Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Sermon

I enjoy the Sermon on the Mount. The one by Jesus Matthew put down in his gospel. It is endlessly puzzling and interesting to me. Maybe enjoyment is not the right word for what I feel about it. I find it challenging and way too relevant. It was easier when I was a kid and the churches I went to categorized it as future. It was obviously unrealistic for us now so it must be speaking of life in heaven when we will be perfect! That was called dispensationalism but I didn't know that term for a long time. I simply thought it was the way all Christians thought about it.

Then I went for awhile not thinking about the Sermon much at all. Life intervened and I missed the point that that was the Sermon was about. I lived life preaching my own sermon and it was not nearly as good.

Then I met some Christians for whom the Sermon was the greatest, most central reality of the Christian life. They and I figured most Christians didn't follow it in the here and now because it was too hard. And so far from the way most of us lived. Who fasted? Who prayed like that? Who did not worry about money and stuff? Can we really expect to eat like a bird? Well, this group of Christians surely tried hard enough. Trouble was it felt like we were failing. The bar was set too high yet we gave it a good effort. I have to say that.

Then I discovered the gospel in the Sermon. It was not given to us to talk about a time in the future when we will be perfect nor was it meant to be a standard we could never reach. The Sermon begins with Blessed are you....These words are a blessing; they are an invitation to a life in community that is shaped by their words. Sam Wells says that the Sermon is about abundance not scarcity. God has given us too much not just enough. Our imaginations, he says, are simply not large enough to take it all in. It is possible to live in joyful recognition that God has given us more than we need (Hauerwas in Matthew).

Now when I read the Sermon, I read it more slowly, enjoyably. Prayerfully, because it is a Sermon of Disruption, the disruption of the Kingdom of God (Hauerwas's words).  It is meant to be read and prayed in the community that wants to live it out day to day. I read it with a  mindfulness made possible by "the compelling reality and beauty of participation in his time, a time that cannot be lost (or wasted I might add) because it is God's time" (Hauerwas, Matthew).

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