Our reading today comes from a section of Matthew’s gospel which is known as the Sermon on the Mount. This section covers chapters 5 to 7 and fits into a bigger theme of Announcing God’s Kingdom.
Shane Claiborne, a Christian activist, and author who is a leading figure in the New Monasticism movement and one of the founding members of the non-profit organization, The Simple Way in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, once conducted a sermon series where he just read chapters 5 to 7 saying they were the best sermon he had ever heard delivered. We were fortunate to have Shane as a keynote speaker for NCYC 2009 that was held here in Melbourne. He is a great person to speak with and someone who certainly made you think.
There are many well-known passages in our reading this morning. We have the Beatitudes, we have the declaration that we are to be salt and light to the world, and we have comments about the Law and the Prophets.
Often when we talk about the collected teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, there is a tendency to describe how Jesus turned the world upside down, how everything was turned on its head by Jesus’ teaching. It is perhaps not the best analogy to use. What Jesus really did was to turn our perspective right way up. He shifts our understanding of reality so that we can grasp that what had been thought to be the final word on what is objective reality was in turn an incomplete view. Jesus does not come to change everything completely, instead he comes to bring better clarity to what already is: “I have not come to abolish [the laws] but to fulfil them.”
When it comes to the teaching that follows, there is still some argument about whether it should be thought of as the natural response to the graciousness of God by God’s followers, or whether these exhortations are in some sense a requirement of being a follower. Perhaps there is something of both in the Beatitudes. This is echoed in the title for this week’s worship: “Living in Righteousness”. To do so is to live in the gracious shadow of God’s loving forgiveness, a child of God, but it is also to make a commitment to live in the Way of righteousness that Jesus models for us.
If we turn our perspective on Jesus himself in the Sermon on the Mount we see within the words preached a summary of the life that Jesus lived. These are his actions put into words. This is the way he lived his life in written form. This is the man who could and did live in righteousness sharing what that means to all who have ears to hear and eyes to see. What a contrast to other law-makers then and now who love to make the rules but who then fail to walk the talk.
What are the stumbling blocks today that prevent people hearing this teaching and letting it live in their hearts, transforming their way of living towards Jesus’ model of righteousness? How can we enthuse people towards right living without slipping into judgemental attitudes on the one hand or laissez faire accommodation on the other?