Now hear this…

At the end of his most famous sermon, Jesus tells the parable commonly referred to as “The Two Foundations” (Matt. 7:24-27). The contrast is obvious: The house that is built on rock is able to withstand any calamity. On the other hand, the house built on sand is demolished by the first heavy rainstorm.

What often is overlooked by homiletics professors is the sequence of Jesus’ instructions to the builders: one listens first, and then acts (see verses 24 and 26). In the case of the wise builder, he hears, acts and then builds on the rock. The latter, the foolish builder, presumably acts without really hearing and builds on the sand. Both builders act, yet Jesus commends only one who obeys.

What intrigues me is that both builders act, but only one acts responsibly. Why would one choose the obviously dangerous sand as a foundation? Can someone be that irresponsible? Inept? Stupid?

I think that a point of the parable is the assumed reasons why someone would chose to build on the sand. One reason might have been that sand was cost-efficient. It was plentiful and inexpensive. Another reason perhaps was that sand allowed the builder to construct his home quickly. It would take time to gather rocks for a foundation, thus delaying the construction of his house. Finally, the sand foundation would allow the builder an opportunity to quickly or expeditiously move his home to a new location, if circumstances warranted.

These three hypothetical reasons for building on sand—efficiency, expediency and expeditiousness—are dangers we must avoid in the spiritual life.

We are bearers of a Gospel (“good news”) that is costly: It was bought with a price. Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted the difference between “cheap” and “costly” grace. Cheap grace is grace without forgiveness, repentance or the cross. Costly grace, however, cost a person his life, through death on the cross (Phil 2:5-11). When our Christian witness succumbs to cost-efficiency, following Jesus without denying ourselves and carrying our cross, we have then become “cheap grace” disciples.

We must realize that spiritual growth requires deliberate time and patience. We do not become disciples at a weekend seminar, no matter how powerful the speaker is. We are always becoming disciples. Any formula or system that attempts to hurry this process along is detrimental.

We also need to build deep roots in Christian community. We must place a moratorium on church-hopping. I have a theory: Many American Christians go about choosing a church much like they would a microwave or dishwasher: with a Consumer’s Reports approach. When was the last time you spoke to someone who felt “called” to a church, rather than describing his or her choice as “it has a wonderful blend of traditional and contemporary worship” or a “dynamic children’s ministry” or “a powerful preacher”? It seems that we are often ready to pick up our “house” and relocate at the first sign of dissatisfaction.

Jesus commands us to hear and act obediently. He gives us much to ponder in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). Even a cursory reading of this sermon should cause some dissonance in our lives as disciples. Jesus does not use guilt as motivation for discipleship, but rather hearing. Hearing here is not an auditory task, but a volitional one. It involves eliminating the many distractions, internal and otherwise, in order to “hear” the message of Jesus. We hear much about Jesus and the Bible here at Eastern University. The question remains: Are we really listening?

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