Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sermon Starters: Building on Rock (Matthew 7:24-27)

This is the sixth and final sermon to go with my devotional book on the Sermon on the Mount: The Wisdom of Jesus. The devotional goes along with the background book, Jesus: Portraits from the Gospels.

The sermon notes for the previous five weeks of the devotional book are:

Week 1: "The Winner Isn't Who You Think" (Matthew 5:3-12)
Week 2: "Love the Whole Way" (Matt. 5:43-48)
Week 3: "Who Is Your Audience" (Matt. 6:5-14)
Week 4: "True Significance" (Matt. 6:19-24)
Week 5: "Jumping to Conclusions" (Matt. 7:1-5)

Sermon 6: Building on Rock 

1. I would begin this final sermon in the series with a recap of the previous five Sundays, a run through the Sermon on the Mount. So the introduction might be a little longer this week than in the other weeks. Resources include Week 6 of The Wisdom of Jesus (94-110) and Jesus: Portraits from the Gospels (71-72).

For the last five Sundays, we have made our way through the Sermon on the Mount. From one perspective, it gives the essence of what Jesus taught about how we are to live in this world. The first Sunday we learned what the values of the Kingdom of God are, and we found out that they are not what we might think. It is not the assertive but the meek who inherit the kingdom. It is not the rich but the poor in spirit. It is not those who dominate but the merciful and the peacemakers.

The second Sunday, we learned that Jesus fulfilled the Law by fully orienting it around God's command to love both friend and enemy. We were to be "perfect" and go the whole way in our loving others. Jesus didn't just raise the standard by targeting our intentions. He shuffled the standard by orienting it around the love of others.

Next we were reminded that God is the one we want to honor us, not other people. And in week four, we were reminded that true significance comes from God, not from the things that preoccupy most people here on earth. Finally, last Sunday we heard Jesus' teaching on not judging others.

2. Most of us know the children's song: "The wise man built his house upon the rock." [sing it if you can] Do you know what it means to build your house on rock? This "almost parable" is part of the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount. The rock is the teaching in the sermon, and the wise person is the one who builds their life on Jesus' teaching in it. This is also what it means to walk through the narrow gate (Matt. 7:13-14).

Body of Sermon
One idea for a sermon this week is for the body of the sermon to be a series of stories, each of which illustrates building on rock or building on sand. In keeping with the series, these stories might best be illustrations of the basic teachings of the Sermon on the Mount. One after another, perhaps no more than 5 minutes each, these stories might hammer home the content of the series and seal it in a way that will stay on the minds of the congregation for a long time.

The kinds of stories you might tell include:
  • A story of someone who was largely unnoticed but Christlike in the manner of the Beatitudes. This person was not considered "successful" by worldly standards, but will be a rock star in the Kingdom of God. This person built his/her house on rock, and it will stay standing when the judgment comes. 
  • A story of someone who overcame temptation to harm another or to have an affair or to divorce to get with another person or to get revenge. This person built his/her house on rock, and it will stay standing when the judgment comes.
  • A story of someone who prays much or fasts much or gives much, but you might hardly notice because he/she does not do it for show. They do it for God. This person built his/her house on rock, and it will stay standing when the judgment comes.
  • A story of someone who had good reason to worry from a human perspective but who demonstrated a calm peace in the middle of a storm of life. This person built his/her house on rock, and it will stay standing when the judgment comes.
  • A story of someone who might easily have jumped to conclusions about the motives of someone else but who chose to suspend judgment in the name of not judging others. However, the story turned out, this person built his/her house on rock, and it will stay standing when the judgment comes.
The main content of the Sermon on the Mount ends with the Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12: "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets." Jesus considered the law to love God and neighbor to sum up all of God's expectations of us (Matt. 22:34-40). If we were to love our neighbors and enemies, we would "fulfill" the Law and the Prophets, Jesus style (Matt. 5:17). Our righteousness would then go beyond the scribes and Pharisees (5:20). We would be perfect like our heavenly Father is perfect (5:48). The person that lives this way is building his/her house on rock, and that rock will stand when the judgment comes.

One way to end the sermon is to challenge yourself and the congregation to do what the pastor in In His Steps challenged his congregation to do. He challenged them to ask themselves "What would Jesus do?" in every decision they made one week. Challenge your congregation this week to ask this same question with the concrete teaching of the Sermon on the Mount in view.

The challenge of WWJD is that people fill in the details with what they think Jesus would do. But the Sermon on the Mount gives us specifics. Ask yourself, "What would the Sermon on the Mount say" about each decision you face? If you make those kinds of decisions, you will be building on rock.

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