This morning we are finishing our summer series on the Sermon on the Mount, which is Jesus’ core teaching in the book of Matthew about how we are to live in the world. The teaching part ends with the Golden Rule, which Jesus says sums up all the Old Testament Law and Prophets. The verses we are going to hear this morning are the postlude to the sermon. They are warnings, exhortations, and encouragements about what Jesus has just finished teaching. As I said last week, we should not hear this sermon as one giant “SHOULD.” This is not about how we SHOULD live. This is about how we WILL live when we are motivated by God’s grace and unconditional love for us. That means the stupidest or meanest thing we’ve ever done is not being held against us. Our own insecurities are not the last word about us. God’s love has already spoken the last word about each of us and all of us. When we remember who we are and whose we are, we will be motivated to live in the way Jesus describes in this teaching. This about freedom. Freedom from our fear of scarcity, freedom from our need to make ourselves look good. Trying really hard to be nice people is only going to wear us out. We just don’t have it in us on our own. We prove that all the time. But when we realize again that we are already free, that we are fully loved and safe and accepted right now exactly the way we are, then we tap into a whole new level of abundant life. Now we won’t be perfect at it. The point of the verses this morning is the reminder that this way of life isn’t always easy. It will take practice. But the things most worth doing are rarely easy and always take practice. So we’re OK. These verses are serious because the world is broken and in need of people who are going to participate in healing, and not just mess around with making ourselves look good. “So let us listen now in the reading of Scripture for the Word and Wisdom of God.” – Iona Community Worship Book
Scripture Reading Matthew 7:13-29
Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
“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 who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise person who built their house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish person who built their house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
This is the Word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
Do you know what this text reminds me of? In the book “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” the school headmaster Professor Dumbledore tells Harry, “The time is coming when we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” The choice between what is right and what is easy. That’s a really great quote. And Dumbledore got it from Jesus. These verses are a reminder to us that we face a choice between what is right and what is easy.
As Miss Mary said, there’s bedrock everywhere underground in Israel and Palestine. Anyone who wants to build a house on solid rock can do that. You just have to dig for it. Depending on where you choose, you may have to dig a little deeper to find the rock, but it’s always there. If you build in the dry summer season, which is what everyone does, all the ground looks solid because it’s been baked hard by the sun. But we know, don’t we, that things which seem solid in one season can fall apart under our feet in a different season. If you want a solid house, you build it the right way and dig down to find the rock. You make the choice to do what is right and not just what is easy.
Jesus gives us several comparisons in these verses, and they are all just different images for the same idea. The wide gate leading to the wide path is the easy way. But the narrow gate leading to the narrow path is the right way. Right, but not easy. Harder, but so much better, for ourselves and the world.
Jesus invites us and encourages us to live the kind of lives that produce really good fruit. Not fruit that looks good on the outside but is actually rotten. Now if any of you are gardeners, you know that plants take some encouragement, especially fruit trees, which is the image Jesus is using here. You have to cultivate fruit trees. You have to prune them. You have to feed them. Growing good fruit, or we could say “growing the right fruit,” isn’t always easy. But it’s so much better.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus is interested in making disciples who first and foremost live faithfully in their everyday lives, and then also do miracles. In this section Jesus imagines a situation where he doesn’t recognize some of his followers who have been prophesying and casting out demons and doing miracles. Now get this: true followers of Jesus, doing legitimate, God-honoring, amazing deeds of power. And Jesus doesn’t recognize them. Why not? Because they were doing these deeds of power and neglecting to live faithfully in their everyday lives.
But don’t be fooled into thinking this is an either/or thing. It’s not either everyday faithfulness or deeds of power. It’s everyday faithfulness first and then deeds of power. If we chase the miracles without first addressing our own anger, lust, anxiety, love of money, and judgmental attitudes, then Jesus says we have missed the point and missed God’s Kingdom.
Jesus’ miracles and his teaching were both a clear demonstration that he was stronger than the power of death in the world. That’s what the last verses in this section are talking about when they say that people were amazed because he taught as someone who had authority. From the moment of his birth, Jesus had authority over the power of death and decay and destruction in the world, and he has given that same authority to us.
So when we do miracles, we are demonstrating Jesus’ authority over death. But when we faithfully live out his teaching in our everyday lives, we are also demonstrating his authority over death. Many psychologists agree that the fear of death and decay and destruction is the basic human fear. When we live the way of abundant life that Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount, we are proving that Jesus has authority over the power of death in our lives. When we orient our lives towards living free from anger, free from lust, free from anxiety, the love of money and our judgmental attitudes, we are proving that we are not afraid of death, decay or destruction. We are demonstrating with our everyday lives that Jesus has authority over death. We must first do it in our everyday lives before we try to demonstrate it on a miraculous scale in other people’s lives. It’s not everyday faithfulness or deeds of power. It’s everyday faithfulness first (faithfulness, not perfection) and then deeds of power.
All of this is about conquering fear. When we remember who we are and whose we are, we will conquer fear in our lives. Not perfectly, but more and more and more over time. Because God loves us and God has accepted us unconditionally, we are free and we have nothing to fear. Fear is what prompts us to make the easy choice. When when remember who we are and whose we are, we will have the freedom and courage to make the choice between what is right and what is easy.
And when we come to this table, we commemorate the moment in his life when Jesus demonstrated this most clearly. When Jesus gave his whole self all the way in selfless love for the world, he made the ultimate choice between what was right and was easy. Because he knew who he was and whose he was, he found the courage to push through his fear and demonstrate God’s ultimate authority over the power of death. And he won that victory not simply for himself, but for each of us and all of us. When we simply accept that it’s true, that God loves us exactly as we are and that God’s not finished with any of us yet, we share in Christ’s victory. Each of us and all of us.
Because, beloved, as our ancestors in the faith have insisted for hundreds of years, this is the joyful feast of the people of God, where people of all genders, all ages, and all races—people in every type of body—each and all come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and gather about Christ’s table.