In our third Sunday on the Sermon on the Mount, I want us to pause and try to absorb what Jesus is doing. First, he paints a picture of a different type of world, a different type of reality—one where Blessedness is seen not as worldly prizes or worldly accolades, but as people and places where God most dwells. Second, he says that each one of us, every one of us, has something to give—something important, something precious, something indispensable—like light, like salt, and even more than “like” it—actually shining goodness and justice and mercy onto a world that is sadly devoid of such things, actually cleansing and healing and preserving the possible rightness of life with God.
Now, in the third week, we get to this laundry list of “You have heard it said…But I say to you”? What is Jesus saying?
Because it’s quite a jumble of topics—anger, disagreements, adultery, divorce, swearing—we could get caught up in the minutia. The bottom line that I hear is: Don’t just do what you have to to get by, dive deep in “following the law.” Or as some have said, “Follow the spirit of the law not just the literal letters.” Remember Jesus has just exhorted his listeners to be more righteous than the Pharisees themselves! You have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
How do we do that? How do we figure out what the spirit is? How do we “be” light and salt? Obviously, Jesus thinks this is something we do in our everyday life—in our relationships, in our actions, in our feelings. And it’s not just the “big stuff,” but the small stuff too.
I find this a scary situation: For who are we? What makes us think we could know what it right in God’s eyes? Aren’t we the LAST people to be shining light and spreading salt? And here is where I’m glad that we have such excellent role models—the disciples. Because if you have ever looked at these men and women, they are remarkably unremarkable. They are slow on the uptake, they squabble about who is the greatest, they have visions of grandeur, they rarely seem to be thinking about being righteous or even doing the right thing. (In other words, we can’t use the excuse that we are just not good enough! Jesus knows who we are and calls us anyway.)
I loved this poem by Jerie Lukefahr (Seasons of the Spirit 1/26/20) called “What Peter wished he’d said”
I’m a fisherman, Lord, not a mountain climber.
I know sunburn, not radiance.
I know the fog of the sea, not heavenly mists.
I know the seagull’s call, not Mysterious Voices.
I know my yesterdays, not my future days.
But I also know you, Jesus.
And you, I will follow:
Back down the mountain,
to an upper room,
to a midnight garden,
to a cross…
There are two movements, two ideas, weaving in and out, side by side, in this poem. One is who Peter knows himself to be. The other is where life with Jesus takes him. And I think that might be a window into how we take to heart our reading for today. It starts with knowing who we are, what our gifts are, what we bring to the table, (to the community). And then, it asks us to imagine what unfamiliar, and seemingly strange, places God might want us to go.
So, I’d like us to talk with one another (in groups no bigger than three). Take a moment to think about what you see as a gift of yours—maybe you are great with ideas, maybe you are the person who is willing to stick around and clean-up, maybe you give great hugs … Each of us has a gift. Then, in your group, start with sharing what YOU see as your gift, and then allow others to chime in with what they see (because frankly sometimes we can’t see ourselves clearly). After you’ve done that—share where you think God might be calling you individually, or us as a church. Is there one specific task to work on? How might we start? How might we grow together?
Anyone want to share?
A final thought:
God wants us to choose life, in all its richness, all its complexity, all its simplicity, all its beauty. And the best way, really the only way, to muddle through is to do it together. To take our gifts, our blessings, and convert them, together, into light and salt—to follow Jesus wherever he leads, filled with the Spirit, and willing to do our part.
May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.