Sermon on the Mount - Sermon #12 - The Narrow Gate
Seminary Intern, Jason Leighton, Given on Sunday, October 13, 2013
“No tree is cemented in the ground; the time for change is now. What is the good news? We can change now.”
My name is Jason Leighton I’m a 2nd year seminary student at the Methodist theological school in Delaware.
Today I’ll be giving my first sermon ever. but I thought I’d tell you a little bit about myself first.
I’m from Jacksonville North Carolina, I know your wondering where’s the accent? Jacksonville’s a military town so mine comes and goes but you can really hear it when I sing in my truck.
My family’s pretty small, my grandmother, brother and I.
My friends back home have jokes that I am a “man of many experiences” because I seem to have a lot of stories. I thought I’d share a few with you today.
I used to work Wal-Mart pushing carts. One of the best jobs I ever had and one of the most dangerous as well. Folks driving through that lot have no mercy.
One day I was doing my thing getting the carts in and I’m pulling the carts out of a coral and something cuts me across my back.
I froze thinking I had just been hit by a car. Sure enough this SUV clipped me. Thank God the guy’s mirror folded in I’d have been down for the count if it hadn’t.
After I got done counting my toes and fingers I look up to see the guy just tap his breaks to make sure I wasn’t laid out an then he kept going.
Nuts right? We use to joke if you weren’t coming close to getting hit a couple times a week you weren’t working.
Wal-Mart has some of the craziest drivers I have ever seen.
Have you ever noticed when you go to Wal-Mart people will circle the parking lot for forever to get the closest spot to the entrance (gate)? Everyone does it. I know I’ve done it plenty of times.
I’m fairly sure a lot of you have too. But I have also tried another practice, parking towards the back of the lot, I might have had a tougher walk with the extra 40 yards but I still made it to the entrance like everyone else. An if you were wondering about it you could even try this practice today.
Thinking about this lead me to another question, how often do we try to take what we think is the easy road? Try to get things done just a little bit quicker with a little less effort?
Taking the longer road or the harder one is rarely anyone’s first choice and yet you are all here this morning. When you could have slept in, or watched morning cartoons, or read the paper but instead you chose to come here. You chose to come look for the harder road.
I assume that by being here, you have a desire to do good things in life and believe that this is a place to receive some kind of guidance on how. Much like those who were there at the Sermon on the Mount.
They too, I believe had a desire to be good people. But I believe for them as I hope for you and I they got a bit more then they expected.
Here was a guy who was gaining some notoriety. He wasn’t real big yet but he was getting noticed. And as he spoke the people began to realize that Jesus was speaking with direct authority and giving ludicrous examples.
How could he be serious? cut of your right hand if it offends you, turn the other cheek if you are assaulted, LOVE YOUR ENEMIES. I don’t know about you but there have been some people in my life I have had a hard time loving.
Then Jesus takes it one step further, its always one step further isn’t it? Standing in front of these people who I imagine all considered themselves to at least be decent he says “one day you will come before me crying my name “Lord! Lord!” saying ‘did we not do good things in your name and ‘I will say to you I never knew you” This coming from an uneducated Jew.
I mean think about it, Jesus wasn’t one of the Pharisees or Sadducees, he was just a guy off the street more or less.
Yet he grounds this by saying those on the mount and here now will be known by their fruits. “A good tree can only bear good fruit and a bad tree can only bear bad fruit.”
Can you imagine the people there, shocked, wondering how will I know which I am? I keep my kids fed, the bills paid and I give up my sacrifices on time, but I did cut that guy off last week with my herd, and I haven’t returned that water pitcher. Good Lord where do I fall?
They start thinking about it and all the bad things begin to pile up. All to often we think there is no way the good can out weigh the bad. I must be bad.
As that begins to settle in their minds Jesus as he often does takes it another step and says that the bad trees will be cut down and thrown into the fire. The fire? I can’t be that bad. I’ve done all this stuff for God, but then we remember I did do this stuff as well.
If I can only produce bad fruit then why do I serve at the soup kitchen? Why do I care about helping others? Why am I here this morning?
