27 February 2014

Sermon – “Honoring Vows” (Matthew 5:27-37)

This morning we have the privilege of witnessing the baptism of little Naomi Everman. Central to the act of baptism in any tradition are the vows that are taken before the candidate is baptized. They normally take the form two sets of promises. First, there are what we call the renunciations: the solemn forswearing of all evil, whether it originate in the world, the flesh or the devil. These are followed by the affirmations, expressing personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord and God, and pledging to follow and obey him through the whole of life.
As it turns out, the Bible passage I want us to focus on this morning, Matthew 5:27-37 (the verses immediately preceding today’s Gospel reading) is all about the vows we make. The vow that Jesus focuses on is also one that takes place at the front of the church, in fact almost exactly where Naomi was baptized this morning and Rebecca and Eric made her vows on her behalf.

In this case, however, it is as two people stand before me and promise that, forsaking all others, they will love, honor and cherish each other for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health throughout the rest of their lives. The vows of marriage are the most solemn and sacred promises that two human beings can make to each other; and we give recognition to that with the dramatic words (from Jesus himself), “Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder.” To which the whole congregation adds its “Amen”.

Why is it that Jesus turns his attention to adultery and divorce? Surely it is because marriage is foundational in God’s design for humankind. Marriage is the most profound relationship that two human beings can enter. Marriage is a sign of God’s faithfulness. Marriage is a foretaste of the heavenly life in which we will be fully united with Christ as his bride and spouse. So we should not be surprised to find that God’s first act after creation was to unite a man and a woman in wedlock, and that Jesus’ first miracle took place at a wedding.

Marriage is for sex

Traditionally the church has taught that marriage has three purposes: to be the appropriate context for sexual union; for the procreation of children to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord; and for lifelong mutual love and faithfulness. Those are the purposes that are laid out in the opening words of the marriage service in our Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, and they haven’t varied all that much since the first English Prayer Book was published in 1549. In recent years this perspective on marriage has come under increasing challenge, to the point where it appears to have fallen from being regarded as the cornerstone of society to becoming a minority opinion. From some quarters we hear it being branded as behind the times, regressive, even bigoted. And at this point in history the tides against it seem only to be rising.

Bishop Tom Wright expressed the argument for a traditional view of marriage in an op-ed article he wrote for The Times of London a few years ago:

Jewish, Christian and Muslim teachers have always insisted that lifelong man-plus-woman marriage is the proper context for sexual intercourse. This is not (as is frequently suggested) an arbitrary rule, dualistic in overtone and killjoy in intention. It is a deep structural reflection of the belief in a creator God who has entered into covenant both with his creation and with his people (who carry forward his purposes for that creation).

Paganism ancient and modern has always found this ethic, and this belief, ridiculous and incredible. But the biblical witness is scarcely confined … to a few verses in St Paul. Jesus’s own stern denunciation of sexual immorality would certainly have carried, to his hearers, a clear implied rejection of all sexual behavior outside heterosexual monogamy. This isn’t a matter of “private response to Scripture” but of the uniform teaching of the whole Bible, of Jesus himself, and of the entire Christian tradition.[1]

I was impressed by what our Jewish guest, Michael Berde, shared two weeks ago about the kosher laws: that they were not primarily for health, but to recognize that food is God’s gift. Restricting ourselves from eating certain foods is a way of recognizing God’s ownership of all creation—including our appetites. The same may be said for sex. God has created us as sexual beings. And precisely because of that, because they are God’s creation and gift, my sexual organs are not mine to use in whatever way I choose. Sex is a wonderful gift, but it needs to be used in accordance with the way in which God has purposed it.

The book of Proverbs (6:27) warns about what happens when sex slips out of the context for which God created it when it cautions against the temptation of adultery: “Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? 
Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched?” More than one person has drawn the comparison between sex and fire. In a hearth the warm glow of a fire brings comfort to everyone in the room. When it spreads out of the fireplace it becomes destructive. So it is that we believe that the proper context for sex is within the bonds of faithful marriage.

