The Road that Leads to Life

Matthew 7:1-14, 24-29

At the very beginning of the faith, the earliest followers of Jesus thought of themselves as the Jews they had been raised to be. They understood Jesus as the realization of the promised Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God. So at first, they didn’t call themselves anything other than Jews. It didn’t take long for them to start calling themselves Christians, but even before they were called Christians, they called themselves followers of The Way.

In the gospel of John we hear Jesus say “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  The earliest followers understood themselves to be following the Way.  Jesus himself is the way; he won their salvation, so all they had to consider was how they would keep following him in this world.  Jesus had already done the hard work.  They were free to live as he called them to live.  Their faith wasn’t a particular moral code or political stance, it was a way of life.  It was shown in their actions.  They followed in the way that Jesus had shown them.  Jesus called them to live in a particular way, a way of love and sacrifice and compassion and hospitality – and so they followed the way.

We still follow this way today, but now the way seems to have many detours and hairpin turns and dead ends.  And so we pay special attention to Jesus’ words in today’s reading, at the end of his Sermon on the Mount, a long instruction on how to follow the Way.  He tells us: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

What does it mean to walk this narrow way?  What signposts will we find telling us that we’re walking on the right path?  In our insecurity, we look for easy identifying actions that show if we’re on the way or not.  In that desperation, we have often heard this verse as a warning about our morality.  The only way you can know you’re on the narrow path is by looking at your personal actions and beliefs.  Make good choices.  If you step off the path, do the wrong thing, act inappropriately, you might get left behind.

And because we want to keep that path narrow, we’ve taken this idea and used it as a weapon against people.  We presume that there is a particular morality, a singular way that leads to life, a certain set of beliefs and actions that Jesus desires of us, usually a lifestyle that we find most familiar or comfortable for ourselves.  We declare that we are walking the narrow path, those unlike us are not, so we obviously must be the real, true followers of Jesus.  I know I’m in; I know you’re out.  Done and done.

Oh, my friends.  Be so careful to presume that you can take one piece of what Jesus says and ignore the other bits around it.  Don’t you remember how this passage started?  “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”  The words Matthew used in this verse of his gospel indicate that when Jesus talks about judgment here he is particularly talking about judgment about salvation.  Jesus warns us: don’t presume that you know who is in or out, saved or unsaved, beloved or condemned.  That work belongs to God alone.  If you think you can do God’s work better than God, you’re on the wrong path.

Jesus isn’t talking about morality.  He’s talking about discipleship.  Discipleship is the way of following Jesus.  We say discipleship to mean how we each act as disciples of Jesus, as ones who follow Jesus’ teaching, as ones who follow The Way.  The way that leads to life isn’t a way that constructs a false system for personal superiority while pointing out everyone else’s perceived faults.  The way is hard work: service, compassion, and faithful listening to God’s continuing, changing call.  Jesus who is the Way calls us to a narrow road, a particular way of life, one that doesn’t necessarily have to do with some kind of internal purity, but rather, a way that leads to life, as Jesus tells us: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”

This golden rule isn’t unique to Jesus’ teaching – it’s a lot like the Levitical code to love God with your heart, soul, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.  Many other cultures around Jesus’ time had a similar kind of law.  But just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s easy.  The road that leads to life is hard, remember?  Few can find it.  How can you know that you’re living as a faithful disciple who seeks always to love God and love others in your words and actions?

Jesus gives us a clue: we are to hear his words and act on them, like a wise person building a house on a solid foundation.  This means discipleship has two parts: listening and acting.  Oh, how often we skip the first part!  We forget to listen, taking time in prayer and meditation and scripture reading to hear how God’s ever-changing, always-new word speaks truth to our lives daily.  We cannot assume to know what God is doing or what is required of us.  We must listen.

And it’s not enough to listen.  We must also act.  We cannot be simply self-interested, content to have an internal, personal relationship with Jesus that means nothing for the world Jesus loves.  We who are disciples, followers of the way, we must get out and walk the walk.  If God’s word brings us new, fresh direction every day, then so too must we be prepared to walk the narrow way, taking us new and sometimes scary places, taking the way infrequently traveled because it is hard.

You are a beloved child of God.  It’s what we’ve been talking about with these texts from Matthew through this season after Epiphany.  As you live in this world, trusting that God loves you, you face temptation.  You are blessed.  You are provided for by God.  And, each week, we ask you: so what?  What does it mean to trust in God’s love for you?  To trust that Jesus defeats sin, death, and the devil for you?  That God’s blessings are for you no matter the circumstance?  That God provides for you each day as it comes?  So what?

Today we take all those things into account as we walk the road that leads to life, because we are disciples.  You are a disciple, and so you follow – not for your own gain, but so that your singular trust and devotion to following leads you on this narrow path that shares God’s love and blessings to everyone.

It is hard to trust in God alone.  It is hard to act outside my own self-interest.  It is hard to serve all of God’s beloved people even if I don’t agree with them or like them or have anything in common with them.  But the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life.  For you to follow Jesus in this way isn’t easy, but it is true, and it is faithful.  Beloved child of God, you are a disciple.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.


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