Saturday, February 25, 2017

Year A, Transfiguration, Matthew 17:1-9, “Only Jesus”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
I’ve been writing short summaries of my sermons and posting them on Facebook.  It’s one way that I have found to reach out into the community and to begin to establish connections with our neighbors.
And so while on a given Sunday we may have a couple dozen people here listening to the sermon, through Facebook, the message is going out to over a thousand households in the Otis Orchards/Liberty Lake area.
One of the most rewarding parts of this is when people respond.
The most common response is for them to “Like” the post. 
And when they do, I invite them to “Like” Peace Lutheran’s Facebook page, which means that they we get all the posts that I write.
The other response that they can do is to comment on the posts.  That’s when it gets interesting.
A few weeks back as we were reading from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, I quoted Jesus’ teaching concerning anger, and lust. 
Jesus said:
"But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire."
And also:
"I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
Some of the responses were very interesting:
Loren responded to this by saying:  “Read between the lines .not my GOD.”
My first reaction was that he was not a Christian.
Then he responded:  “I don’t know whose Jesus said this, but not mine.”
My response was to point out where in the Bible these passages were written, and others responded.
Tim said:  “I see the controversy of this
We are not condemned with Jesus
We are forgiven
Don't let man nor religion condemn you

Ryan also commented:  “bull it’s not a sin to think it’s a sin to act”
I’ve been thinking about these conversations.
I think that we will always struggle with the question of who Jesus is and what he actually said.
First of all, this is because in our own hearts and minds there is a Jesus that we imagine.
For many that Jesus is a kind, loving, gracious man who came with words of comfort and hope.  That’s a very popular image of Jesus.
Others, though, may imagine Jesus to be a harsh judge that demands that we live righteous lives and condemns us when we are wrong.  This is the Jesus that Martin Luther was afraid of prior to his coming to understand the grace of the Gospel message.
Who do you ‘imagine’ Jesus to be????
Well, then there is the Jesus that we read about in the Gospels.  When we read the Gospels we discover a Jesus that in all likelihood is different than our expectations.  Our imagination.
There we discover that Jesus did indeed teach us to live according to a high ethical and moral standard, and those teachings of Jesus do indeed convict us of our sins. 
And there we also encounter a Jesus that was quick to heal, slow to condemn, and who loved us enough to die on the cross for us. 
Over the years many scholars of the Bible have wondered if this Jesus, the Jesus we read about in the Gospel, is the real Jesus.
Who would we have met and encountered if we had walked on the shores of the Sea of Galilee with Jesus?  How have the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and message been enhanced by the eyes of faith?
What if there had been a video recorder there? 
Alas, though, what we have is not a video recording, but the Gospels, written for us, so that we might believe.
But it was not easy for the disciples to know who Jesus was either, and they ate, drank, and slept with him.  They heard his teaching.  They saw the miracles.
And they were left wondering.  Who is this Jesus?

