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Today we come to the conclusion of a twenty-five week series where we explored the most famous sermon in history. The Sermon on the Mount ends with Jesus offering a simple metaphor. It is then followed by a brief line of text that seems to summarize the overall chatter among the crowd as they disbanded and headed back home. How did Jesus end such an amazing collection of wisdom and teaching? How is someone to “take it all in?“
Before we get to the passage, lets pause and consider that these words were captured in oral tradition. I’ve shown the chiastic structure that was used to organize the thoughts but in the end most scholars believe this circulated for at least 30-50 years before it was written down. While we do have multiple written accounts that mostly overlap in themes and details, it’s important to understand that what is written down is not so much what Jesus said, but what people “heard” Jesus say. This doesn’t make it less reliable, but it draws our attention to the fact that hearing is always biased toward the hearer.
This brings up the biggest question for us as it relates to this sermon. What did we hear? Given the warp and woof of our lives, our busy schedules, the distractions that surround us, how much did we hear, not of my words, but of the Word, the Logos (v.24)? I think this gets us closer to seeing why Jesus ended his sermon with the following passage:
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27 ESV)
This passage is a clear metaphor; all spiritual teaching is. In fact, metaphor is the only container that can help one person describe to another something that is beyond description. It’s like trying to use language to describe a song. Spirituality deals in experience that far transcends words or any one’s ability to use them. As James Finley would say; “We use words in service to the unsayable.” The “unsayable” part of this sermon is how Jesus has shown how religion does not have jurisdiction over each person’s “unsayable experience.” Giving our life to the institutions of Church or State, career or family, temporal pursuits, or the cravings of our flesh are in the end distractions that anesthetize us and give us myopia, preventing us from knowing our Maker and being known. In this way he freed his audience to follow that inner awakening.
Life will have rain, floods and wind. There will be forces that are beyond our control which have the potential to erase everything we value. It’s not a matter of “if” but “when.” If we miss the “Logos” (the word) these life events will have a catastrophic effect on our lives. Here’s the catch: To know the Word is not to hear the words, but to experience that which is beyond the words, that which the words are feebly trying to describe. I’ve known so many religious people who know their bible, but have almost no inner experience with that which is beyond them. This “indescribable” place is called “The Kingdom of God or Heaven.” It’s the subject of the whole sermon. If we focus on the thing, but miss the Thing beyond the thing, then we miss the whole thing and life is wasted or lived in confusion.
We must build our life upon the Solid Rock. The foundation of life is the unsayable. The song exists before the tune encapsulates it. As Richard Rohr would say, God is not the dancer, but the dance.
A life “built upon the Rock” is a life that sees beyond the physical world into the world beyond our empirical data. This “kingdom” is where mathematics, love, reason, beauty, and meaning are all birthed. None of us live without these things, none of us can deny any of these things are real and exist, yet none of these things can be empirically measured. We do not need to prove the kingdom’s existence, we need only recognize that this kingdom is actually more durable, more lasting and more reliable than anything in our material world.
Our love a person lasts longer than the person’s body. The wisdom of a teacher outlasts the teacher. Yet, who would that loving person be without love? Who would the teacher be without the teaching? This “unseen kingdom” is what creates the physical world. The Word becomes Flesh (John 1:1, 14). The idea of a taco comes before the taco. The experience of the taco, or love or teaching is only part of understanding that all things first pre-exist and come to us from this unsayable, indescribable, non-physical kingdom. The two worlds function like a dance. Miss either partner and life is marked by suffering. Jesus is showing us that to join the dance is to have our life marked by inexpressible beauty and joy.
This is what Jesus gave the audience, and what this sermon gives us. Jesus deconstructed religion and he didn’t not start a new one. He gave us all the freedom to pursue and experience this kingdom in our own unique ways. We don’t have to appease a deity to gain entrance after we die, for the kingdom of God has come to us and is here the moment we gain eyes to see it. That makes OUR life, even in all its suffering, limitations, and powerlessness a very important reality. THIS life within THIS moment is the only time and life we can do anything about. You want to change the world? Then follow the impulse of the Kingdom immediately within you into what is immediately required of you right now. Nothing more, nothing less. There are no big tasks nor small tasks. There are no important nor unimportant things, each is beautiful in its time and each done in faith creates the new world. This is how we “hear” and “do” the logos.
Once we “see the Kingdom” we begin to realize that all people everywhere move and live in and out of this sacred space. It’s not limited to a religion, a profession, a race, or tribe, but only the awareness and willingness of each individual to join the dance within each and every moment. Jesus closing comments are essentially this: “You want an amazing life that can never end? Then see and join the dance. You want your life to be a waste, then simply continue to ignore this non-physical reality (logos) and focus only on the tangible, the future or the past. You will never join the dance you can’t see.”
The last nugget in this passage reads as follows:
“And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. (Matthew 7:28-29 ESV)
In a culture where authority is lorded over people all the time (just like us today) this audience was being conditioned by Church and State into a compliance based, subject-object relationship. Sounds familiar. Jesus had “authority” because he didn’t fear in the midst of a fear based culture. He had authority because he subverted the powers around not by over-powering, but by re-orienting the center of power within the person hearing the words. He revealed a subject-subject relationship rather than subject-object religion. Transformation not transaction.
Jesus gave his audience back their personal power. Perhaps this is what our world needs more than ever. This audience went home in the same impoverished physical condition in which they came, but they had such a renewed understanding of who they are and what they can actually do. They found a new “unsayable” place from which to live and they would have began to see a gradual, incremental conformity to bodily, financial, and social healing as they moved from being a competitive dependent upon institutional power into becoming an interdependent community that serves and builds one another. Who could possibly have imagined that taking responsibility for our lives could transform the entire world?
What was true for this audience, is also true for us. May we each draw upon the limitless power of the unsayable world, to transform and empower our lives, so we can serve those in our immediate spheres of influence in love and peace. The lesson of the Logos is to never break faith with the heart awakened by God. This is the only thing with the authority to ever bring about the new world that we all desperately yearn to see.
In this way, Jesus ends with a beginning. The beginning of our ability to see and trust our awakening. Perhaps we can just barely see, yet alone trust in this unsayable, no-thing. We would be without resource to access this new world or kingdom. Jesus ends his sermon right where he started it. “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”