‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
‘Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.
‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
‘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.
Doris asked me a good question this week. Some of you know, in addition to what I’m doing right now, I also teach a little bit of piano lessons. And Doris asked me, do any of my students practice. I answered without hesitation: no.
That’s not entirely fair. My students do practice, sometimes. I always say they practice exactly in the way that’s payback for the many years that I did not diligently practice piano. My young students know what I knew back when I was taking lessons: practicing is hard.
Jesus said, “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise person who built their house upon a rock.”
You might already be able to tell what I have trouble with here. I might be able to listen, Jesus, but who says I can put this into practice? Slow down.
This is in part because Jesus has just challenged us to do a whole bunch of challenging things. Chapter seven in the gospel of Matthew is just the tail end of the Sermon on the Mount which began with the Beatitudes back in chapter five. In this sermon, Jesus has challenged and taught his followers the following:
You are salt and light.
Don’t break even the least of the commandments.
All those laws against murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths? Well it’s more complicated than you think.
Turn your cheek and offer your cloak.
Go the extra mile.
Love your enemies.
Do your giving in secret.
Don’t babble when you pray like the pagans.
Don’t store up treasures.
Don’t judge, or give to dogs what is sacred.
Ask, and it will be given to you.
Go through the narrow gate.
Jesus clearly missed the memo that you’re supposed to stick with one thing in a sermon. And at the end of all of this, he says the part that truly strikes fear into my heart: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”
Come on. What a thing to say after all of these difficult, perplexing, and often metaphorical teachings.
It says that when Jesus was done, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority. “Amazed” seemed like a bit of an understatement so I looked it up. Sure enough, you could also say they were “struck with astonishment.”
I am just as likely to be struck with confusion and fear as astonishment.
I’m supposed to put what into practice?
This is usually the point in scripture where I start to get cozy with the scribes and Pharisees. These were the religious folk, not so different than you and I, who had been helping dictate the rules for living. They said straightforward things like, “Do not break your oath” and then Jesus came along and added in a whole bunch of confusion. These scribes and Pharisees, they were just trying to organize this all, create a system, a way of life, that was clear, easy to follow. Easy to put into practice.
Jesus, well, challenged that.
Jesus knew what he was doing when he ended this round of teaching with this story about the wise and foolish men. I’ve known this story for a long time, there’s a great song that goes with it. This metaphorical story makes it clear, what Jesus shares changes the very foundations of your life.
Here’s the truth of the matter, you’re putting something into practice every day of your life.
Josh pointed me to one of his favorite speeches this week, the 2005 commencement speech by David Foster Wallace called “This Is Water.” Near the end of his speech, this is what he said:
Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness. (https://fs.blog/2012/04/david-foster-wallace-this-is-water/)
You’re going to practice, or worship, something in your life. The only question is what is it going to be.
You might have some assumptions about what practicing a Christian life looks like. Maybe like me, you were taught that a Christian life involved morning devotions, scripture memorization, an ability to pray publicly at any moment, and never, ever cursing. And that’s certainly part of what you might take from Jesus’ teaching. But if you go back and read just this Sermon on the Mount that Jesus gives, I promise you it is metaphorical and complicated and maybe more life challenging than a list of rules.
Practicing this takes, well, practice. It’s a kind of living that is deep, foundational, and that requires attention. There’s no easy answers for how to integrate this into your life. We’re here to figure that out together, sure, but sometimes it’s a clear as a metaphorical stories about house building.
Here are a few ways you can check in on your practice. Check your bank statements, your budget. Look at your calendar. Check your phone, who are the people you call and text most? I promise you, these things tell you something about what you’re practicing. You’re practicing something. Make sure it’s the foundation you want.
As my students can tell you, practicing is hard. But you don’t want your house to fall down, do you?