Most high school seniors are lucky if they get into their second, third or even forth choice of college. It used to be that if you had good grades, high SAT scores, and did some extra-curricular activities then you were pretty much guaranteed a spot in the college of your choice. Not anymore. Today, universities send out more rejection letters than invitations.
But like Mick Jagger sings, “You can’t always get what you want.” By the way, Rolling Stones are on tour. From what I hear, every venue is sold out. Which means only those who have a ticket will be lucky enough to see them. Imagine what might happen if everyone holding a ticket didn’t get in? Well, believe it or not, Jesus has something to say about that as he concludes his infamous sermon.
READ: Matthew 7:21-29
“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. 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.’ 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 that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. (Matthew 7:21-29)
Those are not the easiest words to hear. Especially from the warm and fuzzy Jesus we love and trust. I suspect there are going to be a lot of disappointed people trying to enter the kingdom of heaven.
These last few weeks we’ve heard Jesus call us blessed, and then teach us a new way to live into our blessedness. He’s asked us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. To keep our eyes and hands fixed on doing God’s will, and to store our treasures in God’s heart. And again, last week he told us not to worry about what we did or need to do, but instead we are to focus on the here and now where life’s problems are plentiful.
Then comes the hard truth. Hearing these words isn’t good enough.
Like we saw a few weeks ago, not everyone wins gold at the Olympics. Some take home silver or bronze, but most go home empty handed. And that chance at medaling is only for those who are good enough to qualify. The ones who do the work to get there in the first place.
Jesus said, not everyone who calls him Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven. Only those who hear his words and acts on them.
Hearing and doing is the hallmark of Matthew’s understanding of discipleship. The two cannot be separated. If you want to see the kingdom of heaven come alive before your very eyes, then your head and heart must work together - trusting God and serving others by doing God’s will.
So hear this: It’s not enough to hear what Jesus is saying. His words are meaningless to you and your faith, if you don’t act upon them. Just because have a perfect GPA and the highest SAT score, that doesn’t automatically get you into Harvard or Yale. Likewise, empty words and empty gestures will not get you the keys to the kingdom.
I’m sure hearing this has stirred something up in the disciples, just like it might has stirred up something in me. They gave up their family and careers to follow him. To think it might be all for nought.
It’s hard not to sweat a little here knowing you’ve been a devote Christian, and Jesus could still say, “I never knew you.” Or worse, he calls you an “evildoer.” But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what your lips confess if your heart doesn’t show it. This should make us all take a serious look at how your head and heart align with his.
Before you tune me out completely, let’s not forget Jesus began this lesson by blessing those who were with him. I believe that by our baptism, we received Jesus’ blessing too. What then will we do with it?
In these three chapters of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus teaches us roughly 35 specific lessons on what we are to do to live into our blessedness. But let me warn you, these lessons are easy to hear but they are also hard to do – especially if your head and heart are not in sync with each other or with his.
Jesus says, “Some of you will hear these words of mine and not act on them.” I just hope that won’t be the case with me. Or that I won’t find out until it’s too late.
Many years ago Kathleen said something that has stuck with me. She asked, “What if Jesus already came back, and we missed it? Or worse, didn’t believe it?” Seriously, what if Jesus has come up to you as a homeless man (because he was) and you ignored him? Or what if he was the baby crying in the arms of a teenage refugee seeking asylum in our country and you shut them out? I don’t know if that has happened already, but I do know this. Jesus said whenever you see and do “to the least of these, you do also to me.”
Hearing and doing. That’s it.
Why are there still many who miss that point. Or worse, choose to ignore it. There are still too many so-called Christians who are so self-absorbed that they see very little around them. There are plenty of Pharisees and Scribes still alive, preaching in Jesus’ name about God’s redemptive love, and yet forget to live out that love in the world. Jesus isn’t kidding when he says he won’t be pleased.
Again, hear me when I say it’s not enough to hear or even speak the Word of God. You have to live it as if your life depended on it.
Consider this our wake-up call as individuals and as the church. Jesus is giving us a stern warning to make sure that our actions and motives match what we’re saying. That our heads and hearts are in sync with our Lord who calls us all to follow him. We have no excuse not to. We’ve heard the word. And now we know what to do.
Those first listeners on the mountain knew what they were supposed to do as well. Jesus wasn’t giving them a whole new set of rules to live by. He’s has already reminded them he didn’t come to abolish the laws, but to fulfill them, to help them live the life they knew more faithfully.
The same is true for us. We have the words of Jesus, the very Word of God. But are we really listening to what he’s saying? Are we really doing what he is doing?
Hearing and doing. That is the path to discipleship. The path that leads our head and heart towards God’s love and grace.
You can say you have faith, but is that enough to enter the kingdom of heaven? Jesus has made it very clear that it’s not. A proper confession of faith must lead to a genuine practice of that faith. What good is your faith if it doesn’t transform and redeem you? Or move you to change your behavior, to love your neighbor and pray for your enemy?
In his Epistle, the Apostle James writes, “What good is it if someone says they have faith but does not have works? Can that faith save them? Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” You see, faith isn’t something we confess once and then check off our list of things to do before we die. It’s a lifelong practice; a constant, daily action.
I have learned that the more I practice my faith, the more visible the kingdom of heaven becomes, right here, right now. When my head and heart are fixed on doing the will of God, the kingdom comes to life, before my very eyes. I begin to see Jesus in the face of the other, and am moved to act accordingly. I do this not because I am trying to enter the kingdom of heaven, but because my heart is so aligned with Jesus’ heart that I can’t help but to mirror him.
Henri Nouwen wrote, “In Jesus, no division existed between his words and his actions, between what he said and what he did. Jesus’ words were his action, his words were events. They not only spoke about changes, cures, new life, but they actually created them. In this sense, Jesus is truly the Word made flesh; in that Word all is created and by that Word all is re-created.”
To his point, if I will truly live the words I speak from my heart, then “my spoken words become actions, and miracles would happen whenever I open my mouth.”
Jesus has ushered in the kingdom of heaven, and has invited us to join him. The way we do that is to hear his words and act on them. Hear and believe. Hear and obey. This is how faith deepens, how miracles happen, and how God’s will is done on so no one is left out or uncared for.
If you want enter into the kingdom of heaven, then you have to choose to participate in it. If you believe that Jesus means what he says, then you need to reorient your actions to mirror his – reflecting his thoughts and feelings as if they are your own.
To hear him and be like him means to love as he loved; turn the other cheek; go the extra mile for others. It means being a person whose yes means yes and no means no. It means forgiving others - not just their sin but their debt as well. It means not seeking retaliation, or letting the sun go down on your anger, or allowing your lust to lead you astray. It means giving to everyone who begs and lending to all who ask.
To have your head and heart with Christ is to walk and talk with intention and mercy and grace, treating others with kindness and not condemnation. This is what it means to be the salt and the light, a blessed one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness’s sake.
Do these things, Jesus says, and not only will you see heaven appear in all its glory.
But you will also hear our Lord say, “Welcome, blessed one. For the kingdom of heaven is yours.”
Let us pray the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; they will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the Kingdom, the power and glory forever, Amen.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A. Vol 1, and Vol 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010 and 2011 respectively).
Metz, Susanna E. Well, This Is A Rough. (episcopalchurch.org June 01, 2008). Accessed on August 25, 2021.
Nouwen, Henri J.M. You are the Beloved. (San Francisco: Convergent, 2017)
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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