Thursday, October 29, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

I love the LORD,because he has heard
my voice and my supplications.

Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.

So begins Psalm 116, and those two becauses jump out at me. On the one hand, they bother me a bit. Should I love God only if I get something out of it? But at the same time, how can I love God if I've never had any experience of God loving me?

I don't know that my experience is typical, but my growing up in church led me to think that being Christian was mostly about believing the right things. It was believing that this and that happened centuries ago. It was believing that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was somehow a good thing for me. And it was believing that believing all these things got me in God's clubhouse. But there wasn't a lot in my religious background that spoke about experiencing God. How was I to know whether or not God heard my voice or favorably listened to my requests?

We Presbyterians are sometimes called "the frozen chosen," but I don't think that our well deserved reputation for staid worship has much to do with my experience growing up. Instead, our position in the mainline, the dead-center of the culture made us such an integral part of that culture that God sometimes seemed to get lost. Mainline Christianity was about the ethics and values of the culture, about morality, about a philosophy that nurtured community and good citizenship. None of these things should be dismissed as unimportant, but they don't have a lot to do with God's ear inclined toward me, God rescuing me from the snares of death, or God keeping me from stumbling.

I don't for a moment doubt that many people in the congregations of my childhood had deep and moving encounters with the living God, but something about the way we did things and the habits we emphasized made it difficult for me to do so. And I think this remains a challenge for many congregations that came of age in middle of the 2oth Century.

I think it was Roy Oswald of the Alban Institute who I once heard say of mainline congregations, "People come to us seeking an experience of God, and we give them information about God." How do with share with them a little "because?"

Click here to learn more about the Daily Lectionary.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

In today's reading from Revelation, we meet "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" who "has conquered." I don't suppose this is all that surprising. John's vision is calling the faithful of his day to remain steadfast in the face of persecution and death because God will soon act. And the Lion of Judah as a stock way of speaking of the Messiah. What is suprising is that this Lion turns out to be a slaughtered Lamb.

Because of the violent imagery depicted in John's visions, some Christians envision a very different Jesus who returns at the end of time. In their view, the Jesus of gospels was meek and mild and went to the cross without protest. But when Jesus comes back, it will be different. He will be "kicking butt and taking names," as the saying goes.

Yet in Revelation we meet a Lamb instead of a Lion. And this Lamb has conquered by being slaughtered. And John calls for the Christians in Asia to conquer in the same manner, by remaining faithful even when it leads to death. It seems to me that seeing an avenging Messiah in Revelation is more the product of some readers' desires than it is what is revealed in John's vision.

The Apostle Paul writes of the cross as God's greatest demonstration of power, but we would still prefer God to act more like us. And just as people of Jesus' day rejected him because he did not exercise power the way they expected a Messiah to do, so many of us still hope for a sword wielding Jesus to show up and act just like the Messiah those 1st Century Jews expected.

Man, this cross business, this power made perfect in weakness thing, is sure hard to embrace. Why can't God be more like me?

Click here to learn more about the Daily Lectionary.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

The Daily Lectionary readings are currently visiting the Book of Revelation. Coincidentally, I am teaching a course on Revelation at Boulevard Church. I'm probably like a lot of other mainline Christians who don't very often read from this book (more of a letter actually). Like a lot of folks, I've probably let others define Revelation for me as a book of strange predictions about the future. But it really isn't, and our neglect of this work has more or less ceded it to the lunatic fringe.

Now Revelation does take some real effort to appreciate, but when you realize the dire situation of the churches to which it is sent, and when you spend some time with it, there is much there that isn't at all what you might expect. One of the things you notice when you read it all the way through - also the focus of today's reading - is how central worship is. We are repeatedly show scenes of heavenly worship, although that worship may not look exactly like what many of us are familiar with on Sundays. This worship is radically focused on God, offering up glory and praise over and over.

One of the most common complaints I hear about worship as a pastor is, "It just didn't feed me." Such complaints may indeed point to problems in a congregation's worship, but they also seem to envision worship as a place one goes to get something, rather than something one offers to God.

