I write this on a sunny morning, grateful that the rain of yesterday has now stopped and everything looks brighter again. I wonder how you did on your gratitude daily lists I suggested last week? Confession time here (I know we don’t do confession in the Salvation Army usually but it definitely is good for the soul!). I did really badly. Matt will witness to the fact that it’s not been a good week for me with everything just feeling too hard. I was not a nice Mum to Ruby when trying to get her to write the letter x instead of + for the 57th time. There is a reason I’m not a school teacher! I was not a joy to be around at all and I completely failed at even trying to look for things to be grateful for. I will try again this week.
The way I have been feeling this week (and I’m guessing I’m not alone!) has made me think of a passage in the bible and so we are going to look at it today. It will be so familiar to you, I’m sure. It’s from Matthew, chapter 7:
24 “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. 25 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. 26 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. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
It might not be actually raining today but I would say that we are all in the middle of a storm. This virus has affected all of us and changed our lives in ways that we would never have imagined (even if we never actually catch it) and it has made life really hard. Even if you have the loveliest house and really enjoy either the company of your family or your own company, even if you want for nothing practically in the middle of this, still life is not as it should be. We are no longer free to go out, to meet with friends and wider family,, to join together in worship, to have a cuddle…. And that is hard. The rain is coming down, the streams have risen and the wind is blowing and beating against our houses.
How is yours faring right now? Is it standing firm or is it threatening to fall down around you? I have often heard this story taught as being about standing on the solid rock that is Jesus rather than relying on yourself and, in some ways, it is but actually I have realised during this last week that you can have your whole life built on the foundation of what Jesus did on the cross, with Jesus as the cornerstone as the bible talks about, but still not be on solid ground when the storm hits. It can still feel like the whole lot is about to come crashing down around you. Not because you don’t believe in Jesus, not because you’re not a Christian who has accepted what Jesus did and received his forgiveness, not because you don’t have your eternity in heaven secure but rather because you are not hearing the words that Jesus is saying and putting them into practice. That’s what this story is about.
Just before I get to that, though, some words of assurance. We need them, don’t we? When it all feels like it is just too difficult and the storm is going to get the better of us, Paul tells us, in 2 Corinthians 4 that “8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” And he goes on to tell us that we do not need to lose heart as we are being renewed day by day and to fix our eyes on Jesus who is eternal.
When the rain is hitting, what are you turning to? What are you relying on to get you safely through? Just a cursory glance through social media sites show that there are many different things people are using to help them cope. Some are turning to food and are filling their time cooking and eating. Some are turning to drink; the sale of alcohol has gone up by 50% according to the figures. Some people are filling their time de-cluttering or working on the house as can be seen by the massive queues of people waiting outside B&Q this week on the news. In our house some are using the television to fill their time and occupy their minds, some are doing gymnastics, whilst others are using study and work; filling their days on the computer learning new things and trying to stay ahead of the game. I’ll leave you to work out who is doing what here at the Tate house! None of these things are wrong in themselves but none of them will protect us from the storm outside.
Where should we be turning? According to this passage, we should be turning to the words of Jesus and not only reading them but also putting them into practice. Which words was he speaking about specifically here? This passage comes right at the end of The Sermon on the Mount; the greatest sermon ever preached so we can safely assume that he was telling people that listening to and putting into practice those words are what will stop the storm from destroying us completely.
A quick look through those words in Matthew 5, 6 and 7 give us an overview (You might want to read it all!):
- All kinds of people you might not expect are blessed – the reward is in heaven
- We are supposed to make the world a better place and shine for God
- It’s not just your actions but your thoughts that matter
- Turn the other cheek – go further than the letter of the law
- Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
- Be generous – but don’t brag about it
- Pray – but not in a showy way
- Fast – but not to receive glory from men
- Trust God and try not to worry
- Don’t judge others but concentrate on your own attitude and behaviour
- Ask God for what you need and keep on asking, seeking and knocking
- Beware of people who try to trick you and look at the results of their work (their fruit!)
There’s quite a lot there, isn’t there, about not only how we should live our lives but even how we should think; our attitude as well as our actions. We might think that right now we are fairly safe from sinning (going against God’s best for our lives) because we’re trapped at home but here we see that actually even if we are completely on our own, there are lots of ways that we can get it wrong. Thank God for his amazing grace that means when we do, we can dust ourselves off and start again!
There are also lots of ways we can get it right. We might feel as though we can’t do much for God right now, that we are fairly useless in terms of sharing our faith and honouring God in the way that we live but there is so much here for us to look at, to think about. Even in this time, we can bear fruit and grow and become more like Jesus.
Next week, we are going to look again at the fruit of the Spirit that we have talked about so much in the past year and we are going to consider again our ‘frontline’ where we can be fruitful during this time. For now, though, I want to leave you with these words:
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand.