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The Sermon on The Mount

At last, finished the sermon for tomorrow morning. I did finish it earlier before going out to take a memorial service in church – but couldnt have saved it and so had to start again…

Now, I must acknowledge some of the ideas come from the wonderful web-site: http://www.thisischurch.com( especially  the audio sermon on the site for Epiphany 7) – I often turn to it to get started but I hope I have added sufficient of my own thoughts to make it my own.

So, here it is – I especially love the poem at the bottom which sums up all I wanted to say really.

Please note that SM is shorthand for Sermon on The Mount…

Matthew Chapters 5 -6

The Sermon On The Mount

 



What makes a good sermon?

How about these suggestions…

The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending and having the two as close together as possible. (George Burns)

OR

A good sermon should be like a woman’s skirt: short enough to attract interest, but long enough to cover the essentials.

Well, I hope this sermon which is going to look at the Sermon on The Mount as Matthew records it is short enough to keep your interest  but long enough to do justice to these famous and deeply challenging words of Jesus.

Firstly, to ask a question…where in the bible do we often find God speaking to his people? Well, Moses spoke with God on a mountain top and gave his people the foundations for living – the 10 commandments.  Here, in Matthew Chapters 5-6  as Jesus delivers a long sermon on  living with Kingdom values it is as if God is speaking from a mountain side to his followers.

“ Blessed are the poor in spirit – blessed are those who mourn… you are the salt of the earth…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you and many more challenging sayings on topics like divorce and money which can take a life time to make sense of……if we ever do.

The SM could be said to be Jesus’ manifesto for Christian living  for all Christians for all time. Truth to tell it would serve well all kinds of people whether they are Christian or not.

It addresses the law and order debate with a finely balanced approach which keeps the demands of justice and mercy in creative tension.

It urges a radical approach to the treatment of enemies; hostility and hatred are to be challenged by the activity of persistent love. It is a hard love which envisages the well being of both the offender and those offended.

Religion is to be modestly practiced – its prayers and charitable acts are never to be for show.

In teaching about the fatherhood of God it requires an understanding that we are all equal before God.

Wealth is fine unless it becomes your master – and there is plenty in this world for all but the trouble is we are too untrusting to believe it and we stock up ort cupboards and build up our bank balances against a tomorrow we are afraid of at the expense of the poor.

Jesus says we must be willing to go the second mile. In his time a Roman soldier could demand a civilian at any time to carry his kit for him for a mile – it was a demeaning act yet there were penalties for refusing the request. But they were not allowed to ask for a further mile’s assistance.  But Jesus says – go on, offer the extra mile with good grace. Don’t plot revenge or get angry about it. Copy your generous God – go the extra mile and surprise the soldier – he might even get into trouble if he agrees!

Turn the other cheek Jesus says – if someone hits you on your right cheek – and that would have been a sign of bullying or taunting an inferior person – stand up for yourself and offer the other cheek. Don’t pick a fight, hitting back only keeps evil in circulation. Stand up proud and see if they dare hit you again as an equal on the left cheek and  not as an inferior.

The SM ends with the recommendation that success comes from the building on the rock of the firm principles that Jesus is teaching – as the wise man builds his house upon a firm rock in contrast to the foolish man who builds on the shifting sands of expediency.

These teachings have inspired millions of Christians over the centuries even if living up to the hard principles  has eluded just as many.

The opening words of the SM are so well known…..Blessed are the poor in spirit for the Kingdom of Heaven is there’s. It is important to recognize that the Beatitudes or Blessings appear at the beginning of the SM before a single instruction is given, before there is time for obedience or disobedience. Appearing at the beginning, they say that Gods favour proceeds all endeavours – all our efforts at Kingdom living are in response to God’s divine grace and can only be achieved in God’s strength.

The beatitudes describe a world we don’t recognize because they are reversals of what we normally see and what we normally think and how we normally act.

Usually we see the forceful and rich getting what they want in life, we don’t understand or appreciate the undemanding nature of those who are meek and truly humble. We might even despise the poor in spirit, those who find life just too much they can’t cope. We tend to evade any signs of weakness within ourselves. But St Paul write that God has made foolish the wisdom of the world and has chosen what is weak to shame those who are strong. The beatitudes depict life as it is made possible through Christ and that is why Jesus teaches them to his disciples before anyone else in his ministry.

Jesus as he starts this sermon directs the spotlight on the most marginalized people. He puts them centre stage – the poor, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are persecuted and reviled. These, he said, are all blessed and are promised comfort and peace. Jesus says it is to them that the earth belongs and to them that heaven is promised.

This kind of thinking is light years away from many of the values which drive our society today.

May I focus on the two beatitudes which seem to be the most surprising:

Blessed are the poor in spirit and blessed are those who mourn.

The Greek for poor in the first beatitude conveys abject poverty, the absence of any resources whatsoever.  Victims of earthquakes and floods and other natural disasters, those  who have nothing left in the world – they know what it means in a material  sense to be utterly destitute and poor.

When our very spirit is poor we may feel that we are emptied of any inner resources and strength. It might take extreme circumstances, an accident ,exhaustion, illness, anxiety for us to realize that we have reached a point in our lives when actually we can’t do anything without Almighty God. Isn’t it almost unbelievable that Jesus calls such a state happy……

How can people who are utterly poor either in a material sense or in an emotional sense be called happy, blessed? Where is Jesus coming from?

And the Greek word for mourning in the second beatitude conveys intense grief – earlier in the gospel Jesus quotes from Jeremiah to tell about the mothers whose infants had been slaughtered by Herod. He describes now bitterly they had mourned their children.  For those who mourn so intensely, it is very hard to accept comfort or see any end to  grief. Comfort can seem like a betrayal  of their loved one. So how odd for Jesus to say that people in that situation are blessed.

One can understand when Jesus hails the merciful and the peacemakers, those who suffer persecution for in them we see qualities which belong to the kingdom. But why the mourners, those poor in spirit, exhausted with life?

What we are being asked to do is to reverse our thinking – so that we do not view times of low spirits, times of great sadness as things we must move on quickly and get over as soon as possible On the contrary, if these conditions can be qualities of character  on the same plain as mercy giving and peacemaking these are qualities we need to acknowledge  as potentially growth points within us.

Gregory of Nysa the 4th century bishop described the soul as the mirror of God. He said the proud soul, the  self contained soul, is like being a blank wall as it is enclosed in self regard and is unable to mirror God. Such a soul may appear calm and in control but infact it is cracked and chaotic. On the other hand when we feel cracked and chaotic our sense of self sufficiency looses its hold and room is made for Gods character and strength to shine through.

God choose what is low and despised in the world  and Paul writes “ to reduce to nothing things that are so that one might boast in the presence of God”

Mourning like poverty of spirit has a quality which can lift ourselves out of our own concerns and put us in touch with others who struggle.  It can  expand our compassion so we feel we share in the very compassion of God and the whole of the suffering of creation. We can be  moved to reach out and help from the place of our own woundedness.

So, after he finished his SM, Jesus moves on with his disciples and the first person he sees is a leper. There was no one who typified  at that time the poor as much as a leper

. Jesus showed he wasn’t a man of mere words, but that he was also a deedmaker. His fine phrases could be matched by noble action. He touched the leper and he was made clean.

If we have ever had a fracture, you will know that caluses form around the break. So, as Ernest Hemingway once wrote: we are made strong at the broken places

or as Jean Vanier puts it in verse “ our brokenness is the wound through which the full power of God can penetrate our being and transfigure us in him.

What better words to finish with:

I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.
The Prayer of an Unknown Confederate Soldier

 

February 19, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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