Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


Building on Rock
December 6, 2013, 4:21 pm
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon to SSC clergy, Thursday 5th December 2013

Isaiah 26.1-6; Matthew 7.21,24-27

The wise man built his house upon rock. To a first-century Jew, the “House” par excellence was the House of God in Jerusalem. If you visit the Temple Mount today, the most prominent building is the Dome of the Rock, so-called because it was built to enclose the great outcrop of naked rock that crowns the mount. Muslim legend makes it the place from which Muhammad ascended to heaven; Jewish legend identifies it with the rock on which Abraham tried to sacrifice Isaac. History says that this, at any rate, is the place David chose for the Temple which was to be built by his son Solomon.

“We have a strong city; to guard us he has set wall and rampart about us. Trust in the Lord for ever, for the Lord is the everlasting Rock.” So said Isaiah. It must have been utterly shocking when our Lord told his disciples that not one stone would be left on another; it would all be thrown down. Isaiah’s words, “He has brought low those who lived high up in the steep citadel; he brings it down to the ground, flings it down in the dust”- those words had been applied to Israel’s enemies, not to the House of God itself.

Jesus, in today’s Gospel, contrasts two men; the wise man who builds on rock, and the fool who builds on sand. The material Temple- whether that of Solomon, destroyed by Babylon, or that of Herod, destroyed by Rome- was only the outward symbol of the spiritual Temple which was Israel itself. Was that Temple (Jesus asked) built on the solid Rock of trust in God, or on the shifting sands of human expediency? He was addressing a real situation. The Pharisees (to do them credit) made Torah central, though they understood it in too mechanical a way. The Sadducees, the High Priestly party, were more interested in politics. The Pharisees favoured a political and religious revolution, the Sadducees feared and opposed it- but who would stand when the floods rose and the whirlwind struck?

I have been reading- and I hope you have, too- the Holy Father’s Exhortation entitled, “The Joy of the Gospel.” He has some important things to say to priests and preachers generally. I give you a few quotes: “It is worthy remembering that the liturgical proclamation of the word of God, especially in the eucharistic assembly, is not so much a time for meditation and catechesis as a dialogue between God and his people, a dialogue in which the great deeds of salvation are proclaimed and the demands of the covenant are continually restated”.

Later, he says: “Dialogue is much more than the communication of a truth. It arises from the enjoyment of speaking and it enriches those who express their love for one another (my italics) through the medium of words.” He warns against being purely moralistic or doctrinaire (the fault of the Pharisees), which impedes heart speaking to heart. “The dialogue between God and his people (he goes on) further strengthens the covenant between them and consolidates the bond of charity. In the course of the homily, the hearts of believers keep silence and allow God to speak. The Lord and his people speak to one another in a thousand ways directly, without intermediaries. But in the homily they want someone to serve as an instrument and to express their feelings in such a way that afterwards, each one may choose how he or she will continue the conversation.”

There’s a challenge! He offers practical advice on preparation for preaching, which I commend to you. But above all, he wants us to convey to our people the Joy of the Gospel. We priests are builders of Christ’s spiritual house in the hearts of the faithful. Preaching is our tool, but it won’t work unless we look as if the joy of the Gospel is in our own hearts. Neither the rigidity of the Pharisees nor the relativism of a political priesthood will inspire the faithful. “A renewal of preaching,” Francis tells us, “can offer believers, as well as the lukewarm and the non-practising, new joy in the faith and fruitfulness in the work of evangelization.” The heart of our message (he says) will always be the same: the God who revealed his immense love in the crucified and risen Christ. Christ crucified, the Word of God. This is the only Rock upon which we can build.

One last quote: “An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ”

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