Fifth Sunday after Epiphany – February 05 2023

Posted on February 9, 2023, Pastor: Pastor Lara Forbes

Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service. 

February 05, 2023

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany 

Matthew 7:1-14, 24-29
Psalm 31:23-24

Worship Service Video Sermon  Video Sermon  Audio

Sermon Text:

Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

When we started with the readings of the Sermon on the Mount a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that it’s become known as a sort of “Jesus’ Greatest Hits” because of the way it’s presented in Matthew’s gospel.

It begins with the Beatitudes, which describes the people who come to Jesus for salvation. And it ends with where we build our house – that is to say, the foundation of our lives. And what happens when we build on the teachings of God vs something else.

From beginning to end, there’s a lot of wisdom in this Sermon. And woven through it is Jesus’ teaching that all of it is about more than listening and taking what he says under advisement. None of these teachings originated with Jesus. They’re ancient, they’re found throughout the Hebrew scriptures.

So the people Jesus taught had grown up hearing these things. But prior to Jesus, they’d been taught a narrow understanding of them. The scribes had taught the people how to follow the letter of the law, not the intent or the spirit of it. And with that understanding and way of living, everybody was stuck because they kept going back to what has always been done.

What Jesus does in this Sermon is reveal the depth of the teachings. And in doing that, he revealed how they apply to the way his followers live. How the teachings shape their lives and help build their relationship with God and with one another.

Jesus showed his followers that their relationship with God is dynamic and one that’s developed and deepened over time. He opened their hearts to a broader understanding of God’s teachings and, in a manner of speaking, moved them from one place to the next. [1]Because Jesus wasn’t constrained by what had already happened before, and he wasn’t afraid to do the next thing.

So when he gets to the end of this Sermon, and tells the parable of the two houses, the people have a more tangible understanding of the importance of living according to God’s way of love and trusting who God is – trusting God’s faithfulness to humanity, and God’s grace and mercy and love.

Because the houses in this parable represent their lives – everything in their daily life and how it fits together. The things that give the people sustenance and the capacity to weather the storm. Not just food and shelter, but relationships – with God, with their family, and the broader community.

And the foundation for those things makes all the difference. Both houses in this parable were hit by a storm, but Jesus doesn’t talk about the craftsmanship of the construction. He talks about the importance of the foundation.

And he reminds the people that God is their foundation. Not the Roman Empire, or any other empire or leader. Just God. Because no matter what else happens, when they build with God as their foundation it’s secure.

When Jesus teaches the people in this Sermon, and in most of his teachings, he uses the plural verb tense. So, when he says “you” he means “y’all” because he’s talking about the community of his followers. With Jesus, the individual believers/followers don’t live for themselves, but for the sake of the community.

So when we, then, carry this Sermon forward to what it means for us today, it’s about our faith community – our congregation and the basis for who we are and what we do as a community. We carry it out of here with us into our day-to-day lives, but in here is where we help each other learn what it means to build our lives with God as our foundation. Because God is the foundation of our congregation.

And building our lives with God as our congregation’s foundation isn’t about the budget or worship attendance. That’s the temptation, right?

It’s about helping one another learn how to trust God, to live faithfully according to God’s way of love and mercy and grace, to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus, and to be true to the gospel so that that’s our foundation. The tricky part is not getting stuck in what that means.

[2],[3]At last year’s ELCA Churchwide Assembly, one of the resolutions that passed directs the ELCA Church Council to establish a Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church. The purpose of this commission is to conduct a thorough study of the church’s nearly 40-year-old constitution to see what needs changing – specifically in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.

The purpose is to not only help bring the ELCA into the 21st century, but also to allow it to repair past wrongs and make sure the local congregations, the synods, and the national office don’t keep making the same destructive mistakes.

All of these findings are to be reported to the 2025 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in preparation for a possible reconstituting convention.

It’s a lot. And the ambitious timeline is intentional.

A month ago, the process for nominating people to serve on this commission opened up. And they are especially looking for nominees who are outside of the usual leadership circles. So, people that are younger, and who are more diverse in terms of racial and cultural background, neurodivergence, and physical abilities.

They aren’t being flooded with nominations. And it isn’t because of the timeline. The ELCA has done a lot of good in its history, and it’s also caused a lot of harm – in large part because it has been coasting and doing what has always been done.

This isn’t a plug to ask any of you to consider serving on the commission – although, if you want more information about it, please come talk with me. But I share this with you more as a statement on how easy it is to let old patterns become the foundation for how things are done – even in a church.

On the surface, everything looks fine and things even run smoothly for a while. But in the long run, it causes harm. And eventually the human foundation that it is starts to crack.

When we, Saint Andrew’s Lutheran Church, examine what it means to be a faith community – to be faithful to God and to the gospel – we tend to gravitate toward what we know. Like certain spiritual practices, congregational traditions, familiar hymns, thinking that meaningful worship can only happen in a particular building or space. Things like that.

Those things bring us comfort and, most of the time, they help us grow in our relationship with God. But sometimes we can get stuck in them, and they can become our foundation instead of helping us learn how to build one in God. And any human-created foundation that we might try to build on in the place of God will eventually collapse.

But when we faithfully follow the way of God, Jesus reveals its depth to us. He moves us beyond the “minimum requirements,” and shows us that it’s about more than just going through the motions and falling back on what we know. He opens our hearts to the dynamic nature of our relationship with God.

He helps us help one another develop and deepen our relationship with God over time as a community so that we grow in it together. And as we do, we discover more and different ways of living the gospel in the world.

He gives us the courage to explore what those ways might be – the ways they weave together with God’s way of love and continue to expand our understanding of the gospel.

We are able to do this because we’ve built our foundation in God. And it’s a foundation that will never fail us. Thanks be to God! Amen.