Sermon ~ Sunday January 29, 2017 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson
Last week I may have mentioned that in each of the gospels there is what many scholars refer to as Jesus’ inaugural event. This interpretive approach to life of Jesus has been around for a while and not new to this year and the recent presidential inauguration. Yet the timing of these lectionary readings does seem to make for some comparisons not just to the recent inauguration but to inaugurations in general.
For Mark, Jesus’ baptism was his inaugural occasion.
For John it is the wedding in Cana. John says this about the event: “Jesus did this (turning water into wine), the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”
For Luke it is Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth. Remember what Jesus said after reading the passage from Isaiah? “Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’” And there were those who liked what they heard and those who did not!
For Matthew, when Jesus hears of John arrest t and leaves Nazareth travels to the north shore of the Sea of Galilee and there calls his first disciples is the beginning of something significant in Jesus’ life.
If this is for Matthew Jesus’ inaugural event, then it could be argued that what follows is his inaugural address. “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying; . . .”
My fellow Galileans . . . (not exactly!)
Inaugural addresses, as we understand them give the one elected the chance to set forth their priorities for their term in office. But it is not just about priorities is also about casting their vision of what might be, what could be, what may be. By enlarge our leaders present these in positive, hopeful terms. Interestingly President Abraham Lincoln used his Second Inaugural Address to do something no president had ever done – speak in critical terms of the nation in order to name the evil of slavery, the toll it had exacted in human flesh and warfare, and the need to stay the course and resolve both the war and its cause.
So what am I doing here this morning? Am I perhaps treading into politically dangerous ground by using the concept of inaugural addresses in my message, maybe! (Pastor be careful now! I know I’ve read some of your Facebook posts!)
So hear me when I say this: I am pointing fingers!! (Bet you didn’t expect that!)
But not at any particular political party, side or view!
With all the harsh rhetoric, tensions, tweets, social media re-posts and rants both (all) sides of the political spectrum in our nation, need to listen to this inaugural address!
If we were to listen to Jesus’ address here in what has come to be known as the “Sermon on the Mount”, what sort of vision is Jesus casting?
Quite simply it is the Kingdom of God.
It is the promise of God’s aid and presence. It is also showing us God’s priorities! And all of this and more can be summarized as “good news.”
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers…
Today’s portion only included the first 12 verses. There are actually three chapters in this “inaugural address.” Further on in the Sermon on the Mount we hear things like: “You have heard it said . . . but I say to you. . .” Talk about setting priorities!
What is striking, if you listen closely, is that this “good news” is only good if you are willing to admit what is hard in your life, what is lacking, what has been most difficult, those vulnerable places. It is not good news in general, but rather good news for the poor in spirit, the grieving, the humble, the merciful, the persecuted, the peacemakers.
Do you see what I mean? God through Jesus offers words of comfort, but those words only mean something to those living with discomfort.
How do most hear these words today? We like to spend so much time acting like we have it all together. We spend money trying to “look” better, get fitter, appear younger. (Jesus will even address this a bit later in this address! 6:25ff. Consider the birds of the air …) There is so much pressure on us externally from the culture at large and internally from ourselves to not need anything or anyone that it makes you wonder, if Jesus’ message has any value or can find any foothold among today’s listeners.
Except for one thing . . . all these stories we tell ourselves and each other about being perfect, telling us we really can have it all, the commercials we pay attention to, the social media posts we “like” or “follow”, the ads that promise if we purchase this product we’ll never feel insecure again whether it is a pill or gold coins – these really are “fake news” when contrasted with the “Good news!”
So while Jesus’ message to his fellow Galileans is good news, in order for us to hear it this way it must first strike us a bad news, that we are not who we want to be, can be, and should be . . . and we never will be. Jesus comes bringing good news to those in need, and those who don’t see and admit their need will want nothing to do with him.
But when we can admit our need, when we can be honest about our deep hurts, fears, and longings, three things happen. First, we can feel an immense freedom simply by admitting the truth. Bad news when it’s true is better than a pretty lie. Second, we can receive the comfort, mercy, fulfillment, freedom that God offers. Third, we realize we don’t simply receive help and comfort, but we are also invited to offer it to others. We are invited, that is, not just to hear and receive good news, but to be good news! Next week we will hear more of Jesus’ address where he reminds his followers that they (we) are the salt of the earth to enliven the world. We are the light of the world not to be hid under a basket, a city on a hill for all to see.
This is what the body of Christ and the community of faith is – God’s agents delivering the promise of good news to all who come in need.
Afraid? Come here to find courage.
Lonely? Come join our community find friendship.
Ill? Come here- or better, let us come to you – to care for you.
Isolated? We will visit you.
Discouraged. We will listen and together encourage one another.
Now this looks and feels a little different in each and every community of faith , as we are placed in different contexts and invited to respond to different needs. But the call to be the Body of Christ – to be, that is, good news to those around us – is the same.
This is the vision Jesus sets before us in the “Sermon on the Mount” what I suggest could be considered his Inaugural Address in Matthew. It speaks to us as persons, regardless of any political affiliation. Yet, it should impact our political views. In my opinion faith should always top our politics. (I wanted to use another word there instead of “top” but thought I would be accused of something from both sided I didn’t intend!)
I leave us with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut, 20th century author, satirist, perhaps best known for his work Slaughterhouse – Five (1969)
“For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course, that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere. ‘Blessed are the merciful’ in a courtroom? ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ in the Pentagon? Give me a break!”
Click on this “Download File” link to listen to the Audio version of this Sermon, recorded live during Sunday Worship: