our rock, bless your Church. Help us to dig deep foundations for our life in you, and be a blessing for those among whom we live. Make us attentive to the ways you speak to us, especially in the voices and the lives of unexpected people, and help us to make better connections between our worship and our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Revd Dr Michael Hopkins, is minister of a group of Methodist and United Reformed Churches, based around Farnham, Surrey, and Clerk of the General Assembly.