Finally, in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked them “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
And then, “But who do YOU say that I am?”
That’s when Peter offered his great confession:
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
Jesus commended him because he had gotten it right.  God had revealed it to him.
Only the problem was that even though he had said all the right words, what he imagined was very different than what Jesus was.
Jesus began to teach his disciples that he would suffer and die, and Peter immediately took Jesus aside and rebuked him.
It’s as though Peter was responding like some of the people on Facebook.
Not MY God.
Not My Messiah.
No, no, no.  Neither God, nor a Messiah, suffers and dies.  No way.  No how. 
And then Jesus took the disciples up on a high mountain.
What happened there was nothing short of incredible.
Jesus’ appearance changed.
His face shown like the Sun.
His clothes became dazzling white.
He was enveloped with the heavenly Glory of God himself.
And there with him, were Moses and Elijah.
Peter is so overwhelmed that he does what he always does.  He starts talking. 
"Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."
Who knows what else Peter was saying, but before he had even finished, while he was still jabbering on, a bright cloud overshadowed them and from the cloud, God himself, spoke:
"This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!"
I wonder if we could actually hear God speak these words, what the emphasis would be?
THIS IS MY BELOVED SON; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.
Or maybe, This is my Son, the beloved; WITH HIM I AM WELL PLEASED; listen to him.
Or perhaps,
This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; LISTEN TO HIM!
I think this is the point.  Shut up.  LISTEN TO HIM.  What he has to say is important.
And just perhaps that’s the most important thing God is saying to us today, as disciples of Jesus.
Just shut up, for a while now.  Keep quiet.  Listen for a change.
Over the course of 2,000 years we have imagined who Jesus is, and I would suppose that too often, Jesus has become just that, a figment of our imagination.
Indeed, perhaps the time comes for each of us, for each and every generation, when we simply have to be quiet for a spell and listen.
This Lent, that’s going to be our discipline.  That’s going to be my discipline.  To quit speaking long enough to listen.
During our Lenten services, we will be focusing on N. T. Wright’s book “The Challenge of Jesus:  Rediscovering who Jesus was and is.”  I am going to try to listen as I present these materials, more than to speak.  And perhaps as I hear again for the first time who Jesus was and is, you too will hear that message anew.
That’s the hope, anyway.
And on Sunday mornings, during the adult bible study, Pastor Marcia will be leading us through a course titled “24 Hours that Changed the World”, a study of the passion of Jesus.
I hope you join us in this journey.

After the disciples heard God speak from the cloud, they were overcome with fear and fell to the ground.
Jesus touched them, and said “Get up and do not be afraid.”
They looked up and saw no one except Jesus himself, alone.
Jesus, himself, alone.
This is our calling.
To see only Jesus.
The real Jesus.
And this Jesus, alone.

Not the Jesus we imagine in our hearts.
Not the Jesus that we’ve constructed over two thousand years of speaking more than we’ve listened.

Just Jesus.  The one who was, is, and is to come.
Jesus.  And him only.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Year A, Epiphany 7, Matthew 5:38-48 Living in the Kingdom, NOW!

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen
In Genesis 12, Israel’s history begins with a promise, given to Abraham, that to this day remains in effect. 
1 Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
Over the years, there have been many things that caused people to doubt that promise, many challenges that would get in the way.
Abraham doubted the promise.
“How can I believe the promise, when you’ve given me no children?”
Abraham and Sarah, now old, took matters into their own hands, and Sarah offered her maid, Hagar, to Abraham.  With Hagar, Abraham conceived a child, Ishmael.  But that was not what God intended.
Finally, Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah, but still, one child is a long way from a great nation.
A few generations would pass, and Abraham’s children would journey south to Egypt, and there live first as refugees fleeing from the great famine that had taken over their homeland.
In time, as their numbers grew, the Egyptians took these refugees and made of them slaves.
Again, the promise was in question.
Being a slave in a foreign land is not exactly what Abraham envisioned when God promised to make a great nation out of his descendents.
Then came Moses.
“Let my people go!”
God had heard the cries of his people, and delivered them from Pharaoh, and led them out of Egypt back toward the land that he had promised them.   There they would become a nation.
Under Moses’ leadership, but with God alone reigning, the Kingdom of God was born.
And as with the beginning of any nation, first they would have to organize themselves and decide upon the laws that would govern their nation.
God led them to Mt. Sinai, and there from the mountain God gave them the Ten Commandments, a covenant that would bind them together in this new nation, the Kingdom of God.  If they would obey the commandments that God gave them, then they would prosper and become great.  If not, then adversity would overcome them.
From Sinai, God led the people through the wilderness, and eventually into the land of Canaan, where they would finally become a nation. 
It was God’s intention that Israel would have no King, except God alone.
But that didn’t satisfy the Israelites.  They wanted a King like other nations.
God gave in.
First, there was Saul,
Then David,
And David’s son, Solomon.
Under David and Solomon the kingdom grew, and indeed became great.
But that was short lived.
After Solomon, for hundreds of years, Israel was plagued by kings who were not faithful, and their own failures to live according to the covenant that God had made with them on Mt. Sinai. 
As a consequence of their sin, in 721 BC, the northern ten tribes of Israel were overthrown, and the people were dispersed, never to be heard from again.
The Southern part of Israel, called Judah, survived until 587 BC, when they were overthrown by the Babylonian Empire and hauled off again into slavery.
“Where is the Kingdom, God.
Where is the great nation you promised to Abraham?”
These were the questions they asked.
What about that promise?
A Generation later, Cyrus the Great, from Persia, conquered Babylon, and let the people of Israel return home.
But what they returned to was a land destroyed.
Everything they loved, including Solomon’s Temple, was gone.
And the years which followed were not much better.
One nation after another sent their armies on conquests of Israel, and though they were not slaves, they were captives in their own land, ruled by one foreign King after another.
The last of these foreign rulers, would be Rome.

