With our reading for this week in Matthew 7, we come to the end of the Sermon on the Mount. After teaching about God’s priorities in the Beatitudes, Jesus gave us a how-to about prayer, as well as other faith practices. We now move to a series of teachings, capped off with a parable.
Active and Practical
As I’m reading the parable that concludes this sermon, I’m struck by the focus on action in it. The editors of my Bible were very helpful and titled this section “Hearers and Doers.” This made me go back through the entire Sermon on the Mount. Aside from the Beatitudes (which is clearly different than the rest of the sermon), the vast majority (all?) of the teachings here have to do with action. The Beatitudes show us God’s priorities in the kingdom (by providing comfort for those who are suffering), the rest of the sermon shows us how to live out those priorities.
Faith and Works
My background in the Presbyterian and Lutheran churches (with a Reformation history degree from Luther Seminary) immediately takes me back to the whole faith/works argument. Whatever your position on that, I don’t think Matthew’s Jesus is talking about “salvation” as we so often think about it. He is talking about living in the kingdom of heaven, a kingdom (or reign) that is about doing God’s will rather than a specific area of land (as earthly kingdoms are based on). Living in the kingdom of heaven is really important to Jesus. I guess it should be important to us, too, huh?
Hearing and Doing and Discipleship
Our free resource this week “Built on a Rock” from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Worship product summarizes Jesus’ parable in verses 24-27 as, “Only a faith built on a solid foundation of discipleship can withstand the storms of life.” The writer equates hearing and doing with discipleship. This is only logical in that a good student (disciple) listens to (hears) and follows (does) the teachings of their teacher. Moving further, the process through which we are enabled to hear and act upon Jesus’ teaching is how I would describe faith formation.
But there is a step missing between hearing and doing. We are not able to sit at Jesus’ feet within the context he lived and hear the words spoken from his mouth. Even the disciples didn’t just sit, listen, and go do it all. They saw Jesus doing the work of the kingdom. They felt it, tasted it, and smelled it. They had a relationship with Jesus and each other.
Hearing and Doing Faith Formation
Here at Spirit & Truth Publishing, we define faith formation as every action, experience, or relationship that nurtures a transformative relationship of trust with God and shapes the way we see and interact with God’s world. Like the disciples, we need to hear Jesus’ words, but also to see, touch, taste, and smell the work of the kingdom. We need to experience God’s kingdom within a community, in relationship with each other. And, we need to act. Enacting Jesus’ teachings is not about getting it right. It’s about working to get it right, to improve. There’s a reason we call such things faith practices.
How do you go about the process of faith formation, helping people to hear Jesus and follow his teachings? Let’s look specifically at our reading today. In a setting that includes young disciples (either a cross+generational or age-specific setting), it’s important to focus the message. This passage, and frankly the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, does not have a clear, accessible focus. It seems like a whole bunch of teachings crammed together.
Stories are a good way to provide a focus for the younger set (and the older set, too). But I’m not talking about anecdotes. I’m suggesting that the whole faith formation experience you are doing is couched in a story. That’s one of the beautiful things about the Narrative Lectionary; it highlights stories. In Matthew 7, the parable of the two houses provides a good focus for the whole sermon. It provides a concrete, visual image within which to talk about what doing Jesus’ teachings looks like.
This parable always makes me think about the story of the Three Little Pigs. Although that’s more about strong and reliable building materials than foundations, you can still make a connection with a well-known story and being wise or foolish while building.
It is easier to pay attention, and easier to remember things when action is involved. In addition to hearing the teaching, how can participants experience the story with their other senses? What is something they can do? The use of the building and falling imagery here provides an opportunity for that. Have participants build something and knock something down! Our free activity describes how worshippers can make meaningful cardboard blocks and then create two walls. One of them gets knocked down. I’m sure you can find someone who would enjoy doing the destroying (including pretty much anyone under the age of 5).
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
Lent is quickly approaching, so it’s time to order Spring Living the Word faith formation resources (covering Lent through Pentecost Sunday)! As soon as your payment is processed, you can download the materials immediately and start using them!
Year 2 (2019-2020) products will be launched very soon with a special discount for readers of this blog. Keep an eye out!
For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!