More than Checking Boxes

Matthew 7:21,24-27

Our Gospel reading today helps us to distinguish between professing our faith and demonstrating our faith in action.  Our faith requires more than simply checking off some required boxes, or boasting a title that denotes piety. Jesus makes that clear when he says, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." 


Jesus wasn’t addressing these words to those outside the boundaries of professed faith - he was focused on the very leaders of the faith. Pastor and author, David Platt describes this scripture this way, saying:


“Jesus was not speaking here to irreligious people, atheists, or agnostics. He was not speaking to pagans or heretics. He was speaking to devoutly religious people who were deluded into thinking they were on the narrow road that leads to heaven when they were actually on the broad road that leads to hell. According to Jesus, one day, not just a few, but many will be shocked – eternally shocked – to find that they were not in the kingdom of God after all.”


Humble demonstration of our faith (servanthood) is what is required of all of us. We are being warned today that we’re all capable of devolving to a practice of faith that is rather hollow. We may be strong in our catechism, and all the academic prescriptions and prohibitions of faith, but it could be for naught if it’s not demonstrated in a way that resembles the practices and principles exhibited by Christ. 


Sharing with you a quick story: I was at an event this past Saturday, where a few of us ordained deacons spoke to the latest class of deacon aspirants, and one of our ordained (Deacon Joe) spoke of an eye-opening experience that he had during his time of being an aspirant, when he engaged in hospital ministry for the very first time.


His story provided some wise council, I think, to this group of (20) guys to never be overconfident or satisfied with their standing before Christ.


This story occurred 12 years ago. The hospital chaplain at that time, Joe’s mentor, gave him a list of 33 patients to go visit. Full of ambition, Joe devoted himself to the task by diving in right away, going from room to room, on his own time, before making a return visit to his mentor hours later.  Proudly, Joe reported back to his mentor that he was able to go see every one of those patients, all 33.


The mentor’s response was to put his head in his hands and shake his head. He asked Joe, “Tell me Joe, how did it go?” “Great” Joe said. The mentor probed further, “Tell me Joe” he said, “Tell me about one of your visits, just one. Do you remember anything special about it?” Joe paused. “Ahhh”. He couldn’t think of anything special. “Well, I talked about Jesus in a few of them, and I prayed with them.” “But nothing special in any of them?” “Not really.” The mentor responded, “Hmmm, Joe, I’m not sure that you’re really getting it.”


Reflecting on this, Joe said that he went out to his car in stunned disappointment. He was a guy who readily could answer all the questions on a par with any of us about the scriptures, the catechism, the saints, but he felt like he really bombed out in this, his first foray into ministry.  Reflecting further, he said that if he had a blue tooth phone back at that time (2005), he very well may have called Deacon Steve, the coordinator of our deacon program to tell him that this deacon thing wasn’t for him.


What did this experience mean to Joe as he reflected on it? It finally dawned on him that he had turned this application of ministry into a task. Instead of being “present” for any one of those patients, he simply checked the box – 33 patients – done. What’s next?


While in the car, in stunned disappointment, Joe might have said in a prayerful moment, “Lord, Lord. Hey, I visited 33 patients. What am I missing here?” To that, we could imagine Jesus saying, “Joe, what did you do to further my kingdom? Try it again, and this time demonstrate my love to those people you visited. That’s what a servant would do.”


This was a powerful admission and reflection, I thought, by (the now) Deacon Joe.


I saw a Facebook post that said at the top, “Well done, good and faithful… And then it had a list of words that could potentially finish the sentence, that were all crossed off – pastor, bishop, preacher, evangelist, teacher. The only one not crossed off was the last one, “servant”. In other words, only servants qualify. Joe learned that diaconal ministry, and Christian living, is more than professing our commitment with words. It’s about living our faith, being truly present to others. 


So, let us reflect on the many times that we’ve talked a good game, but didn’t nearly demonstrate it in the way we played the game. Let’s uncheck all of our boxes and devote ourselves to live our faith one loving conversation at a time, one loving action at a time, and demonstrate for others what Christ’s vision of servanthood is all about.


Let us pray to God to send his Holy Spirit to help us “get it”, to guide us in humility, and to direct us do something radically loving, something that will leave no doubt of whose will we do follow. We follow the will of the one who saves us, inspires us and loves us, Jesus Christ! Amen!


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