Faithfulness in marriage

Jesus was not one to shy away from controversial issues—and in our passage this morning he moves directly from one to another, from adultery to divorce. I know that there are those present in the congregation this morning who have endured the pain of divorce. I want to observe at the outset that Jesus was not forbidding divorce altogether. In our passage this morning he allows for an exception: unchastity. Other versions of the Bible translate this sexual immorality or promiscuity. In more recent years the church has come to recognize other circumstances where divorce may be the only solution: physical, emotional or other kinds of abuse, for example.

I do not believe that Jesus was talking about situations such as these. In his day there was a certain school of thinking that allowed a very broad interpretation for what might be involved in obtaining a certificate of divorce. William Barclay lists a few of them: if a wife went about with her head uncovered; if she was quarrelsome (here insert, “didn’t do what her husband told her”); if she talked with another man in the streets; or even if she sprinkled too much salt into her husband’s dinner.

Marriages will always have their difficulties. Husbands and wives will inevitably encounter hurdles in their relationships. Yet I do believe that in the great majority of cases if those obstacles are encountered with faith, courage, humility, mutual trust (and sometimes help from family, friends and fellow believers) the marriage can emerge stronger, deeper and healthier as a result.

Later this year Karen’s parents will be celebrating their seventieth wedding anniversary. Many years ago, not long before our own marriage, I remember meeting her grandparents, who at the time had been married for more than fifty years. Over the course of those years they had encountered numerous challenges together. But I remember as clearly as though it were yesterday, her grandfather saying to me on that occasion, “We are more in love now than we have been at any time in our marriage.” What a challenge and encouragement that was for me with our own marriage just months away!

So it is that the question I ask of brides and grooms at the very outset of their wedding service, before anything else happens, is this: “Will you live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love her (him), comfort her (him), honor and keep her (him), in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her (him) as long as you both shall live?” For the most part, brides and grooms have no awareness of what is going to befall them over the years. So much of it is completely unpredictable. At the time of their wedding all they are aware of is each other, as they gaze dreamily into each other’s glistening eyes. Yet it is that basic ingredient of faithfulness that will carry them through both the good times and the bad, “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health,” as they will both promise.

Yet there is still more behind what Jesus is saying. For one of God’s intentions in marriage was that it accomplish a deeper purpose: that it not only bring fulfillment to the couple themselves, but that it be a sign of his own faithfulness to his people. “Husbands, love your wives,” we read in Ephesians (5:25-28), “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… In the same way, husbands should love their wives.”

Faithfulness in society

While faithfulness may be essential to marriage, its near relative, trustworthiness, is the glue that binds together society as a whole. Societies are built on trust. Where trust erodes, the society itself also will inevitably crumble. Many years ago I remember a high-ranking businessman in the banking world saying to me that he regretted that deals could no longer be sealed with a handshake. There had been such a time at an earlier stage in his career. But sadly that was no longer the case.

The people of Jesus’ day had an interesting way of getting out of deals they didn’t want to keep. It was all a matter of words. As long as you didn’t swear by God’s name directly, you could technically consider your oath as non-binding. So you could swear by Jerusalem or by the earth or even by heaven itself, as long as it was not in the name of God himself, and still wiggle your way out of the deal.

But Jesus says that this is not good enough—in fact that no oath should be necessary, that God’s people should be known as men and women of their word, people who can be trusted, people of integrity. As we read in the letter of James (5:12), “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.”

I believe that there are at least two applications of what Jesus is saying here. The first is that the church be a community of trust, where people’s word can be relied upon. Secondly, we should recognize that there is a broader application—not just to oaths, but to all that we say. And so we need to be careful that what comes out of our mouths is truth, that we are not the spreaders of unsubstantiated rumors, or even of substantiated ones that might better be left unsaid. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths,” we read in Ephesians (4:29), “but only what is helpful for building others up as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”

And so today, as we think of Naomi’s baptismal vows and of our own, may it lead us to be faithful to God and faithful in all our relationships, knowing that in him we have one who will never leave us or forsake us, and who, though heaven and earth will surely pass away, his word will remain.