I've wondered this many times over the years. What would help us in congregations to see our worship directed more to God and less to those in the pews? How might we better understand ourselves to be serving God in our worship services?

Click here to learn more about the Daily Lectionary.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

What is it that binds people together? There are lots of bonds that form people into groups. There is the "blood is thicker than water" sort of bond found in biological families. Grandview Heights, the community in which Boulevard Presbyterian is located, has a strong sense of community rooted in school, neighborhood, and a small town feel. Many of us have loyalties and connections to schools we attended and can be distraught if "our team" loses. And of course there is national identity.

Jesus addresses the issue of identity and group bonds in today's gospel verses. When it is reported that his mother and brothers want to talk with him, he asks,
"Who is my mother and who are my brothers?" He then points to his disciples and says,"Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."

Now I don't think Jesus means that our family and other bonds no longer matter. But he does speak of a new bond, a new identity more crucial than family or nationality if we are to be the people God created us to be. That is to be his disciples, his Church. And clearly he is not talking simply about "believing" in him, but about emulating him and doing God's will.

When I grew up in my biological family, I learned from parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles about what it meant to be a Sledge. There were certain ways that we did things, certain things that were expected of us, and so on. Not acting as expected wouldn't get you kicked out of the family. You would still be loved and cared for, but ... And I think that our identity as Christians is not so different. God loves us and has claimed us as members of the family. But there are expectations, certain ways of doing things, ways of living in the world that go with being a Christian. These ways are about following Jesus, about doing God's will.

God's love is always there. But if we truly want to live as part of the family of Christ... well Jesus is pretty clear what that's all about.

Click here to learn more about the Daily Lectionary.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Nothing this Sunday

I'm returning from Parents Weekend at VA Tech, so no sermon post this week.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

Today's gospel reading speaks of Jesus as the fulfillment of words spoken by the prophet Isaiah. "Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until he brings justice to victory. And in his name the Gentiles will hope."

The term "Gentiles" doesn't have a lot of meaning for many of us, but for the Jews of Jesus' day, it designated them, those folks, people not like us. Jesus was a Jewish Messiah, and yet he calls his Jewish followers to reach out to those folks, to the Gentiles. It was not an easy task, and one of the first big fights in the Christian movement was over how to relate to these Gentiles. Many Jewish Christians thought that for Gentiles to join them in the Church, they needed to become more like Jews, to adopt the customs and practices of Jews.

That fight was settled long ago, but we Christians still have our Gentiles. We don't call them that. We call them the unchurched, secular people, spiritual but not religious, and so on. They are our neighbors, and more often than not, we would love to have them join us in our congregations. But we do expect that they will become like us, adopting our customs and practices.

As one thoroughly vested in the institutional church, I'm wondering just what it means to hear that in Jesus' name the unchurched, the secular folks, and the spiritual nomads will hope. And I'm wondering how I'm supposed to be a part of that hope.

Click here to learn more about the Daily Lectionary.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

In today's gospel reading, Jesus is having problems with religious folks. That's hardly worth noting seeing how often it happened. Maybe we've just become numb to it after hearing it so much, but there is something rather odd about how much Jesus runs afoul of the religious authorities. We sometimes obscure this by viewing the Pharisees and others as some sort of corrupt monsters. But in truth, they were part of a Jewish reform movement, and they probably functioned in many towns a lot like the local Protestant pastor once functioned in small town America.

Maybe we don't pay much attention to how Jesus troubled religious authorities, and how he violated the plain reading of Old Testament laws, because pastors such as myself are also "religious authorities, working to maintain a religious apparatus, to hold together some sort of consensus about what it means to be God's people. And folks like Jesus cause a lot of trouble when they show up at the church.

What are we to do with this Jesus who shows up proclaiming news so good that religious rules and customs can't be allowed to get in the way? Especially for me, a pastor who is part of religious institution, employed by one of its congregations, what does it mean to proclaim and follow someone who so often infuriated those trying to manage the religious institutions of their day?