I say the last, because during the reign of the Roman Emperors in Israel, God renewed his promise of a Kingdom.
Jesus was born, a son of David, and when the time was right he burst onto the scene with a revolutionary message.
“The Kingdom of God is at hand.”
After years of exile, slavery, and occupation by foreign powers, God was reestablishing the Kingdom of God. 
Jesus message about the Kingdom of God, was a declaration of independence. 
It was God’s way of assuring the people of Israel that he had never forgotten the promise that he made to Abraham, nearly two thousand years before.
The Kingdom of God.  Now.
Like Moses before him, Jesus led his followers to a Mountain, and there he sat down and taught them.
The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ Mt. Sinai.
Like Moses, who from Sinai shared God’s covenant with the people of Israel, Jesus would share with us a new covenant.  This new law, this new teaching, would be the basis for the reestablishment of the Kingdom of God.
In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus teaches the people about the new covenant:
He begins by quoting from the Code of Hammurabi.  Hammurabi was a Babylonian King whose system of justice became the norm for that part of the world.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’”
This was the way that the nations of the world were governed.  But it would not be so in the Kingdom of God.
“But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”
Imagine a Kingdom, run like this?
Imagine a Kingdom in which Jesus mandate to “turn the other cheek” was followed.
In our wildest imagination, it just doesn’t work that way.
Can you imagine how the world would have responded if President Bush, following the September 11th attacks, and “turned the other cheek” and let them strike us again?
Last week we heard about how if we even called our brother or sister a “fool” we have violated the law.
Likewise, merely looking upon a person with lust is to commit adultery.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus puts forth an agenda, a covenant, a vision for the Kingdom of God that seems simply impossible.  How can we do anything but fail?
And then, if everything else Jesus has said to this point isn’t enough, our reading today concludes with these words:
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The Kingdom of God is at hand.  Well, then, what shall we do?
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
It’s as though the promise God gave to Abraham has become a good news/bad news joke.
The Good News:  God is reestablishing the Kingdom of God, a new beginning, and you, are part of this glorious Kingdom.  Now.
The Bad News:  All he requires of you is to be perfect.  That’s all.
That’s one of the reasons that many of us have understood Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God to be impossible in this life, and that the Kingdom will only be experienced in the life to come.
We just are not capable of perfection.
But then the Apostle Paul helps us to understand what Jesus is saying here.  He writes in Romans 13:
8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
This is the thing.
God created us with the capacity to love.
We love our spouse.  Our children.  Our parents.  Our friends.
We even love our dogs.
So when Jesus says that:
'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. ' 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it:'You shall love your neighbor as yourself. ' 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
He is not talking about something that is simply impossible for us.  We can love.  That’s a fact.
Jesus talks about this again, in slightly different words, in John’s Gospel:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
The Kingdom of God.
We live in the Kingdom, that great nation promised to Abraham, whenever we love as Jesus first loved us.
It is that simple.
And life will be good, not just one day, but today.
A piece came across Facebook this last week, by one Dallas Willard, where he writes:
The Gospel is less about how to get into the Kingdom of Heaven after you die, and more about how to live in the Kingdom of Heaven before you die.
Would you like to live in the Kingdom of God now?
It is this simple:
Just love all people, the way that you love some, and then you will find the Kingdom of God.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Year A, Epiphany 6, Matthew 5.21-37 “My grace is sufficient for you.”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
So, it’s time for some confessions.
It doesn’t take much.  Not much at all.
Driving down the road during a winter storm, watching other drivers will do it.

