Thursday, December 3
Max De Pree (1924-2017), a well-known American businessman, leadership author and graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, was fond of saying that beliefs shape practices. He suggested if you want to know what you truly believe, you only need to examine your behaviors. Today’s reading in McCausland’s Order of Divine Service comes from Matthew 7:21-27, which marks the end of Jesus’s beloved Sermon on the Mount (Chapter 5:1 – 7:27). These latter Gospel verses are indeed all about our words and our actions and the foundation upon which both are based; something that has been occupying my thoughts these recent weeks.
Jesus tells his disciples in the opening passage of today’s reading, “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.” Words and actions.
Dr. Richard Beaton, also of the Fuller Theological Seminary, provides a wonderful interpretation of today’s Scripture passage.
What De Pree is getting at is that we all have a set of assumed beliefs; what we think we believe. And then we have our real beliefs, which are revealed in our behaviors. A person can say, “I believe in truth, it is a core commitment of my life.” But in difficult circumstances the same person may lie to gain an advantage. Their real belief or core value is not truth, it is something else. For Christians in the West we affirm and make much of doctrinal statements, views on social justice, poverty, or even what it means to be truly spiritual. Our challenge, however, is to align our practices – the behaviors of our workaday lives – with our stated beliefs. It seems that this is the same problem that is articulated by Jesus here in Matthew.
This is a powerful passage that gets at the heart of Jesus’ message. To be a follower of Jesus means that behaviors and actions – the manner in which we live out our daily lives – are the artifacts of the inner life of faith. More to the point, mere words, performance of deeds, even miraculous ones done in the name of Jesus, or random deeds of mercy will not affect one’s eternal destiny. Religiosity (an excessive or affected religious zeal) will not help either. This will no doubt come as a surprise for many. And it raises the question, if these charismatic elements that seem to evince an alignment with Jesus and his movement do not demonstrate that a person is an insider, then what does? What does indeed?
Dr. Beaton then draws our attention to the closing verses (Matthew 7:24-27) to answer this question.
Jesus closes the Sermon on the Mount with the story of two people and the houses they have chosen to build. The metaphor of the building to describe a life is particularly powerful. One person hears Jesus’ words and acts on them, putting them into practice. The other hears Jesus’ words and doesn’t act on them. Two people, two responses to Jesus’ message. The first person is like a house that has been built on a rock. Its foundation is strong and secure and can withstand any assault. The second is like a house built on the sand. Its foundation is weak and unstable and will eventually be destroyed by the storm. This final story summarizes the entire Sermon on the Mount. The message is clear: discipleship occurs in the everyday practices of Jesus’ followers. …. Or to put it another way, becoming a follower of Jesus is to decide to become a member of his society and is marked by a willingness to live one’s life according to the values and beliefs of that society. One becomes part of the people of God. Jesus’ invitation is an invitation to an encounter with God and a different way of living life. This life will provide not only strength in the present to withstand the various storms that come our way but also the final great storm that sees us through to an eternity with the Lord, to and for whom we have lived a life of devotion. (June 1, 2008)
Trying to be this “insider” challenges us, paradoxically, to adopt a real and more extroverted orientation in following our Lord. It is indeed for many a different way of living life. And it is comprised of two components: words and action. When I say The Creed, I try to use this statement of belief as a reference point to guide my actions in the days ahead. It is a challenge of course as some of my daily encounters – the storms referenced in Matthew’s account – will no doubt truly test the matching between what I have done and what I profess as my beliefs. Then, thinking back to the instructions I received at the Dismissal of the recent Sunday worship service – “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” – I realize a need to pray to the Holy Spirit for strength in my next “storm encounter” so that such a gap may appear less frequently in my future efforts to secure a different way of living my life according to the values and beliefs which our Lord is calling us to adopt in this world.
A strong foundation for our life, as described in today’s reading, is rooted in our faith and trust in Christ. Think of the “house” in today’s reading, as your life. Its construction is carried out day-by-day, year by year and life stage to life stage. God calls on us in the course of building this house to act in a responsive manner to his Word. We are called on to enjoin our words that express faith in God to our deliberate actions that are in keeping with Jesus’ teaching as seen not only in the Beatitudes but elsewhere in the Gospels. Our experiences in building our “house” will face various degrees of storminess. When these challenges threaten to overwhelm the sturdiness of our lives, we know that our faith and trust in God will secure our ability to continue as disciples of Christ willing to serve him to the best of our ability through our deliberate actions that are pleasing to Him and of benefit to those whom we hold dear to our hearts and those we may not know but are also His children.
I can ask myself, “How does my relationship with the Lord
influence my decisions and ask for the Lord’s help with it?”
I am invited to listen to the Lord and the different ways the Lord speaks to me.
The message is – “Speak, Lord your servant is listening.”
not, “Listen Lord, your servant is speaking.”
I pray for the freedom to listen and to respond as the Lord desires.
(from Sacred Space, a ministry of the Irish Jesuits)