Sermon on the Mount — 2

Monday, June 11

Read: Matthew 5:17-24

Consider: One of the themes that runs through the Sermon on the Mount is the dignity of every man, woman and child. You see it again and again. Whether Jesus was talking about the treatment of women, speaking about how we respond to evil, or warning us about our words, he was teaching us to uphold the dignity of everyone. He even called us to treat our enemies with dignity. But first, let’s notice what he said about our sisters and brothers.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (5:23-24)

I call this the long detour. We often read this passage and think about the altar at the front of a church, which would be a short drive from our homes. But Jesus was speaking to people who took their gifts to the altar in the Temple at Jerusalem, which was a long journey—several days—from their homes. When they went to the Temple it was after months of planning and preparation. Their “gift”—a lamb or some other fruit of their labors—was carefully chosen and brought with them to present to the priest. Jesus was telling them that if they realize that reconciliation is incomplete with their fellow Jews, they should leave the sacrifice there, make the long journey back to their home and “be reconciled” to that sister or brother.

Two things stand out to us. First, Jesus makes reconciliation with our fellow human begins a huge priority. He was telling us to do whatever it takes to live in harmony with one another. Second, Jesus was teaching that we cannot separate our love for God from our love for one another. Don’t worship God if you do not love your brothers and sisters. John gave it to us very succinctly…

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:20-21)

Pray: Ask God if there are any steps you need to take to be reconciled with your brother or sister. Do not act in haste. Let God speak to you over time, so that you are doing the right things for the right reasons. Ask the Lord to help you to live a reconciled life.

 

Tuesday, June 12

Read: Ephesians 4:1-6

Consider: Speaking to the church at Ephesus, Paul said, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (4:3).

The church is the Body of Christ. Simple logic tells me that I cannot say I love Christ if I do not love his body. If I reject his body, or treat it with contempt, or even treat it with neglect, I am making a statement about my feelings for Christ. The passion that Paul felt for Christ and for his body prompted him to say, “Make every effort” — please do whatever it takes to honor the Body and make it a place of unity and peace.

He then gave us some simple directives. Well, they’re simple to say, but can be challenging to fulfill.

“Live a life worthy of the calling you have received…”

“Be completely humble and gentle…”

“…be patient…”

“…bear with one another in love.” (4:1-2)

This implies what is spelled out throughout the New Testament letters. We constantly and consistently forgive one another. We put the interests of the Body above our own interests. We build up one another, encourage one another and bear each other’s burdens. We love one another.

It won’t always come naturally. At times it takes great intentionality. Sometimes we must “Make every effort” — even if that means leaving our gift at the altar to go to be reconciled with our sister or brother. (See yesterday’s meditation on Matthew 5:23-24.)

Pray: Ask the Lord how he wants to use you to strengthen his body. What effort does he want from you to help make the Body of Christ a place of unity, peace and love?

 

Wednesday, June 13

Read: Romans 12:9-21

Consider: I used to think that I could get along with anyone and everyone. I thought that if there was a disagreement, it could always be rationally discussed, and we could leave the conversation as friends. I thought there was never any need to live “unreconciled” with someone else. But life and experience have not always lived up to that expectation.

I spent many years serving as a pastor. And in that role, I felt loved by people. But there are times when a pastor is the object of something other than love. Of course, I can’t blame it all on being a pastor. I’m a human being who makes mistakes. Sometimes I do stupid things or say careless words that hurt people. Usually people are forgiving and very patient with me. But sometimes I mishandle a situation and make it more difficult for them to forgive me. We can’t always fix the problems. We don’t always get all relationships back in working order.

For those reasons, we all love Romans 12:18…

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (12:18)

We have come to learn that it is not always possible. We know that a covenantal relationship is, by definition, a two-way relationship. One person cannot work both sides. I have often sat with people who were going through the pain of divorce and had learned that sometimes it is simply impossible to live at peace with someone else. The reason is that you can only go “as far as it depends on you” (12:18).

But don’t stop there. Don’t simply say, “Well, there is nothing more I can do.” Romans 12:18 is a reality, but it is not an excuse to quit loving. Don’t stop there. Read Paul’s words which surround that statement.