The other morning, during one of those snow storms, most of the driver’s on the road had slowed to about 40 mph, and were doing our best not to slip and slide out of control.  Then I see a semi-truck coming up behind me, passing everyone.  I’d estimate he was doing 60 mph or better.  And all I could say, was, “You fool!”

Another day, same type of weather conditions, I was backed up behind a snow plow.  I’ve learned that in such circumstances you’ve just got to be patient.  Yes, they are only traveling at 30 mph, but passing is usually not safe.

In this circumstance, the plow was in the left hand lane, with the extended blade stretched out to clear the right hand lane as well.  There was no opportunity to pass.

And then again, a pickup truck raced up behind me, passing everyone along the way.  When he reached the snow plow he was undeterred and simply swung around to the right, through the discharge of snow coming off the plow’s blades and passed on the shoulder of the road.  Once again, all I could say was “You fool!”

Jimmy Carter was honest enough to admit it, even though he was criticized for being so honest.
And I have to confess that I’m with Jimmy on this one.

A strong craving or desire of a sexual nature.
The struggle is that we are sexual human beings.  We naturally experience sexual desires.  From a purely biological perspective, it’s that desire that keeps us engaged in sex and having kids, necessary for our survival.

All it takes is the mere sight of a man or a woman, and those desires can awaken.
I once joked with a friend, that the best thing about getting older was that with every passing year, more and more women were looking attractive.
He didn’t know how to take that.

In all seriousness, when I was 18, any woman over the age of, say 30, appeared to me to be just  plain old.  Now that I’m 60, there are a lot more women that are attractive.
It doesn’t take much.

And the thing about lust is that by the time you realize what’s happening, you’ve already experienced it. 

And according to Jesus, the sin has occurred. 

I have to tell you a quick story about something that happened this week.
I post articles on the Church’s Facebook page as a way of reaching out to the community.  On Friday, my comments were on this text.
Almost immediately it was ‘liked’ by a young woman.  As I often do, I clicked on her name to go to her Facebook page and find out a little about her.
What I got, was an eyeful.

My conclusion was that she was employed over in State Line, and if she wasn’t, she could be.

Jesus said, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

And then, if that is not enough, there is this matter of how we get along in Church.
“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”
Who among us can say that we’ve never offered our gifts at the altar when there were people out there with whom we needed to be reconciled?
One of the occupational hazards of being a pastor is that too often, things are said, or done, or not said or not done, that offend people.
I’ve had people refuse to receive communion from me for months because they found fault with one of my sermons.

What should I have done in those circumstances?

Stop everything until reconciliation was achieved?  How do I pastor a congregation if I am to ‘leave my gifts at the altar and go be reconciled with anyone who has something against me?
It’s pretty tough, especially because some people are not inclined to be reconciled.  They feel that they are right, and I am wrong, and there’s little that can be said or done to change that.

Oh Jesus, what are we to do?
And why did you make it so hard?
One of the things about Jesus’ teaching, is that whether we like it or not, (and most of the time we don’t like it) Jesus exposes our sinfulness. 
And here in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks incredibly forceful words about the spirit of the law, not just the letter of the law.
According to the letter of the law, I’m not bad at all.

I’ve never killed anyone.
I’ve never committed adultery.
And I can even say that I’ve tried to seek reconciliation whenever I knew that something was wrong.

It doesn’t stop there.
According to the letter of the law, I’ve done pretty well keeping all the Ten Commandments.
Part of this is because I’m basically a good person.
And part of this is because what I lacked in righteousness, I made up for with timidity.
There’s something to be said for being shy.
I’m just not bold enough to do something wrong.
At least according to the letter of the Law.

