sermon on the mount
“Love your enemies.” I’m reflecting on this, the hardest of Jesus’ commandments, as I grieve my own nation’s policies of war, exclusion, vengeance, and cruelty — policies envisioned through the lens of enmity. The lens of enmity warps our vision, inverting it so that the outside world is obscured by our inward fears. It contorts the human faces in front of us into monsters. It magnifies our own pain and obstructs that of others. It blinds us with lies.
Suffering far outlasts any administration, and our commitment to the needs of those suffering must transcend partisanship. One problem with connecting advocacy to partisan political outrage is that often the needs of the people get lost in the desire to “win.” Jesus’s vision of healing a world in pain begins with blessing, not blame, so that we may keep our focus on those in need of comfort.
GIVEN THAT WE'VE ALL just had a face full of Christmas lights, most folks would be surprised to learn that in the church, Epiphany is traditionally the season of light (not lights—you can put them away). Epiphany is designed to put us in the position of those who first met Jesus on whom light slowly dawns. What? You mean the carpenter’s son, Mary’s boy? He’s the one to redeem Israel and bring justice to every last human being on earth?! There is so much light here it is hard to see all at once. Epiphany acts as a light dimmer, waiting for our eyes to adjust, trying to keep us only slightly uncomfortable, but not overwhelmed.
Some churches have a practice of announcing a sermon series for January that can attract new people—something on sex or politics, for example. Advertise it at Christmas and then deliver with your best in the new year. That’s when folks are open to new things, and best of all for us, God illumines us at Epiphany. Learning who God is throws light on who our neighbor is—one in whom divine light shines, who is therefore endlessly deserving of our respect and adoration.
Embrace Church in Sioux Falls, S.D., talks about money in January. It seems suicidal. But folks are financially hungover from the holidays, and need help. And the gospel’s words about money are good news all the time, not just in “stewardship season” or at the year-end budget rush.
[ January 1]
All Rachel's Children
Isaiah 63:7-9; Psalm 148; Hebrews 2:10-18; Matthew 2:13-23
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS don’t often last. They are born in good intentions, but we are weak, fragile creatures, and habits are hard things to break.
Blessed are the poor in heart, for they shall see God. —Matthew 5:8
OVER TIME MANY things heal. Yet I wonder how people who have lost loved ones to domestic violence or wars measure time. How long does it take to forget or forgive? I also think of the wounded who now have missing limbs or have lost their sight. Do they stay awake counting their heartbeats? How do they find the fortitude to love again?
The heart is a fragile thing, yet at times it appears to be as strong as bone. Too many of us are familiar with the broken heart. We surrender to days of quiet desperation, often unhappy with our conditions. We succumb to disappointment or accept failure. Meanwhile the world hides behind ugliness, as hatred and prejudice become a prerequisite for racism and sexism. Sickness becomes the norm when everyone suffers from the fever of despair. It’s easy to say yes to indifference and for a society to become comfortable with intolerance.
When Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, it was a chance to outline a blueprint for living. Surrounded by his disciples, the message of Jesus was one of “goodness” and the need to strengthen one’s faith. There are things in the world that are difficult to explain. It’s easy for one to embrace the darkness of shadows, to fail to see bright radiance of hope. Yet what defines our humanity is our capacity to love; this ability is what infuses history with moments of glitter. In many ways the 21st century will be shaped by religion and how we interpret the various sacred texts found in almost every culture. The movement of history is shaped by people.
Leadership performed by the common person requires preparation and courage. This type of leadership was on display after the tragedy at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. We all possess the divine quality to do right, even when we might be reluctant to act upon it. Fear is in a constant battle with faith. The unknown is usually a companion to social change. As we confront days of terror and terrorism, we must not lose our moral compass. We must not compromise our hearts.
Jesus placed faith and trust in his disciples, knowing they could spread his teachings. This would be possible if they opened themselves to becoming born anew. A new world is only possible if people are capable of discarding selfishness and accepting the nakedness of the open soul—hence the opportunity to be reborn with the acceptance of the Holy Spirit into one’s life. Compassion and the practice of forgiveness must eventually be taught to our young people. Our new generation of activists must prepare themselves to seek higher ground, a place where politics does not exclude the poor and those in need.