I don't think such questions are unique to our time. I suspect that those who work in the church, as well as many church members, have always had occasions when the call to serve God gets distorted into serving the church. And the two are not one in the same.

I've always heard and believed that the most dangerous idols -- meaning anything that becomes a substitute for God -- are those that get dressed up in religious clothing. I'm not saying that the church is an idol, but it certainly can become one.

Lord, help me serve you; help me follow Jesus, even when that means running afoul of the church.

Click here to learn more about the Daily Lectionary.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

I hear and read a lot about burnout in the church. Pastors burn out and leave their pastoral vocation. Church officers, leaders, and volunteers burn out and step back from committees or boards or programs. Yet Jesus says, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." How to reconcile burnout in the church with Jesus' promise of rest?

Now granted Jesus says in other places that following him is difficult. He often asks us to stand at odds with prevailing culture, to love our enemies, to serve God before self, to reach out and embrace people different from ourselves, and so on. But Jesus seems to think that this should not leave us frazzled and feeling as though we are saddled with an impossible task

I know that I sometimes "stress out" because I measure things by the success dominated standards of our culture. But Jesus doesn't call us to be "successful," at least not according to the world's terms. Rather, he calls us to be faithful. Sometimes faithfulness is hard work, but it is a good sort of hard work that leaves you tired yet satisfied. And I think that the key in all of this is doing what Jesus calls us to do, which is not necessarily the same thing as doing the institutional tasks that often come to dominate congregational life.

What is Jesus calling you to do? Jesus has work for each of us, but it is work that soothes and satisfies the soul. "For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." What gentle yoke does Jesus have for you?

Click here to learn more about the Daily Lectionary.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sunday Sermon - "Who, Us?"

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

In today's gospel reading, Jesus condemns those towns where he has done great "deeds of power," but the people have not turned to him. It's easy for me to point fingers at the failure of others who see God at work but don't respond. However, I've noticed a similar tendency in my own life of faith.

If you are like me at all, you sometimes want God to speak clearly, to make plain what God would like you to do. I've complained to God on many occasions about how I could use some clarity. Yet when I get indications from God about what I should do, those moments when events and inner feelings point to some clear direction, I often hesitate. And as time goes by, the clarity fades. Sometimes I even become convinced that my earlier clarity was a mistake, a misunderstanding on my part.

You see this on a bigger scale sometimes when people have had profound faith experiences. Out of such experiences they may commit themselves to some work, get very involved in church work or some sort of cause. But often the initial excitement wanes over time.

When I look back over my life, I can recall quite a few moments when God was vividly present, when that presence led me to do things such as leave a career and go to seminary. Yet it seems that I have real capacity to lose contact with those times and events. It seems that my faith can lapse into a "what have you done for me lately" mode that robs those moments when God spoke clearly of a continuing power in my life.

Lord, keep me connected to all those times you've come powerfully into my life.

Click here to learn more about the Daily Lectionary.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Sermon - "Who, Us?"

A Stewardship sermon from John 20:19-23: We sometimes imagine that it takes towering people of faith to do great things, but in this reading, Jesus sends out trembling, frightened disciples to be his representatives in the world. He sends them just as the Father sent him. They certainly don't look ready, but Jesus seems to think that, with the Spirit's help, they'll do fine.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

I grew up in the South where, even today, religion is more a part of the culture than in my current home of Columbus, OH. The Columbus Marathon is this Sunday, and it will cause significant difficulties for those trying to attend worship here because the route passes close by on three sides of the church. This never would have happened in Charlotte or Raleigh, NC. Such an event would have been scheduled on a Saturday so as not to get all the church folks upset.

Sometimes I find myself a bit agitated by how little the culture in Columbus acknowledges the Church. I like to run an occasional 5k race, and I am astounded how many of them are on Sunday mornings rather than Saturday. But despite this, I am convinced that the fast fading era when attending church on Sunday was expected of respectable citizens did more harm to the Church than it did good. Especially in post WWII America, church became one hallmark of good citizenship, and in the process Christianity bargained away some of its authentic identity in exchange for the culture sending us worshipers on Sunday.

