Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 2, 2002
The Gospel: Matthew 7:21-27
The Rev. Dr. William H. Morley
"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. 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.' "Everyone then who hears 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 beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell - and great was its fall!"
Sermon by the Rev. Dr. William H. Morley
Second Sunday after Pentecost - June 2, 2002
St. Matthew 7: 21-27: Foundation of Faith
One of the fondest memories I had of my oldest son Michael’s childhood, was his relationship with Butch and Phil, better known in 4 yr-old language as; “Birch” and Philm”. These gentlemen were the contractors I hired to finish off the basement of our McHenry, IL home and make it into a playroom/family room for the kids. Daily, Mike would sit for hours on the stairs leading to the basement watching Butch and Phil construct walls, wire and hang light fixtures, as well as using a “really cool” laser device to set the frame markers for the ceiling tile structure. He loved watching and talking with Butch and Phil, constantly asking them about what they were doing, why they were doing it, and how could he help. Thankfully, Butch and Phil were great guys who didn’t see Mike as a nuisance. Rather they saw him as an active learner and they really enjoyed the opportunity to educate a young mind on the joys of constructing something with their hands. Even to this day, besides watching programs like “This Old House”, “The New Yankee Workshop” and working part time at Sears in the tool department, Mike watches with amazement and enthusiasm the preparatory work and creation of rooms and furniture. Now, back to the basement story: sometimes Mike became impatient wondering how long it would take before he could see some progress (so did his Dad at times). However, Butch and Phil did help Michael (and me) understand how crucial these first steps are to the finished product. Although we may got impatient at times about how long it was taking to get our new family room completed, they knew they laid a good foundation…a good plan…to work from.
One day, early on in the construction period, Butch and Phil played a little joke on Mike and I think it is a great metaphor for today’s Gospel. They were carrying in bundles of 2x4’s. Mike would come by and stand in the middle of them trying to hold up the middle. They felt that it might be a bit hazardous for him to be there, so they decided to help him get the point. At one point, Butch pull 2x4’s out of the truck and swung around to tell Mike to stay back for his safety just missing Phil’s head. It looked accidental, but it was well scripted. Mike thought he knew better and insisted that he could really help. On the next trip, they went through the same drill and this time Butch swung and smacked a 2x4 in Phil’s forehead. Phil went staggering around acting the part of a victim experiencing considerable pain while in the midst of shadowing a big smile and profound “internal” laughter. Mike didn’t ask again to help.
Jesus tells those gathered around him:
“Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my father who is in heaven. 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 mighty works in your name? And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.”
This is a New Testament 2x4 right in the forehead! The sentence of judge, Jesus, on the Day of Judgment is extraordinarily sharp. “I never knew you”. Ouch! Jesus is telling his messengers that they should perform ONLY the work of the Lord. This is precisely what is meant when the apostles say: “in his name, or in the name of Jesus”. Just as Christ is present in each of us, he must also be at the core of our personal life as His messenger. Christ recognizes those who are wholly one with him.
Although Christ is with us and in us, WE must allow Him to guide our thoughts and direct our paths to truly serve Him. For it is in our actions of love that Jesus will know us, NOT our knowledge or profession of belief. The secure foundation for the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ is clear: “Everyone who hears my these words and does them will be a wise man who built his house upon the rock…” or in the words of St. Luke, “who dug deep and laid the foundation upon rock”.
My brothers and sisters, we have before us this a day a serious challenge: the words of Jesus are a call and a challenge to action in His Name. These words are not for mere teaching or for us to just understand them. That is not a sufficient response. Rather, Jesus wants us to embody them in the core of our souls and act on them with His love in our hearts.
Is it too late to change our ways? Is it too difficult a challenge? Can we live a life totally living out the Gospel message in every action and decision we make each moment of the day? These questions have grabbed my attention this week. As a human being, a single man, a father, a businessperson, and as a priest of the Church, am I living a life worthy of Christ’s calling? Yes, No, Maybe…?
I know that Jesus loves me unconditionally…. that’s the meaning of Grace. I call him Lord, but do I obey his teachings? Do I do what he tells me? These are the 2x4’s of living the Christian faith. We’re each surrounded with God’s love, but how do we/I live our/my life worthy of the great sacrifice that Jesus made for me on the Cross?
Can I take God’s great test of me? This idea of taking a “test” reminds me of this story:
Once upon a time, a college student who was taking the course in ornithology, which is a study of birds? This class in ornithology had the reputation of being the most difficult class in the whole curriculum. And the professor was an extremely difficult professor. Everybody feared him. But it was a required course and every student had to take it.
As the course began, the professor announced there would be a test in 40 days and it would compose a large portion of the grade. Needless-to-say, you had to do well on that test. Everybody studied. They took copious notes. They made sure they understood everything the professor said.
On the 40th day the students filed into the lecture hall with sweaty palms, extremely nervous. On the stage was a table with 5 cages on it. Each cage had a cover and beneath the cover they could see the feet and spindly legs of a bird.
At the sound of the bell, the professor addressed the students, “Here’s the test. You can see there are 5 birds and they’re all covered except for their feet and legs. You must tell me the identity of each of those 5 birds by looking only at their feet and legs.”