[1]     The Times, 14 
July 2009

26 February 2014

Sermon – “It’s the Law” (Matthew 5:17-26)

I wonder how many of you watched the latest episode of Sherlock this past week. For those who haven’t been following it, Sherlock is a British adventure series loosely based on the character of Sherlock Holmes, but set in the London of a hundred years later, in the early twenty-first century rather than the early twentieth. Sherlock still lives at 221B Baker Street, owned by the faithful Mrs Hudson. Yet as the series progresses we are let in on a few details about Mrs Hudson’s former life that certainly do not fit with the character invented by Arthur Conan Doyle. As in the original, Sherlock is accompanied by his assistant Dr John Watson—although now Watson does not write a diary but a blog.

In the most recent episode Sherlock is pitted against his most evil and elusive opponent ever, Charles Augustus Magnusson, a slimy media baron and blackmailer who has dirt on every power player in England, which means he effectively controls the country. I won’t tell you too many details of the story, but—and here comes the spoiler alert—in the tense penultimate scene Holmes puts an end to Magnusson with a fatal shot through the skull.

Now I am accustomed to Sherlock Holmes moving outside convention to bring down his opponents. That is part of the charm of his character. But this time Sherlock moves not merely outside convention, but outside the law. At the very least he presents an interesting conundrum, as do real-life people in our own day such as the controversial Edward Snowden. It asks the question, are there times when it is acceptable to put the law aside in order to uphold justice? And if so, who is to decide?

What is the Law?

In this morning’s Gospel reading we find Jesus teaching his disciples about the Law. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets;” he says to them. “I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” We tend to think of the law in terms of those red and blue flashing lights that we see in our rear-view mirrors and start to go into a cold sweat. But for Jesus and his disciples and any Jew in the ancient world the Law meant something considerably more than that.

Boiled down to its very minimum, you could think of the Law in terms of the Ten Commandments—and Jesus will have much more to say about them as we move farther into the Sermon on the Mount. In addition to the ten, the rabbis identified 603 other commandments in the first five books of the Bible. Those five books themselves, from Genesis to Deuteronomy, are also referred to as the books of the Law, the Hebrew Bible being made up of the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. More generally still, it was not uncommon to refer to the whole of the Old Testament as “the Law”, as Paul does repeatedly in his letters.

But what was “the Law”? In Hebrew the word is torah. Its essential meaning has nothing to do really with that we would think of as laws in the legal sense. Basically it means “teaching”, like the wise father teaching his son. “My son, do not forget my teaching,” we read in Proverbs. The word here in Hebrew is torah. “Do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments.” And so the Law is essentially God’s teaching for his people. The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament puts it this way:

God, motivated by love, reveals to humankind basic insight on how to live with each other and how to approach God. Through the law God shows his interest in all aspects of a person’s life, which is to be lived under his direction and care… The law has a broad meaning to encompass history, regulations and their interpretation, and exhortations. It is not merely the listing of ethical and moral statements…

Thus the Law is never seen as a burden, but a delight and a privilege, to sit under the instruction of none less than our loving, caring, all-powerful God:

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way… All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees. (Psalm 25:8,10)

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple. (Psalm 19:7)

I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart. (Psalm 40:8)

Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:18)

Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long. (Psalm 119:97)

So it is that Israel looks forward to the day, when not just they, but people of all nations, will have the privilege of coming under torah, under God’s loving instruction:

Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction [torah], and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:3,4)

The word torah is related to the verb yarah, which can refer to arranging stones in a certain place. In Genesis Laban sets up a heap of stones and a pillar as a boundary marker and a witness between himself and Jacob to their covenant of peace. So we can think of the law as being like a set of boundaries, or a sheepfold, within which we may dwell in safety. In Job we read of God laying the cornerstone of the earth. And so the law is like a cornerstone, which gives proper direction and orientation to the whole structure of life. And Jesus tells us, “Not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”

The aim: Righteousness

Jesus then goes on with this challenge: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” So it is that the aim of the Law, its whole purpose, is righteousness. And here too we meet with an often-misunderstood word. We can easily confuse righteousness with self-righteousness, or think of it as a rigid adherence to laws. But that is not the picture that the Bible gives. In the Bible the word righteous is put alongside other words like “gracious” and “merciful”. The righteous, the Bible tells us, are those who are generous and keep on giving (Psalm 112:4; 37:21).

