Sunday, 1 June 2008

9th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Shaftesbury

You may have heard on the news, over the last few weeks, of the tornados in Midwest America –we’ve been praying for the victims these last couple weeks.
Well, this week I got a message from my family in Iowa (because my Mom is American) to say that Iowa’s biggest tornado in 32 years hit the town where some of our family live: Parkersburg, and wiped out a third of the town. I’ve since seen the photos on the internet, and it’s pretty grim: a place I’ve known as a child and adult with only remnants of buildings.

Dramatic storms like this are fortunately rare for most of us, but the small daily storms that assail us also test what our houses are built of. And what remains depends on whether our houses are well-built.
If the house of my life is built on small petty selfish worrying and fussing, then it will be continually buffeted by the storms of life that disrupt my comfort.

In today’s Gospel, we are not promised that life will be without storms, but we are told of how to build a life that will weather them.
Our Gospel, and our first reading, give a very clear but simple message of what constitutes a life well-built, a life that is a house built on rock, able to withstand storms, a life that will be what remains regardless of the tempests and buffets that come upon us.
Jesus says that the “house built on rock” is the life of the man “who listens to these words of mine and acts on them”.
While Deuteronomy records the Almighty’s words of warning that there is “a blessing or a curse” on the man who either does or does not “Let these words of mine remain in your heart”.

So, in both texts, the life well-built, the life with blessing, is the life that OBEYS the words of God. Now, for our Modern mentality, that is a problem, because we don’t really like talk of “obeying”. We prefer talk of “choosing”, of “options”, of “freedom”. So, why does Jesus insist on ‘obedience’?

To know why we must OBEY the Lord, we need to know WHO the Lord is.
The god revealed in the Scriptures is not a whimsical god who randomly dictates things.
Rather, He is a God who is eternal Wisdom, always acting for a purpose, always commanding for a REASON. Further, He is eternal Love, always acting for the benefit of His human creatures, always commanding what will lead for our fulfilment, even when that fulfilment only comes via the Cross, via difficulty, via the storm and tempest.

This revelation of God is what makes sense of the blessing-curse option:
To disobey a wise loving God is its own foolishness, its own curse, its own death, even if that death only comes slowly, even if it is only fully revealed on the Last Day.
But, to obey a wise loving God is its own blessing, its own life, a life that starts every time we repent and choose, again, to follow the Lord, to obey the Lord. Not just to obey Him in what is convenient and self-serving, but obey Him in what seems hard and self-sacrificing. To choose such a life, is to ‘enter into the Land’ of promise, a Land we experience only fleetingly in this world, a Land we only know with a mixture of storms and buffets, but it IS a life we can know –even now. And it is this life that endures even amidst the storms.

For my extended family in Iowa, not all their buildings remained, but judging from what they’ve said of their response, what has survived is their cherishing the family itself, rallying together, sharing what remains of their homes. My family are not all saints, but I’m sure that obedience to God’s word taught them to value the family, the family they’re now holding to. Obedience to God’s word has given them other things too that have survived the storm, and that can hold for all of us.

“Therefore, everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and hurled themselves against that house, and it did not fall: it was founded on rock.”

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