Now and then someone will demand to know if Episcopalians are a bible preaching church. My response? Shoot, we don’t just preach it, we read it out loud in church every week. The Revised Common Lectionary guides us through a three year cycle of reading the bible out loud, with each year featuring one of the synoptic gospels. John gets tossed in here and there, especially in the seasons of Christmas, Lent, and Easter.
Obviously we can’t cover everything, and as we close in on final weeks of this liturgical year of Matthew, I have a serious complaint about what we were unable to read as meat for serious preaching and discussion.
Given the moveable feast of Easter, and the need to get John tucked in there, the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7), which I consider the heart and soul of Christian teaching, got left out. So what’s the big deal? After all, we got to hear and preach on all but that. It’s a big deal because when people want to know what this plan is they keep hearing about, the one that God has for their lives, the answer is, it’s in the Sermon on the Mount, right there plain as day and easy to read. It’s not a mystery, not hidden, and probably not the one they were looking for. But it’s the one God gave, so we should pay attention.
Too often it’s read and interpreted as a warm and fuzzy set of platitudes Jesus offered up to the people of his day, which we can view from afar in the abstract as if it was about other people, but only partly about us. Maybe each of the sayings in the sermon makes us feel good for a while. Perhaps they inspire us to do good for others now and then. Certainly they impress us with Jesus’ compassion for those we are inclined to pity, even as we judge them with mild contempt.
We need to take a closer look, or at least I need to take a closer look, and do it often. Consider the beatitudes: if God in Christ Jesus says that the poor are blessed, and if we are what we claim to be, the body of Christ at work in the world, then it’s our job to continue the work of being a blessing to the poor. That’s a far cry from the easy way of saying to the poor, “Hey, God says you’re blessed; that should count for something, so God loves you and good luck.” What about mercy? If God is blessing the merciful, should we not only honor them but be them? Looked at that way, here’s my take on what the Sermon on the Mount has to say about God’s plan for our lives.
- Be humble in spirit and demeanor
- Mourn for this fallen world and your role in it
- Hunger and thirst for righteousness
- Be merciful
- Be pure in heart
- Be a peacemaker
- Be willing to be persecuted for righteousness sake
- Be a person of worthiness
- Let your light so shine that others will give glory to God because of you
- Understand the spirit and depth of the Ten Commandments and not just their words
- Seek reconciliation with those whom you have injured
- Let your yes be yes and your no be no
- Confront violence in radically peaceful ways
- Love your enemies
- Pray for those who persecute you
- Don’t act too pious, especially in public
- Give anonymously and with generosity
- Pray with simple words
- Pray as Jesus taught you
- Serve God and not wealth or earthly riches
- Trust God and don’t worry so much about this life
- Don’t be so quick to judge others; you are not very qualified to do it anyway
- Respect and honor that which is holy
- Ask, knock and seek; God who loves you will answer
- Aim for the narrow doorway – the wide one leads to the garbage dump
- Beware of false prophets
- Build your life on the solid rock of faith in God through Christ. Violent storms will still assault you, but the foundation will hold
What is God’s plan for you? That’s it. There isn’t another one, so pay attention.