‘No one can truly know Christ unless they follow him in life and no one can truly follow him in life unless they know him.’ (Hans Denck, 16th century Anabaptist martyr)
‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.’ (Philippians 2.12-13)
During January and February of this year we are taking a journey through the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps Jesus’ most radical sermon. In the first three centuries after Christ no biblical text is cited more than the SM. It was the basis for almost all instruction to prospective baptismal candidates. Listen to what others have said about this sermon:
“We might say, ‘Let people continue in their ways, eventually they will think their way into right living.’ THE church of the Apostolic Tradition says in effect, ‘No, our approach is the opposite. We believe that people live their way into a new kind of thinking. Therefore it required people to give up certain jobs and practices so that they might become Christian and the witness of the community not be compromised.” (Alan Kreider)
“We cannot participate in God’s work but then insist on doing it in our own way. “We cannot participate in building God’s kingdom and use the devil’s tools and nails. Christ is the way as well as the truth and the life. When we don’t do it his way, we mess up the truth and we miss out on the life. Only when we live Jesus’ truth in Jesus’ way do we get Jesus’ life.” [E. Peterson]
AUGUSTINE’S ‘love and do what you will’ can be a dangerous tool for softening the radicality of Jesus’ teaching. As Jesus well knew, love alone, even that of his disciples, is an inadequate criteria for making ethical decisions. Love, in and of itself, is incapable of supplying the substance of our moral behavior in the world. Love furnishes a safe basis for making ethical decisions only inasmuch as Jesus is concretely the definition of that love. Jesus, in his spirit, his words, and his actions provide the specific content for the moral performance of Christians. (John Driver)
Jesus knows about the seductions of self-indulgence, and we know about a culture that wants to talk us out of our baptism. The SM shows us how to live together for the sake of the world God loves….Imagine all of us this week, upstream against our culture of death. We know better, but it requires sustained attentiveness. We cannot be the church by accident, but only with obedient intentionality. (Walter Brueggemann)
Mahatma Gandhi said of it, “Christ’s Sermon on the Mount fills me with bliss even today. Its sweet verses have even today the power to quench my agony of soul.” He also believed that Indians could delve very deeply into its meaning: “The Sermon on the Mount left a deep impression on my mind when I read it. I do believe with you that the real meaning of the teachings of Jesus will be delivered from India.” (Gandhi read the SM every day of his adult life and found inspiration in it for his own philosophy of non-violence).
The great novelist, Leo Tolstoy wrote The Kingdom of God is Within You, based on his reading of the SM. This book deeply influenced Gandhi, as well as African-American leaders in the civil-rights movement in the 1960s.
I have chosen the title, The Way is Made by Walking, because it reflects what Anabaptist Mennonites have always believed: it is through obedience that we are further illuminated to the ways Christ wants to be active in our lives. Christians are not ‘couch potatoes’, rather we ‘pray with our legs’ incarnating the gospel in our churches, our homes, and our places of work and play.
As we follow the series I want to issue you a gentle challenge, to read through the sermon at least once between now and Lent. Take an hour and read it through in one sitting or take it in small sections (outlined below) and let its truth soak into your hearts and minds.
- THE VALUES OF THE KINGDOM 5.1-20
1.1 The Beatitudes 5.3-12
1.2 Mission and the kingdom 5.13-16
- THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE KINGDOM 5.17-48
2.1 Jesus and the Law 5.17-20
2.2 Love that makes peace 5.21-26
2.3 Love that honors boundaries 5.27-30
2.4 Love that keeps commitments 5.31-32
2.5 Love that speaks the truth 5.33-37
2.6 Love that resists evil 5.38-42
2.7 Love that includes all 5.43-48
- The Spirituality of the Kingdom 6.1-34
3.1 The practice of piety 6.1-18
3.2 The problem of property 6.19-34
- Life in the Kingdom 7.1-27
4.1 Judging 7.1-6
4.2 Ask…seek…knock 7.7-11
4.3 The golden rule 7.12
4.4 Warnings: two ways and two houses 7.13-27
PRAYER: Listen: listen, God is calling, through the word inviting, offering forgiveness, comfort, and joy. Help us to be faithful, standing steadfast, walking in your precepts, led by your word. AMEN (Sing the Journey #42)