In the name of Jesus; amen.
Many of you know that the church I served before coming here was at the Jersey Shore. The church building was located 1 ½ blocks from the beach so sometimes, when I had a chance to take a break, and the weather was nice I would kick off my shoes and take a walk to stick my toes in the ocean. It was certainly a perk of the job. I would stand just where the waves would gently lap my feet and enjoy the view.
The thing about standing in the surf is that no matter how firmly you plant your feet you eventually start to sink into the sand.
Jesus said: 7:21 "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. 22 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?' 23 Then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.' 24 "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 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. 26 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. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell--and great was its fall!"
While I loved living so close to the ocean I missed the lack of history at the shore. Nothing was permanent. Few buildings at the shore were over 20 years old because they just didn’t last. The sea air corroded everything and heavy winds and rains eroded everything away. There were no cemeteries at the shore; one either had to go far inland to burry their dead or scatter their ashes at sea.
And the crazy thing is that every year more and more people built homes worth millions of dollars as close as they could to the water’s edge, right on the sand.
Sometimes people build their lives on the sand in hopes of being close to the beauty of the ocean and in the process the beauty they hope to get close to eventually destroys them instead.
The question we have to ask is how firm is our foundation? What materials have we used to build our lives and our community of faith?
Jesus says a very serious thing. He says that not everyone who calls him Lord will be saved. He tells us that only those who do the will of the Father will go to heaven.
It goes against most universalistic sensibilities. In a world of pluralism where we are surrounded by all different kinds of people who worship and believe all different kinds of things most of us only half believe this statement. And as Lutherans, we don’t like the whole “You gotta do something in order to be saved.”
So, at first glance, this text seems troubling and I’ll be honest: Matthew is my least favorite Gospel for just this reason. He will push us, until sometime in November, to examine just what it means to be a believer. For Matthew, faith is active; it requires action, not just some esoteric belief. Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew wants us to do something.
And I think it has to do with history. Now I know that, of the four Gospel writers, Luke is considered the historian. But Matthew was writing his gospel to a Jewish audience and the Jewish people have an appreciation for history. They are constantly reminded in scripture of where they came from; that they were slaves in Egypt and that it was God who rescued them and took them to the Promised Land.
Our first reading begins: “You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. 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. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.”
The words that God gave them were all about their history of the Exodus out of Egypt and why they should therefore “Love the Lord your God.”
What God had done for them was to be their reason for “loving God, keeping his charge, his decrees, his ordinances, and his commandments always.”
God had built their faith on solid rock, and they were not to forget it.
So what has our faith been built upon? Jesus’ message for us is not much different than the message from Deuteronomy: our faith must be built upon the saving acts of God and acted upon. We can’t just use Jesus’ name and think that’s enough because anyone can say the name of Jesus. It’s like building a home at the shore, right on top of the surf and expecting it to stand forever; it just doesn’t.
Believing in Jesus requires doing more than getting close to the view. Belief in Jesus means knowing about our history of salvation, it means knowing that Jesus came to save us, died to save us, and was resurrected to save us and then living our lives based upon that history.
Matthew is a cautionary gospel. His Jesus denies people without faith; his Jesus sees right into the heart of people and knows if they are striving for the ocean view or if they are striving to love and honor God who saved them.
Some could argue that means that salvation requires more than faith, but loving God and honoring God’s desires for us is faith. We can’t just be Christians by saying that we are Christians. Being a Christian is an action, not an adjective. It’s not a word that describes us like redhead or short and it’s not just a word that describes our character like: nice or helpful. Christian is a word that describes our beliefs and how we act them out.
Christian is a word like Mommy; it requires more than just a biological happenstance. (And those of you who are parents know just what I’m talking about.)
The Good News in Matthew is that God has laid the foundation for us to build upon. God has given us the solid rock on which to be Christians and that is Jesus Christ our Lord.
We may not always get the nicest view, in fact sometimes our rock gets planted in the worst of places, but if we build on it, where God has placed it, nothing will be able to break down our house of faith.
Rains will fall, floods will come, and winds will blow and beat upon us, but upon the solid rock of Christ we will not fall.