Brother Joseph Brown, OHC
RCL - Proper 4 A - Sunday 01 June 2008
Romans 1: 16-17
Jesus flatly states: “Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord,' is going to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in Heaven.”
Now before I go any further I can hear the church on one side saying: “Hey! wait a minute!, Jesus wouldn't say that. He was totally all inclusive, would never reject anyone and even the title “Lord” is so un-Jesus-like. It has patriarchal overtones of domination and power over! That verse must have been an addition during the Constantinian Overthrow of the Primitive Church and propagated by the hierarchal model of Roman domination.”
Now, it would make everything so much easier if we could just dismiss the passages in scripture that we don't like. I think we could all make a list of the “hard sayings” of Jesus and through some method of “current” biblio-sociological scholarship, make them go away. The problem with that, for me, is that when you look at the verses folks would like to dismiss, it never includes the Sermon on the Mount.
Folks love the Sermon on the Mount. As well we should, it is the Law, the Torah, of Jesus. In it Jesus has given us the summary of the law and the prophets and the very base on which our moral life is built. Or should be built. It is the Sermon on the Mount that precedes our reading from the gospel today and it is the context in which Jesus gives us this hard saying. And it should make us squirm.
On the Mount, in Matthew, Chapter 5, Jesus has told us what we are to do if we are to call him Lord: We are to to be poor in spirit, we are to be meek, we are to be merciful, we are to hunger for righteousness, we are to be pure in heart, we are to be peacemakers, and if we are doing this right we are going to be persecuted. We are not to be resentful with a brother or sister, we are to defer to the other even when we are right, we are not to retaliate or take another to court in a lawsuit, look on another with lust, swear an oath, or dissolve a marriage. And then to make this even more difficult we are to love our enemy as ourselves. In Matthew 6, Jesus goes on to say: do not be pious in public just so people can see how religious you are, but do your charity in secret.
When we pray we are to keep it simple and quiet, and how we forgive others will be the measure to which we are forgiven. We will acknowledge Jesus as our Lord when we do not judge the intent of another, and are minding our own business. We are proclaiming Jesus as Lord when we trust in the will of His Father and turn the worries and concerns of our daily life over to him. And if we do that, ours is the Kingdom of Heaven. He clearly states that this will be hard and that the gate that leads to this life under his lordship is narrow, and not all will find it. He is saying “Here are the terms, do you accept?”
Jesus then gives us a guide with which to measure how we are doing: What are our fruits? Are they good, wholesome and life-given or nasty, rotten and poisonous. Matthew 7:19 states: “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, you will know them by their fruits.” Ouch. Jesus Christ has laid out for us in no uncertain terms what it means if we are to follow him as Lord. That is the context for today's Gospel. Now, I want to jump ahead to the second part of today's reading.
Here is a parable about building. In the Middle East, the home, literally the house, was the central core of one's life. The extent to which this is still true is evident by the fact that governments tear down a criminal's house. Much of the Old Testament is about acquiring the land of Israel, and that history continues today. So the parable of the house builder is a vivid sign. But, as in all parables there is a deeper, more personal meaning.
If the house represents our life, as it did for Jesus' hearers, the question becomes on what, or whom, are you building the foundation of your life? Because storms, floods and winds will come; emotional traumas, health crisis, death, unemployment, war, disillusionment, rejection and lost love are part and parcel of every human beings life. The monastic life is in no way immune from these events. Believe me, in someways the pain from these events can be even more pointed, because our life doesn't, or at least our life shouldn't, provide for the many distractions and “drugs” that are available to numb the pain.
The longer that I am here (and I am really just a babe in all this) the more I see that if I make anything other than Jesus Christ the rock on which I build this foundation of monastic life, I will be swept away and the fall will be great. I have seen it happen, and I know that unless I move daily, hourly, to make Christ the foundation of my life, I am lost. To paraphrase for myself today's hard saying it would read: Lord, Lord, did I not give up my career, my family, my relationships, sex, money, property and prestige?
Didn't I wear a white habit and receive communion everyday, and chant the psalms (maybe not always so great, but hey, I was trying!). He may say “Depart from me. I never knew you.” The danger is when we substitute the important for the foundational. It is important to be inclusive, it is important to live the monastic life with integrity, it is important to welcome guest and provide hospitality and be a loving listener. But the danger is when these become the foundation instead of Christ.
All of the incense, icons, Eucharist, devotionals, liturgy, scholarship, youth groups, social action committees or gracious guest house living means nothing if I am not feeding the hungry, tending the sick, visiting the lonely, (and not just writing a check so someone else can do it), burying the dead, forgiving my enemy (even the enemies that are in the church), making peace, and striving always to greater purity of heart in Jesus Christ. And that is the blessing or curse that God sets before us in today's reading from Deuteronomy.
If I listen to the words of Jesus and become a doer of the word, I will find blessing. If I just hear the words, give intellectual ascent, and make an excuse as to why the hard part doesn't really apply to me, whether it is because I am a good tither, or I can quote all scripture in the original language (KJV of course) or I am a pastor or I am a monk...Then I can't say that I didn't know. Am I going to choose to allow Jesus to be my Lord and Savior? As my Foundation? Am I going to, as the words of the Rule of Saint Benedict instructs his monks, “Listen with the ear of my heart to the Father that loves me?" I have set before me life and death.
“These are the terms. Do you accept?”