Matthew 7.21, 24-27
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!’
How firm are the foundations of our faith? For many of us, our journey into Christianity was a social ‘rite of passage’ rather than a pilgrimage of faith. Not long after we were born, our parents took us to the local church to be baptized (or Christened). Some years later, after years of attendance at Sunday School or years of singing in the Church Choir we were ‘prepared’ for confirmation. Not many of us will remember much of this process! Then, we were summoned to a special service when a man in strange clothes (it was always a man in those days!) would lay his hands on our heads and say words that we did not quite understand. For many of us that special service would have made us feel ‘warm inside’, ‘excited’, ‘keen to go on in a different way’. Then (again, for most of us) the reality dawned that things did not feel that different. We continued to go to our local church, and now we could receive Holy Communion, but, otherwise, things were not that different. We had, in fact, built the next storey in our faith journey but the foundations were not that strong.
Today’s reading is asking the question with which I opened this reflection: how firm are the foundations of our faith? Jesus is warning us that just saying: Lord, Lord, will not make us Christians. Just knowing the order of service from memory is not what God wants of his faithful followers. God would much rather we approached worship with uncertainty and apprehension than with arrogance and self-assurance. This, of course, applies to clergy as well as laity!
So many people in this world consider their familiarity with Church to be sufficient. Today Jesus is telling us, in very clear and direct terms, that this is not the case. Our journey into faith is just that … a journey. For some it is a short journey that is marked by a single moment of revelation, for the vast majority it is a slow and plodding journey that takes many twists and turns, that loses its way and is marked by struggles to get ourselves back on the right road.
This month of December, just like every December, provides us with an example of what Jesus means when he speaks to us in today’s reading. On 25th December we will celebrate the birth of Jesus. The four weeks before that great moment of celebration is a time of prayer and preparation. The season of Advent is a time when we should be reconsidering our relationship with God. The majority of the month of December should be a time for us to hear the call of John the Baptist and to repent, that is to turn away from the road we are following and journey closer to Jesus. But … of course … we rarely do that. December is a month of bustle and worry. December is month of partying (other than in 2020, of course) and shopping. December is a month during which we exhaust ourselves. December is an opportunity we waste year in, year out.
On 25th December the birth of Jesus will be celebrated, but will the foundations of our faith be up to the strain? Will we have spent the time of preparation fretting over the differences between this 2020 and previous years, or will we have taken the opportunity to strengthen the foundations of our faith? I hope and pray that those foundations will have become so strong that the whole world will see the difference!