This strong connection between church and social respectability that was part of my upbringing seems hard to reconcile with Jesus' words in today's gospel passage. "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword... Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." Jesus speaks in the hyperbole common to the Middle East, but still, he clearly does not understand following him to mean supporting the status quo.

It is a real challenge for me, in my personal faith journey, to put Jesus above all else. My "all elses" are likely different from yours, but we probably share a few. Financial security is fairly high on my list. And while I am willing to be a bit "out there" with regard to some social justice issues and such, I still want to be respected and well thought of by people in my congregation and in my community. When I get other people mad at me it's usually because of bad social skills or from wanting things done my way, not because I'm so intent on following Jesus.

I wonder what the Church might look like if people like me worried less about whether or not the culture made it easy for us to worship on Sunday, and focused more on living a faith where absolutely nothing would come between us and following Jesus.

Click here to learn more about the Daily Lectionary.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

In today's gospel reading Jesus says, "A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master." That's a curious phrase, "It is enough." After all, we live in a world where there never seems to be enough. And I'm not only talking about our consumerist society, so focused on acquiring things. I'm thinking of my own faith life.

I am a pastor because, at one point in my life, I became absolutely convinced that God was calling me to do this. At age 35 I disrupted my family's life, left my career, and went to seminary in order to follow Jesus. But when it comes to actually being a pastor, I'm not sure that "it is enough... to be like the master." Jesus wandered about Palestine, collecting a small cadre of followers. He never made it all that big by my standards. He didn't make much money, didn't have a nice house, and he certainly was not an influential member of his community. The movers and shakers of his day did have him executed, you may recall.

And yet I expect that my call should leave me reasonably well off financially, with a decent retirement account. I have some expectation of a "career ladder." I started in a smaller congregation and moved to a bigger one. Strange the way that when God calls a pastor to move it's almost always to a church that pays a higher salary.

"It is enough... to be like the master." Jesus says it in other ways. "Take up your cross and follow me... Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Man, following Jesus is hard sometimes. But Jesus promises that somehow, "It is enough... to be like the master." Lord, help me know and trust that it is enough.

Click here to learn more about the Daily Lectionary.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

Spirituality is all the rage these days. Go into a bookstore and you will likely find a large assortment of books on the topic. Some will be Christian, some Jewish, some Buddhist, and some with no connection to any particular religion. I think it is wonderful that many Christians are rediscovering spiritual practices such as lectio divina, fasting, meditation, and so on. However, I sometimes find that much of this modern spirituality is almost solely focused on the individual.

I thought of this while reading today's passage from 1 Corinthians. The congregation at Corinth apparently loved to excel in spiritual practices and to acquire spiritual gifts. And speaking in tongues seems to have been one of the most esteemed gifts one could receive. But Paul, while he never condemns speaking in tongues, insists that spiritual gifts should be for the building up of the community of faith. For Paul, spiritual gifts and practices that only build up the individual are not nearly so important as those that build up the church.

Clearly some spiritual practices are, by their very nature, intensely personal. Times of private devotion and prayer should be a part of every life of faith. But there is a difference between personal and individualistic. Personal spirituality is wonderful when it serves to undergird a life of faith, but personal spirituality should not be an end in itself.

Perhaps that is a good way for me to evaluate my own spiritual life. How is my personal spirituality helping me to answer God's call for my life, nurturing me so that I can do the work God gives me?

How does your spiritual life support your life as a person of faith?

Click here to learn more about the Daily Lectionary.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sunday Sermon - "Links in the Chain"

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

If you have the occasion to attend weddings on a regular basis, then you probably know as well as I do that today's reading from 1 Corinthians is quite popular at marriage services. That's hardly surprising, considering Paul's soaring language on love, culminating with "And the greatest of these is love."

