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October 1, 2017

“Wait, WHAT Did Jesus Just Say?”

Matthew 7:21-23

In October of 2015, I had the real pleasure of traveling to Scotland as part of my study leave for my last church. It was absolutely amazing, and I had a fantastic time. That being said, I had a rather difficult time understanding what the Scotts were saying when speaking to me. I hear that the Scots do indeed speak English, but you might never know it, listening to some of them that have particularly strong accents. I noticed that those in Glasgow seemed to have the strongest accents. My first night in Scotland, when I got to my hotel, I was greeted by a very nice young lady at the check in desk, who spoke very rapidly in her Scottish accent. I think I understood about 30% of the message she gave me about the room. As she was speaking to me, there were a few times when I thought to myself, “Wait- WHAT did she just say?!?”Later that night at dinner, I was greeted at the hotel restaurant for dinner by a waiter who seated me and then asked, “Whatwouldyeliketadrrrink?” Wouldyelikeaglassawater?Wehavetap. Wouldyelikestill or bubblingwaterr?” His brogue was even more pronounced than the woman at the check in desk. I said in my head, “Wait- WHAT did he just say?” I knew he was talking about water, but I wasn’t sure about the rest. All I wanted was a glass of water, and tap was just fine with me. I assumed when he said, “Still” that he meant water that was not moving- water without the bubbles. So I said, “Still water is fine, thank you.” He came back with a bottle of what we in the states would call “spring water.” Apparently, “Still” water is water from a spring, which is called a still, and it costs more than tap. Sigh. Then my waitress came. And when she spoke to me, it was even more difficult to understand her. You see, she had a Scottish accent in combination with an Italian one. There is absolutely no way I can even come close to replicating that accent! Again, I said in my head- “What in the world is she saying? “I had to ask her to repeat herself a few times when she was telling me about specials not on the menu. Unbeknownst to me, apparently there was a rather large migration of Italian immigrants to Glasgow in the 1950’s and 60’s. It was difficult to understand what she and the others were trying to tell me that first night. In my two weeks in Scotland, in time, I was able to better understand folks when they spoke to me, but I remember saying in my head repeatedly, “Wait- WHAT did he/she just say?”

Well consider what Jesus has just said in today’s gospel lesson. If we really look at this saying, we too may find ourselves asking, “Wait- WHAT did he just say?” And it has nothing to do with the accent, and EVERYTHING to do with the content. Today, we receive another warning from Jesus, and it seems shocking, unsettling to say the least.

The scene is set on judgment day- upon Christ’s return as he sits to judge us all. Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord Lord’ will get into the kingdom of heaven, but only the person who is doing the will of my father who is in heaven. Many people will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we teach marvelously in Your name, and didn’t we, by means of Your name cast out demons, and didn’t we, through Your name perform many miracles and mighty works?’ And then I will say to them, ‘I never really knew you. Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

The people in this case appear to be great Christians- folks who have prophesied or taught in God’s name, who have cast out demons, and done many mighty works in Christ’s name. And yet, the sentence is pronounced- I never knew you. Depart from me you evil doers… What could this mean? How could Jesus say such a thing about people who do such mighty works in his name and call him “Lord?” Aren’t these the ones of whom Jesus speaks about just a few verses earlier- “By their fruits you will know them?” Aren’t these great fruits? Aren’t they DOING God’s Will, preaching the word and prophesying, healing, miracles? What gives? Here are disciples who have claimed Jesus as Lord, and Jesus says, “Depart from me”; Here are disciples who have honored him(Lord, Lord), and he dishonors them; Here are disciples who have worked for him, and he separates himself from them. Wait. WHAT did Jesus just say?!?

Although these are some of the gifts Jesus speaks about later, healing and prophesying gifts of the Spirit bestowed to followers after Pentecost, he never mentions them in this first sermon, ANYWHERE. Jesus’ focus for the disciple appears to be  laser like in this moment- He is not interested in mighty works – He is interested in a relationship(I never knew you) and in less sensational, more personal fruits of faith, that same list I have repeated a few times in recent sermons-Apparently,  entrance into the kingdom of heaven is about our personal conduct and following Christ’s teachings- Don’t be angry; Don’t be lustful; Honor marriage, and don’t think of divorce as an easy solution; Don’t seek revenge; Love your enemies; Pray for those who persecute you; Don’t be fake about your holiness or about your prayer time with God; Forgive others and God will forgive you; Don’t be fake in your suffering when you fast; Turn away from the love of material things; Don’t be anxious about anything but trust in God’s care; Don’t judge others. Jesus did not see any these attributes in this charismatic group of Christians.

Here he speaks to followers who have boasted of their relationship, their achievements as Christians, but have in truth denied him by their conduct in some way. Perhaps they have done such great works, but they hold hatred towards others, preach violence, mercilessness and intolerance.  They do not forgive, and preach love of material things, and they so love to judge others. Is there any meekness here, any hungering and thirsting for righteousness, any purity of heart, any praying for enemies, any making of peace? They have prophesied, healed and done mighty works in his name, but they are forsaken because they are not doing God’s will- which is in this case, to enter the narrow gate(have a relationship with Christ)follow along the difficult path, and produce moral fruits in his name. They are indeed doers- look at all they have done!- but not even miracles can cover up moral failures. Consider Paul’s words here- “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” 1 Cor. 13:2)

