1 Kings 17:1-24
Fr. Nathan Baxter
Jesus said “As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.” (Luke 6:46-49 NIV)
I want to tell you a story that has a point. I hope the story is worth your time, because I know that the point I hope to make is definitely worth your time.
One of my first paying jobs was mowing lawns. I had learned how to mow the lawn by watching my dad and learning from him. I bought my first lawnmower for about $80 and went around our neighborhood drumming up business. I made some decent money for a high schooler, and did some decent work. But I’m not much of a salesman, and my client base was pretty small. So I decided to go to work for a landscape company that knew what they were doing and where I could have steady work.
On my first day on the job I had to re-learn how to mow a lawn. The guy who showed me didn’t give me a handbook to read or a test to take. On the way to the first job, he told me how we did things in the company–the look we wanted to leave at every site. Once we got there, he showed me what he wanted me to do by mowing the front while I watched. Then we went to a small bit of the lawn in the back where no one would see it and had me mow while he watched and gave me feedback. On just that first day, I learned how much I didn’t know about the basics, and how much better I could be in my own neighborhood accounts.
After several weeks, I had gotten the hang of running a 21-inch mower and edging with string trimmer. I was assigned to a bigger crew with a different foreman, working on a mix of residential and commercial accounts. Our crew ran not only the 21-inch self-propelled mowers but also the 52-inch self-propelled walk/jog-behind machines. It looked like pretty much the same grass-mowing work–just bigger and faster. So I asked when I would get to run a 52. My foreman, Jim, ginned at me and said he’d let me run it on the next job. He gave me the basic training — told me a little bit, showed me, then handed it over to me to use while he watched.
The machine had a kind of counterintuitive propulsion control. Instead of one bar you could activate with either hand, it had two grips that you had to engage independently. More importantly, you had to release the handgrips to give it power. Letting go released more power, pulling in reduced the power (yes, there’s a parable there, but not for today). On the 21-inch, pulling the handle in released more power, and letting go of the handle brought things to a stop. The 52-inch was the opposite, and even though I had been told that, and had started to experience it, the 21-inch mower habits were more ingrained.
Everything was going quite nicely on the flat, open side-lawn that Jim let me start with. He let me loose on one big section of lawn in front of the apartment complex. I was getting the hang of turns and how to run the lines straight. I was gaining a bit of confidence and took the machine to the back. Jim walked slowly around the building, checking the beds for weeds while I got started in the back.
The back lawn had a steep slope down to a river bank. I wasn’t too worried as I started parallel to the slope. I began to make my turn and that’s when things got . . . memorable.
The big machine had a lot more weight than I expected, and went careening down the hill quicker than I could react to it. Both handles got out of my hands, so I now had full propulsion on a steep hill and no grip. I found myself racing after a machine headed straight down the hill toward a very deep river with nothing to stop the machine but a few low pine-shrubs.
Fortunately, Jim had come around the corner and started running as soon as I started making my downhill turn because he could see what was gonna happen. He managed to beat the machine to the bottom of the hill and grab one handle just as the machine was about to crash into the shrubs. I got there too, grab the other handle. The sudden stop made the machine pop up and then slam down on top of the shrub, shredding the pine down to the stump and killing the engine.
Both our hearts were racing. I was mortified. And then the moment came: Jim started laughing his head off.
We fixed the machine, made a note to replace the shrub on the next visit. And he told me to get some more practice on the flat before trying the hill again.
What didn’t happen was as important as what did happen. Jim did not make me feel small for making a mistake, and he encouraged me to keep trying even after making that mistake. The crew had fun giving me a hard time about it and telling me for weeks to watch out for pine shrubs on job sites. Jim kept handing off skill to me with different machines, different tasks, and increased responsibility. He always told me, showed me, sent me to do it while he watched, and gave me feedback.
By the end of the summer I was running my own route with a crew, and had begun to earn the trust of the owners of the company. Training-by-doing with a more experienced person helped me grow in trust and trustworthiness.
So here’s the point that you can probably see I’m making: Discipleship to Jesus is not just about knowing him. It’s about doing with him. Even when we have already learned to do some things with him, we can always learn to do the same things better and learn to do new things we’ve never ventured to do before.
Remember the invitation Jesus makes: “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG).
Part of the goal in shifting our Christian Formation time to come after the Worship Service is this: to give us all time to learn-to-do with Jesus, together. In the service, we’re coming to him and hearing his words. After the service we will get a jump-start on putting his words into practice, in the power of the Spirit.
I want to finish with the fuller context of the quotation this week’s essay started with:
““Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.””
Luke 6:46-49 NIV
Focus on the invitation and promise, even as you take seriously the warning. If we learn to be people who come to Jesus, listen to him, put his words into practice as we learn with and from him how to do it (that’s the Holy Spirit at work in our lives), then Jesus promises stability that can withstand adversity. That’s our goal in training together in a new way, at a new time.
Listen one more time to the same promise in different phrasing:
46-47 “Why are you so polite with me, always saying ‘Yes, sir,’ and ‘That’s right, sir,’ but never doing a thing I tell you? These words I speak to you are not mere additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundation words, words to build a life on.
48-49 “If you work the words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who dug deep and laid the foundation of his house on bedrock. When the river burst its banks and crashed against the house, nothing could shake it; it was built to last. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a dumb carpenter who built a house but skipped the foundation. When the swollen river came crashing in, it collapsed like a house of cards. It was a total loss.”