The Narrow Gate

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho

February 9, 2019

Matthew 7:1-14, 24-29

This passage, like last week’s, is  continuing with Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount. 

I don’t know about you, but I hear this section of the Sermon and think, “really, Jesus? Are you sure about this? We can’t judge?”

Maybe I shouldn’t speak for you, but I am a world class judger. I have opinions about all sorts of things. And, I confess, I am usually more than willing to share my opinions.

When I look around at the world, it seems clear that judging is one thing we’ve got down. If you have heard any of our political discourse in the last few years, you know what I’m talking about.

Judgment enough to go around. And judgment with zero self awareness from the person passing condemnation.

Yes, sadly, we are good at passing judgment.

To be clear, Jesus isn’t telling us not to ever judge. The church is called to pass judgment on many things we see. We are called to speak loudly for the voiceless, and to advocate for the poor, for children, for those whom God loves and whom society seems to overlook.

And so we gather on the hillside and we hear Jesus’ words.

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.
Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”

The good news is that there is room in here for us to judge! (yay!).

The less good news is that we have to consider our own behavior first.

And I don’t know about you, but it is much more fun to be critical of other people than to hold a lens too close to our own actions.

If we only practice the judging that we see around us on the news, we get self righteous posturing. We get mean spirited nastiness. We don’t see relationships redeemed and restored, but only see the walls come up, dividing us from each other.

The logs in our own eyes—even though we’ve learned to function with them in place—get in the way of our ability to see each other as God’s beloved children.

And they also, quite frankly, make us look absurd. The image of us criticizing others while walking around with  2×4’s obstructing our own vision puts in stark relief the benefits of Jesus’ instructions.

Wouldn’t all of our relationships be better if we had the benefit of some self reflection and log removal?

Once we’ve considered our own behavior, pulled the log out of own eye, only then can we respond to the small splinter that is bothering our neighbor. And instead of poking them in the eye, or adding further splinters, we can instead reach out, remove what is causing them pain, and offer them compassion.

We will hear the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in a few weeks, and I think we will hear the “blessed are you when” passages differently after spending time with how Jesus teaches after the beatitudes. 

The entire sermon is calling us to better, more authentic relationships that bring blessing. This passage today also makes it pretty clear that it is blessing we offer when we do our own work, and reflect on our own lives, when we respond to others in compassion and love.

What might it look like for us to share the blessing that comes with removing the logs from our own eyes?

I’ve been considering this text for a number of weeks now, and I have to say that it has been working on my soul. In my interactions with people who seem to only offer conflict, I have forced myself to look for my own 2×4 before I’ve reacted to them and their *obvious* need of my judgment.  I don’t know if it has changed them, but I do feel it changing me. I invite you to notice the log in your own eye this week. To bring a deeper level of self awareness to your interactions and see what happens.

I think this text has implications for our corporate behavior as the church too. How is the church living out its call to remove the log from our collective eye, so that we can offer compassion?

When we go to the PRIDE Festival and apologize for the ways organized religion has hurt people excluded from church, we’re acknowledging our awareness of the log in our own eye. Most of the people we speak to weren’t hurt in this sanctuary, but we acknowledge they could have been. We acknowledge that we, too, are people in need of God’s grace who haven’t always known or done the loving thing.

paradepride2017

The act of offering an apology, rather than judgment, reveals our vulnerability, our awareness that we aren’t perfect and that we don’t always get it right.  By removing the collective log out of the church’s eye on this issue, we can instead offer a comforting hand of love and grace, removing splinters of pain, loss, and sadness.

Being vulnerable about the logs in our own eyes requires us to acknowledge our fear that people might leave us, judge us, if they knew who we really were. Our fear that God might leave us, if God knew who we really were.

After Jesus talks about logs in eyes, he teaches ask and it will be given you. Search, and you will find.

He addresses vulnerability here too, in verses 9 and 10, by elaborating what we ask for:

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?

He tells us to ask for what we need. Bread. Fish.

Asking for what we need can be hard to do. It requires us to be vulnerable enough to say that we can’t do everything on our own. For example, if I were to ask who could help take a meal to someone who has just had surgery, lots of hands would go up. If I were to ask who is in need of receiving help because life is really  difficult right now— far fewer hands would go up.

Letting people into our lives, letting God into our lives, by acknowledging what we need and asking others to help us, calls us to be vulnerable enough to let people in to see our messy living room, or our disorganized kitchen cupboards, or our disorganized and imperfect selves.

