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When It Rains, It Pours

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"When It Rains, It Pours"
Sermon by Dave Kepple
Given at Union Chapel UMC
May 5, 2002, Fifth Sunday of Easter
(based on Matt. 7:24-28 and Job 1)

Last Sunday, our daughter, Judy, drove up from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia to visit with her mother on the final day of the United Methodist Women's Assembly over in Pennsylvania.

They were able to spend some time together, and then later Sunday, while Janet and the UMW folks got on their chartered buses and headed west, Judy headed back to D.C. Later, while traveling through Maryland, not far from Washington, Judy drove through some very heavy weather.

Only after returning safely home, did she find out that a killer tornado had touched down in Maryland, not far from where she'd been driving, killing 3 people, injuring nearly 100, and damaging or destroying 100s of homes and businesses. It turned out to be the worst tornado in the history of the state of Maryland.

Meanwhile Friday, according to the Associated Press, rescue crews in helicopters and four-wheel-drive vehicles searched through the steep valleys of Appalachian coal country after flooding left at least four people dead and 14 missing. The AP story said five inches of rain fell in six hours Thursday, sending streams and rivers surging out of their banks in the mountainous area where West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia meet. Some communities were cut off by mudslides and others had water up to the eaves of homes in a deluge so powerful that people lashed themselves to trees.

The story said a woman named Donna Carter had not heard from her husband, and did not know if her home in Roderfield, W.Va., was still standing.
Lately, we've had a lot of rain here, too, haven't we?

It seems like we've had some really heavy thunderstorms with lots of rain the last couple weeks. I know that some of this is just normal weather conditions for springtime, but still it seems like we've had an awful lot of rain, even taking the season into account.

We've had a lot of rain in another sense, too.

We've had a lot of rain in the lives of our church members. We have had many people in this congregation who have experienced a torrent of personal problems and health crises of one type or another. Indeed, we've had a few families that seem to have been especially hard hit of late.

It reminds me a little of what happens at the beginning of the story of Job in the Old Testament. Job was a truly good person, a man who had reverence for the Lord and stayed away from evil. He was a prosperous man, and he had a large family of 7 sons and 3 daughters, all of whom he loved very much.

And then disaster strikes. One messenger after another arrives, bringing terrible news -- all of Job's vast wealth has been stolen or wiped out in an instant, almost all of his many servants killed, his financial security completely taken away. Then finally, another messenger bursts in with more bad news -- a mighty wind from the desert (which sounds a lot like a tornado) had swept in and flattened the house where Job's sons and daughters were having a party -- and all 10 were killed.

All that happens in chapter 1 of Job. You would think things couldn't get any worse, but in Chapter 2, they do. Job's health is taken away from him, as he is afflicted with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head.

And the amazing thing about Job is, despite these terrible, inexplicable trials that he faced, he did not turn his back on God. His wife urged him to do just that. She said to him, "Are you still holding onto your precious integrity? Curse God and be done with it!" But Job would not do it. Despite the troubles that he faced, he praised the name of the Lord.

Like a person lashed to a tree in a storm, he held on to his faith in the midst of catastrophe.

Sooner or later, storms of one type or another come to every one of us. Sometimes they may come in rapid succession, or even all at once.

We all need -- or will someday need -- shelter from the storm.

The longer we live, the more "storms" we are likely to face; and then there is the final "storm," too, that no one can escape. How can we be sure to build our lives so as to withstand the storms?

Jesus touches on this very question in Matthew 7:24-27, in his parable about the Wise and the Foolish Builders. This passage comes at the very end of the section in Matthew known as the Sermon on the Mount. It is an exclamation point to all that Jesus has already said in his teachings.

What is it he says here? Let's listen to it again, this time in the words of Eugene Peterson's dynamic translation, The Message.

In Peterson's telling, Jesus finishes his teaching by saying, "These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit -- but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

"But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don't work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards." (Matt. 7:24-27, The Message, Eugene Peterson)

We know that when Jesus uses this story and refers to the houses of the wise and foolish builders, that what he is really talking about is our lives. That's what these houses in his parable represent.

The real question then is what are we building our lives on.

Are we building our lives on the solid rock of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is our Savior and our Healer, both now and in the life to come? Or are we building our lives on the sandy soil -- something other than the Way, the Truth and the Life?

How can we "build" so as to be able to withstand the storms that are sure to come our way?

Remember that tornado I mentioned earlier -- the one in Maryland -- the killer tornado last Sunday? That tornado was rated an F5 -- the most powerful level there is. At one point, it packed winds of more than 260 miles an hour . . . stop and think about that for a minute.

As it happens, this twister passed within 2 miles of a nuclear power plant as it spun its way across southern Maryland. You can imagine the nightmare scenario if that building was smashed by a storm.

Afterward, a spokesman for the company that owns and operates the nuclear plant said it "is designed to withstand tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and a wide range of events."

The spokesman said the plant's "extremely rugged construction," including walls up to 4 feet thick of steel-reinforced concrete, and redundant backup power systems, prepare the plant for the worst."

Well, that's somewhat reassuring to know that a nuclear power plant meets a very high standard in its construction.

But what about us and our lives -- these "houses" each of us must build for ourselves, with God's help? No one else can do this construction job for us. We can't contract this work out to others. What is our level of preparedness for the inevitable storms of life, and how will we respond when hit by any of "a wide range of events?"

Jesus says everyone who hears his words and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. When the rain came down . . . when the streams rose . . . when the winds blew and beat against it, that man's house did not fall, Jesus says, because it was built upon the rock.

If we want that kind of stability, that kind of eternal security in our life -- come hell or high water -- we can have it, too, Jesus says. All that's required are two things.

We need to hear what Jesus says to us, and we need to live our lives accordingly. In other words, we need to do what Jesus says. We need to obey Him. We need to build our entire lives on the solid rock of Jesus Christ and then nothing -- nothing -- can shake us, not even death.

No matter what we may be facing . . . no matter what our loved ones may be facing -- the Good News is we can weather any storm as long as we trust in Christ as our Lord and Savior, and do what he says.

Jesus never promised us a rose garden. We know that along with the good things of life, that suffering is part of the package at times, as it was even for Jesus himself during his earthly walk.

But Jesus says if we build our lives upon God, we can withstand any storm.

"In this world you will have trouble," he tells his disciples in John 16. "But take heart! I have overcome the world."

You see there is more to the story.

Through Jesus Christ, God has defeated sin and death once and for all, and that means that Jesus has, indeed, overcome the world.

As Paul writes in Romans, nothing -- not even death -- can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So let's follow the wisdom of the Psalmist, who in Psalm 127 writes, "Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain."

Let's not labor in vain. Let's build our lives by trusting God and obeying the words of His Son.

Then no matter what sudden violent storms and sweeping floods may come our way, we will cling to the Solid Rock of Jesus Christ.

We will join with Job in proclaiming our faith, saying: "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."

Amen.
 
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