Many years ago when my wife and I were planning our wedding, we pulled out one of the pew Bibles in her hometown church to find Paul's words on love. I was something of a nominal Christian in those days, but I had a pretty good idea of where these verses were. Yet not matter how much I looked, I could not find them. I chalked it up to my own lack of biblical literacy, but I later discovered that I was looking in the right place. (I thought it was in 1 Corinthians but didn't know what chapter.) But the pew Bibles in that Southern Baptist Church were the old King James Version, and the word "love" never appears in 1 Corinthians 13. The chapter ends this way. "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." It is charity that never ends and charity that is patient and kind. (Actually it isn't patient but rather it "suffereth long.")

Western culture is enamored with love, but we often don't mean it the way the Bible does. Charity may not be the best translation, but the love spoken of by Paul is not the love of passion or feelings that most couples mean when they choose these words for their wedding. Rather this is the love that God has for the world, the love that causes Jesus to endure the cross, the love that leads him to say, "Father forgive them" while he is on that cross.

The love of passion is a gift from God, but many marriages would probably last much longer if couples focused a bit more on the sort of love Paul describes in 1 Corinthians. But even more, a lot of the partisan division and nastiness so common in our country could be greatly reduced if we realized that Paul is speaking more about our daily life with our neighbors than he is about marital relationships.

When Paul writes the Corinthian congregation, he is worried because he has heard of divisions and factions in that church. And he is not dispensing marital advice but advice on living in community when he speaks of love as kind and patient; not envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude; not insisting on its own way; not irritable or resentful. What might happen if we all took those words to heart in our day to day encounters with others, especially with those others who drive us crazy?

Click here to learn more about the Daily Lectionary.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday Sermon - "Links in the Chain"

A stewardship sermon from Hebrews 11:39--12:2 - Hebrews seems written to a congregation that is feeling inadequate and needs encouragement. And its author insists that we are connected to all the faith heroes of the past, that our struggles "perfect" or "complete" theirs. So too in our individual congregations, when we do our part, when we persevere, we perfect of complete the faith and work of those who went before us.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

Today is the funeral of a beloved member of Boulevard Presbyterian. And as in many other funerals, we will remember her, give thanks for her life, recall funny stories, and proclaim the hope of resurrection. And rather appropriately, today's gospel reading features Jesus raising to life a young girl who has died.

Now the theological purists out there may want to point out that this event is quite distinct from resurrection. It is instead a resuscitation of some sort. And that is true. But regardless, I still find the story most appropriate for this day. First, the story insists that Jesus/God cares about our human relationships. Jesus here restores a family to wholeness, brings a lost daughter back into her family, to love and to be loved. And second, death proves to be no barrier for God's desire to restore and make whole.

And so while resurrection may be something quite distinct from what happens in this story, resurrection is cut from the same cloth. God cares not just for our "souls" but for our lives, our very human lives with their relationships and the capacity to love and be loved. And whatever resurrection looks like, it will be more than some wispy immortality of our souls. It will be nothing less than the redeeming and making new of our very humanity. Thanks be to God!

Click here to learn more about the Daily Lectionary.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul has scolded the people for the divisions in their congregation, for failing to put the needs of fellow members ahead of their own. One particular problem that has come to Paul's attention: when they celebrate the Lord's Supper, members who get there early and have plenty of food and wine go ahead and celebrate without waiting, leaving poorer members with nothing when they finally arrive.

As he seeks to correct this behavior, Paul pens the words many churches still use with the Lord's Supper. "The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread..." Paul then goes on to remind those who eat the meal "in an unworthy manner" that they will be judged, saying, "For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves."

I have always been surprised, given how focused Paul is on divisions in the church and how he next commands the Corinthians to "wait for one another" at the Supper, that people so often understand Paul to be speaking about some mystical presence in the bread and cup. But "the body" that we are called to discern is the Church, that one body with many members. Paul is saying that any gathering for the Lord's Supper that is only concerned about self, that fails to discern the community of faith, does more harm than good.

