Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
January 5, 2020
“Socks on the Bathroom Floor”
Note: Today we will celebrate the Blessing of a Civil Marriage for Pat Smith and Peter Cozens following the sermon
Matthew 7: 24-27 – Common English Bible
Jesus said, “Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise builder who built a house on bedrock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It didn’t fall because it was firmly set on bedrock. 26 But everybody who hears these words of mine and doesn’t put them into practice will be like a fool who built a house on sand. 27 The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It fell and was completely destroyed.”
This is a pretty familiar and relatively easy idea to understand. Build your home on bedrock and it will stand. Build it on the sand and, as the children’s song says, “when the rains came down and the floods came up, when the rains came down and the floods came up, when the rains came down and the floods came up,” down it went and terrible was its fall. Splat!
OK, cute. But what does that mean? What is bedrock and what is sand? The very first line of our reading today says, “Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice…” Obviously, we need to know what are “these words?” Therefore, today’s text about wise and foolish builders cannot be understood without what precedes it. And in this case, it’s the two chapters that follow his famous Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus came down from that mountain and told his followers, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.” He then repeats over and over, again and again, “You have heard that it was said, but I say to you.” For example, Jesus explained, you have heard that it was said “You shall not murder,” but, I say to you, murder is the same as being angry with a brother or sister. Anger, that is, without the determination to resolve your differences.
For the next two chapters, Jesus repeats this over and over, again and again, about such things as fasting, prayer, adultery, divorce, making oaths, retaliation…
On retaliation, he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.” He goes on to offer a brilliant lesson on civil disobedience against Roman occupation. He advocates using subversive tactics, such as turning the other cheek, going the second mile, and giving not only your coat but your cloak as well. He doesn’t offer wisdom on how to be a doormat but a lesson in civil disobedience. But that’s another sermon.
Jesus continues, you have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
In the midst of all this, Jesus said, “Do not worry. Look at the birds of the air. Can worrying add a single hour to your life? Stop worrying about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.” And one of my favorite lines: “Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
Chapter after chapter, verse after verse, many of these sayings are familiar. Jesus said, “Do not judge so you won’t be judged.”
Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you, seek and you shall find. Knock and the door shall be opened unto you.”
Jesus concludes, “In everything, do to others as you would have them do unto you; for this is the law and the prophets.”
And then, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like the wise builder. And if you don’t – well, splat.
Eugene Peterson translates our passage today inventively:
“These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. These are foundational words, words to build a life on.” But again, not just hearing these words but acting upon them.
Wisdom for living. And, importantly today, wisdom for a marriage.
Every Thursday, a group gathers for lunch at Noodles and Company to discuss the reading for Sunday. Those of us gathered on Thursday represented marriages of 57, 50, and 13 years. Imagine 120 years of lived experience upon which to draw. I asked for their wisdom. What has made your marriage work? They called out forgiveness, patience, respect, honesty, kindness, love, a shared value system, the willingness to ignore bad habits. Like socks left on the bathroom floor again. But, honestly, I was kind of disappointed that there were no big surprises.
But, in fact, this advice was so universally true, you could even exchange out the word marriage and use to explain how to be a friend or even how to live next door to your neighbor. Forgiveness, patience, respect, honesty, kindness, love, a shared value system, the willingness to ignore bad habits…
But it could also explain why we are so divided as a nation. Forgiveness? Patience? Respect? Honesty? How about kindness and a shared value system? There’s not a lot of that going around these days. But there is plenty of what Jesus called foolish: anger, desire for retaliation, enemy-making, and judgment…
Among our lunch bunch on Thursday, none of their words of wisdom for a marriage were particularly earth-shattering, but three additional lessons did stick out to me: taking time apart from each other; willingness to sacrifice for the happiness of your partner, not expecting them to make you happy. And, 57 years later, still feeling passionate for your partner.
