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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

A House on Solid Rock

Date: 05/29/2005
Feast: 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Church: Lake Hills Presbyterian (USA)
James McTyre
Bible text: Matt. 7:21-29
Theme: House built on Rock

“A wise man builds his house on solid rock.” I hope that every person who enters the doors of this building finds that this church is for them a solid rock. I hope that every individual, every family who is comes here finds wisdom in building up their household here. Because life is not calm. The waters of chaos flow all around us, most of the time. We need each other; we need a church. Just because times are ordinary, doesn’t mean they’re easy. We need a rock to build on, before we get washed away.


The church colors have switched from the fire of red back to green. Green is the signal that Easter’s over, Pentecost is over. It’s not Lent and it’s not Advent. In fact, Green is the sign that we’re not in any particular big season of the church year. According to the church calendar, we’re in “Ordinary Time.” I love that. The time between the times is supposed to be “ordinary.”

Ordinary time is a problem for the church. I don’t know who came up with the name, but they weren’t thinking of ways to increase summer attendance. Here are some official synonyms for “ordinary.” See if they make you want to dress up and sit still for an hour: Normal. Average. Unexciting. Monotonous. Tedious. Dull. (Let’s put that on the sign out front.) Of course, when I was a kid, I would have thought, “Finally, someone at church is being honest.”

And aside from sounding synonymous with “watching grass grow,” calling these times Ordinary also has another implication. It sounds as though the church is saying that if you’re not gearing up for Christmas or Easter – or recovering from Christmas or Easter – your life is just, well, ordinary. Now, of course, the great festivals of the church are special. The birth and resurrection of our Savior are special days to celebrate. And so are the days leading up to them, and the days that follow. But calling this time “ordinary” sounds like if you’re not hustling and bustling around, wrapping presents or painting eggs (not that either of those are found in the Bible), then you’re not really doing anything that worthwhile. And that’s just not true. Someone at church ISN’T being honest.

Now, I know back in the “good old days,” life used to slow down during the summer. Remember when we sat on our porches and drank mint juleps all day? Neither do I, but it’s nice to pretend. Births and deaths, sickness and health, richer and poorer – it all goes on all around us, 24/7, 365. Not even summer slows down. Ordinary time isn’t ordinary. Ordinary times aren’t easy. If we think just changing the colors will bring us relief, we’re forgetting that “it’s not easy being green.” It’s not easy trying to be ordinary. Ordinary days are a problem for the church, and for just about everyone.


Jesus said:

“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!”

There’s a rumor going around that if you just have faith in Jesus, your life will be filled with sunshine and suddenly turn trouble-free. If life’s that way for you, God bless you. Jesus never – never – never, ever promises that following him will lead you to an earthly life of croquet and juleps. If you look closely at his parable of the builders – the work of the wise is tested by rain, floods and winds. The work of the foolish is tested by rain, floods and winds. When talking about the wise builder, Jesus never mentions Corian counters or Jacuzzi tubs. He promises that both the wise and the foolish, the good and the bad, the sinful and the saintly – all – will be tested. All will be tested by the vicious ordinaries.

Now, I know, I know. That sounds like a very pessimistic view of life. But we have to remember, Jesus didn’t grow up in Knox County on the lakeside. He grew up in the perpetually conflicted areas of Israel and Palestine. He grew up when 40 was considered “old age.” If someone 80 years old walked up to him, in her bright pink exercise suit, jogging in place, and eating an energy bar – he would have tried to cast out her demons. If we think life is hard in this day and age, we don’t have a clue what it was like for the people around Jesus.

Rain, floods and winds are still with us. And they haven’t changed. They blow and beat against our spiritual households. They blow against our physical households, too. A couple of weeks ago, I was trying to solve a really irritating computer problem, and I did something I never do – I called tech support. After waiting on hold for umpteen minutes, I was finally connected to a human being. Michael was his name. And I could tell from his accent, Michael was not a native of South Knoxville. After a few minutes of killing time while the computer did its stuff, we got to talking. Turns out Michael was in India. (Golly, gee, I’m talking to India.) I asked where in India. He named the city, near the east coast. East coast, I said. Were you effected by the tsunami? Yes, he said. It did a lot of damage around here.

I’d like to say I could only imagine what he meant by “a lot,” but I doubt my imagination is capable. Suddenly, whatever silly problem I was having wasn’t that important. Rain, floods and winds. They batter the homes of wise and foolish, alike.

The doctor invites you to come to his office for a private conversation. Rain starts to fall. Your company is bought out by a larger firm. Winds blow. The dinner table suddenly has an empty chair. Floods form around your eyes. You begin to feel foolish. You think, “If only I’d done this.” “If only I’d planned for that.” But you know it doesn’t matter how wise or how foolish you’ve been. You could never have planned for everything. While these things don’t happen to any one of us all the time (hopefully), they happen to people around us all the time.


God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in times of trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the
Earth should change,
Though the mountains shake in the
heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with
its tumult.

Psalm 46 is a poem. It’s a song about rain, winds and floods. And while the Psalm might have something to do with physical forces of nature, it’s singing a lot more about spiritual forces. And so we read it very often at funerals. And, we also read it, on the Sunday when we change back to Ordinary Time.

This year, by chance, the start of Ordinary Time coincides with a national holiday. If you’ve been driving at all, you know that anyone who has a boat or a motorcycle is moving out. Please do not, I repeat, do not attempt to go within 20 miles of Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg this weekend. Only in America is a traffic jam of RVs considered a beautiful thing. As we grill and chill, relatively few of us stop to remember that this unordinary weekend off was brought to us by the men and women of Memorial Day. Perhaps the simple freedom to have free weekends like this is what they were fighting for. The freedom to enjoy ordinary things like backyard grilling, gatherings of family and friends. But these simple freedoms were purchased by those tested by the winds of war. They were ordinary people, doing extraordinary things, as the ebb and flow of humanity, and inhumanity, swirled around them.

This Memorial Day weekend, we remember the people who are waiting for husbands and wives, their parents, or their children to return from Iraq and Afghanistan, and from places that aren’t in the news. And we remember those whose loved ones have returned home beneath a flag. Those are the people whose ordinary lives will never be the same. They’re feeling the floods, and fighting the rain.


But the Psalm goes on.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
He utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.

This is the one upon whom the wise are told to build their households. Having faith and hope in this ordinary world isn’t easy. Faith and hope defy reason. The Bible says, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:27). God takes our ideas of what’s wise and what’s foolish and turns them on their ear. God says that even in the midst of all the world’s ordinary uproars and totters, we’re to have faith. The Bible says, “God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.” And so, we, the church, continue to proclaim the weakness of Christ crucified as the only strong foundation on which to build our lives. God who can redeem even the tragedy of crucifixion, is the God who calms the storms. Which is exactly what the amazed disciples said when Jesus calmed the storm that threatened to swamp their little boat. “Who then, is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41).

The rains fall, the floods come, the winds blow and beat against us. That’s ordinary. That’s the way life on earth goes. “Be still, and know that I am God,” the Psalm says. And that house did not fall, said Jesus. The house stands still.

Maybe your house is so strong. Maybe you’re so strong. But if not, there’s hope. Because the house of God still stands, despite all the forces that threaten to undo it. I hope that every person who enters the doors of this building finds that this church is for them a solid rock. I hope that every individual, every family who is comes here finds wisdom in building up their household here. Because life is not calm. The waters of chaos flow all around us, most of the time. We need each other; we need a church. Just because times are ordinary, doesn’t mean they’re easy. We need a rock to build on, before we get washed away.