But Jesus won’t let us off the hook there.
He lifts up the Spirit of the Law.
And there we all stand convicted, our sins exposed, and it becomes clear how weak we actually are.

As harsh as Jesus’ words are in the Sermon on the Mount, he doesn’t leave us there. 
He bids us come to the foot of the Cross, and there, on Golgotha, that other Mountain, he forgives us.

Every day when I come into Church, I see that wall hanging in our entry. 
First of all, because I knew Nancy.  Nancy was one of the first people I visited in the hospital when I was in seminary.  Nancy had a business and created those wall hangings with a scripture verse and woven ribbon.
But I also notice it because it is one of my favorite verses.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
When we are weak, God is strong.
When we have sinned, God’s grace and forgiveness are all the more powerful.
And that’s all we need.  It is sufficient. 

I’ve been thinking about our congregation a lot since I’ve been here.
One of the thoughts that I’ve had is that what is needed is for me to be a cheerleader of sorts, and encourage you to believe that though you are small, you have much going for you and you are a wonderful little congregation. 
Affirmation, recognizing that even though you are small, you can be faithful in doing God’s work, maybe this is what is needed.
This has been hard to believe at times, especially as our numbers have dwindled as one person after another has left for one reason or another.
And so I’ve been trying to affirm you, and reassure you, that your size is not something you should feel bad about.

But maybe that’s the wrong place to start.
 Where Jesus starts, is with these difficult words that we read this day.
Jesus starts by exposing our sin, and calling us to repent.
Jesus starts by showing us how we are weak, in order that we might see the power of God at work among us.

I wonder.
I wonder if what is needed is not affirmation, but confession. 
You are not alone.
Congregations all over the country are struggling with declining numbers, many of whom don’t know if they will be able to survive.

But is suggesting that such congregations need to confess their sinfulness and weakness only to add insult to injury?
It is like kicking someone while they are down?

One of the things I realize that I must confess is this. 
I have often tried too hard.
I have often tried too hard to be successful as a pastor, and to bring about growth in the congregations I’ve served.  And when I do that, I rely on my own abilities, not the power of God.  And I fail.

I fail because I am weak. 
But if I admit that I am weak, then I open the door for the power of God. 

Perhaps that is the confession that not only we at Peace need to make, but the whole Church.
That the harder we tried, the more we failed.
By our own efforts and understanding, we not only cannot bring the Gospel to all nations, but we cannot even believe ourselves.

But to make such a confession, is not to resign ourselves to defeat.  It is to open ourselves to the grace of God.
Jesus exposes our sin, our failure, our weakness, that we might experience the power of God active in our midst.

Perhaps what is needed is not for us to try harder, but to simply stand back, and watch what God can do.

You fool! We say.
                Child of God, Jesus says.
We are filled with lust,
                And Jesus calls us to love.
We harbor grudges against one another,
                And Jesus seeks reconciliation.
We fail.
                And Jesus prevails.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Year A, Epiphany 5, Matthew 5:13-20 “Costly Discipleship”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

Really?  That seems harsh.  And it hardly seems like good news. 

The truth is that there is an edginess about Jesus that we just don’t like.

We’d rather sing “What a friend we have in Jesus” than to actually listen to what Jesus has to say.

Jesus challenges us. 

And we don’t like it.

But this is the truth:  If Jesus was always such a nice friendly guy, he would have never been crucified.  He was crucified precisely because what he had to say was disturbing.  Enough so that people wanted to silence him.

Righteousness.  What is that?

