1) Words show character - the two trees (verses 43-45)
2) Action shows obedience - the two builders (verses 46-49).
It wasn't comfortable to preach. Our conversation and our conduct reveal the truth about us.
Towards the end I mentioned a gerontologist I met at a conference last month. I had heard about how ageing often reveals true character. The bitter angry person becomes increasingly bitter and angry, while the kind loving person does the opposite. I asked her if this was true. "Yes," she said. "We often lose the ability to regulate our feelings as we age, and so the real person emerges!" That sounds scarey!
But it raises such big issues about how we progress (or regress) in the spiritual life, not only as individuals, but as churches. We are called to develop as God's people and "become mature attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Eph 4:13). How can we help each other to grow better in word and deed, to display more fruit (Gal 5:22) by God's grace?
I don't think the contemporary church is very good at this. A challenging book on ethical preaching (David J. Schlafer and Timothy F. Sedgwick, Preaching what we practice - proclamation and moral discernment, Morehouse 2007) suggest six practices that Christians need to develop for moral formation. These contrast markedly with the world's values:
- prayer and worship
- forgiveness and reconciliation
- formation of households as communities of faith
- hospitality as the embrace of the stranger and those in need
- citizenship and political responsibility
- reverence for creation
Together these call congregations to engage in corporate accountability and mutual moral responsibility, and to mature in their practices through God's grace. As the old hymn puts it: "Changed from glory into glory."
There is much to chew over here. Certainly, should I remain exactly the same as I was five years ago raises a vital challenge. And for a church to be exactly the same is a profound challenge too. Jesus expects people who call him "Lord" to show it by the way they put his gift of a new way of life (John 3:7, 2 Cor 5:17) into practice. And this means us together.