Saturday, February 15, 2014

Hearing Grace in the Sermon on the Mount

Starting last week, and continuing through this week (February 16) and the next week (February 23), we are working through some of Jesus's most famous teachings in the Gospel of Matthew in what is called the Sermon on the Mount.  While the Sermon on the Mount is perhaps most famous for the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), Jesus's sermon actually continues throughout all the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters.

Some of them are uncomfortable and are among the most controversial teachings in the Bible.  They include Jesus saying our righteousness must exceed the Pharisees' to enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:20); his teaching on anger (Mt 5:22), lust (Mt 5:28), and divorce (Mt 5:32); saying we should pray for our enemies (Mt 5:44); and telling us to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect (Mt 5:48).

Some of these sins Jesus names seem to really hit home, and sometimes the standard (perfection?) seems impossible to reach.  Perhaps it's no coincidence that Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer named his book on this section of the Bible The Cost of Discipleship.  And yet, whatever the cost, Jesus does call us to be his disciples: he calls us to try to meet these high standards.

I think that among all this harsh, law-giving Jesus, though, there is still a Jesus of grace and love to be found.  After-all, what a joy it is that the God of the universe would call us to follow in his footsteps.  What a privilege it is that the Savior of the nations gives us a part to play in bringing the news of his salvation to our communities and to the world not just by our words, but by our lives, as well.  

If working through these passages together still seems hard, let us also remember Jesus's act of free grace toward us.  Let's remember that this is the same Jesus whose love and mercy led him to die on a cross for us--that his call to discipleship and his self-sacrificing love go together.  I hope that you'll stick with us at Bethany the next couple weeks as we continue to work our way through these sometimes difficult passages.  Together we'll be able both to hear the call to discipleship and to find the grace in Jesus's Sermon on the Mount.    

Links to the Readings
February 9, 2014 (5th Sunday after Epiphany)
Matthew 5:13-20
February 16, 2014 (6th Sunday after Epiphany)
Matthew 5:21-37
February 23, 2014 (7th Sunday after Epiphany)
Matthew 5:38-48

May the Peace of Christ be with you always,
Vicar James