Missionary statesman and theologian E. Stanley Jones told of browsing in a bookstore and seeing a set of books on a table with a sign reading: SECOND HAND THEOLOGY FOR SALE. Jones said that upon seeing that sign he vowed never...
‘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!’ Matthew 7:24-27
“You don’t think your way into right acting,” my friend told me, “rather you act your way into right thinking.” It was a long ago that my friend, who had 20 years in recovery, passed on this nugget of wisdom to me. Time and again his words have served me well.
One of my problems is that I am a thinker. Not necessarily a deep thinker, but I do like to think. And I think, and think, and think, and think. Like my iPhone sometimes gets stuck saying, “Thinking…Thinking…Thinking…”…so I can get stuck. Since I first read Descartes’ “I think therefore I am”, I’ve tried to stake out my existence by thinking. And sometimes my thinking can become an excuse for not acting.
Robert Bridges was England’s poet laureate, as well as a physician and deep thinker. Bridges was thinking about becoming a Christian and wrote his fellow poet Gerard Manley Hopkins asking him for logical reasons to believe. Hopkins instead wrote back two simple words, “Give alms.” Hopkins knew that his thinker friend would more likely act his way into right thinking.
There is a remarkable scene in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, where Madame Hohlakov fears she is losing her faith. So she goes to her spiritual sage Father Zossima asking, “How can I get back my faith? How can I prove it? How can I convince myself?”
What Father Zossima told her might surprise us: “There’s no proving it, though you can be convinced of it.” “But how?” Madame Hohlakov asks. Father Zossima says, “By the experience of active love. Strive to love your neighbor actively and indefatigably…then you will believe without doubt, and no doubt will enter your soul. This has been tried. This is certain.”
As someone who has often tried to think my way into deeper faith I am reminded of my need to act my way into faith by “the experience of active love.
Today’s Scripture is the conclusion to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:27) in which He has calls us seek first God’s Kingdom, go the extra mile, give alms, pray, fast, and lay up treasure in heaven. He doesn’t end His sermon by asking us to study it, parse it, or diagram it, but to act: “‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.
After calling people to action Jesus was still often asked for proofs of who He was, and proofs to believe. Jesus instead simply commanded them to follow Him.
When I was in college I took a class on the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, eager to learn reasons to believe. It was then I learned that what we often call Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” was really his “leap to faith”. In making the choice to obey Jesus and act on His words we discover ourselves coming into faith.
More and more I’m finding myself in agreement with Gerard Manley Hopkins and Father Zossima when people ask me for reasons to believe in Jesus. I am now more inclined to say, “Put down your books for a while, and let’s go spend some time with the homeless. Let’s serve in the soup kitchen. Let’s go visit someone in a care center, or go a mission trip to Navajos.”
Jesus’ words stand the test of time, and eternity: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who builds his house on rock.”
Grace and peace,
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