It’s Go Time

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
Matthew 7:24-29

I remember, years ago, when I first started my postgraduate degree at St. Andrews, all postgraduates were encouraged to take a course in research methods and writing. The professor tasked with leading us through the course, Daphne Hampson, began by reminding us that at some point in our research we needed to start writing, so, she suggested, we might as well begin that day. She offered that rather terse and seemingly premature advice following a discussion on the topic of research, data collection, and information cataloguing.

After years of her own research and writing, she recognized that sometimes the greatest hindrance to the writer is simply starting. Especially after having compiled stacks of research and having surveyed a wide field of study, she knew all researchers, particularly new ones like us, faced a potentially crippling dilemma: Where to start? With so much material covered and possibilities to pursue and just enough exposure to a discipline to know how much there was to know, all writers face the danger of not wanting to start for fear of starting in the wrong place or heading off in the wrong direction. From personal experience, she knew the ossifying potential that comes from knowing you need to start but not knowing where that place is.

So, she offered this simple advice to new scholars. Just start.

Knowing lots of information and reflecting on lots of information were great. But, they were not everything. Knowing and doing are not exactly the same thing. You need both. She wanted us to merge the two together . . . and to start them simultaneously. Now, of course, we would certainly not always start in the right place. But, at a minimum, we would have started.

At least, if we started researching and writing and found ourselves wandering down a blind alley or reaching a dead end or chasing theories into a perplexing rabbit’s warren, we would have done something and would be in a position to start editing and correcting and revising and jettisoning. And, all along, we would have been writing and working and moving. We would not be fixed in one place either because of a lack of direction or motivation or certainty. We would have just gotten on with the work of being scholars and writers, refining our theories, our research, our craft, and ourselves throughout the process.

I have always appreciated her advice.

And, after reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s reflections on the concluding remarks from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, I could not help but remember that brisk autumn afternoon’s lesson. Both Professors Bonhoeffer and Hampson seem to have come to the same conclusion: When the work before us seems so large and looming, sometimes we just need to get started.

As you may recall, this section from Matthew’s gospel coined the Sermon on the Mount was proceeded by Jesus calling his first sets of disciples after he has begun his ministry. We are told in each instance that the disciples are working, Jesus walks by, speaks to them, calls them, and they “immediately” follow. Then, having gathered these disciples who dropped everything, Jesus takes them (and others who are straggling along) to a mountaintop to deliver his law for this expanded kingdom that his ministry inaugurates. The fact that the disciples’ response is recorded in the text and is in such close proximity to Jesus’ substantive and lengthily ministry’s inaugural address is no accident. The immediacy of the disciples’ response sets the tone and underscores the energy implicit in the Sermon on the Mount.

For as quickly as Jesus called his disciples, delivered his protracted discourse on the work and character of the life of discipleship to which he has just called these responsive men (and others), Jesus ends the discourse, astounds the crowds, and returns to the work of kingdom living. Moving right into the work of that kingdom seems to be the only way to manage it.

All of the descriptions and expectations that Jesus has just outlined for his disciples have the distinct possibility to overwhelm even the most seasoned follower. And, Jesus is dealing with anything but seasoned followers. Here, Jesus is working with those who hours before were casting nets and gutting fish. Now, they are being called to live into the high and rigorous demands of discipleship and kingdom-making.

There is so much to be done, so many places to start, so much material to review, so many assessments to be made. Yet, the kingdom that Jesus offers does not seem to wait for such deliberate and calculated movements. Rather, the kingdom Jesus offers seems suited to those who can think on their feet, readily and nimbly adjusting as they get on with the work of loving God and the world. Discipleship and kingdom work, it seems, requires on the job training. That type of training might be for the best because to wait for all parts of Jesus’ kingdom manifesto to be in place, analyzed, and systematically arranged would stagnate the work, if not perpetually postpone its inception. And, as we learn over and over again throughout Christian scriptures, God seems less interested in perfect, prepared followers than in willful, responsive participants.

Lives of faith—for most any faith—is about a willing readiness to share in the journey of faithful living and not to serve only as a spectator or evaluator or naysayer. This need to get on with the work of living into the reality of the vision cast seems all too necessary.

Consider Jesus’ story conveyed at the end of the Sermon on the Mount of the two men, each building a house on a different foundation. Both build. It does not work out for both men. Some might see this story as a warning, a cautionary tale, suggesting that careful assessment and calculated planning appear critical to a successful project. And both are. Yet, I take a slightly different lesson from this story. The “successful” builder has a house the stands because he did two things: (1) he chose a good material and (2) decided to get on with the work. The “unsuccessful” builder is unsuccessful not because he chose to build but because he chose to build with the wrong materials. His error was not in building. In fact, building seems to be what both men did correctly.

A life of faith, it appears as outlined in the story told in Matthew’s gospel, has an indispensible characteristic of action linked to something else. Doing the work of faith is not in doubt. Recognizing the importance of living intentionally faithfully is what both men get right.

Now, this lesson is certainly not the only lesson we can take from this parable in Matthew’s text, but it is an important lesson. Sometimes, we just need to get on with it.

So, over the coming weeks, whether you are at work or home or school or on vacation or with family or with friends or alone or wherever and with whomever, get on with the work of loving. That call to action seems to be the essence of Jesus’ manifesto and Matthew’s story.

It’s go time! A whole world is waiting.

“Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”
—Matthew 4:20

Have a great week. See you along the way.

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