by Robert Brow
In our reading today we have three ways of describing the heart as the source of human behavior.
Our character is like a fruit tree. A good apple tree brings forth apples that we can enjoy. Another apple tree either produces no fruit or the fruit is uneatable. So Jesus says that "no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit" (Luke 6:43). Similarly what counts is not the outward appearance or qualifications of a person but the heart that motivates his or her behavior.
Secondly our words emerge from the treasure store of our heart. "The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks" (6:45). It may be possible to fool others for a time by smooth, flattering, lying words, but inevitably what is in a person’s heart will flow out in words that indicate what his or her heart is really like. That is where hate, prejudice, pride, an unforgiving spirit, unkindness, racial and gender prejudice are stored to emerge in the heat of the moment when a critical situation arises.
The two kinds of heart were contrasted in this way by James the Lord’s brother: "Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy" (James 3:13-17).
Each of you could illustrate these two parables from the fruit of the heart of people you have known and from conversations that have revealed what a person is really like. And of course if we can evaluate the heart of others, you can be sure they are evaluating what our heart is like. And even if they don’t notice the rottenness within, Jesus the Son of God knows us through and through.
I like the prayer that began our service. "Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name" (Canadian Anglican Book of Alternative Services, p.185).
But now I want to focus on a third way the human heart is judged. Jesus pointed out that many people profess to be Christians but their behavior does not measure up when the crunch comes. "Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I tell you?" Then he went on to tell the story of the house on the rock and the house on the sand. Children love to act it out in Sunday School, and they sing "A wise man built his house upon the rock, and the rain came down and the flood came up . . . and the house of the foolish man cam crashing down." But this is not just a song for little kids. It is Jesus’ parable for adults. It applies to you and me, and our children, and our friends, and ministers, and company directors, and politicians. It is about anyone who looks impressive until things get tough.
The parable points out that a house built on rock and a house without a solid foundation outwardly look the same. A person could look very impressive like a house with top quality windows, doors and locks, bathroom fittings, fireplaces, paintwork, appliances, and kitchen cabinets. But then the banks of the river of life burst, flood waters come swirling up, and without a proper foundation all that seemed important collapses. That is our situation if we build on the sand of fair weather friends, reliance on money, trust in our qualifications, education, and successes.
What did Jesus have in mind by way of a solid foundation for life? "That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock" (Luke 6:48). Obviously he is claiming that he is the Rock. As David sang three thousand years ago "I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge" (Psalm 18:1-2; 31:3; 71:3).
That foundation is best put in before we start building our life. That is the value of a good program for children. They don’t need moralizing and rules about church. They need an opportunity to invite Jesus into their heart. But it is never too late to ask "What am I going to settle as the foundation for all I hope to achieve?" That happened to me when I was 23 years old after five years in the army. I had to dig deep below the surface and lay a new foundation beneath the building of my life.
The Messiah defined what a good foundation was made of. "I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them" (6:47). We turn from trusting in the words of anyone else, we come to him, listen carefully to what he tells us, and then we act on his words.
Prayer : LORD, I realize from these parables that my life is in danger because I am building my hopes on sand that will easily get washed away.
The fruit of the tree of my life has not been a pleasure to you. My heart is full of garbage, and I have said some stupid things.
So, Jesus, right now I am turning to you, the Rock of my salvation. Thank you for forgiving me and giving me a new start in life. I want to read your words carefully in the Gospels. And I will need the power of the Holy Spirit to act on them.