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”

Those were the words of Isaiah that we read.
Later on in Matthew, the 25th Chapter, Jesus says:
41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. ' 44 Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you? ' 45 Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. ' 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
Harsh words.
Words that condemn us.
And we don’t like them.
One of the things we do is to “tame” this side of Jesus, with the theology of Paul.
We can ignore Jesus because Paul said in Romans 3:
“21 But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”

Or again in Ephesians:
“8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
You see, we don’t need to worry about Jesus’ words because Paul has muzzled him.
Or at the very least we interpret what Jesus is saying based on our understanding of Paul.
“Yes, Jesus says our righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and the Pharisees,” we say, “and it does, for the righteousness that we have is a righteousness of faith that is a gift of God, apart from our doing anything.”
Hah, dodged that bullet, didn’t we?
Or did we?

The problem with preaching that sermon is that Jesus also says:
“Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
When Jesus talks about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, or obeying the commandments, he is very specifically talking about our behavior.  What we do or do not do.
In fact, the whole of scripture talks a lot about our behavior, and most of it we just don’t like.
Next week we will hear the continuation of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus declares that it is not enough that we don’t murder, if we even say ‘You fool,’ we will be liable to the hell of fire.
This one strikes home for me, these days, because I have to confess, in all honesty, there is someone we recently elected that has provoked in me the desire to say “You fool”.
What do we do with Jesus?
What do we have to say about this demanding side of Jesus that condemns our behavior?
One of the things we say in AA is that though God won’t send us to hell if we continue drinking, we ourselves will create a living hell out of our lives if we drink.
I had a similar thought as I prepared to preach on this text. 
What happens to us after we die, is that we will be saved by God’s grace.
The Kingdom of heaven, or the Kingdom of God, that Jesus speaks about, though, is “of heaven”, but not IN heaven.
The Kingdom was intended for us, in THIS life, and would be ours if we simply accepted Jesus as Lord, and lived our lives in obedience to his word.  Our refusal to do that has resulted in our not ‘living in the Kingdom’, but rather suffering under the consequence of our own sins. 
To put it differently, we had the choice of living in the Kingdom of God, but chose instead to live under the kingdoms of this world, and paid the price of our choice.
Martin Luther dealt with this question in a different way.  Yes, we are forgiven, we are justified, by faith apart from the works of the Law---- but “this faith is bound to bring forth good fruits, and that it is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God’s will, but that we  should not rely on those works to merit justification before God".
To put it differently,
If we have faith. . .
If we “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
We will “love our neighbor as ourself. “

We struggle with this, as well, though.
It is easier to love God than it is to love our neighbor.
And we’d prefer to be justified by our faith, without having to get involved in actually doing anything.
Dietrich Bonheoffer, a German theologian who died in the concentration camps during WWII called this “cheap grace”.
He writes in the “Cost of Discipleship”:“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession...Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
On the other hand, he writes:
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” 

And again:
“Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son. . .”
One of my favorite passages from Martin Luther’s writings comes from his commentary on Galations.  There he writes:
"The person who can rightly divide Law and Gospel has reason to thank God. He is a true theologian. I must confess that in times of temptation I do not always know how to do it. To divide Law and Gospel means to place the Gospel in heaven, and to keep the Law on earth; to call the righteousness of the Gospel heavenly, and the righteousness of the Law earthly; to put as much difference between the righteousness of the Gospel and that of the Law, as there is difference between day and night.
In civil life obedience to the law is severely required. In civil life Gospel, conscience, grace, remission of sins, Christ Himself, do not count, but only Moses with the lawbooks. If we bear in mind this distinction, neither Gospel nor Law shall trespass upon each other. The moment Law and sin cross into heaven, i.e., your conscience, kick them out. On the other hand, when grace wanders unto the earth, i.e., into the body, tell grace: "You have no business to be around the dreg and dung of this bodily life. You belong in heaven.""
In short, Luther’s understanding is that our life in heaven depends entirely upon God’s grace,
But the quality of our life on earth will depend entirely upon the way that we live our lives.
This is difficult to understand.
And this sermon has been a struggle.
Faith and Works.  On the one hand they are so different.
On the other hand, they are so intricately tied to one another.

I’ll leave you with two statements.
First, how you live your life, matters.  Period.
And Second, it matters even more, that Christ gave his life for you.

May this peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.