Read Matthew 7:1-12.
Jesus really does expect us to be a people who have a high standard of righteousness. He really does expect us to practice a righteousness that goes beyond written rules. He really does expect us to practice our righteousness undistracted by the approval of others and the anxieties of life. And now as you heard what Jesus said in the reading today He really does want us to stop judging others. This is flipside of what Jesus has been teaching us. He has urged us to focus on God and his kingdom to seek it first and not be dismayed by the judgmental attitudes of others who bind the burden of legalism on us. Jesus has urged us to focus on God and his kingdom and not worry about what others think of us and not worry about our basic needs.
But now he flips the coin and says essentially: It would be a real shame for you to take this teaching that comes to you with the blessings of heaven and turn it into a means of treating others as less than you. It would be pretty ridiculous for you to assume that the teaching of Jesus is your calling to straighten up everyone elses messes. This is like the poor phony who goes around trying to pick the speck of dirt out of the eyes of others when they have a 2 x 4 in their own eye.
Do you know someone like that? Dont answer that! Because if you do, you fall into the trap. As soon as you take the teaching of Jesus and start to evaluate others rather than see to your own eye care you have fallen into the trap that Jesus is warning us about.
What is the trap? Its the judgmental perspective that tries to develop a measuring stick that we use to evaluate others. (Last week our family went to ride go-karts, and there is a measuring stick that tells you that you cannot ride alone if you are not this tall.) That works for go-karts and roller coasters, but not the kingdom of heaven. Why? Go back to the beginning of the sermon and look at who Jesus is welcoming into the kingdom ... the poor, the sad, the meek, the hungry and thirsty, the persecuted. Has Jesus just lowered the stick? Has he lowered the standard? Well that hardly makes sense when he says that our righteousness has got to surpass our ideas of high standards. This is a clue that Jesus is leading us in a different direction.
You see, Jesus is very aware of the problem that we might have if we think he is asking us to guard the entry point into the kingdom. We would build a little measuring stick and tell everyone, unless you are this tall you cannot get in. And our problem is that we would either set it way too high and we would end up like the hypocrites with logs sticking in their eyes and would destroy ourselves with our own ridiculous standards; or we would set it way too low and end up like the well-meaning but unwise folk who give pearls to swine and holy things to dogs. Dogs and pigs are not interested in what you cherish and the dogs will just attack you.
So here we are at the gate of the kingdom. We are eager to make disciples for Jesus. We want to go into all the world preaching the gospel, baptizing and teaching. But we just arent sure where to set the measuring stick. Is there a happy medium that is not too high and not too low?
I have high expectations of a sermon. I think Jesus does too. And I think you do too. I think you would like to believe that this teaching of Jesus really describes the world and isnt just a figure of speech or something we arent supposed to take literally. I am not content to take that way out and return to the dissatisfaction of the way things are. So, if it isnt an option to be legalistic or to hand out cheap grace with our yardstick at the entrance, what shall we do?
Listen again to Jesus: 7"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 9Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"
In response to our gate-keeper question, Jesus is telling us to get away from the gate. Thats not our business. Our business is to ask, seek and knock. We are interested in others entering into the kingdom. We are interested in others receiving it as we have. But do we ever stop to think that the way we do that is to pray. To ask, to seek, and to knock. God knows how to respond to our requests even better than we do. Asking, seeking, and knocking is not an instruction on how to get God to shake loose the good things. It isnt a formula for material abundance. It is a program for mission.
So if God doesnt want us guarding the gate (he will take care of it) then how exactly are we supposed to relate to others who have not yet entered into Gods kingdom? That simple, says Jesus: In everything, do to others what you would want them to do to you.
You can sum up the whole content of the Law and the teaching of the Prophets in that phrase. And dont make it more difficult than it is, because yes, Jesus really does expect us to live it out. If that seems to hard or too easy, step away from the gate with the measuring stick, get on your knees and ask, seek, and knock.
[End with prayer of asking, seeking, knocking.]
Link to next sermon
Link to other sermons of Chris Benjamin