May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
As you all know, like lent, advent is a penitential season, a season of confession and contrition. This morning I need to confess to you one of my recent discoveries. You see I remember as a teenager getting so cheesed off with my Dad. He constantly irritated me, claiming some kind of wisdom based on life experience and expertise, that teenage me just couldn’t appreciate, because, and I wasn’t sure why my Dad couldn’t see this, I knew everything. Anyone else had this experience? Well, now all these years later, I’m in the role of Dad for my kids who can’t quite understand how I don’t recognise that they in turn know everything. Helping them with their maths homework, I had to remind one of my son that perhaps I did know what I was on about given that I had taught maths and tutored maths since before they were born. Eventually, once we fight through their frustrations with me and with the subject, we normally get there. And in those moments when I think of my Dad I do tend to think “Dad, all is forgiven!”
So often, particularly as adults, we often act like we are the petulant children, and we forget some of the hard truths that Jesus shares and that are often highlighted in Advent. You see one of the reasons for the season, as it were, is to seriously ask ourselves how do we measure up to the message of Jesus to us? Because, and we don’t like to focus in on it, Jesus was serious about the dangers of not following Him well. In our gospel reading we hear the end portion of the sermon on the mount, probably the best know continuous part of teaching from Jesus, alongside perhaps the farewell discourse in John, which should really challenge us to assess our faith in humility, and not like teenagers who think they know best.
Jesus says, “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.” In fact, and for some reason our lectionary misses out the next two verses, probably because they make the reading harder, He goes on to say “on that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.”
This is followed by that famous parable of the house built on the rock and the house built on sand. Those who have built their house “these words of mine” He says has built a house on strong foundations and those who have not, who have ignored these words are going to crash down and be destroyed. Anyone uncomfortable yet? I know I am. This is a rather uncomfortable place to be, isn’t it? So the question that rose in my mind, was to look at the words Jesus had spoken during the last two chapters of Matthew, that cover the sermon on the mount and to try and summarise it. Here is the list I drew up. In short, the sermon talks about:
The beatitudes blessed are poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers and the persecuted.
· Be salt and light.
· Jesus not abolishing the law.
· Make peace with everyone.
· Lusting after someone is adultery.
· Don’t divorce except because of adultery.
· Don’t make oaths.
· Don’t retaliate but turn the cheek.
· Love your enemies.
· Give secretly.
· Pray secretly.
· Fast secretly
· Don’t store treasures.
· Be full of light.
· Cannot serve God and wealth.
· Don’t worry
· Strive for the Kingdom
· Don’t judge others.
· Don’t give what is holy to dogs
· Ask and seek and knock for what you need
· Love your neighbour as yourself
· Enter the narrow gate
· You will know false prophets by their fruit.
How many did you fail or have failed? For me, and we are in a season of confession, I am struggling or have struggled with lots of the words that Jesus spoke. They are really quite hard to do. But here is the thing. If you feel uncomfortable, that is a good thing, even if it doesn’t feel like it. When I was a teenager who thought I knew everything, it was in those uncomfortable moments that I grew, it was in those uncomfortable moments that I ate of that enriching yet bitter food, humble pie. And it was in those uncomfortable moments that were formational to who I am today.
So how should we approach this problem? Firstly, remember the core message of Jesus right at the beginning of Mark. He says “repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near”. When we get things wrong, when we are ready to grow, we say sorry. That is what a season like Advent is all about. All of us, all of us, have messed up at different points in our lives and dare I say, probably even today. Because when we do, God forgives us, and we get to try again, and mess up again and through His Spirit we get a little closer. Keep these sayings, as objectives rather than feeling the need to do it all at once. Our discipleship journey is where we hope to get closer to these ideals and that isn’t achieved overnight. As I often say to my boys when they see a mountain of work and can’t see how they can do it all, ‘don’t try to climb a mountain by jumping straight to the top, to climb a mountain you need to take small steps’. Finally, we need to trust God that He will lead us, if we have the humility to ask for His help. This is a continuing battle, but one that is won not in our own power but in submitting to His. Our journey in life, isn’t living in the house we built rather it is building the house now over the course of our lives, on the rock, so that we can be welcomed in when Jesus comes again.
So be encouraged, being uncomfortable is a way we grow. Resist that urge to fight against the wisdom of Christ, but in humility ask for His help and seek repentance always as we grow in faith. One day, when He comes again, if we have built our home on the rock, we will be able to live the way the sermon on the mount describes perfectly, in His power and not our own, having come of age in our own discipleship, no longer teenagers who think they know everything.