I imagine the folks in front of Jesus felt a lot of this confusion about being stuck. Much like we do at times. But maybe we should consider for a moment what Jesus isn’t saying.
Lets take this and turn it on its side. The good trees can bare good fruit and the bad trees bad fruit but then the bad ones are thrown into the fire. Simple enough but what has he left out?
Can we only produce good or bad fruit? Can we make mistakes? CAN WE CHANGE? Jesus doesn’t say
Earlier he mentions the gate to destruction is wide and easy but the gate to life is narrow and difficult. That probably means the trail to life is steep, we will probably have some obstacles in the way as well. Which means we will probably at some point trip and stumble, make mistakes.
Well if we can make mistakes then that must mean we get the chance to start again right? And if we can start again then we can change.
But change is so aggravating, uncomfortable, and inconvenient, most of us are creatures of habit and we like it that way. But Jesus wants us to turn our habits on their sides. He wants complete transformation.
We try so hard to protect ourselves from harm, from pain, from tough situations. Yet we are called here this morning to look for the harder road.
To give an example, I remember a couple years back I dated a girl and realized things were not working out the relationship had become unhealthy for both of us an it was producing bad fruit.
Eventually I ended the relationship but I was still rooted to it. We decided to remain friends. And that was ok for a bit but honestly it left me confusion over how I felt about her because our habits in hanging out didn't change.
So I thought well “I’ll prune this back some, we can talk but not hangout as much. I should feel better with that.”
Time goes by and things get a little better but not enough to make a difference. I was still hurting and this friendship was now spilling over into the rest of my life. I’d become so stressed over it, that it had started inflating my other struggles and responsibilities.
So I pruned some more an said we won't talk every day either. That lasted all of five minutes before the habits returned. This whole time my life is a wreck, I can’t focus, I can’t sleep, I couldn’t do what I needed to.
It occurred to me I should cut the relationship off completely. But I thought to myself what if it changes, what if she changes, what if I change? How often have we said these things. I made a world of excuses to save a relationship that was destroying my life.
Eventually I got up the courage and told her I couldn’t it anymore. I was trapped had to go completely. I cut down the tree and through it into the fire. The tree took some time to burn but eventually the ash mixed with the soil and made the ground even more fertile.
With this relationship gone, the other aspects of my life could breath again. I was able to think clearly. I realized the affect the core of this relationship had had on my life because it didn’t just affect my actions with her but it colored everything I did.
I was no longer a happy person. I still did good things but my soul wasn’t in it. That was a hard thing to recognize.
Much like those who said “Lord Lord did we not prophesy in your name, or did we not cast out demons, did we not walk in this parade or that parade, did we not minister to the college kids.
If our hearts are not inline with God our fruits as appealing as they may be will turn out to be sour in the end.
Some folks may think well that’s sad but it’s a break up. What about real problems like alcohol, anger, or depression? Those trees are a lot bigger then a crush.
And they may be. Our trees are not meant to be the same we each have our own narrow trail to walk but there is a unifying factor. The grace of God
God’s grace told me I was worth more then I was getting. Gods grace told me that I could change the fruit being produced in my life. God’s grace can give you the strength to put the drink down, to count to ten, to talk with a friend at any time.
We just have to make the choice to do it, to end the relationship, to cut the tree down. How often do we find ourselves caught in a situation we didn't plan on, unable to move, scared of what will happen when that tree falls.
I remember when they cut down all the trees by my house so when hurricanes came they wouldn't blow them on the house.
Even though the tree removal was a controlled situation, watching it happen was a scary thing because we couldn’t be certain which way that tree was going to fall.
We had to place our faith in the rigs set up to catch the tree. Just as we have to place our faith in God to catch us when our trees fall.
Jesus by no means says that we are stuck as one tree or the other but that we should recognize the fruit in our lives and the reason behind it.
As you ride around the parking lots this week take note of where the open spaces are and the guys working, try to decide if that longer walk will do you more good then continuing to drive in a circle.