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May 29, 2005 (Sunday 9 · Time after Pentecost)—“Resting On His Unchanging Grace”

Pastor David Barber

Matthew 28:16-20

Sisters and brothers, grace be unto you and peace from God our loving Creator and from our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

I would like to begin this morning by telling a folk story that originates from India. There was a good king. He ruled wisely, he ruled well, and he was loved by all the peoples of his kingdom.

One day he called his four daughters together and told them that he was leaving on a long journey. He was going on this journey to learn more about God--devoting much time to the discipline of prayer. In his absence he was leaving his four daughters in charge.

"Oh, father," they cried, "don't leave us. We will never be able to rule the kingdom without you."

The king smiled. "You will do well in my absence. But before I leave I wish to give each of you a gift. It is my prayer that this gift will help you learn the meaning of rule." And with that, the king placed a single grain of rice in each daughter's palm, and then he left.

The oldest daughter went to her room. She tied a long golden thread around the grain of rich and placed it in a beautiful crystal box. Every day she picked up the box and looked at it.

The second daughter also went to her room, where she placed the grain of rice in a wooden box. She put it in a secure spot underneath her bed.

The third daughter was a very pragmatic young woman. She looked at the grain of rice and thought: "This grain of rice is no different than any other grain of rice." So she simply threw the grain of rice away.

However, the youngest daughter took the grain of rice to her room and wondered about the significance of the gift. She wondered for a week, then a month, and after nearly a year had passed, she understood the meaning of the gift.

Months turned into years, and the four daughters ruled in the absence of their father. Then one day the king returned. His beard was full, and his eyes sparkled with illumination gained through years of prayer. The king greeted each of his daughters and then asked to see the gift he had left with them.

The oldest raced to her room and brought back the crystal box. "Father," she began, "I carefully tied a golden thread around the grain of rice and kept it near my bed. I have looked at it every day since you left."

Bowing to his daughter, the king accepted the box and said, "Thank you."

Next, the second daughter presented the father with the gift of rice. "All three years I have had this grain of rice secure under my bed," she said. "Here it is."

Again the father bowed, accepted the box, and said, "Thank you."

The third daughter, who had simply thrown her rice away, was in a panic. She rushed to the kitchen, found a grain of rice, ran back to her father and said, "Father, here is a grain of rice."

Smiling, the king accepted the rice, bowed, and said once again, "Thank you."

Finally, the youngest daughter stepped before her father and spoke, "I don't have the grain of rice that you gave me," she said.

"Whatever did you do with it?" the king inquired.

"Father, I thought about that grain of rice for nearly a year before I discovered the meaning of the gift. I realized that the grain of rice was a seed, so I planted it in the ground. Soon it grew, and from it I harvested other seeds. I then planted all of the seeds, and again I harvested a crop. Father, I have continued to do this. Come, look at the results."

The king followed his daughter to the window where he looked out at an enormous crop of rice stretching as far as the eye could see. There was enough rice to feed their entire small nation.

Stepping before his daughter, the king took off his golden crown and placed it on her head. "You have learned the meaning of rule," he said softly.

And from that day, the youngest daughter ruled the kingdom. She ruled long. She ruled wisely, and she ruled well.

Being the youngest child, I'm sure this is a story about the great wisdom of the youngest child compared to older children. However, some of you in retaliation may tell me some stories about how impetuous and spoiled the youngest child can be. So let's just forget about this theory.

Jesus says to us this morning, "Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house upon a rock."

Jesus has given us a most precious gift. Obviously, it's not a grain of rice but a new relationship with God and with each other. And along with this new relationship, he has also given us a way to live, which is expressive of this new relationship.

The righteousness of Christ, which brings us into relationship with God and with each other, is a most precious gift. But this gift is expressed and actualized through the doing of God's word, which has been spoken and heard.

God's word is not simply to be treasured in our hearts and set aside in some shrine of piety. It's not to be hidden underneath one's bed where it's safe and secure. It's not to be placed upon our bookshelves where it's dusted off occasionally or taken out to record a family birth or death or some other happening.

It's not to be treated as if it doesn't matter or has no significance in our politics, our economics, or the ethics of daily life and thus simply thrown away like a worthless grain of rice.

But rather, it's to be heard and acted upon. Just as a person doesn't really hear music until the feet have been set in motion, so we don't really hear the words of Jesus until they're transformed into action and they permeate our entire being.

The context of this passage is important. It concludes the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus teaches us about a new kind of righteousness made manifest in our daily living.

This right relationship with God and with others calls us to love our enemies. It invites us to do unto others just as we would have them do unto us. It's a way of life that's spelled out in the Beatitudes and the exhortation to bear good fruit in all that we do.

From this context the teachings of Jesus become actualized within us. They take root and grow though the giving and receiving of forgiveness. They blossom and flourish as we become receptacles of grace and mercy and by being conduits of grace and mercy to others.

I was once told that in listening to a sermon most folks only retain 20% if it's a normal sermon. That's the bad news. However, I could prepare one sermon and preach it five times and then you'd retain 100%--unless you retained the same 20% each time.

However, if there's a diagram to go along with the sermon or some other visual presentation, that 20% would increase to 50%.

But note this--you would retain 80% if you helped prepare the sermon or there was a hands on application as a result of the sermon. We not only remember by doing, but the gift of God's Word becomes a living and vital and dynamic part of our lives by doing.

"Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house upon a rock." These words will become a living part of your life, and when the storms and floods threaten to overwhelm you, these words of Jesus will not fail you.

We notice that there's a promise here. It's not the promise of an insurance policy so that you won't have to suffer adversity and turmoil. "The rain will fall. The floods will come. The winds will blow and beat upon the house." That happens in some form to all of us.

Jesus, himself, talks about persecution, doesn't he? He tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that we can expect persecution when we're faithful in the doing and living of God's Word. In fact, he tells us to rejoice and be glad and that we're blessed when this happens.

One pastor tells us: "A life that will be able to endure and survive the storms of life, a life that will be experienced as blessed, is built by living in the direction of the very things which most of our culture tries to avoid like the plague."

A life that is built on the rock Jesus Christ will be able to stand, and endure, and share in the goodness of God. But this life maybe contrary to almost everything that we claim are the marks of the "good life" in our society.

The promise that is given to us this morning is not the absence of persecution, turmoil, and adversity, but rather, that in the very midst of these things, God in Jesus Christ will not fail us.

"The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fail because it had been founded on rock."

As we will sing in just a few moments:

"When darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ the solid rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand."

Amen.


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