Maybe the corollary to Jesus’ teaching “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you” is, “let other people help you the way you want to help them”.

If we are always in the role of the person who helps others, but we never let others help us, we have a log of invulnerability in our eyes that we need to remove. 

When I was younger, I had somehow internalized a notion that God’s grace was really needed by some people, but that I was supposed to just be a good girl and not be a distraction for God, while God was busy cleaning up the big messes over there. I am confident I was not explicitly taught that either at home or at church. 

It was, however, my functional theology. Until my life crashed into its falseness,  and I crashed hard when I got pregnant in college. It was a time in my life when I couldn’t solve my own problems. I needed help. And everyone knew it.  (Here’s a sermon about that time, if you’ve not heard that part of my story)

When Jesus says, “Ask, search, knock”, it seems so civilized and well behaved.

knocking.jpg

Maybe you grew up with this image too. I know this is Jesus knocking on a door, and not the other way around, but it’s still what I picture when I hear the “ask, seek, knock” verse. 

In my life, the picture isn’t as pretty. It’s more like this:

When life is more than I can manage on my own, I find myself ugly crying,  pounding on the door of God’s mercy, begging for help. It’s a hard and ugly truth to recognize that God’s grace isn’t just for other people who can’t handle stuff on their own. It’s for me.

And that is good news. Ugly crying is not pretty and rarely feels like good news in the moment. But as I look back over my life, I realize how many times I’ve been the recipient of help, grace, and love. The answers I got weren’t always the ones I was seeking, and the help may not have come as I expected it to come, and the struggles of my life still were struggles.

And through it all, I’ve been loved and cared for. And the people who knew me at my most vulnerable moments of my life are still some of the people who love me the best.

Looking back at my life, I can see how the difficult and painful moments brought me to my greatest growth, and deepest relationships, and best understanding of myself. And I don’t regret a moment of the struggle because I can see the gift that came with it.

It’s interesting as a parent, though, I want my kids to get the life lessons I got from being vulnerable, but I don’t want them to have go through the same struggle I went through. I know life’s lessons come better in challenge than in ease. And I know we can’t protect them from everything.  I’m also not saying we should intentionally set kids up for pain. Jesus says, “if your child asks for a fish, will you give a snake?”

But maybe I would have done better to teach my kids it’s okay to be vulnerable and get hurt, than to have worked so hard to keep them from pain.

The struggle that leads to vulnerability is not unlike the narrow gate Jesus mentions.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.  For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” 

As much as I want the path to be easy and the road to be wide, Jesus reminds us that isn’t really how life works. The road is hard that leads to life.

And yet we spend more time widening the roads than we do helping each other down the narrow trail.

Jesus also says, that if we hear his teachings but don’t figure out how to act on them, we’ll be like the person who builds their house on sand. He calls us to hear his words and then struggle to live into them, so our lives will be built on rock.

In both cases, the houses face weather. The wind blows on both. The rain falls on both. It’s the house with a solid foundation that lasts.

I’ve never built a house, (or anything, really), but I know it must be harder to lay a foundation into rock than it is to just stick a pole into the sand. And I suspect that anyone trying to build on rock would find that they can’t do it alone.   

If I insist on doing everything by myself, the best I could do would be to set up some sort of lean to on a beach. It might give me shelter for a time, but it won’t be much help when a hurricane shows up.

Throughout this entire passage, Jesus is offering us different ways to remember we belong to each other. And more than that, we need each other. And that the only way we can help each other is if we are honest enough to share our hurts and needs with each other. Judging may seem easier. Pretending we’re fine on our own may feel easier. Putting up our own tent on a beach may keep us from asking for help. But the rains will come. And the winds will blow. And if we stand together through the storms, we’ll still be standing when the storm breaks.

I’m thankful to serve a church that is willing to not just hear Jesus’ words, but who will act on them, trusting each other enough to share who you really are, and responding to those stories with help instead of judgment.

How we care for each other is important. How we trust that God will care for us is equally important. In the middle of this passage, Jesus says:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 

If we can take care of each other, trusting our pain and struggles to each other, how much more can we trust God? God knows what it is to be vulnerable too. God chose to be born in in Bethlehem, and lived a human life. He died on a cross out of love for us and walked before us into death, never abandoning or forsaking us.

As we see love and grace in and through each other, may we be reminded the source of our love, care, vulnerable hearts—it all comes from God. Blessed are we.

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