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Matthew 7_21_29

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TITLE:  Dr. Jesus' Prescription for Life     SCRIPTURE:  Matthew 7:21-29

Jesus says:

      "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."

That's pretty heavy, isn't it!  Is there anyone here who ALWAYS does God's will?  I doubt it.  How about USUALLY?  Probably a few.  How about SOMETIMES?  I think SOMETIMES would catch most of us.  Most of us do God's will SOMETIMES.  On a good day, we might move up to USUALLY -- but we seldom move up to ALWAYS.

Paul the apostle tells us that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23) -- but most of us didn't need Paul to tell us that.  Most of us are quite aware that we fall short of the kind of Godly life that we would like to live.  Even Paul admitted to falling short.  He said:

      "For I do not do the good I want,

      but the evil I do NOT want is what I do" (Romans 7:19).

When Paul admitted that to the Romans, he implied that they had the same problem.  They, too, did NOT do the good that they should be doing, but the DID DO the evil that they should not be doing. 

The same is true of us.  We do NOT do the good that we could be doing -- should be doing -- would like to be doing.  We DO the evil that we should not be doing.  Most of us recognize that as true.  Anyone who doesn't recognize it has a problem. 

So Jesus and Paul put us in a real bind.  Jesus says that we cannot expect to go to heaven unless we do God's will.  Paul says that we all fail to do that.  Did God put us in a Catch-22 situation?  Is Jesus asking the impossible?  Is there any hope?

The first clue comes from Paul, who says that we have all sinned -- but then he goes on to tell us that we "are now justified by (God's) grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24). 

The second clue comes from Jesus, who said:

      "For God so loved the world

      that he gave his only Son,

      so that everyone who believes in him

      may not perish but may have eternal life" (John 3:16).

So Jesus and Paul are agreed that Jesus' purpose was to save us -- to make it possible for us to live our lives in the presence of God -- to make it possible for us to spend eternity in the presence of God.  So what did Jesus mean when he said:

      "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."

Does Jesus mean that we have to be perfect?  Obviously not!  Does he mean that any sin disqualifies us?  Obviously not! 

It might help to know that these words come from the Gospel of Matthew.  Matthew emphasizes obedience to Jesus.  We see that in our Gospel lesson today, but if you read through the Gospel of Matthew, you will see it again and again. What Jesus requires, however, is not perfection.  Perfection is impossible.  If Jesus demanded perfection, none of us would qualify.  What Jesus requires instead is FAITH -- faith that produces FRUIT -- faith that results in ACTION:

- Faith that leads us to show mercy (9:13).

- Faith that leads us to care for little ones (18:10-14).

- Faith that causes us to feed the hungry and to give drink to the thirsty, and to welcome the stranger, and to clothe the naked, and to visit the prisoner (25:31-46).

- Faith that leads us to go and to make disciples and to baptize and to teach people to obey Jesus (28:16-20).

Those are the things that Jesus wants us to do.  We will never do them perfectly, but if we are people of faith we will try.  Perhaps "try" isn't the right word, because Jesus isn't asking us to try to do some impossible thing. 

- Instead, if we are people of faith, showing mercy will come a little more naturally -- helping people will come a little more naturally -- making disciples will come a little more naturally. 

- If we are God-filled people, something of God will rub off on everything we touch.  God-filled people produce Godly fruit.  It's just a natural thing.  That's what Jesus is saying.  He is saying that if we are God-filled people, we WILL DO some Godly things.  It will just come naturally.

And then Jesus says that those of us who OBEY him are like wise people who build their houses on rock.  A house built on a rock is solid.  The rains can fall and the winds can blow and the big bad wolf can huff and puff -- but the house built on rock will stand.

Then Jesus says that when we do NOT obey him, we are like a foolish man who built a house on sand.  When the rains came and the winds blew and the big bad wolf huffed and puffed, the foolish man's house collapsed.

I know that is true.  I know it from my own life.  When I try to live the way that Jesus wants me to live, I end up happier and more fulfilled than when I disobey him.  Jesus truly did come to save us -- and part of what he came to save us from is ourselves.  When we try to live the life that Jesus wants us to live, it is as if we are following the Maker's instruction manual.  When we do what Jesus wants us to do, we don't get all twisted out of shape -- all bollixed up. 

I had the occasion to talk to a person this week who is having a hard time of it.  He retired a dozen years ago, and he's been on anti-depressants for ten of those years.  I asked him what he was doing with his life.  He said that he just sits around reading books and taking care of his plants.  I was reminded of something that Karl Menninger, the famous psychiatrist, said.  Someone asked Menninger what they should do when they felt a nervous breakdown coming on.  Menninger said:

      "Lock up your house,

      go across the railroad tracks,

      find someone in need

      and do something for him."

Dr. Menninger's prescription sounds a lot like Dr. Jesus' prescription, doesn't it!  Jesus tells us to show mercy -- to care for little ones -- to feed the hungry -- to give a drink to a thirsty person -- to welcome strangers -- to clothe the naked -- to visit prisoners.  There's nothing on that list that my friend could not do.  When he chooses not to do any of them, it is as if he were building his life on sand.  The result is that he is miserable.  He doesn't have to be miserable.  He would not be miserable if he would do the things that Jesus wants him to do.

And neither would we.

I came across an interesting story recently.  It's the story of a business -- Wetherill Associates.  That company builds automobile starters and alternators.  The company was started some years ago by Richard Wetherill, who believed that a business could succeed by doing the right thing.  The company web site puts it this way.  It says that Wetherill believed that:

      "Companies could succeed

      by emphasizing moral rectitude

      and viewing profits as by-products."

Translated, that means that Wetherill believed that a business could succeed by focusing on doing the right thing instead of focusing on the almighty dollar.

Wetherill Associates has now been in business for thirty years.  Last year, they grossed $53 million.  I understand that they are making lots of money.

I have to be careful when I tell a story like that.  It makes it sound as if you can get rich by doing the right thing -- by doing what Jesus wants you to do. 

That can happen.  My church history professor used to talk about Quakers.  Quakers worked hard.  They were honest.  They did good work.  You could trust them.  They were thrifty.  So guess what.  They got rich.  My professor said that if you live like that -- hardworking, honest, trustworthy, thrifty -- you are almost certain to get rich.  So it does happen.

But it is also quite possible that, if you follow Jesus, you will find yourself hanging from a cross.  That's what happened to Peter and some others.

But Jesus wasn't trying to teach us how to get rich.  He was trying to teach us how to build solid lives -- lives that will stand through a storm -- lives that can withstand torrential rain and violent wind.  We need to know how to do that, because storms come.  People lose their jobs.  People get sick.  People die.  How will we manage when the storms come?  Jesus says:

      "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."

Jesus is the rock.  If we believe in him and follow him -- if we live our lives as he would have us to live them -- then we will be ready for thick and thin -- for good times and bad -- for life and for death.  That's Jesus' promise. 

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