9th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
See TEXT below Matthew 6:24-34
March 6, 2011
The Lectionary Gospel reading for the 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time brings to an end our work through the Sermon on the Mount, but even this final homily will be carried as one heavy load for our lives.
There are several ways into this pericope. We could understand it as a clear warning that it really does matter how we live. We could understand it as reminder of the now-frowned-upon reality that, at least within the biblical world view, there will be a day of reckoning convened by the Almighty.
For our purposes today, however, I prefer us to begin from a different direction by asking the question, "What is GOD's greatest gift to you?"
I would answer by asserting that GOD's greatest gift is the gift of life, and that GOD's greatest gift to you is the gift of your life.
Now, I am not here attempting to argue the question of origins -- How did life begin? or from where does life come? Not that these question are unimportant, but they are simply not germane to this present homily.
What I am saying is this: If the gift of our life is GOD'S greatest gift to us, the question becomes just what will we do with this gift, how will we use this life we have been given? Or, said another way, what kind of life will we build, or what kind of life are we now building? Or, maybe even the more elemental question is best: What does it take to build a life?
A life is built from the many choices we make each day. This means that the momentous choices we make most certainly affect the life we build, but we would do well to remember that small decisions also affect the life we build as well, maybe even more so because they are subtle, mundane and sometimes come with unknown results, unknown at least until we are much farther down the road.
Well, the text would have us know that the kind of life we are building depends upon the foundation we employ. Your life’s foundation is the system of thought and practice upon which your life rests. It includes the mental framework which guides your life practices and your life decisions.
We could discover someone’s life foundation by asking what motivates their life? What gives their life meaning? Is it Money? Power? Sexuality? Altruism?
We could also discover someone’s life foundation by asking just what it is that comprises the center of their universe? What is it that really makes that person that person? Or, what is it without which they would not be who they really are?
Our text proclaims that Jesus himself desires to be this foundation, to be the very center of our lives. The implication here is that Christ-as-foundation is the only way that life becomes fully received as the gift it was intended.
Speaking from the opposite direction, we could say that anything less than a life built upon the firm foundation of the Christ and the Jesus-way is shaky and unsteady. And, any life with the center of their universe built upon something or someone other than the words and the works of the Christ is in danger when the storms of life come crashing down.
By contrast, however, if we build our lives on the will of the Father and the words and ways of Jesus, as the text teaches, then we build this life-as-gift on the solid rock. Storms assail, but we are founded upon the sure and life-sustaining promises of the Christ, and he is enough.
Of course, obvious issues then confront us:
- do we really want Jesus and the Jesus-way as the foundation of our lives
- how do we really make the Christ and the Jesus-way the foundation of our lives
At this point the text becomes rather sober when we read, "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven."
These words are deeply thought provoking. How is it that someone can call Jesus LORD and still not be building their life on the Christ?
How is it that someone can seemingly have all the correct theology -- “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name.” -- and still not be among those whose lives have genuinely been touched by the Savior?
I confess, I do not really understand all that here confronts us in this portion of the text, but one thing seems very certain: In the end, not everyone will be among those whom Jesus knows.
It is difficult to read this any other way, and I, for one, think it wise to let these words sink into our hearts for awhile.
That is, let’s not immediately explain it away by offering this explanation or that caveat. Let us stare soberly into the truth that some who think they will be with the LORD in his Kingdom apparently will not be there.
SECOND: How do we make the Christ and the Jesus-way the foundation of this gift that is our lives?
Or, how do we build our lives on the rock of the Christ?
Or, how will we hear the words, “I know you,” spoken by Christ?
The response to these questions offered by the text is both as simple as it is sober: “Only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven will enter the kingdom of heaven,” and “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”
We are to listen to Jesus’ words -- presumably from this sermon -- and act upon those words by practicing them.
It will be helpful if we could, for a moment, remember some of what this sermon means to have us practice:
- Are we guilty of sinful anger?
- Are we looking with lust?
- Are we perfect as our heavenly Father?
- Are we worried?
- Is the Kingdom first in our lives?
- Are we judging others while the beam is still in our own eye?
- Are we living according to the golden rule?
This is where we are driven to have the St. Paul uncovered by the reformation to interpret the Jesus uncovered by the Sermon on the Mount, rather than letting Jesus, the highest point of GOD’S self-revealing, explain himself and St. Paul.
Said differently, do we hear the words of kindness from Jesus, “I know you,” either by doing good works or by GOD’s grace? Or, said still differently, will we build our lives on the solid foundation by benefit of GOD’s unmerited gift or by living out good lives.
A church member and I had this discussion not to long ago, and it was rather lively! Like us, many of you had it drilled into you that salvation is by grace through faith.
We were taught to run to where St. Paul writes: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast,” and to live there. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
If Paul and Jesus are talking about the same thing -- and I am not at all convinced that they are -- but if they are doesn’t it seem that Paul and Jesus are in steep contradiction, Jesus emphasizing works and Paul emphasizing grace?
But this is a false dichotomy. Remember what St. John tells us, “...the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." (John 1:17)
Jesus offers grace. In fact his entire project, from incarnation, to sacrifice, to resurrection is grace in the motion of one life.
What seems clear is that even in St. Paul’s grace-words good works are emphasized along with GOD’s grace. Let’s quote St. Paul again from that same proof text in Ephesians, but this time let’s include verse ten:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
This is what it means to truly follow the Christ. Empowered by the Spirit of the living Christ we are enabled to walk, not perfectly, but substantially in-the-moment in the ways of the Christ.
Thus, we would ague that Jesus’ sermon presents the Jesus-way as the true way to make this gift of our lives meaningful and with purpose.
To live for the Christ is to live for others. It is to live our lives in partnership with the LORD through the table (communion), through the community (church) and through the empowering Spirit (the Spirit of the risen and living Christ).
A life is built on the Jesus-way by always keeping the cross of sacrifice in view. We walk the second mile with joy. We take the face-slaps to absorb the hatred and violence of a world at war with itself. We do this for we know the truth found in the Christ says all are important; all are unworthy of grace but receive it anyhow -- even me; all are loved by Christ and therefore must be loved by me as part of the Kingdom.
St. Paul puts it this way:
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Jesus said to his disciples: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’
“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”