Irish theologian Alister McGrath writes that righteousness, while it means adhering to a certain standard, “in its basic sense, refers to an actual relationship between two persons”.[1] And so righteousness is all about right relationships; and the whole purpose of the Law is to foster those right relationships—our relationships with our fellow human beings and our relationship with God. Hence Jesus sums up the whole of the Law in the two great commandments, which center in those relationships: Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.

So how does all this work out in practice? In the next sixteen verses of the Sermon on the Mount, beginning at verse 21, Jesus reinterprets three of the Ten Commandments for his disciples: “You shall not murder,” “You shall not commit adultery,” and, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”

A case in point: Murder

I find it telling that Jesus chooses to skip over the first five commandments and move directly to the sixth. Why, I wonder, is this so? The thought that comes to me is that of all the commandments you might call this one of the “easy” ones. After all, how many people commit murder? Statistics suggest that the likelihood of your committing murder in the course of your lifetime may be about 1 in 1360. So the chances are relatively high that the sixth commandment is one that neither you nor I are going to break.

Or are we? Jesus tells us that there are other ways of doing away with people without resorting to a gun or a knife that are equally worthy of condemnation—and he outlines three of them. In the first instance he warns us, “If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.” Well that certainly brings the statistics up from 1 in 1360! Who among us hasn’t had a moment of anger at another person? What Jesus is talking about, however, is not those passing flashes of annoyance that come to all of us from time to time. They are a part of ordinary, everyday human experience. St Paul recognized that when he wrote, “Be angry but do not sin.” Then he went on, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” No, the anger that Jesus was talking about is the kind of anger that broods and festers, the anger that will not let go and only wishes ill for another person. That is the kind of anger that eats away at the soul. Ultimately it drives us away not only from the other person, but from the love of God as well.

Secondly Jesus warns about insulting our brother or sister. Quite literally Jesus’ words are, “Whoever calls his brother or sister ‘raca’ will be liable to the council.” “Raca” means something like “idiot”, or Lucy’s favorite insult to poor old Charlie Brown in the Peanuts cartoons, “You blockhead!” You can almost hear the laughter all round, and that is the point. Even though on the surface we may intend it as humor, what we are doing when we speak to another person like that is to demean them. Some people refer to it as “cutting them down”, which in other contexts is away of saying murder. Paraphrasing James we might well ask ourselves, “How can we bless the Lord and Father, and at the same time curse those who are made in the likeness of God?”

Jesus’ third condemnation is leveled against those who call another person a fool. This may seem to fall into the same category as what I have just said, but there is a difference. In the Bible the word “fool” does not refer to someone who may be lacking in mental ability. It has nothing to do with IQ, but with character. “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ ” “Doing wrong is like sport to a fool,” the Bible tells us. “To turn away from evil is an abomination to fools; the fool throws off restraint and is careless.” And so to brand a person a fool is to tarnish their name and their reputation. We sometimes call it character assassination.

At this point we may well be inclined to throw up our hands in despair. Jesus does not leave any room for us to wriggle out. We are all condemned. May they lead us not to despair but to the one who alone is our righteousness and sanctification and redemption, “who, when he was abused, did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness.”

[1]     Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A history of the Christian doctrine of Justification, Vol 1, (Cambridge: University Press, 1986) 7-8

25 February 2014

Sermon – “Blessed…” (Matthew 5:1-16)

This morning, and for the next few Sundays remaining in this season of Epiphany, I want us to spend our time looking at what has been called the great manifesto of the kingdom of God. It is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In some ways the title “sermon” is a little misleading. For what I believe we are reading in these three chapters of Matthew’s gospel is a very concise summary of teachings that Jesus gave over a period of days. So we might be better advised to call it the sermons on the mount, or perhaps the retreat on the mount; and this morning I want us to look at just the first sixteen verses. Even at that, I think we will find that we do not have time even to begin to give them justice, but only to skim the surface.

