Good morning, Christ Church!
The moment has come to conclude this series of weekly reflections. We are coming to the end of our season of transition. The Search Committee has completed their good work. The Vestry has extended the call. By God’s grace, John Kellogg+ is on his way. It is time to turn the page and focus our time, prayers, and energy on the next chapter in the life of Christ Church Washington Parish.
I will say again that I have thoroughly enjoyed taking part in these conversations and I thank you for taking the time to read and consider these reflections. I hope that they have been of some help in connecting us in the midst of all our present challenges. I will also say again that none of this would have been possible without the editorial skills of Laurie Gethin. Thank you, Laurie, for your hard work on our behalf.
I will close with the Prayer for the Parish as found in the Book of Common Prayer: Almighty and everliving God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth, hear our prayers for this parish family. Strengthen the faithful, arouse the careless, and restore the penitent. Grant us all things necessary to our common life, and bring us all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (817)
Faithfully in Christ,
The Rev. Rob Banse
“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 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 the house, and it fell – and great was its fall!
Matthew ends the Sermon on the Mount with this parable. Having proclaimed God’s word about the true nature of the Christian moral life to those gathered on that hillside, Jesus now offers an admonition: It is not enough to hear and meditate on all that he has just shared. His disciples must now put his words into action. Indeed, he goes so far as to say that anyone who has had the blessing of hearing this discourse in Matthew 5-7, and then opts not to act on it, is foolish. While they might want to believe that they are living into the state of blessedness described in the opening verses of chapter 5, nothing could be further from the truth.
I don’t know about you, but the message of this parable makes me uncomfortable. I would like to believe that I make an effort to live according to these words of Jesus. I think I understand that genuine discipleship is not a hobby to be practiced on Sunday mornings and then set aside for the rest of the week. (I am sure that you have heard the one about the parking lot after church on Sundays being one of the least Christian moments of the week. I have actually witnessed this first-hand on several occasions over the decades.) And I do believe that, in those many, many, many instances when I daily fall short of the mark, Christ in his love forgives me. After all, Martin Luther declared, “Justification is by faith alone.” That tenet is at the heart of all Reformation theology.
Luther of course was right, in that you and I can never earn our justification. We can never on our own work ourselves into God’s grace. That is why God sent God’s son. Justification is about faith. But, at the same time, we must realize that God’s grace always calls for a response on our part. To not act accordingly is to take the justification of God’s love in Jesus for granted. True discipleship is both about hearing the Good News Jesus came to proclaim, and then acting on that Good News.
This is what the author of James is after when he writes, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17) (By the way, Martin Luther despised the Letter of James. I think that we can see the reasons why.)
I think that it is this disconnect between faith and works that is also the basis for Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:21-23. It is those who actually do “the will of my Father in heaven” who will be recognized by Jesus when the moment comes. “Doing” implies both the primacy of faith and then proactively living and working in this world according to that faith. Trying to separate the one from the other is, in a word, foolish.
In his commentary, Klyne R. Snodgrass has this to say about the Parable of the Two Builders: “When will modern Christians realize that affirmation of faith is not enough and that true faith leads to obedience? Scripture seeks most of all that people hear the Word of God, but valid hearing obeys. We should remember that the Hebrew word for hearing is often translated as “obey.” Obedience will not happen without choices, commitments, and the Spirit-energized exercise of the will…Looking good is not good enough. Knowing right is not right enough. We must actually put into practice what we know is right.”
Otherwise, we are at risk. Without putting our discipleship into practice, we are building on sand. When the rains fall, the winds blow, and the floods come, will merely hearing Jesus’ words be enough to sustain us? Or does faith strong enough to endure all tests also require the discipline and work of putting his words into action in the course of our daily lives? This parable certainly seems to be telling us that it is only the latter that provides the necessary strength to stand.
My friends, it has been a real joy. My hope and prayer is that we will actually have a chance to be together again in the near future. We shall see. In the meantime, I encourage you to keep the faith, both in word and in deed!