It is a perennial news story. And it is about brand-new houses built on a flood plain. All starts out as leafy, beautiful and hopeful. Then the summer goes, and the season turns to storms ; yet still life goes on. But one year the rains come down heavier than before. The outcome is inevitable; since water literally gurgles out of the ground leaving incensed home owners and builders heading in the other direction.
These stories then are lessons in caveat emptor or look very carefully at who you believe.
These salutary experiences also take us into today’s second lesson.
Since they are the very illustration Christ give us for our moral actions in the time of floods and shifting sands. Indeed, our readings come as but part of St Luke’s passageshighlighting our ethical response to Christ’s gospel. For Jesus’ teaching starts with the rather appropriately named sermon on the plain.
Next, Christ warns against hatred and the indiscriminate judging of others.
He also offers some advice about assessing our own behaviour. And he does that by talking about the fruit born by various trees. Finally, he sums all this up by suggesting we commit to doing something about what we have heard.
Well, what could be more apposite for these highly confusing times?
For we now have a yardstick to measure what is good and what is bad in our very divided world. Because, in his address to the crowd, Jesus states clearly God’s priorities. Which, as we have heard, is for the most vulnerable. It is for genuine believers to worship by service to the least able. It is indeed a command to strive tirelessly for justice and compassion.
Here then is a way of judging all who try to dominate global thinking today. It is a perfect optic to see through the falsehoods and skulduggery. It indeed is the ultimate exam question for any seeking to have their viewpoint prevail. Because each should have their ambitions measured by Jesus on the plain.
Ah, you say doesn’t that contravene Jesus edict about not judging?
Well, I suspect not.
As I think it depends on how we are measuring and who we are measuring. For, in this imperfect and sometimes downright fraudulent world, we do need to make sensible decisions and use thoughtful discernment. Of course, we can give in to shallow insights that results in pre-judgements against groups, communities or peoples. Instead we must employ wisdom to find the individuals who are conspiring against God’s agenda. To call out those who are acting against Christ’s moral vision. Indeed, we must struggle ever to see the small but cruel truth hiding behind the big, but all too attractive, lie.
Yet still we find it difficult to correctly assess those who are offering our community, nation and globe alluringly glossy answers. We are even more perplexed when these false prophets wear the robes of righteousness with glittering ostentation. In fact, these deceivers’ deportment of moral advocacy often has greater showiness than those far worthier of such raiment.
And it is for these situations, Jesus offers us the final and best test of all. For he counsels – hear not the words they speak nor the sentiments they express.
Instead, look at the fruit they are bearing and the crop they are offering. Then alone can we decide if their produce is sweat or sour, wholesome or rotten, nutritious or nsidiously poisonous.
Ah we say, that is all fine and dandy, but still I have too little to build with even if it is on safe and wholesome ground. In fact, we go on – at the moment I feel pretty dispirited.
Kng Duncan relates that Mother Teresa of Calcutta, died as a world-revered figure. But who would have ever thought she would have reached such influence when she first began?
What did she have to recommend her?
A tiny woman, she began with the most meagre of resources. Mother Teresa told her superiors, “I have three pennies and a dream from God to build an orphanage.”
“Mother Teresa,” her superiors said, “you can’t build an orphanage with three pennies . . .with three pennies you can’t do anything.”
“I know,” she said, smiling, “but with God and three pennies I can do anything.”
Mother Teresa understood the principle that no matter how under resourced we are, we can still build by listening to God.
Despite the waters arising around us we can still achieve something by acting for Christ’s imperatives. No matter how engulfing the times, we will always have an affirming base to construct a family of all humanity particularly those close to drowning.
Is that wise to think that way?
But it is instead divine foolishness and I know which I prefer. Last week I mentioned my favourite film from this Christmas was The Greatest Showman.
Towards the end its hero, PT Barnum is sitting morose in a bar having lost his theatre, his future and his wife. Then in comes his cast members who remind him he has lost sight that he gave them, the most marginalised in society, a family. The showman then sings the song which could be our anthem on hearing Christ’s call to build on an ethical, compassionate and community foundation. It could be our clarion call to act and act now. Here are some of its words:
I drank champagne with kings and queens
The politicians praised my name
but those are someone else’s dreams,
seeing you here
I remember who all this was for.
From now on
These eyes will not be blinded by the lights
From now on
What’s waited till tomorrow
It starts tonight
And let this promise in me
Like an anthem in my heart
From now on
From now on
From now on.