It happened again. I read a bit of scripture, a very familiar bit, and heard it in a brand new way. This time it was The Sermon on the Mount; three famous chapters from Matthew’s Gospel that many take as core teachings for Christians. I realized that, despite what Jesus had said, I’d subtly taken those teachings as laws. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It’s early in his ministry. He’s been baptized, gone into the wilderness to listen deeply to God, returned to find John arrested, moved his home base, began his teaching life picking up John’s message of the need to change our lives and live a life that evokes God’s ways into the world. He gathered disciples, crowds grew, something began to emerge, and then he took those who were committed to him, took them apart and laid out for them his expectations and guidelines for their individual and community life – that’s the Sermon on the Mount. He’s on a hillside, his close community gathered near him.
Have you ever been in a group and set out group norms? I do it regularly when I begin a small group or lead a retreat. I take time for the group to know what our time is about, what we hope to achieve and how we will be together – Pretty basic stuff. This week I heard Jesus doing that same thing with those close to him. This is how we’re going to be together……. Are you on board?
The list of topics in his sermon is both huge and so radically human. He knows me. He knows us. Look at what he talks about – our physical, emotional and spiritual life – our sexual life, our financial life, anger, worry, and greed, how self-centred we can be and how hypocritical. He knows us in all our human weakness AND he doesn’t send us away. In fact, he re-frames all of it and says “you’re blessed when you’re at the end of the rope, because there is less of you and more of God’s ways” (The Message). We ARE salt and light, not might become some-day, but ARE, already. He holds us close to him. We belong to him. Do you know yourself belonging to Jesus?
He repeatedly warns that there are old ways and new ways. He knows they/we know the law and knows how attractive it is to us to live by an external list of rules. It is so much easier to check off at the end of the day – didn’t murder anyone today, didn’t have sex with anyone expect my husband, check, check – got it. But he takes it deeper and deeper within us and says that there is so much more I’m asking of you. I’m taking you beyond external laws into a deep internal life, full of self-awareness, humility and surrender. Are you ready for that?
After making sure that they knew he held them close (Mt 5.1-20) he begins into the detailed guidelines, starting with anger. In that section, first there is the acknowledgement of the human tendency to get angry. I’m human and I get angry. Then there is the teaching of different degrees and implications around anger; words that kill, grudges that divide/conflict resolution within communities, and peacemaking when there has been a deep wall built. He says that you and I will live differently (more on this next time). Right now, I want to focus on his overall introduction.
I could hear his expectations and guidelines being given to them, to us, to me. This is what life looks like if you’ll follow me. We’re going to be different, radically different from any other community. So different that people will look at us and say… What’s going on? What motivates them? Who are they? Whose are they……? Where do they get the energy to be like that? hmmmm – could I become part of their community?
Next time I want to go over the first three teachings he gives us around anger. I don’t think many of our Christian communities hear and live like he is inviting us to do. I think our world desperately needs us to be fully Jesus followers.
Imagine being on that hillside with him. Are you up close or straggling down, or even far away in the valley below? Do you want to be close to him? Do you want to be following him? I find him intriguing, compelling and attractive. I want more of him.
The journey continues
Community Leader, Contemplative Fire Canada