Jun 19

Discipleship 101: A Kingdom Not Our Own

The Lord promises Abraham a child, and Sarah laughs. Jesus looks with compassion on the people of Israel and calls twelve disciples to follow him, giving authority to each one, even to Judas Iscariot, who would betray him. Our Scripture lessons this morning remind us: what God is up to in this world is not how we would do things. A couple far too old to have children? A traitor? We would have nothing to do with them, but they’re both essential actors in building the kingdom of God, what Matthew this morning calls the kingdom of heaven. This is a kingdom not our own, a kingdom we would not build if it were up to us, a path we would not forge if we were in charge. In this kingdom, in the kingdom of God, we are called, not to be owners or deciders, but to be followers of the king, the good shepherd, the Lord. Like Sarah and Abraham and Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Thaddeus, Simon, and Judas, we are called to be disciples, to follow Jesus on his authority, not ours, proclaiming his gospel, not our own. Continue reading

Feb 20

You Have Heard: Blessed Are the Pure in Heart

With the Sermon on the Mount, there is always the temptation to sing-song our way through the beatitudes and skip the difficult bits that follow: Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart. But the beatitudes themselves end bracingly, like a cold shower when you would give anything for a hot bath. “Rejoice and be glad,” not in frivolous blessings, but in the persecution you may face should you actually put Jesus’s teachings into practice. Too many Christians have a persecution complex. There’s a great headline from a Christian comedy site that reads, “Man Unsure If He’s Persecuted Because He’s A Christian Or Because He’s A Massive Jerk” (February 7, 2017: http://babylonbee.com/news/man-unsure-hes-persecuted-hes-christian-hes-massive-jerk/). We don’t want to be seeing persecution under every rock, or to be blind to our human failures that others, outside the church, see too well. But the promise for Christ’s followers is still a promise of a hard road, not an easy path. Continue reading

Feb 13

You Have Heard: Blessed Are the Merciful

God is merciful to you, so be merciful to everyone else. It’s a pretty simple equation, so you would think it’d be easy enough to put into practice. What we find, however, is that Christians struggle with being merciful. Instead of plucking the log out from our own eyes, many of us spend our lives hunting, like hawks, for the specks in the eyes of our neighbors. Instead of offering the bread of mercy to our children, the truth is we do sometimes give them the snake of judgmentalism. Rather than opening the door to those who knock and seek, we slam it shut. God is merciful to you, so be merciful to everyone else. The simplicity of the equation is belied by our repeated failures to hold up our side of the formula. Continue reading

Jan 30

You Have Heard: Blessed Are the Meek

Ancient mothers and fathers of the church recognized that of all the things Christ asks of us, pursuing meekness, or humility, is the most difficult. The problem with trying to be meek is this: the harder you try, the less meek you’re likely to become. On the surface, that doesn’t seem to be true, of course. You can make yourself appear meek pretty easily: let others go before you, don’t argue much, shy away from the limelight, let others take the credit. But while you’re doing those things, inside you can be thinking, “Look at how good I am. Look how humble I’ve become! I am really meek!” And when you do that, you stop being meek, no matter how meek you might seem to others. Continue reading

Jan 16

You Have Heard: Blessed Are the Poor…

I think the Sermon on the Mount should come with a warning labeled attached: “Yes, this means you.” In this sermon we have some of Jesus’s most challenging and confrontational teaching, but the Sermon on the Mount is not difficult because it’s hard to understand. No, there’s nothing convoluted or obscure about the Sermon on the Mount. It is as direct and as straightforward as you could wish, and that’s exactly the problem. For most of the Sermon, the meaning couldn’t be clearer, and we don’t like what it means. Blessed are the poor in spirit? Your righteousness must exceed the scribes’ and the Pharisees’? Reconcile before offering your gift to God? Who wants that? Frankly, at some point, most of us don’t want anything to do with something Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. So we’ve developed cushions, devices to place between us and the sermon, to soften it’s blow. We say, “Oh, that’s too hard; Jesus couldn’t mean that we literally need to do any of that.” Or, “the Sermon on the Mount is for super Christians, but I’m just an ordinary follower of Jesus.” Or, “salvation is by grace, so there’s no obligation to follow rules anymore.” Continue reading