In our weekend worship right now, we’re hearing the Sermon on the Mount, or what has been known as the gospel within the Gospel. In these three chapters of Matthew’s gospel we are dropped into the deep end of the Christian pool, a place that is both intimidating and compelling. Intimidating because Jesus raises the bar to an almost impossible height, calling us to holiness in every facet of our life and giving us specific directions on how we are to truly love God with our whole selves and our neighbors as ourselves. And compelling, because this vision is so hard and demanding and beautiful that we know it has to come from God.
The Sermon on the Mount is where the most heroically faithful Christians down through time have turned again and again to know how to live. It is the foundation on which saints like St. Augustine and Francis of Assisi and Dietrich Bonhoeffer went for guidance and inspiration as they sought to truly follow Christ. It is at the heart of the establishment of remarkable communities of Christians as distinct as the Amish and the ecumenical monastery at Taize. More recently the Sermon on the Mount inspired one of my contemporary heroes, Shane Claiborne, to found the Simple Way, a community of Jesus followers in Philadelphia.
We need to listen to this sermon today as much as ever. We need to listen and truly, deeply ponder what Jesus has to teach us. We need to pay attention to his encouragement and inspiration, and hear again the dramatic, upside-down vision of the Kingdom. We need it because the overwhelming direction of our age is away from the truth Jesus preaches. We need it because we need to be reminded of what God truly wants from us, our church, and our world. We need it because unless we are reminded of what godliness and holiness truly look like, and how we are to truly live as people whose primary citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, then we will easily succumb to the false and idolatrous lures of this age. If we really want to live and love and be like Jesus, then there’s no better place to start than the sermon he gave one sunny day on a hillside in Galilee.
The artwork is The Sermon on the Mount, by Jesus Mafa,
from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.