Such words are particularly challenging for American Christians, with our individualistic focus. When I was growing up in the Presbyterian Church, I experienced the Lord's Supper more as private devotional moment than gathered community event. Even though we passed trays of bread and juice to our neighbors, we never looked them in the eye or spoke to them. We seemed to be together in a crowded space, but nonetheless still alone. It felt a bit like going to a movie theater. Lots of people might be there watching the movie at the same time, but there was no connection between us.

"For all who eat and drink without discerning the body..." How might I, how might you, do a better job of discerning the body of Christ that is the Church the next time we gather to break the bread and share the cup?

Click here to learn more about the Daily Lectionary.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

I just saw the September financial report for our congregation. It was quite disheartening. After going much of the year without seeing much negative impact from the economy, we now look to be running a significant deficit. Not what a pastor wants to see just as we head into this year's stewardship campaign.

"Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God." (from Psalm 42)

I think that one of the hardest faith pieces for me to keep in balance is striving to do my very best while, at the same time, relying on God's grace and providence. In my case, I tend to trust too much in my and other folks efforts. If things are going well it is because we are doing a good job. If they are not, it's because we aren't working hard enough or smart enough or something enough. If only we did a better job, if only we said the right things and had the right programs, people would flock here and all the members would be sacrificial in giving of their time and talents and resources. If only... and all the onlys seem to be about us.

Hope in God. That would seem to be the most natural thing for a Christian, and certainly for a Christian pastor. Yet too often, I seem to put it all on what I and others can or can't do. So where does God fit in all that? Perhaps today's tough times are calling me to trust less in self and more in God? If only I was a little better at it.

Click here to learn more about the Daily Lectionary.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sunday Sermon - "Concrete Faith"

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

From today's epistle reading: "Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other." Could there be a more counter-cultural statement? After all, I want to sell my stock when it is high, which means I hope to get someone else to buy it just before it goes down. I want to buy a new suit or TV or just about anything else when it's at a rock bottom price, or when someone else is losing money on it. I want excellent government services, but I would like someone else paying the taxes to fund them.

The other day a politician was speaking against requiring companies to provide maternity leave and stated that one reason for his opposition was that he didn't need it. He was male, or course.

I wonder what Christianity - and the world - would look like if we actually took the Christian message to heart, if we really worried more about others than ourselves. What if we worried as much or more about our enemies, our political opponents, our neighbors, the age group different from our own, and so on? What sort of community and world might we build? And might we just discover that we were all a lot happier, a lot more content, and a lot richer, even if our wealth was not about money? I wonder.

Click here to learn more about the Daily Lectionary.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sermon for October 4: "Concrete Faith"

A sermon from Luke 24:36-48, "Concrete Faith," kicks off this year's stewardship season. A lot of people think of faith and religion as disconnected from earthy, mundane, daily life. But Jesus comes "with skin on." Following him is about living out faith in the concrete messiness of everyday life.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

Today's gospel reading concludes the Sermon on the Mount. But for the life of me I can't figure out why those who set the verses for the Daily Lectionary started todays reading where they did. These words, "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,' " make a lot more sense when you add the verse that comes before. "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."

As Jesus concludes his sermon he insists on the necessity of living according to God's will. No amount of pious behavior or religious grandiosity will make any difference if it is not in service to what God wants. Or as Jesus says in the verse that follows, "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock."

I'm sure I've recalled this in some previous blog, but I can't help thinking about that old saying that was popular in the 60s. "If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" And based on what Jesus says today, such evidence would be found in whether we followed his teachings from the Sermon on the Mount. Those teachings include not being angry with fellow believers, not retaliating when injured or hurt, loving your enemies, realizing that you cannot serve God and wealth, not worrying about what tomorrow will bring, not judging others, and doing to others what you would like done to yourself. And Jesus concludes all these teachings by saying, "Calling me your Lord and Savior doesn't amount to a hill of beans if you don't do what I told you to do."

As a pastor, I have job that allows me to be busy with religious stuff all the time. I spend my days living out a call to follow Jesus. But am I doing God's will? Or am I just going around saying, "Lord, Lord" all the time? I suppose those are questions Jesus thinks we should all ask ourselves.

Click here to learn more about the Daily Lectionary.