Monday, May 30, 2005 by niebuhrian
At the present moment the logistics and lists have been a bit overwhelming for me. In fact there are some moments, hours, days even when the whole thing is a bit depressing.
There are friends and family members to visit, things to fix on the house, work to wrap up and all of our stuff to pack. My wife and I have even begun a master calendar so that we can organize our trips and dinners and parties so that we can maximize our time with the people we have cared about, and those who have cared about us; and, in the midst of all of these things we both continue the work we have been called to do.
When I am able to step back and allow my mind to create pictures of this time in my life, it creates an all too familiar scene from the movies.
In the scene, the hero is standing on solid earth when all of a sudden things start to shake around him. Tree branches fall to the ground and power lines snap. Cars swerve and hit telephone poles and a rumbling sound is heard and felt, coming from deep inside the earth. All of a sudden the ground splits between his legs and he is left straddling the two sides of the road beneath his feet. The audience cringes as the hero must choose a side and make a leap, hoping to find solid ground again.
Actually, when I think about it, what kind of hero finds himself straddling two sides of a splitting road? I mean heroes are supposed to be the grounded ones, prepared for whatever comes along, ready for action, right? What kind of hero finds him or herself doing a split during an earthquake?
Regardless, the point is that it sometimes feels like I live in two places, and solid ground eludes me.
Take a moment and transport yourselves back 2000 years, and imagine that the crowds gathered for you. That you awoke from a decent nights sleep to find thousands upon thousands standing before you, awaiting a word, a sign, a direction.
What would your first inclination be? Mine would probably be to turn over and go back to sleep, hoping that it was all a nightmare, and when I really woke up, everyone would be gone.
Jesus had a different thing in mind. He, instead, chooses to go up on a mountaintop and preach; no notes, no teleprompters, no net, just Jesus and thousands of his interested followers.
When he ascends to those great heights, what he gives us is the Sermon on the Mount, along with numerous other teachings concerning a life of discipleship.
Jesus, off the cuff, describes a way of living sacramentally. That is, living our lives in the presence and care of God as best we can. For three chapters in Matthew, the author records Jesus talking to his followers about who they should be and what they should be doing in response to the world around them.
Our passage today is the conclusion of his sermon and teaching. Much like a benediction in our own worship service, in this passage Jesus calls those who listen to him into action. He calls them not just to do the things he has talked about, but to believe his words and be the people he has described.
And there are two reasons I think Jesus gives this charge…
The first reason is that I believe Jesus desires a form of relationship that is based on an intimate knowledge of one another. This is not a relationship that is hung up on rewards for service, or heavenly coupons redeemable for favors and valuable prizes.
In the first part of this passage Jesus says that it doesn’t matter what you do if I don’t know who you are. We could spend a lifetime prophesying, serving, or healing in Jesus’ name, and still not grasp, not relate to who Jesus is.
Most of you know my penchant for finding questions in scripture, and this passage is no exception. I think there is a question hidden in this first part of our passage, one that drives at the heart of knowing and being known.
Hypothetically speaking, if in a flash and a puff of smoke Jesus suddenly appeared before this congregation, and unequivocally stated that there is no heaven, no eternal place of reward; how many of you would continue to be a Christian?
That is the question at the heart of the Christian endeavor. Is knowing and being known by God good enough, or must we play some cosmic tit-for-tat game with the Almighty; seeking that which we righteously believe we deserve based on our performance here in the corporeal world.
What would your response to that question, or that pronouncement from Jesus be?
Would you be like the people who inhabit the first portion of this text? The ones who say “wait a minute God, I’ve been doing all these good things for you, I go to church, I tithe, I volunteer, I hand out tracts and have personally saved fourteen people over the last month, I even went on a mission trip once to help those poor people down there, I deserve a little credit for that work.”
The harsh word from Jesus is that he doesn’t know the people who are looking to store up heavenly credit, who do and say things only to appear righteous. For those of you who spend time in Christian bookstores, the next time you enter count how many books you find written about storing up treasure in heaven or gaining Godly favor by living the right kind of life. And as you count, think about this verse, about Jesus’ words to those playing games with God.
So then who does he know? Well for that, we need to take a look at the beginning of the fifth chapter: he knows the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted, and especially those who are persecuted because of who they know.
Throughout the course of this sermon and the ensuing dialogue, Jesus uses a variety of rhetorical methods, seeking to make a connection with his audience, so that he might know and be known by everyone. Jesus knows when that occurs, rewards are of little consequence, there are no needs for accolades and heavenly or earthly pats on the back; that suddenly, being known is enough…
Additionally, he reframes his dialogue for those who didn’t quite follow what he was saying, adding a story about the building of two houses. Certainly, most of you are familiar with this tale, about the wise man building his house upon the rock and the foolish man building his home on the sand.
One thing that struck me the hardest in this story was that the storms struck both homes with equal veracity. Each man experienced a storm heavy enough to destroy a house, which begs the question for me of where did we ever get the idea that the more faithful we are, the better God will look upon our lives and the easier things will be?
By telling this story, Jesus states without a doubt that life will be a mess sometimes, but that it is the foundation that determines whether or not we will remain standing when the gray clouds part and the sky clears. The upheavals that we will all experience in life are not lessened by our faith, nor do they come because of a lack of faithfulness, they just come; moreover, we don’t suddenly become rich, handsome or pretty just because we believe in God.
The only thing we might have is a leg up when the storms hit, because we love and believe in a God that loves and believes in us; and on that ground it is easy to stand and weather the storms that swirl around us.
Our move in July is but a small storm in our life at this point. We will make the leap over that ever-increasing gap and stand on the solid ground that God will provide us.
It is my hope that when you encounter the storms of your lives, when the earth shakes your homes, and the rain beats upon the windowsills. When the clouds are dark and the night seems to last forever…
I hope that you can stand in the house of faith that you have built…
That you can stand in the knowledge of God’s love for you…
And you can stand with the kind of faith that tells you that God remembers you in both the sunny days and the stormy nights…
Whether the sun shines bright or the rain beats down upon your face, stand tall, stand firm, stand solidly and know and be known…