Lessons in Avoiding Destruction & Leaning into Life

by susan on April 4, 2017

During our Lent Sunday gatherings, we’ve been challenged to move Deeper into the Way. The following message was shared on April 2nd & was based on Matthew 7:1-4, 12-29.

In this final section of Jesus’ most famous, least followed series of teachings, he addresses one of our most burning questions.

Where is the path that leads to life? And, oh yeah … am I on it?

This had to be on the minds of Jesus’ earliest followers. Choosing to follow him had taken them on a pretty rocky road. Any disillusions that his way was the easy way were fading fast. Far from where they started out & separated from their homeland, they had wonder if they’d made a wrong turn somewhere.

It’s a question worthy of our consideration, really. After all, we do make wrong turns. I’m not talking about choosing the wrong mate or the wrong career, I’m talking about the kinds of wrong turns that Jesus clearly states are wrong turns.

He’s already mentioned several in his teachings(Matthew 5-7) & he mentions two more here. According to Jesus, we’ve made a wrong turn if…

We constantly criticize others. Instead of dealing with our own shortcomings, if we become busy criticizing the faults of others – worrying about what they are doing or saying or sharing on social media or whether they are doing or saying or sharing enough – we have taken a wrong turn. According to Jesus, we’ll be so blinded by our obsession with others’ flaws, that we won’t be able to see anything clearly. We’l be headed toward destruction.

So, we’ve made a wrong turn if we constantly criticize others. We’ve also made a wrong turn when we head toward too many quick fixes. In Matthew’s community, quick fixes showed up in the form of false prophets and bad trees. They were smooth talkers who delivered big promises, but they weren’t exactly practicing what they profess. These false prophets & bad trees claimed to be Jesus followers, yet they called for a violent revolution. [*red flag* = Jesus said to love enemies, not destroy them]

Turning toward constant criticism or quick fixes are what Jesus called the wide way & the destructive way & we are so prone to make these wrong turns.

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Let’s be honest, though. It’s not just our wrong turns that make the path to life difficult to discover.

Even when we resist criticism & quick fixes,
even when we are seeking the things that God cares about,
even when the right steps do seem to be falling into place,
life is full of not-so-pleasant-surprises.

Even when we seem to be on the right path,
things still fall apart.

They. Just. Do.

In case you missed it, here’s what happened on one of the busiest interstates in the country this week. A fire underneath caused a bridge on an Atlanta interstate to completely collapse. Thousands of drivers had to be re-routed.

How many of us can relate to this kind of unexpected collapse?

Maybe it’s a health crisis or a job loss.
Maybe it’s a divorce or a death.
Maybe it’s an addiction or a mental health breakdown or something else.

Something in life gives way & we suddenly seem to be headed for destruction.

What then? What does the path toward life look like when the road before us collapses & better yet, how do we find it?

One warning: We will not find it by looking back & blaming.

It can be tempting in times of collapse & re-routing to start to questions whether we were ever on the right road to begin with. We all do it.

Maybe if I had just… If only I hadn’t …

In times of collapse, instead of listening to the voice of blame, what if we listen for the voice of Jesus?

His voice sounds something like this (based on Matthew 5:1-12):
You can be poor and be on the right path.
You can be hungry and be on the right path.
You can be threatened, thirsty, or thrown out of town and be on the right path.  

The way of blessing, the path to life & the kingdom of God may not look like a staircase leading us higher and higher up the ladder of success.

In fact, Jesus likens the life-giving way to a house – one that is steady enough to withstand wind & rain. The foundation of the house, Jesus tells us is rock, and I really wish Jesus had used a different analogy because I think we get a little confused by rock. When we hear that word, we think of certain, strong & unwavering, but that’s not what Jesus would have been thinking about. Most people didn’t build house on rock – you might look a little crazy if you do.

And, you might look a little crazy if you start building your life on Jesus’ teachings, too.

If you stop worrying about tomorrow,
if you start loving your enemies,
if you start welcoming & eating with strangers,
if you start building your life around Jesus,
you might look a little crazy.

Jesus wasn’t advocating for certainty – he was asking his followers to build their lives on his teachings.

He was asking us to enter a way of life that few dare to enter.

Jesus thought of a house when he described this way of life. Thanks to time spent earlier this year in Uganda, I imagine a river (and I’m not talking about the Nile).

One of the biggest challenges to moving to Uganda has to be learning to drive. The roads are a mess. Not only are the full of potholes, but there are very few stop lights, very few road signs & no clear rules of the road.

There is only one way to find your way – by joining in. One of our hosts, Shela, said you have to imagine traffic like a flowing river – you show up, you enter the flow, you pay attention & you just keep going,

I, like you, struggle to find & stay on the life-giving path. The only way I have found to learn is by making mistakes & I make many. In my learning though, I often stumble upon the Way.

It often looks like this:

It would probably have made more sense for me to be finishing up a well-polished sermon for you this Friday. That’s what successful preachers do, right?

Instead, I had a nudge (you know those holy nudges, right?) that I needed to spend time with someone in our community who’s been struggling. Things are a mess for Don & Irene right now. Don is in cancer treatment, neither of them can work & they are living in her son’s garage (not a garage apartment). I decided to stop by for a visit.

When I arrived at the hospital, I realized that in their hurry to get there, they had come empty-handed – no change of clothes, no phone chargers or anything else they needed for more than a day. It wasn’t long before Irene and I were headed to their makeshift home to pick up a few things.

On our way there, we were chit chatting & I could not help but notice how joyful she seemed despite having little sleep & lots to worry about. Irene suggested I turn on a little music – the “oldies station” to be specific. In her words, she could “use a little pep”. So, I did.

In a matter of seconds, she and I started singing along, then moving a little, then full out dancing our way down the highway to pick up clothes so she could head back to the hospital.

And, I knew it. This is it. I am not always certain how to find it, but I know it when I do. The kingdom of God, the Way to life are not in some distant fairy tale place in the sky. They are available here & now & they arrive inviting to show up, to enter, to join in & to just keep moving.

Whether you have taken a wrong turn or
whether the road before you has collapsed –
in every season & in every circumstance,
yo are invited to look for & lean into the Way to life.

Amen.

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