I have for you a modern day example of someone who has boasted of his Christian faith, but whose actions have denied Jesus by his conduct: a Christian man from Florida is marketing a Christian assault rifle- a sobering example considering the most recent school campus mass shooting in Spokane Washington just a couple of weeks ago. The gun, which is known as the “Crusader,” ( I assume to hearken back to the days of the Christian Crusades in the middle Ages) is your basic AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, but with a verse from Psalm 144 etched into the magazine: “Blessed be the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.” The gun is also adorned with a cross and “Peace,”- safety lock, “War,”- safety off, and “God Wills It”- sniper mode, in both English and Latin. A spokesman for Spike’s Tactical, which is manufacturing the weapon, explained: “We wanted to make sure we built a weapon that would never be able to be used by Muslim terrorists to kill innocent people or advance their radical agenda.”  The crazy thing is, this is not the FIRST time that a gun has been produced on behalf of the Christian faith. The initial one was known as the Puckle gun. Patented in 1718 by James Puckle.  It was marketed with the line, “Is defending yourself and the Protestant cause.” A revolving bullet chamber wasn’t Puckle’s only innovation. He also designed the gun to fire two different kinds of bullets: round ones for Christian adversaries, and square ones for “Turks,” as Muslims were broadly referred to at the time. According to the patent, these bullets were more damaging and would “convince the Turks of the benefits of Christian civilization.”

A couple of years ago, Pope Francis commented that producing weapons was inherently un-Christian. “There is an element of hypocrisy [for a Christian] to speak of peace and then manufacture weapons," he said. Our actions as Christians must be steeped in the Sermon on the Mount, or we will simply look as hypocrites-that is the false appearance of beliefs that one does not really hold- to the rest of the world.

If the Christians Jesus spoke about in today’s passage, who have produced such amazing fruit of preaching, prophesying, healing and casting out demons in his name cannot hide their hypocrisy behind that fruit, then what hope is there for the rest of us, we disciples of Christ who can make no such boasts? Furthermore, if all of us will be judged by how perfect and authentic our faith truly is, what is the point in even trying?

Theologian Philip Yancey, in his wonderful book, The Jesus I Never Knew, in looking at the Sermon on the Mount said, “I stare at these and other strict commands of the Sermon on the Mount and ask myself how to respond. Does Jesus really expect me to give to every panhandler who crosses my path? Should I abandon all insistence on consumer rights? Cancel my insurance policies and trust solely in God for my future? Discard my television to avoid temptation to lust? How can I possibly translate such ethical ideals into my everyday life?”

Many theologians have struggled over how to apply these moral principles that Jesus laid out in the Sermon on the Mount, and how to apply them to our lives as disciples. 13th century Italian priest Thomas Aquinas tried to divide Jesus’ teachings in this sermon into two camps- Precepts or requirements, and counsels or suggestions. The requirements were those enhanced rules from the Ten Commandments, where Jesus says, “you have heard it said, but I say to you”. But the more idealistic statements about anger and lust were applied to a different standard: we should try to follow them , but they do not have the same force of the requirements- so anger, reconciliation, lust, divorce, oath taking , revenge, loving enemies have more weight than all the other “suggestions’ by Jesus. But we know that this sermon isn’t split into requirements and suggestions.

Or, consider 16th century Protestant Reformer Martin Luther, who interpreted the Sermon on the Mount in light of Jesus’ formula, “to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

That is, for Luther, he saw Christians maintaining some sort of dual citizenship: one in the kingdom of Christ and one in the kingdom of this world. So you could love your enemy as a Christian, but could fight and kill your enemy as a soldier of the earthly kingdom. In order to prevent anarchy, the earthly kingdom must resist evil and repel the enemy. Luther’s idea was to separate the office from the person. This, by the way is the same philosophy German Lutherans used when they worked in Hitler’s concentration camps- They were just following orders of the state, the kingdom of this world, while still being able to maintain an inner allegiance to Christ. Yet it is clear to me that Jesus wasn’t suggesting a dual, split allegiance. Clearly, Jesus wanted the disciples then and us now to live these principles out both in our spiritual lives and earthly ones as well. How then can we have any hope?

The apostle Paul, who struggled with his sinful nature, while trying to live faithfully as Christ commanded, after lamenting his plight in Romans chapter 7, wrote, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!”(Romans 7:24-25) The answer is GRACE. The way we are to take this sermon and today’s warning is to be seen through the lens of grace- that is God is for us, and through the sacrifice of Christ, we have access to grace. That grace comes to us through Jesus. John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” We can try to strive for each of these things Jesus has challenged us with daily, all the while knowing that, once we have entered through the narrow gate, we have a difficult road ahead. But we are sinful. We will fail. None of us will ever be able to follow all of these ideals perfectly for the rest of our lives. Grace is what is needed, especially in light of today’s passage. Yancey concluded, “Jesus did not proclaim the Sermon on the Mount so that we would…furrow our brows in despair over our failure to achieve perfection. He gave it to impart to us God’s ideal toward which we should never stop striving, but also to show that none of us will ever fully reach that ideal. The Sermon on the Mount forces us to recognize the great distance between us and God, and any attempt to reduce that distance by somehow moderating its demands misses the point altogether.”

It is grace which will help us when we fail, to try again, to be better next time, to live out our faith in our words, and deeds. It is the same grace offered here at this communion table, which will enable us to strive to live as disciples.

Or, as former slave trader John Newton penned in 1779 in his famous hymn-“Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” God be with us, as we seek to live out Jesus’ words in this sermon, not seeking attention in doing mighty works, casting out evil, or in preaching good sermons. May we live out Jesus’ teachings in this sermon, aiming our lives to be more and more like him every day, seeking to draw nearer and nearer to him in relationship. And may we be led by amazing grace, which one day, will lead us all home. Alleluia! Amen.


  1. How will you try to apply today’s passage to your own faith?
  2. What does “Grace” mean to you? Can it be earned from God in doing good works?
  3. What does it mean to be in relationship with Christ?
  4. What do you think Jesus’ main point is in today’s passage?
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