At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount we find the famous words of Jesus telling his followers that they are the salt of the earth. But then he gives a warning. “If salt loses its saltiness it is good for nothing and will be thrown out and trampled by men.” Paul reiterates this idea 1 Corinthians 13 when he says that if we have the truth and are uber-spiritual but we don’t have love we will be like a clanging gong. An annoying, loud, obnoxious noise that no one wants to listen to.
This begs the question: Persecution or clanging gong? What if Christians aren’t being persecuted? What if our loss of influence in culture is because we lost our saltiness? What if people are trying to get us to be quiet because we have become a loud, obnoxious, noisy gong? What if the pushback, marginalization, and ridicule we experience is brought about because we have failed to love and, instead, we’ve treated the world with arrogance, insensitivity, and self-righteousness? What if we are reaping what we sowed?
There was a time when calling someone “salt of the earth” was a compliment. It suggested a strong work ethic, moral integrity, and someone whose priorities were in proper order. Today, it seems like more of an insult than anything else.
When surveyed about what they wanted to be when they grow up, the most common response from a cohort of school-age children was “famous.” The response revealed nothing about personal passion or ambition, let alone anything about a greater need to be addressed within the larger community. It points to the fact that one of the most revered qualities in our culture is to be known. What you’re known for is less important than simply having people know who you are.
It would be easy to speak critically of a younger group of people who seem to be losing their orientation to a greater social moral compass, but this is a bellwether for where we seem to be headed. Shine brightly, get noticed and make a place for yourself.
But the thing is, the kind of light Jesus talked about is different.
If the outcome of Sunday’s Super Bowl comes down to the game’s final play, and you find yourself inclined to ask Jesus to help your favorite team win, remember: It’s quite possible he doesn’t know squat about tackle football.
At least, when we read the opening sentences of his Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew 5:1-12), it seems his values are light years away from the confident and muscular ethos that football teams rely on for success. He directs attention in this passage toward the weak, powerless, and vulnerable elements of humanity. Consider these some of the groups he embraces:
- The poor in spirit : referring either to humble people or to those who are broken and have lost hope.
- Those who mourn : those who suffer loss and the feeling of emptiness that follows.
- The meek : those who are gentle and unobtrusive, who refuse to use power over others as a tool to make things happen.
- The merciful : people who willingly surrender their privileges or otherwise go out of their way to improve others’ well being.
- Those who are persecuted : people whose refusal to give up their quest for truth or virtuousness results in the taking away of their rights, wholeness, or dignity.
Careful, Jesus, or you’ll get blamed for contributing to the wussification of America .
The kinds of people Jesus highlights tend to dwell beneath society’s radar. They often stay out, or are kept out, of public view. They possess little power. Most of us can find no good reason for aspiring to join these groups.
Eye-opening numbers about the Super Bowl … and how they stack up against other things going on in America.
Paul Rand quoted scripture and used biblical principles as he made his case against excessive American engagement overseas. He quoted Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” Paul also stressed the military should be used sparingly. Politico reports:
“I can recall no utterance of Jesus in favor of war or any acts of aggression,” Paul said at a kickoff luncheon for the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference. “In fact, his message to his disciples was one of non-resistance.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Social Justice Reflection:
Jesus was a peacemaking, blessed child of God, but he also was an “other.” Reviled and persecuted, he was the paperless son of displaced immigrant parents. The prophetic iconoclast. That guy who hung out with those people, the type most modern leaders would not associate with, except for a photo opportunity at a Thanksgiving Day soup kitchen. Let us remember on Sunday when we celebrate his resurrection, that Jesus was crucified because he was an outsider whose way of doing things scared and angered the powers-that-be.
We have become a nation that loves to “other” people. We point out their differences as reasons they cannot be trusted, as evidence that they take too much from the rest of us or threaten our well-being. We have lengthy, bitter debates about allegiance and legitimacy, and we reject those who do not meet our standards. We know who belongs, and the others need to clear out and leave us alone with our worldly possessions, our rules, and our way of doing things.
American Christian Zionism is pushing the U.S. government to support Israeli policies that our international friends find immoral and illegal.
We have come to believe that Christian Zionism underwrites theft of Palestinian land and oppresses Palestinian people, helps create the conditions for an explosion of violence, and pushes US policy in a destructive direction that violates our nation's commitment to universal human rights.
We write as evangelical Christians committed to Israel's security. We worry about your support for policies that violate biblical warnings about injustice and may lead to the destruction of Israel.
I very much appreciated all the good things that Lucy Bryan Green had to say about "The Family" in the June 2011 issue of Sojourners m