Sunday, May 11, 2008

I hear. Do I obey?

     Last summer, I had the distinct pleasure of working with one of the luminaries of the Anglican/Episcopal universe, Rev. Canon Dr. Michael Green. I say distinct pleasure because Michael's entire life is a sermon. And, as a six-preacher at Canterbury, you can imagine what his spoken sermons and teachings are like. The other reason it is a pleasure is because Michael was teaching the clergy and laity in attendance about the Gospel of Matthew, and I always love to work ahead whenever possible. One of Michael's passions is Matthew's Gospel. In particular, Michael spent a great deal of time teaching us about the ethical demands of the Christian life as laid down by Christ Himself in the Sermon on the Mount. Indeed, one of Michael's foci was on our very readings over the last two weeks. What made the teachings instructive was Michael's perspective. As a Brit who has served in congregations in the South of the United States, Michael was able to draw some interesting comparisons between the hearers of Christ's Sermon on the Mount and many American Episcopalians (if not "Christians").

     In the sections of the Sermon which we have read the past few weeks, Jesus has asked His audience some uncomfortable questions. Actually, the questions are innocent enough; it is our answers to His questions which may cause our discomfort. Jesus asks us this week if we are wise or foolish. But before He asks us the question, He defines the difference between the wise and foolish person. The wise person builds on Him; the foolish person builds on anything but Him. The consequences for the foolish are catastrophic, while the consequences for the wise are, in the end, comforting and sure. Each of us has a choice, Jesus declares. We can be wise or we can be foolish. What do you choose? So Jesus leaves the crowd, and often us, astounded by His teaching.

     Though many of us want to be wise, what does it mean to build our house on His rock? How can we build a life on Jesus? The whole point of the Sermon has been to answer that question. The answer to how we build our houses on Jesus is the same as it was in the Old Testament: to hear and obey. We are called, as His disciples, as His brothers and sisters, to hear and to obey. The modern world and many churches, unfortunately, are full of vacuous "God Talk." In many places, people hear ad nauseum about God. What God calls us into, however, is radical servanthood, a radical relationship. That is best demonstrated by hearing Him and obeying His call to practical and generous obedience. The obedience demanded by God always has profound effects upon the lives of His disciples. Our characters are transformed through obedience (5:11-12); obedience affects our influence (5:13-16); obedience demonstrates itself through practical righteousness (5:17-48); obedience grabs hold of our devotional life (6:1-18); obedience radically transforms our ambitions (6:19-34); obedience alters our relationships (7:1-12); and obedience testifies to the world that the disciple is a true servant of the King (7:13-27).

     Upon what or whom do you build your life? When I first arrived at St. Alban's, I asked the Vestry if the community around us would miss us if we closed up shop. As it turned out, many in our immediate community did not even know that we existed. Two years later, I am certain that question would have a much different answer. People may not come to our church yet, but they sure know we are here and that we are here to serve. What of that question as it is applied to your own life? Were you to tell your family members, your co-workers, your
neighbors, your friends that you were a wise disciple of Christ, would they believe you? Or would they, instead, scoff and disbelieve? Our obedience to His word is often the best sermon anyone will ever hear about the redeeming God who calls all humanity into relationship with Him. Our responsive practical and generous obedience to His offer of salvation is often the most profound hint of the Kingdom to which our Lord and Savior calls everyone.

Christ's Peace,

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