When we say that we have a philosophy of life, we are in fact telling other people something about what guides us in our daily round of life. Perhaps we do not see our philosophy of life affecting our every decision but – if we are true to the philosophy we have chosen – we will find our decisions in life following a pattern. How visible that pattern or philosophy is to others depends a lot on whether we live by that philosophy only in our private lives or whether it is visible in our public lives as well.
The word faith has many meanings. We use it to describe our coming to belief in God and in Jesus the incarnation of God. We use it to describe our continuing trust in the grace and mercy and forgiveness of God. But it can also be used in a general sense to describe the overarching principle by which we - who have chosen to recognize ourselves as Christians – have decided to live our lives. And it is in that more general sense of faith that Jesus is speaking to the people in the passage from Matthew.
Jesus recognized from the beginning that many people can express faith in God in the sense that they can believe in the existence of God and even acknowledge the wisdom of God in the commandments and guidelines that the nation and its people were to be committed to following. But Jesus knew that the faith of the people in God and their acknowledgment of the commandments had to go beyond a life that was adhered to in the easy moments and had to reach into every moment of their lives. The words spoken and acknowledged needed to be put into practice. And it is the practice of the faith which they professed to hold that became for Jesus the place where the rubber met the road or – as was more the case in his time – where the leather of one’s sandals met the road. It is the practical application of the faith to which one gives credence that is more important.
It was no surprise to many of the people of that day in the Jewish nation that their religious leaders were far from shining examples of how to live the faith they proclaimed. But Jesus knew that even if the leaders were not living the truth, they were speaking the truth. And so he commands the people to listen to the teaching of the Pharisees and scribes but be sure to actually practice what they hear. Of course Jesus knew that it is far more difficult to practice what we know to be the ways and wisdom of God but he also knew that practice and practical living of the wisdom of God would go further than anything else to not only growing the relationship of the people to God but also be the clearest way of attracting others to see faith in and a relationship with God as a positive pattern for their lives.
The invention of mirrors has helped people to see clearly the flaws and blemishes of their faces and bodies. It has helped us to ensure that we are properly dressed and has allowed us to apply products to hide or disguise those elements of our appearance that we find disturbing to us – if not to others. But while the mirror has helped us to see the exterior better, it cannot do anything for that which we reflect through our eyes, our mouths and our hearts. It is said that the eyes are the windows of the soul. They are the only part of our body that allows another person to look inside to see the person that we often try to hide or protect from the world around us. Jesus knew that as long as our commitment to our faith – to our life with God – remained a matter of superficial and convenient living, we would not allow the truth of God’s ways – of God’s wisdom – to be seen for itself and so be able to be adopted by others as the pattern for their life.
The warning from Paul about taking the elements of the Lord’s Supper without considering how we were living in community with others was not designed to stop us from taking the elements but to help us consider how our faith needs to be reflected in our living or else our faith will become an empty shell losing its effectiveness not only for its influence over others but also its influence in our lives and eventually we may come to find our faith of no value or consequence.
Leaders in any community of faith carry a special responsibility to reflect the faith they profess in their living. This is not to say that our leaders will be perfect – for we know that no one of us can achieve that perfection – but leaders can encourage, support and challenge others in a positive way to be as proactive as they can in reflecting the faith for themselves in their lives.
Jesus was deeply troubled that people were losing faith in God because the truth of God was not being lived in the nation’s daily life. Jesus was deeply troubled that people were abandoning hope in the promise of God to be with them, to walk with them and to guide them through this life. Jesus was deeply troubled that people were feeling isolated from God and from God’s deep love for them. It is hard to believe in words like grace, mercy, forgiveness and love when people experience judgment, condemnation, disdain, grudges and intense dislike or even hatred.
Jesus had seen first hand how disease, poverty, and general missteps in life had isolated people from God. His encounters with people met people where they were in their pain, suffering, and isolation from the society that surrounded them and he drew them back to a place where they could experience again the God that so long had been isolated from them.
Remember the words of the Rev. Frances Saville in her reflection on Grace Alone when she said: “For I am also a sinner, broken in my relationship with God and others, unable to love the Lord with all my heart, mind, soul and strength, unable and sometimes even unwilling to love my neighbour as myself.”
My encouragement to you to reflect your faith through your living is an encouragement that I seek for myself each day. While popular culture has said that those who can’t do are to teach, Jesus invites us to a different culture. Those who teach faith, who teach others of a God who actively loves, forgives, is merciful and gracious, are to do or seek to do what we encourage others to do. Teaching is not to be imparting words of wisdom or patterns for living that are to be adopted only by others. Teaching for Jesus was speaking to others about what he knew in his heart and mind and spirit was true and worthy of living. One of our newer hymns in our book of praise reminds us that worship and work must be one. Praying and training that we be a blessing, and by our handiwork daily confessing, we are committed to serving humanity. And in response to the life we are given by God, we look for God’s help as we offer our living, seeking a just and a healing society for worship and work must be one (Worship the Lord, #555, by Fred Kaan and Ron Klusmeier).