EVERYONE THEN WHO HEARS
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There’s a phenomenon whereby Christians tend to say drive a little bit differently if we have a Jesus fish on the back of our car, or a bumper sticker that says “Jesus Loves You” or something similar. It tends to cut back on the road rage. It’s similar to taking Wheel-Trans to church and when the driver knows you’re going to a church, you may tend to be more gracious in say voicing a complaint or a concern when we might tend to be feeling a little less gracious. This all speaks to the idea that being a follower of Christ should result in something. That there is an ethical component that goes along with what we declare with our mouths and what we hold in our hearts. It’s an idea that’s so foundational that I’m sure that even those with little or no familiarity with the Christian faith have the idea that to follow Christ should mean something significant in our here and now.
People are quite right to believe this. We are quite right to believe this. It’s not just about hearing Jesus’ words, though it is about that. Availing ourselves of the opportunity to hear Jesus’ words. Let anyone with ears to hear listen, was Christ’s call. Jesus’ brother James reminded us that we’re not to stop at hearing, but to be doers of the word. That to take Jesus’ words seriously means something to our identity and that living in the kingdom of God looks like something.
And we want to be a community of faith that takes Christ’s words seriously don’t we? At the beginning of each year for the past three years, we have looked at an aspect of spiritual formation. We have looked at an aspect of what it means to be formed in the image of Christ – to be becoming more and more like Christ. This was often Paul’s prayer for the churches he wrote to. He told the Ephesians how thankful he was for their faith and for their love for the saints. He tells them “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (Eph 1:17-19)
Paul goes on to tell these followers of Christ what has happened – “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph 2:8-9) The gift of grace. And then this – “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Eph 2:10) Made alive in Christ for a way of life.
Christ’s body. God preparing things for us to do. Being transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit is always key. We’re not talking about looking within ourselves to find some inner or hidden reserve of virtue. We’re talking about what it means to live lives worthy of our calling. Virtuous lives. Impossible we might say. A quaint word – virtue - but terribly old fashioned we might say. Impossible, we might say, because we know ourselves. We know what goes on in the deepest darkest recesses of our hearts.
And yet God calls us to be his body. The Holy Spirit dwelling in us, empowering us to fulfill this mission. What might this look like for us? What might God call us to? What good works might God have prepared for us as a people, as individuals to do? Why base our life on Christ at all?
If there is one thing that is common to the human condition, it is that we all want a good life. We all want to thrive. We want those who are closest to us to thrive. The book that we’re basing this series on in fact called The Good and Beautiful Life. Over the last few years, we’ve looked at The Good and Beautiful God, through which we examined the nature of God. Last year we looked at The Good and Beautiful Community, which examines what it means to be a community of Christ followers. This year we’re looking at what it means for us as individuals to be living our lives in the reality of the Kingdom of God. Living lives in which we are being formed by the Holy Spirit and reflecting Christ’s ways. Reflecting Christ’s teaching. Taking Jesus’ words seriously.
Because we want to be serious about this whole Christ following thing right? Whyever would we want to do this? Look at what Christ tells his followers at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. A sermon that we’re going to looking at over the next several weeks. A sermon in which Christ tells those who would be his followers what it looks like to follow him in terms of how our lives are lived in relation to God and in relation to one another. “And everyone 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 the 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!”
No matter where we stand on Jesus or what we think about Jesus, everyone builds their houses on something. We can all understand this image. If your house is not built on a solid foundation, you see cracks appearing in the brick or in the drywall (I know from personal experience). Note that the concern here is not about the building materials which are used or how they are used – it’s all about what the house is founded on. In Israel heavy rains come from November to March. You might find some ground that looks good, that seems like a good place to build. Dry. Sunny. Things change when the rains come and water starts flowing down the formerly dry land and the winds come. We’re talking about the storms of life. We all have them. If you haven’t experienced them you will. What narrative are we going to follow? What constitutes a good and beautiful life?
We hear many competing narratives as we go through our days. The good life consists of being able to do whatever we want to do. Imagine the freedom, goes a certain tagline. $1000 per day for the rest of your life! Your value is based on what on what you look like. Your value is based on how much you produce and how much you consume and if you consume our product then you’re living the life. If you don’t look a certain way you are worthy of shame and will be shamed mercilessly – especially online. We all call someone or something “Lord”. Oftentimes it’s ourselves. Jesus is saying that such thinking and such acting leads to ruin. If you’ve known what it’s like to base your life on the false premise that it is in being able to do what you want that true freedom lies, then you know what I’m talking about. I’ve had a taste or two of that and it wasn’t very sweet.
So build your life on the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s how part of a song I used to sing when I was a kid went. The wise man built his house upon the rock. Call Jesus Lord. “My Lord and my God” is how Thomas put it. “And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” is how Elizabeth put it. How is it that the God of all creation would incline himself toward us in the person of his son? How is it that God would bring us and indeed all of creation back to him in the life and death and resurrection and ascension and promised return of his son? How is it that God would send his Spirit to live in Christ’s followers? The invitation is there for us to accept. To live by faith life the way it was meant for us to live it – alive in Christ.
What does this life look like? To be transformed by the Holy Spirit of God into the image of his Son, as we said. To live lives that are reflective of the light. To be light, as Jesus says in this sermon. In this light is life. The Holy Spirit is central here. In his book, Smith writes of three things that influence how we live in the light of Christ. The first is the story that we live under. The story of Christ and what Christ taught. How this story informs our own stories. The second is the community that we are surrounded by. We are not called to do this Christ-following business on our own. We talked at Christmas how greater understanding is reached when two people who have had transcendent experiences (or religious experience if you like) get together. We saw it with Mary and Elizabeth. We see it with Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch. With the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. We get together because in doing so we come to a greater understanding of what Christ’s words mean in our lives.
Thirdly, we exercise. Smith calls them soul-shaping exercises. We wait for the fullness of the Kingdom of God to come. We wait actively. If physical training is of some value how much more is spiritual training? We train together when we meet week by week. We train when we gather in groups of two or more. We train individually in the many ways we do that. We’ll be talking about exercises we can do as we gather on Sundays and through the weeks in our small groups. We’ll be starting a new group that is focussed particularly on spiritual formation. The value of soul-shaping exercise in living a good life. A kingdom life.
In living lives in which we are growing into our Father’s kingdom. Our Father’s reign. If we’re looking at Jesus’ words, we need to start there. This was Jesus’ constant message. We read in Mark 1:14 when Jesus began his ministry – “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” The kingdom of God has come near. Turn to God and believe. This is the same thing that Jesus taught his disciples after his resurrection. He stayed with them for days teaching them the kingdom of God. It’s the same thing with Paul at the end of the book of Acts. He was there proclaiming the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is one of those great mysteries of the faith. One of the great tensions of the faith. The kingdom that has come, that comes is to come. The kingdom for which we pray. The reign of God. The reign which is characterized by love, by grace, by welcome, by compassion, by justice. The kingdom that is for all of creation.
The kingdom in which we find fullness of life. Life lived the way God created us to live it. This is what we’ll look at over the coming weeks. Kingdom life and what it means for us. The kingdom whose only qualification to enter is to confess our need for God. Someone has said, “Humble self-abandonment is quite enough to give us God.” As we go through these weeks together may God give us a deeper understanding of what it means to live under the reign of Christ.