Saturday, 28 June 2008

Year A Proper 4

Here's a sermon from a couple of weeks back....time to catch up again!

Genesis 6.9-22; 7.24; 8.14-19
Psalm 46
Romans 1.16,17; 3.22b-28[29-31]
Matthew 7.21-29
Preparing for the floods

Flooding is an uncomfortable subject at the moment, and our hearts go out, I’m sure to those who have experienced the terrible flooding and devastation in Burma and who have not been helped by the reluctance of the military rulers to allow any help. Likewise the threat of flooding for those victims of the Chinese earthquake who may find themselves in the path of a deluge from either the unsafe dams in the Sechuan province or the rising lake waters due to heavy rains is a cause of concern for all of us and our prayers and donations towards aid funds are very necessary at this time.

And its this kind of reminder that can make our Bible readings for this Sunday all the more powerful and distressing as we consider them today.

Not that I want to make a simplistic leap from the very real and painful realities of our world today and the Bible stories set for this week. Nor am I lessening what is happening to our brothers and sisters in Burma or China by comparing the events – on the contrary the real power of the story of Noah in our Old Testament reading and the ever-so-familiar parable of the wise and foolish builders are made even more striking when we consider the genuine danger that floods and the power of water pose even in our technologically advanced world where we seem to think that we are safe from the powers of the natural world. If only that were the case!

Water is commonly used in Scripture to impress upon the reader the power of the natural world, and the ultimate authority God has over the universe. From the very beginning of the book of Genesis we are to be awed by God’s might and power – as the Spirit of God hovers over the waters before the creation story. God demonstrated his creative power and authority over everything by controlling the waters, in the Genesis stories, and creating earth, sky and even land from the waters.

For those in the ancient world there was little which was more awe inspiring than water, the sea seemed to stretch on forever, indeed it was considered that the ocean would take unwitting sailors to the end of the world. Ships, no matter how mighty and well built they were, were still subject to the power of the waves. Floods could take away everything a person had, and the rains brought life, or death depending on when and how heavily they came.

So the God of the mighty waters who created the earth from the oceans, who could wipe out humans and animals with the rains, who led his people through the Red Sea from slavery to freedom, and who could withhold the rain from Israel during the time that the Hebrews deserted his service and worshipped Baal despite Elijah’s calls to be faithful, this was a God to be worshipped and feared.

This is the God of the flood in Jesus parable of the wise and foolish builders. On the one hand it’s a pretty straightforward story that most of us know so well, including the song with actions! But like most parables there’s a lot more to it than the meaning that might spring out at us.

Jesus is probably talking about building near a wadi pronounced wad –ee)– a watercourse that is dry in the hot weather, but rapidly fills in times of wet weather and flows with such ferocity that it can sweep away anything that gets in the way. Like those who farm on the fertile slopes of a volcano, or on the flood plain of a river, it was a risky business to build near a wadi but the rewards were great, the land would be good for grazing and growing, and water could be stored for use later. Those who knew they were building near one of these watercourses took sensible precautions and it would be a very foolish person indeed who didn’t make sure the foundations of their house were stable and able to withstand the inevitable flood waters.

Be prepared! Unlike so many of the floods we hear about on the news, in our own country and throughout the world, this parable is concerned with something which the foolish builder should have seen coming. It’s not a surprise…

There is a further twist to the parable – if God is the God of the flood then he is the one who controls the mighty waters – he is both the power of the flood and the rock which keeps the faithful safe.

Which should bring us pause for thought.

Jesus calls us to live lives founded on his word, and to trust in God. This parable is more than just a warning to make sure we believe the right things and live the right way, its saying something about being prepared for the power of God.

We are to build our lives on the rock of Jesus Christ, we are to have a faith which is founded on his truth and his life. Perhaps the flood that is coming is not one of destruction, but one of the power of God and we need to be prepared for that.

Things are changing in our Churches, in our team, in our parishes. I truly believe that God is at work in our fellowships and that great things are happening and will happen in the coming weeks, months and years. God’s Holy Spirit, that Spirit which Peter proclaimed at Pentecost as being ‘poured out’ is at work in our lives here and now.

We need to be prepared, to make ourselves ready for the work of God in this place.

It starts with examining ourselves and our lives of faith, asking questions about what we, both as individuals and as Churches can do in order to hear and understand the way that God is speaking to us. Prayer, worship, Scripture, living lives that glorify God, loving God with all we are and loving our neighbour as ourselves – all of these are the foundation on which we are to build. Perhaps as Church fellowships we need to ask questions of ourselves and what we do as Church, and what we should be doing to advance the kingdom in our communities.

It is different for each Church and for each one of us, there is no blanket recommendation, but a call for each one of us, together as the body of Christ in these villages, to pray and to consider where God is leading us.

I sincerely believe that God is doing something which will transform our Churches, and that we are called to stand firm and to trust in his power. Not to be swept away, but to use that power to change, to grow and to inspire our fellowships. For those of us building near the wadi of God’s Spirit we need to be rooted and grounded in Christ, and ready to respond to the rise in the river.

It’s a risky business being here near the watercourse, but we can trust in the words of God from Isaiah 43

18 Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.

19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland.


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