A teaching for disciples

As we open Matthew 5 and begin to read, is there anything that strikes you as odd? “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain.” Right away we realize that Jesus is not your typical preacher. Most preachers would welcome a crowd. We dream of our congregations becoming megachurches like Willow Creek or Saddleback, with thousands of people filling the seats and so many cars you have to have traffic directors and parking lot attendants. But not so with Jesus: when he saw the crowds, he went in the opposite direction, to a remote spot on a mountainside.

What does this tell us? Not that Jesus hated crowds. We know that there were times when he addressed large crowds, so large that on one occasion at least there was no room for him to stand, so he had to climb into a boat and preach from the water. We know too, as Mark tells us, that the crowds that gathered listened to him with delight.

This time, however, what he was about to share was not for the world, but specifically for disciples. For the world these words could only lead to confusion, misunderstanding and derision. For disciples, for those who had committed themselves to following Jesus, they would be life giving. And so Jesus takes his disciples up a mountain—and Matthew’s readers would instinctively think of another mountain. While we will not see the smoke and thunderings of Sinai, we will be exposed to teachings that are earthshaking, life-changing.

Once they arrive at their destination, Matthew tells us that Jesus sat down. This was not just for comfort; it was the posture that all rabbis took to teach, with their pupils gathered around them. We are learning that Jesus has something very deliberate and important to say. This is further indicated by the phrase that in our Bibles is rendered, “Then he began to speak…” Literally translated it would sound more like, “Opening his mouth, he taught them…” It is a very specific choice of words on Matthew’s part, of which William Barclay wrote,

The use of this phrase indicates that the material … is no chance piece of teaching. It is the grave and solemn utterance of central things; it is the opening of Jesus’ heart and mind to the men who were to be his right-hand men in his task.[1]

And so the stage has been set. Our ears are perked. What is Jesus going to say to us?


Jesus’ opening word is “blessed”. It was a familiar term to the disciples. We find it peppered all through the Old Testament. “Blessed are those … whose delight is in the law of the Lord.” “Blessed are those whose sins are forgiven.” “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on the pilgrim’s way.” The word in Greek is makarios; in Hebrew ’ashar, and both are notoriously difficult to put into the English language. Thus you will find that some contemporary English versions have substituted the word “happy”, which really doesn’t bring us any closer to the original meaning. “’Ashar,” the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament informs us, “is a word of envious desire, ‘to be envied with desire is the one who trusts the Lord.’ ”

For this reason David Buttrick at the Vanderbilt University Divinity School chooses to use the word “congratulations”: “Congratulations to the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens. Congratulations to those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Congratulations to the meek, for they will inherit the earth…” My own preference would be for something more like this: “You ought to envy the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. You ought to envy those who mourn, for they will be comforted. You ought to envy the meek, for they will inherit the earth…” Already we begin to understand why Jesus took his disciples away for these teachings. For us their thoroughly paradoxical nature has been lost through familiarity. Yet how deeply puzzling, how shocking, these words must have been even for those disciples, not to mention the confusion they would have brought to the crowds.

For the few moments that remain to us, I’d like to make an attempt to tease the beatitudes out a little, but I am afraid we won’t even be scratching surface of them. Who are the poor in spirit? “They are those,” writes David Buttrick,

who have embraced the essential poverty of the human condition, namely a basic dependency not only on one another but on God. To be human is to be profoundly needy. These days, advertising appeals to having something, being somebody, and getting somewhere. Above all, advertising encourages us to seek self-justification by means of social approval. The ‘poor in spirit’ are those quite untouched by such appeals… [They] are not out to make a buck, nor do they attempt to ease their insecurity by acquiring things, property, or blue-chip investments.[2]

That poorness in spirit is summed up for us in the third verse of the hymn “Rock of Ages”:

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to thy cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress,
helpless, look to thee for grace…

It is the attitude of the tax collector in Jesus’ parable who, when he prayed, did not even dare look up to heaven but beat his breast and cried out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:9-14).