Everyone had studied long and hard, but no one had anticipated such a test. As you looked around the exam room, the students were all sweating, trying to remember something, anything that could help them pass the test.
Finally, one “brave” student stood up and said, “This is ridiculous. This is the craziest test I have every seen, and you’re the worst professor in this whole school.” He said, “I quit. I‘m out of here. I’m not going to take this test.” And he turned and walked toward the door.
“Just a minute young man.” said the professor. “Who are you? I demand your name right now.” The young man stopped, took a long look at the professor, and then pulling up both of his pant legs said, “You tell me."
Thankfully, God is not the “narcissistic professor”, but sometimes it feels as though he’s asking us to take a test that seems far too difficult for us to manage. So, I asked myself this question: “what can we do to prepare myself better for the final exam on Judgment Day?” It was in the process of pondering this question that I began to recall the memories of Mike and Lauren’s childhood and how we developed their faith “foundation”.
As I recalled, in the faith development of people, the first five years are pivotal. It is in the first five years of life that children need to know that they are loved unconditionally, that they are secure, that they are of valued and that God loves them. The foundations built in the home in which this child is growing and living is essential if they are to grow in faith. The faith lived and spoken of by parents is “breathed in” -- experienced by children and becomes the basis for their faith. Faith experienced as a child is the foundation for all of life. As parents and adults in these children’s lives, it is our privilege and responsibility to be about building these foundations. It is our task to build assets into the lives of children, to speak and share our faith so that in later years they have a faith that is alive and active.
Barbara Colorosa speaks of the Six Critical Life Messages that all children and youth need to hear:
· I believe in you
· I trust you
· I know you can handle it
· You are listened to
· You are cared for
· You are very important to me
She reminded me that these are the essential foundations that must be laid and built upon in order for a child to grow and mature as a healthy, well-adjusted human beings, much less a big kid…ME!
This is not new. In Deuteronomy we read that we are to “put the words of the Lord in your heart and soul . . .. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” When is that? All the time. We are to live and breathe the words of the Lord and in doing so; we lay the foundation of faith in our children that will serve them to old age and everywhere in between. If we live and breathe the words of the Lord our foundations will have been laid and we will be able to speak the words of Psalm 31 in times of difficulty, “In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.”
Without well-laid foundations, houses collapse, health is compromised and struggles in life result in destruction rather than weathering the storms. There is nothing sadder in my pastoral work than dealing with a family at the time of a funeral when they suddenly realize they have no foundation of faith to carry them through the difficult time of the death of a loved one. They may know “about” Jesus but do not know and trust Jesus, nor does Jesus know them. Foundations that needed to be laid years before are not there when they are needed. And so we try to salvage what hope we can, and throw ourselves upon the mercy of God.
The season of Pentecost is concerned with the way in which the Holy Spirit is active in the life of a believer. The lessons focus on faithful obedience to the will of God rather than lip service. Today, we hear Jesus talking about two men who built houses, one built on rock and the other on sand. No doubt, building on sand was easier, and the houses may have looked similar, but the foundation determined which would stand up to the storm. Jesus was surrounded by lots of people who said all the right things but whose lives did not match the words. You need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. We are to hear the word of Jesus and act on them.
It is not so important that we “know Jesus” or know “about” Jesus but it is essential that Jesus “know” us. It is our actions, our living out our faith, that Jesus knows us. “When you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.”
For those who live and breathe the words of the Lord, for those with a well-laid foundation, faith active in love is a natural occurrence. Jesus has told us to bear fruit. Right actions naturally grow out of good foundations. Why does a tree bear fruit? Not out of fear of punishment of hope of reward but simply because this is what fruit trees do. Something inside of the tree says, “Grow apples” and the fruit naturally appears. This is the way God works with us humans. His love so changes us that good deeds spontaneously and naturally come forth. Works do not save us, but works are the expression of the gracious forgiveness of God and the gift of love that is placed within us. Those who would claim to be Christian will demonstrate their Christianity by their faithfulness.
The season of Pentecost is a time to consider the foundations we have the opportunity to be establishing in the children we are blessed to have in our midst. It is also time to consider the foundations that need to be shored up. It is a time to consider the foundations upon which our lives have come to depend. If the words of the Lord are in our hearts, they become the driving force of our lives. If their place has been assumed by something else, it is time to do some renovation.
The faithful are invited to love the Lord, to be strong and courageous. In the words of Psalm 31:
“Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,
for you are my crag and my stronghold.
Be strong and let your heart take courage,
All you who wait for the Lord.”
So, as you leave here today, keep in mind that God has tested many before us. How about Noah? Maybe we can learn something from today’s Top Ten list for this Sunday morning, entitled: ‘All I will ever need to know I learned from Noah”
Ten Don’t miss the boat.
Nine Remember that we are all in the same boat.
Eight Plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the Ark.
Seven Stay fit. When you’re 600 years old someone may ask you to do something really big.
Six Don’t listen to critics; just get on with the job that needs to be done.
Five Build your future on high ground.
Four Speeds isn’t everything; the snails were on board with the cheetahs.
Three When you’re stressed, float awhile.
Two Remember amateurs built the Ark, the Titanic by professionals.
One No matter what the storm, when you are with God there’s always a rainbow waiting