Summary: The Gospels have a communal as well as a personal dimention.
3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Pr. 4) June 1, 2008 “Series A”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, Creator of the universe and author of life on this planet we call earth, we give you thanks for our life, and the opportunity we have to live in communion with you. We thank you for your Word, first revealed to Israel through the Torah and the Prophets, and ultimately through the gift of your Son, Jesus the Christ. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts to your Word, that we might grow in faith, and through your grace, empower us to live in fellowship with you and with one another, that we might witness to your redeeming grace to those who come after us. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
What a joy it is, to again stand in this pulpit, as I attempt, through the help of God’s Spirit, to proclaim God’s Word to you. Now, one might think that having a couple of months off, even due to illness, that I would be refreshed, with my creative juices overflowing. But I assure you that, before I sat down at my computer, many hours were spent in thought. And even when I finally got to that point, I had to learn a few new tricks, since our old computer died during my illness, and the new computer just isn’t the same. Even the keyboard doesn’t seem to fit my hands the same way as the old one did.
And then I had to deal with the fact of following Josie’s sermon from last Sunday. There have been many lay persons from our congregation who have stepped into this pulpit, and delivered very good sermons, and last week was no exception. Even though Josie is my wife, which sometimes I interpret as a license to be more critical of her than others, which may explain why I wasn’t allowed to read her sermon before she preached it, she did an excellent job. But then, I let her read my sermons before they are preached.
But it is joy to be back. Even though I have to contend with the fact that my joy needs to be tempered with an even greater joy, experienced by Pastor Blair. I am indeed grateful that Ralph had agreed to, for the second time in less than a year, come out of retirement to serve our congregation as a result of my illnesses. In fact, Betty even mentioned to me last Sunday, on her way out of worship, that she was glad to see me back, indicating that the stress of active ministry has an effect on the whole family. And so I thank both Ralph and Betty for your service to St. John’s.
Now, as we turn to our Gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus concludes his extensive teaching of his disciples, referred to as his Sermon on the Mount, with these words: “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…” And then, Jesus tells the following parable: “Everyone then 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 that house, but it did not all, 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 – great was its fall!”
Those of you who are familiar with these three chapters of Matthew’s Gospel entitled the Sermon on the Mount, will realize that Jesus’ teaching of his disciples stresses a more stringent and radical observance of God’s commandments than even the Pharisees, those who at that time prided themselves in living a righteous life, adhered to.
In this block of Jesus’ teachings, a pattern can be detected. Jesus says, “You have heard… Then quoting from the Old Testament a certain commandment, Jesus offers his own interpretation of that commandment by saying, “but I say to you…” And what Jesus has to add to the previous commandment is more stringent. For example, in verses 27 and 28 of chapter 5, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Now I hate to admit it, but who among us can fulfill this teaching of Jesus? Even in my confirmation class I have heard our girls describe some rock star or teen star as “hot,” or some of our boys describe some female celebrity as “totally awesome.” The implication is, that even as a young adult, lust pervades our life, even though there is no way that we can ever hope of having a relationship with the person we find so endearing to us. Nevertheless, we all have all fantasies of lust.