I think this is pretty close to what I preached...
Text: Amos 5 and Matthew 7:24-29
During the fall semester myself and 5 other theological studies majors spent the semester defining, redefining, and even redefining theology for ourselves. We had to articulate what exactly our goal for theology was, and then we had the joy of outlining a method for doing theology. We read theologians from many time periods, all with different ideas and methods, and we ourselves agreed to disagree at times. The one thing we could agree on was that we were tired of reading all sort of theologies that neglected to include a step where ones theology was applied to the way they live in the world. After spending a semester writing pages and pages of theology based on justice and compassion, I received an opportunity to go to Nicaragua with 13 other Presbyterians to learn more about Fair Trade coffee, t-shirts, and art.
I have never left the country, the furthest I had traveled was to Texas and that was in October, so a part of me was terrified. I knew I would see things I had never seen before, I knew I was going to hear about injustice in another country, I knew I was going to be face to face with poverty in a place that was unfamiliar to me, but at the same time I knew that I was going to see justice and the effects of people making decisions to purchase goods in a just way. And so, I was excited. Terrified and excited.
As we arrived in Managua, Nicaragua and began to be acquainted with this new country, we were given a brief history, a tour of the capital, and we had some down time. It was in this down time that I had remembered this text from Matthew, I remembered Jesus saying “everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”
As I traveled to the countryside and stayed in a little house with a dirt floor, as the mother of the house gave me her bed to sleep in and headed in to sleep with her two daughters, as the three women who had a small piece of land in this rural town with no running water fed me more than enough to eat three times a day, as I was seeing these people do hard physical labor for little pay, I kept being reminded of scripture. This passage from Matthew, the passage from Amos, and many many more continued to run through my mind and continued to challenge me because as Jesus had said “everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”
For many years I have heard the words of Christ, I have read them, studied them, fallen in love with them time and time again, and now I was in a foreign land learning what could happen if people took these words seriously. If we take the teachings of Jesus seriously, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, to visit those in prison, if we cared for the sick, set the captives free, and loved the Lord our God with all of our hearts minds souls and strength, the world would look different. If we did these things our lives, our faith, and our world would be a solid foundation, built on a rock.
As I was studying this text from Matthew I noticed two things right away, and these things come from the Greek translation.
ὁμοιόω (hom-oy-ohO)-to be made like-it is used to make a comparison- is translated simply as “will be like”
I have come to appreciate the little bit of Greek I have learned. I have enjoyed spending time using what I have learned to study the original language while preparing for Sermons and when I found this nuance along with another I had to stop and let it sit. I didn’t want to keep writing or reading, I just wanted to ponder for a moment, the beauty that was in this passage. Instead of being like a wise person, we are made to be like, it is not that we are imitating or reflecting, but we are becoming. What Jesus is getting at here is that the work of hearing and acting is a continual process, we are always reading, always hearing the scriptures, and it is our duty to go from this place and act on them. It does no good for us to come to church, to read our Bible’s and to sing the hymns if we aren’t going to do something about it. If we aren’t going to worry about our neighbors, if we aren’t going to take care of those who are down and out and need a hand, if we aren’t going to empower those who society has given up on, if we aren’t going to do something then why church are we here?
In this short passage Jesus is wrapping up a long sermon, I can feel in this story a plea to not just take his words and ponder them in our hearts, or simply repeat them, Jesus is saying if you really want to build a solid foundation to stand on for yourself, live these things out. Forgive one another, take care of one another, and love one another.
I have used my trip to Nicaragua as a parallel to this scripture for many reasons, it is fresh on my mind, I’m still processing a lot of it, and it was in Nicaragua that my mind was blown away to just a few ways I can live out my faith by being aware of the things I was purchasing. I learned that by purchasing items at a fair trade value I was not just giving people a fair wage for their product, but I was supporting an entire community of people. I was creating job security, opportunities for education, healthcare, and enough money to take care of their families. I learned that being conscious of the fact that the world of commerce is full of injustice and that a few changes to my personal purchasing habits could make a difference, and that is what Jesus preaches. Jesus doesn’t preach that we change the world in one swooping motion, reality is that doesn’t work, but what Jesus does know is that if each of us continue to learn and continue to hear the Word, and we put those two things together, the world can change.
The second nuance in the Greek, comes at the very end of the passage. The word ἐξουσία is translated as “authority”…I did not recognize this word at first but I did recognize the prefix of Ex as meaning from or out of and ousia being essence or being. As I noticed it is translated as authority, I began to be slightly disappointed with Greek, authority I have learned is the normal translation for exousia, however, as I pondered the thought of Jesus teaching from his being I couldn’t help but to smile and laugh a little on the inside. My gut reaction was to say, Jesus taught out of his being, from his essence, who he was, and that would account for him having authority. The people were not amazed at the fact that Jesus had these almighty words of wisdom, but Jesus himself had heard the scriptures and acted on them. His ministry was full of action.
In elementary school the WWJD bracelets were a hit. Everyone had them, and they were a great tool for teaching kids to treat each other respectfully, but they went out of style quickly. I haven’t seen them in years. As I have grown a little older, gone through high school, and endured 3 ½ years of college I notice that the world has become concerned with itself. How am I going to make it by this week? What can I do to get ahead? It has become a me me me kind of world as people are not acting on what they know. I wonder what the world would look like if we picked that mentality of WWJD back up again? I wonder what would happen in our own communities if we taught the ways of Christ not with our words or some colorful wristbands but ex-ousia...out of our beings? What things in your life can you change to empower those around you? To love your neighbor as yourself…that is the visible and invisible neighbor? What can First Presbyterian Church in Scottsburg Indiana do to build a solid foundation, what are you doing? What can this Presbytery do? What can the Church universal do?
Will you be made into a wise person? Will you put your wisdom into action? Or will you build your house, your foundation of your being on the sand and let it wash away as the rains and the floods come pouring in?
I challenge you, take the hard road, don’t take the easy way out and make yourself a shack on the sand, but dig deep, put your foundation in a place that matters.
There was one other lesson I learned from Nicaragua. As we were driving around at the beginning of our trip there was a massive statue of Christ, and I turned to another member of the trip and said “LOOK I found Jesus, he’s in Nicaragua.” We laughed and didn’t think anything else of it. On our way back from traveling the countryside and staying in homestays, we passed the statue again, this time I thought to myself, “no really, I found Jesus in those who fed me, put a roof over my head, cared for me, and loved me even if I couldn’t communicate very well with them.” The people I interacted with had a foundation of rock because they were hospitable to me. They didn’t have much but they could still act on the words of faith they knew.
Remember, you don’t have to change the world, you simply have to put wisdom in action, and change your life, in doing so you will see lives around you affected, changed, and challenged.
Go and act on the words of Christ with all of your being. I pray that you do so for the sake of Jesus Christ and the world we live in. In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer. Amen.