There is a poignant moment in the 1999 movie ‘the matrix’ where the protagonist Neo meets the shadowy figure of Morpheus and is invited to choose:To choose between two realities… It is one of the most loved scenes in modern film history. It’s become almost a clique, used by countless preachers… but I could not think about Jesus ending his Manifesto of the Kingdom of God with four challenges to make a decision without thinking of that scene. Let’s have a look…
‘come and follow me’… sound familiar. It where we stepped into the Jesus story in Matthew’s gospel. He had called his disciples to come and follow him and then we’ve spent most of the year working through Jesus outlining for his disciples of what it meant to follow him, in all areas of life in the sermon on the mount.
It started with the beatitudes this amazing revolution of grace. That to come into the Kingdom of heaven people needed to know their spiritual poverty, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, It wasn’t the spiritual elite but those who knew their need for something more.
Then Jesus had gone on to talk of what it meant to respond to that gracious offer that those who follow Jesus are celled to be the salt ofthe earth and light of the world. That it wasn’t about keeping a set of rules but about heart attitude… to live a transformed life… that reflected the very one whose grace they had been offered… to show that grace and love in all we say and do… even to love our enemies.
Finally Jesus had gone on to talk about how that devotional life and that revolution of grace would impact on the bottom line, on ourfinances, that our priority was to be putting first the kingdom of God and hisrighteousness and not just saying it but living it out… trusting God to providefor our needs. That to live that prayer out meant we did not judge people, we didn’t write them off but rather extended them the grace we had been extended, looking to deal with the fault foibles and failings in our own life and only as we did seeking reconciliation and healing for others. That as we can rely on God to treat us with mercy and compassion so we should treat others in that same way.
Now Jesus turns to his disciples and brings it all together in a matrix moment. It’s been a great journey but you’ve got to choose. There are two ways two gates says Jesus the narrow gate and the wide gate. You choose. I shared a devotion with the parish council on Wednesday Night which summed up that moment like this ‘the main character in the movie has to decide whether to pledge allegiance to the world that was familiar and safe-a digitally simulated dream world called the matrix-or a scary, non-illusionary real world that could only be met with courage and saving love.” It’s the same choice Jesus gives us. The fact that GATE AND Way seem to follow on from each other in mean it’s just not an event, a moment in time but of trajectory through life.
When I was searching for a picture for the service today of the narrow way I found many pictures and images of lovely lonely mountain paths, contrast with paved highways. But Jesus first hearers would have known that Jesus was talking about city gates. That there was a crowded main thoroughfare, filled with the hustle and bustle of commerce and trade, maybe even the great pilgrims ways in Jerusalem with the crowd flocking to religious festivals, as opposed to the small gateways for travellers on foot, the poor and lest important might take.
We may wonder what the narrow way and the narrow gate means. Does it mean that we have to be narrow minded sheltered and cut off from the world? Does it mean adherence to one set of fundamentals or one way of doing things? I don’t think it does, remember Jesus is always contradicting his Kingdom from the scribes and Pharisees who thought that way. Although when I read Jesus teaching I can’t help but think that we the church often find ourselves shuffling our feet and wondering why it sounds like we are standing with the Pharisees when Jesus speaks. the key here is that it is the narrow way because it focuses on one person and one person only… Jesus in John 10:9 in one for those amazing I am statements that are such a rich motif in John’s Gospel Jesus says I am the gate anyone who enters through me will be saved. The gate is Jesus and the matrix moment is choosing in all we do to follow Jesus who offers us new and abundant life as we follow him. The way as we see all through this last section of Jesus Sermon on the Mount is putting Jesus words into action in our lives. It’s not salvation by works, but letting that relationship with Jesus permeate the whole of our life.
To choose the narrow way is a very active thing. It means choosing to walk a different path and live a different way. I was challenged this week by re reading an article by Tom Sine. I found it so challenging that it forms the basis of my From the Minister in this month’s church newsletter, so you’ve got a chance to chew it over. It has to do with roads. It has to do with the relatively new environment we live called suburbia. Where we live and where we work and where we shop can be so separated and is only made possible by cars and cheap (ha ha) petrol. Sine quotes architectural historian N J Northumbria who says ‘Suburbs far from being values-free, embody the values of individualism, privacy, conformity and exclusion.” Then sine goes on to comment…
“While I know any number of faithful Christians living in the suburbs who maintain vital faith, moral integrity and regular church attendance, I find very few who succeed in embodying values that are significantly different from the cultural values of the suburban communities in which they live…
many of our churches have become little more than chaplains to the dominant culture”
Neil Cole puts it another way he says we are good at doing church, putting on this performance on a Sunday but how good are we at making disciples… people who follow Jesus. To go against the flow and follow the narrow way. I’m only sharing this today because I sense the challenge of Jesus words in my own life.
Jesus goes on to look then at two other challenges we face in choosing the narrow way. The first is the reality that there are false prophets, false teachers will try and lead us away from the narrow way. We need to realise that Matthews gospel was written in a certain context to address certain issues happening in the church community that Matthew was part of and one of those issues may have been false teachers who were pointing people to a different way. That’s helpful for us because I think we always confront those kinds of things and choices in our lives. You know there are lots of people who point the way to life, inside and outside the church that we need to be aware of that while they may sound great do not point us to the narrow gate. Jesus tells us that we will know them by their fruit. By their actions, that the heart of a tree is revealed in its fruit. Don’t get confused says Jesus by flashy presentations and great speeches look beyond and see what it at the heart. Of course Jesus here is the ultimate example, we see his love and compassion for the sick and the poor, his willingness to give up his life.
In the end and we are going to look at that more fully next week, says Jesus, the foundation for life is not simply hearing what Jesus says but its knowing God’s grace in Christ, and putting into effect in our lives. Simply hearing and obeying.
All the way through this long series we’ve had the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer …
“The restoration of the church will surely come from a new kind of community, which will have nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising adherence to the Sermon on the Mount in imitation of Christ. I believe the time has come to rally people together for this.”
… And I believe we are at a juncture in our churches life. We are going to have to make some hard decisions some hard choices. As a parish council we are looking at events and thing we want to run next year. But that is not at the core of what we need. It’s the challenge of choosing together to follow Jesus. You see in the clip we saw in the matrix , Morpheus said the matrix was even there when you went to church. I love and I hate the challenging words of author Garrison Keillor but I’m going to finish with them… the call is ‘to give up our Good Christian life and follow Jesus.’