Thursday, December 3, 2020

The wise man and the foolish man

Reading: Matthew 7.21, 24–27

‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!’


Today’s Gospel reading is one of those which always takes me back to Sunday School.  Do you remember the song?

“The wise man built his house upon the rock (repeated three times)

And the rain came tumbling down.

The rain came down and the floods came up (repeated three times)

And the house on the rock stood firm.”

Then the whole thing got repeated for the foolish man who built his house upon the sand, till ‘the house on the sand fell FLAT’ (at which point we would clap and laugh hysterically!)

The surface meaning of this parable is, of course, completely obvious.  Those who build their lives on the teachings of Jesus will have strong and stable lives.  But those who build on other foundations are doomed to live on shifting sands.

This principle has always been true for Christians.  Millions upon millions of us can attest that a life built on the teachings of Jesus is a life filled with purpose and meaning.  It’s a life of hope and love.  A life of service and fulfilment.  But what are the alternatives?

Doubtless, there have been many sermons over the centuries which have offered alternatives to the teachings of Jesus.  Perhaps the teachings other religious leaders have been held up as shifting sands – especially at times when the apparent advance of competing ideas was seen as a threat.  Perhaps lives of drunkenness and debauchery have been suggested, at times when abstinence was seen as a top priority for the Band of Truth or the Salvation Army.  Or perhaps it was lives lived in pursuit of wealth, the empty promise of gold or over-stuffed barns (as Jesus suggested)?

But I think that recent events in our World have offered us a whole new desert of shifting sand to contemplate.  As a society, we have built our entire house on some very perilous shifting sands.  In the last hundred years, this foundation of sand has become so ubiquitous, that we hardly give it a second thought.  It is so ingrained in our society, so much a normal part of our lives, that we almost never stop to examine it or question it.  What am I referring to?  

I’m talking about the sand of consumerism.  And I think the consequences of that sandy foundation are now becoming all too plain to see.  Our house is sinking fast.  The floods are rising….quite literally in the case of climate change caused by rampant consumerism.  It is consumerism which fed the mass transit systems of our lives, which in turn led to the rapid advance of a little local virus into a world-wide pandemic.  It is consumerism which pumps smoke into the air, and plastics into the water.  It is consumerism which causes armies to fight over literal deserts, in the hope of possessing the lakes of oil underneath them.  It is consumerism which feeds individualism, which in turn leads to Nationalism, and paranoid fears about outsiders.  And it is consumerism which provokes the backlash of angry extremism, and the ideologies which seek to return us to the stone age.  And it is the collapse of consumerism, under the weight of the pandemic it caused, which is putting so many people out of work right now.

Have you ever noticed that every world economy is measured not on levels of happiness, or by the way it takes care of its most fragile members, or the benefit it offers to the climate, or the benefit it offers to the intellectual and spiritual health of humankind?  Instead, the single most important factor in determining the health of an economy is said to be growth.  Which is frankly, nuts.  If the economy of every country grew by just 2.5% per year on average, then in 10 years time, the world would need to produce 25% more stuff than it does now.  25% more smoke in the air.  25% more plastic in the sea.   In 20 years time – the world would have to give up 50% more than it already does to feed and please the consumerist armies of humans swarming across its face.  It’s nuts.  It’s crazy.  It’s the self-defeating, civilisation-ending strategy of the mythical lemming.  Something has to change.  Something has to shift.  Or we’re quite simply not going to make it.  The house on the sand will fall FLAT!

Against this terrifying vision, Jesus offers us a solid, rocky, alternative.  His teachings are granite-hard foundations on which we could choose to build.  Jesus wasn’t an economist.  But the principles he espoused can be converted into economic theory, without very much effort at all.   Principles like – prioritising care for the poor and the sick.  Principles like sharing, giving, and spreading, instead of hoarding, taking and keeping.  Principles like ‘rendering unto Caesar’ could transform an economy in which the wealthiest people currently pay the very least tax for the common good.  Principles like teaching the priority of community, over individualism.  Principles like valuing rest and retreat, instead of 24-hour shopping and frantic holidays.  Imagine how different things would be right now, if we valued healthcare, education, medicine, scientific enquiry, spiritual growth and community service as much as we value restaurants, pubs, cappuccinos and department-store shopping.

CONsumerism – the clue is in the name.  It’s a CON.  It’s a con, perpetrated on the whole of our society by the con-men who currently pull the levers of power.  How can we change this?  How can any of us hope to turn around the Titanic of consumerism which is about to crash into the ice-berg of destiny, taking us all to the bottom with it?

The answer of course, lies with Jesus.  We do it one person at a time, just as he did.  One soul at a time.  We spread his word, person by person and we live his life.  And we encourage others to do the same.  Perhaps, if you agree with my hypothesis, you could share the video of this sermon, on Facebook?  Or pass on the copy in the Corona Chronicle to a neighbour?  (Or share this blog with a friend?)

Consumerism only took root in our society because one by one, we allowed it to.  The opposite is also true, and also a possibility.  Frankly, it’s the only hope we have.

So, if you agree with my hypothesis…what will YOU do about it.  What changes will you make today, to fashion some life-boats for the Titanic.  Will you, once more, fall prey to the marketing gurus who will have you buy billions of plastic toys for children this year?  Will you fall prey to the titans of industry who want you to decorate your home with their laser lights, and their plastic tree?  Will you succumb to the message that comfort and joy can only be found through an over-stocked larder, a Christmas edition of ‘Strictly…’ and a mountain of chocolate.  Will you build on sand again, this year?  

Or will you stand up for Jesus – and for his way of life?  The way of charity, simplicity, and love? Will you take time to draw apart from the madness, find some simplicity and some peace?  

Will you prioritise charity over chewing, giving over getting, and loving over living-it-up?


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