Who are the mourners? They represent a condition from which none of us is exempt. For who among us has not been deeply pained by the loss of a mother, a father, a spouse, a child or a dear friend? Yet at another level we need to recognize that Jesus lived in a nation of mourners, men and women who grieved at living in a land that once had been theirs but was no longer, who every day were reminded that they were a captive people. Again, David Buttrick moves this mourning into the twenty-first century as he writes of those

who mourn their captivity in a world ruled by power and greed and heartless human exploitation. They are grieved because God’s new age has not yet arrived…, because they have some vision of the world God intends—a world set free for exchanges of love, a world for glad partying among all the children of God—but they suffer because God’s will is not done and we are all captive to our alienations. Weep, for the world is not as it should be.[3]

Meekness is a characteristic that we associate in these days with weakness, perhaps because the two words rhyme. Yet to be meek is to be anything but weak. The Bible tells us that Moses was meek, “more so than anyone else on the face of the earth”. But Moses was anything but weak. He was a formidable leader who stood up to the most powerful ruler on earth. No, meekness does not mean weakness but something more like controlled strength. Think of leaders in our own time like Martin Luther King Jr or Nelson Mandela, whose commitment to non-violence even in the face of terrible injustice changed the course of whole nations. To quote David Buttrick one last time, to be meek is to be “strong with the unassuming power of God”.[4]

What about those who hunger and thirst for righteousness? Martin Luther wrote of “a hunger and thirst for righteousness that can never be curbed or stopped or sated, one that looks for nothing and cares for nothing except the accomplishment and maintenance of the right, despising everything that hinders this end.” Then he added, “If you cannot make the world completely pious, then do what you can.” To hunger and thirst for righteousness, he said, “is not to crawl into a corner or into the desert, but to run out, if that is where you have been, and to offer your hands and your feet and your whole body and to wager everything you have and can do.”[5]

Blessed are the merciful. Mercy is a willingness to open our eyes to the needs around us, and then to open our hearts as well. Mercy was the quality shown by the good Samaritan, who could not pass by the wounded man at the side of the road without stopping and stooping down and binding his wounds and taking him to the inn. Mercy means breaking through the busyness of our lives and the preoccupation of our own needs to give attention to others. Mercy also means forgiveness, even if it is to the seventieth times seventh time.

Blessed are the pure in heart. When Samuel was commissioned to find a new king for Israel, he could easily have picked any one of Jesse’s seven older sons. Yet the God told him, “The Lord does not see as people see. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Martin Luther wrote, “He wants to have the heart pure, though outwardly the person may be a drudge in the kitchen, black, sooty, and grimy, doing all sorts of dirty work… Therefore, though a common laborer, a shoemaker, or a blacksmith may be dirty and sooty or may smell because he is covered with dirt and pitch, still … though he stinks outwardly, inwardly he is pure incense before God.”[6] In an age that gives so much attention to outward appearances, Jesus tells us that it is what is on the inside that really matters.

“Peacemakers” is a word found only here in all of the Bible. Peacemakers are those who not only long for the coming of God’s shalom. They seek to make it a reality in the here and now, to make the world a better place. That does not mean being an international power broker. What it does mean is taking the opportunities God gives me within my own sphere of influence to show forth and to touch the lives of others with something of his beauty, his goodness, his healing power.

Finally there are the persecuted. Within a generation that category would come to include all of Jesus’ hearers. Many of them would be put to death because of their allegiance to him. But what Jesus was saying was that, terrifying though it is, there are some things that are worth suffering even unimaginable pain for. It was Tertullian who observed that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.

Salt and light

Now I want you to take just a moment to imagine a community of people who were living in just this way. It would be like those few sprinkles of salt that are able to preserve a whole side of meat. It would be like opening a door into a shuttered room. A shaft of light pours through and pierces the darkness. It would be the kingdom of God breaking into this world. It would be what Jesus is calling you and me to be as his body in the world.

[1]     The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1, 87

[2]     Speaking Jesus: Homiletic Theology and the Sermon on the Mount, Westminster John Knox Press, 2002. 65,66

[3]     Speaking Jesus, 67

[4]     Speaking Jesus, 68

[5]     The Sermon on the Mount, 1521, in vol. 21 of Luther’s Works, Concordia, 1956. 27

[6]     The Sermon on the Mount, 32