June 1, 2008

"Not Everyone"
Scripture: Matthew 7:21-29
Sermon by Rev. Kathleen Groff
Dundee United Methodist Church

  In our gospel lesson for this morning Jesus has been talking about the false prophets that will abound as the Christian faith begins to make its mark on the world. Many people will do and say things in the name of Jesus, but some will be doing so for selfish reasons. The segment that we read today is centered around doing the will of God. Let’s hear this lesson.

  I worked the night shift at Meier’s when I was attending seminary. Generally about 3-4 in the morning somebody who had been drinking would come in. Often they did little harm, but sometimes impaired judgment caused some disruption to the relatively quiet of the overnight hours. On one occasion as man came in who had obviously had too much to drink. He came to the section I was working in where televisions and other appliances were sold. I noticed him checking out the more expensive TV’s and asked if I could help him. In very slurred language he said he wanted to buy a TV so he could watch the Super Bowl the next day. Somehow the combination of being early in the morning and being very much impaired and wanting to buy a TV didn’t seem quite right. Now, I knew my job was to meet the demands of the customers, but this time I didn’t feel quite right about helping the man buy a $700 TV which is what he had his eye on. My heart just wasn’t in it because I imagined him waking the next morning, (if he made it home) and wondering where he had gotten that TV and why he had been so foolish to spend that amount of money. So I began the process of dissuading him from his purchase. It would have been easy to take advantage of the man and sell one of those TV’s. But my conscience would not allow that. I did get him out of the TV section, escorted him over to the food section where he could browse at his will and purchase something more appropriate for his state of mind and his inebriated state . When I last looked in on him, however, he had made his way to the liquor isle and had a couple of bottles in his hands, but at least he did not purchase what was at that time an expensive TV and regret it the next day. And I do hope he made it home that night.

  The man, being under the influence had impaired judgment. He probably could not make a wise decision about his purchase even if his motivation for buying a TV was good. But it doesn’t always take being drunk to have impaired judgment. Many people have had their faith judgments impaired by “evangelists” that claim the name of Jesus to further their own ends. It’s a problem that has been passed down from generation to generation. Joe’s brother was once taken in by a fly by night preacher who talked a good talk, had all the right words, and then absconded with his small congregation’s money. The danger of religion is that it lends itself to those who can manipulate people’s emotions to get what they want. Jesus knows what these types of people are like and is warning his disciples and his hearers about them. But he turns the message a little bit and gives some guidelines in discerning whether a person is of the truth or not. A true follower of Jesus will act on God’s word, doing God’s will rather than their own will. Jesus says, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.” A true disciple is known by what he or she produces or how he or she acts. But there is more to it than that. A person can seem to follow Christ but his or her motivations may be far from God’s interests. It might appear that the person bears good fruit, but eventually their actions will reveal motives other than the will of God.

  But there is another more subtle form of what Jesus is talking about. We all have the capability of not living up to the expectations of our faith. We can claim the name of Jesus but our motives are off base, out of kilter with the will of God. I will admit that there are times when I am more interested in my own selfish ends than in doing the will of God. It takes more than just verbally proclaiming the name of Christ and looking like we are following Jesus to be a disciple. It takes following Christ from the heart of our being. When Jesus is at the core of who we are, our motivations will be increasingly oriented toward following with passion and sincerity. As we continue to grow in faith we will recognize when we are not doing the will of God, when our motivations are based on selfish and self centered reasons. Following Jesus is not a matter of saying the words and playing the game. It’s a matter of acting and saying out of the depths of who we believe Jesus to be, Lord and savior of our lives.

  Faith is not so much claiming the right words, or following the right denomination or the right directions and rules. It’s more a matter of letting the heart of Christ direct our wills and our ways. It’s a matter of letting the living Jesus be Lord of our lives deep within us. It’s a matter of when something feels wrong to us, paying attention to that feeling and acting upon what Jesus is saying to us. It’s not a matter of doing what seems to be right because we will look right or good, it’s a matter of doing what is right because God has directed us from the center of who we are.

  I don't know how to say it any better than this. Following Jesus means reading scripture time and time again, loving Jesus more than anything, and following His leadings and promptings from the depths of our increasingly intimate knowledge of him. Now, we aren’t going to follow perfectly yet. We can and do have flawed vision and impaired judgment at times but the more we delve into the mystery of God, the clearer and less flawed that vision becomes. My faith is not the same as it was 10 years ago. It has evolved as my experiences of God have increased through prayer and reading and conversations with others. Faith is a constantly changing force. Just as much as our relationships with family and friends change over the years, so our relationship with God through Jesus Christ changes. With God’s help, as we go through the days and months and years ahead, our faith will continue to change and we will become increasingly wise about discerning and doing God’s will. As we sober up from our sinful ways, get spiritual nourishment through our prayers and study and worship and fellowship, we will be able to say to Christ, “Lord, Lord” and be graciously accepted into the kingdom of heaven knowing we have done the will of God because our hearts will have dictated that we do so.