Roslyn and Jimmy Carter have now been married more than 73 years. Roslyn, three years younger, lived down the street from Jimmy’s family and had a crush on him. One time when Jimmy was home on leave from the Navy, he was busy every night dating a beauty queen, an actual pageant winner. But on his last night in town, the beauty queen had other plans, so Jimmy, Roslyn, and his younger sister June (who had been trying to set them up) went to the movies. The next morning, Jimmy told his mother he was going to marry Roslyn. When he asked her only two months later, on President’s Day weekend, she said no. She had promised her dying father to finish college first. But after she did, they married on October 19, 1946. And 73 years later, they still walk down the street holding hands.
There are lots of lists one can google, like 8 Keys for Success or 10 Signs of a Good Marriage. One notably different article was entitled “The Three Pillars of a Successful Marriage – and Love is Not One of Them.” I was curious so I read on. The author cited Integrity, Respect, and Endurance. Endurance may be true, but it’s not the most motivational thing I can imagine. You just have to endure!? But the article ends with the postscript of inviting God into your marriage. And God is love.
Sometimes I learn more from examining an issue from the opposite side, so I googled “foolish marriage advice.” One promising article chronicled the worst advice from every decade. In 1900, it was for the wife to never be smarter than her husband. At first, these seemed funny. Or funnyish…? In the 1940s: Don’t talk about your problems. In the 1970s: Don’t be a nag. Then I realized how unfunny this whole thing was and how much damage has been done through the decades by such sexist and misogynistic “advice.” Always directed to the woman. By the time I finished reading I wasn’t just sad but angry. But, then again, what did I expect from googling “foolish marriage advice?” Makes me feel a little foolish for trying.
Barbara Essex offers the best interpretation of this passage. It’s all about the storms. “The test of a house’s strength comes only during bad weather. Although the roof looks fine, there is no way of knowing how sound it is until the rains come. Although the basement is cozy and spacious, there is no way of knowing how sealed it really is until the floods flow. Although the windows look great, there is no way of knowing how strong they are until the winds blow. The strength of the house does not appear until storms come.”
And the storms will come, won’t they? And then, where do we turn? Our friends with 120 years of lived experience made it through because of forgiveness, patience, etc. etc. You might even say they needed a good dose of endurance.
And yet, sometimes the only wise thing to do is to end the relationship.
I was raised in the United Methodist Church. On Friday a protocol for separation was agreed to by the diverse interests entangled in four decades of conflict over the place of LGBTQ people in the church and same gender marriage. The method and means for divorce have been agreed to. As anyone who has been divorced knows, it’s not what anyone wants, but sometimes it is what everyone needs for health and wholeness. For human flourishing to be restored. The document released on Friday is called “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.” I was moved by the title. To imagine that grace can be the outcome of separation is profound. And a lived experience to which some of you may be able to attest.
Going forward, if this protocol is adopted by the larger body in May, those who wish to punish clergy who perform same gender weddings or prohibit LGBTQ clergy from their pulpits are free to leave and form their own denomination. Including an equitable division of the assets. Instead of this being a sad day, however, everyone can finally breathe a sigh of relief that the means for separation have been set. Perhaps an odd topic for a day celebrating a marriage, but it is a realistic assessment of the kinds of wise and foolish choices we must make sometimes. It could actually be quite foolish to stay together under the certain conditions.
Of course, that isn’t always possible. We can’t divorce our country. And it’s been raining a lot lately. There’s more rain in the forecast. Torrential rains coming down and the Noah’s Ark-sized floods coming up. Gale force winds banging on the shutters. Will we go splat? We wonder: will the foundations set by our founders hold up – the rule of law, fidelity to the constitution, representative government of the people, by the people, for the people. Something as seemingly simple as truth?
Jesus’ words about anger and retaliation and judgment – and worrying – seem particularly apt. And splat-worthy. And yet, might the lesson from the text today be not that our house won’t blow off the foundation because of laws but because in the hearts of the people, we hold open the possibility that one day we will forgive each other? And if not today, that we refuse to close the door to the hope of reconciliation one day?
That we will be patient and respect one another, be honest with each other, be kind to each other, and love our neighbor, not despite that they may be like enemies to us, but because Jesus said it is wise to love one another as much as we love ourselves.
That, and overlooking the socks left on the bathroom floor. Again!
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My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and Travelling around the world