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil…do not take revenge, my dear friends…on the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (12:17-20)

Sometime today, read the entire twelfth chapter. All the words that precede and follow verse 18 show us how to live in peace, even when others don’t respond. There is a reality to life, but there is also a beautiful way to live in that reality.

Pray: Praise the Lord for the victory he calls us to in a complicated world with complicated relationships. Thank him that when his word says, “Love must be sincere” (12:9), it also says that he will empower us to live that life of authentic love. Thank him that we do not have to be overcome by evil, but that we can overcome evil with good (12:21).

 

Thursday, June 14

Read: Matthew 5:21-37

Consider: Imagine someone challenging your religion at multiple points. I’m not talking about a person who simply disagrees with you on your interpretation of specific passage of scripture. I’m not talking about a friend who differs with you on doctrines or ethical dilemmas. I’m talking about someone who looks you in the eye and says, “You heard it wrong! You don’t get it!” How would you respond?

Well, that’s what Jesus said repeatedly in the Sermon on the Mount.

“You have heard that it was said…but I tell you…”

Again, and again and again. To some people, it must have felt like an assault. It must have felt as though Jesus was dismantling their religion and their faith. We know from last week that Jesus had to do some dismantling—some tearing down—before he could build.

He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (5:17). But to his hearers, it felt like he was destroying and abolishing their foundation. And, in a way, he was. He had to replace it with a new foundation before they could understand God’s purposes. Before they could grasp the intent God’s law—the law of love—they had to abandon the letter of the law.

Has Jesus ever had to dismantle something in your life before he began to build? Take some time to meditate on that question. Ask the Lord to help you see how he has changed you and how he continues to make you into something new. Tell him he is welcome to do any other dismantling that needs to be done.

Pray: Let’s pray the prayer of the psalmist — “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

 

Friday, June 15

Read: Matthew 5:38-48

Consider: Through our own effort, you and I can obey the command against murder. For most people, that law is powerful enough to keep them from taking another life. But what about hate? Well, the law can’t keep us from hating. It will take more than a command. We may be able to abstain from adultery on our own power. The law may be strong enough to keep us from that kind of sexual sin. But what about lust? It will take more than a law to keep us from being consumed by that.

Yet, Jesus called us to a higher ethic than merely law-keeping. The intent of the law—love—was his aim for us. But we can’t love on our own. We’re not strong enough to give the kind of sacrificial love that God calls us to give. And the law is of no help to us in learning how to love. Before the law, we merely stand condemned. But something changed when Christ came.

“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do…God did by sending his own Son…and so he condemned sin in the flesh in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us…” (Romans 8:1-4)

The law of love—the high ethic of the Sermon on the Mount—seems impossible. You can’t will it, you can’t legislate it, and you can’t force it or enforce it. It takes a power beyond our own effort and our own understanding. But in Christ “the righteous requirement of the law”—namely, love—can be “fully met in us” (Romans 8:4).

Pray: Thank God that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Could there be any better news than that? And the One who will not use the law to condemn us, will teach us how to live the law of love.

 

Saturday, June 16

Read: Jeremiah 31:31-34

Consider: The term, “New Testament,” means “new covenant.” We often use this term when we take the sacrament of Holy Communion. We quote Jesus, when he took the cup and said…

“This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20)

What we’ve been reading from the Sermon on the Mount only makes sense in the light of the new covenant. The law is no longer something on the outside that constrains us. There is a new law. It is not external to us, for as the Lord said through the prophet Jeremiah, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (31:33). This inside-out law empowers us to love in the manner that Christ calls us to love.

When I have the honor of serving the sacrament of Holy Communion, I always remind us that, in Christ, everything has changed. This new covenant in Christ’s blood says that God now interacts with humankind in a whole new way. God said, “It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers” (Jeremiah 31:32). No, this new thing written on our hearts and minds helps us to love God with our whole beings and love our neighbors as we love ourselves. The old laws could never do that.

This truly is what Jesus called the fulfillment of the law (Matthew 5:17).

Pray: Thank God that “what the law was powerless to do…God did by sending his own Son” (Romans 8:3). Praise him for the new covenant that changed everything.