A Sermon for us...Greetings and Blessings for the new year!
I hope you had a blessed Christmas and that you will be God-guided and God-strengthened in 2019!
For the next couple of weeks we'll be looking at the Sermon on the Mount. As many of us have spent a bit of time thinking about the new year and how we want to approach it, I am hopeful that Jesus' insights recounted in Matthew 5,6 & 7 will give us great insights.
Most commentators argue that the "Sermon on the Mount" is actually a compilation of a number of sermons. There was definitely a sermon (if not a few) that took place on the hillside of the Sea of Galilee, but it wasn't all the material we find in ch.6,7,8 (there's just too much material to absorb in one sitting). The understanding is that Matthew collected the core teachings of Jesus and used the context of the Galilee hillside to present them.
The Sermon on the Mount is often described as a masterpiece that showcases Jesus' preaching and teaching. These descriptions create an expectation of poetic beauty and sublime comfort for the original hearers (and for us as readers), but a close reading of these three chapters gives us cause to use different words... like "controversial", "unsettling" and "revolutionary"...
In these "hallowed" chapters, Jesus will tell us:
- that the poor, mourning, and righteousness-hungry are Blessed
- that it is not only murder -- but hating people that is problematic,
- it not just adultery -- but looking,
- that salt that can lose saltiness ("Seems unlikely but tragic"),
- that lights can be put under bushels ("But who would do that?"),
- that we must love our enemies ("And carry their backpacks 2 miles??"),
- that prayers should be short ("Take that you Pharisees!")
- and giving should be done in private ("Really?"
- and more!
There is a subversive note to the Sermon on the Mount (especially in the so-called "Beatitudes" - more on that tomorrow) but for today, I want to highlight two other thoughts...
Firstly, Matthew records the Sermon on the Mount in the context of Jesus' busy time in Galilee. Our reading gives a picture of an itinerant preacher who is actively connecting to and involved in the "knitty gritty" of people's lives: He's teaching in synagogues. He's healing the sick. He's driving out evil spirits. He's travelling from town to town.
The second thought is about Jesus' posture of teaching. He does not stand and preach as we with our 21st century lenses expect... instead He sits down. Sitting down to teach was the habit of the Rabbis at the time. It was a recognised posture indicating authority and calling listeners to pay careful attention.
At the start of a new year there are some beautiful thoughts to glean from this passage:
- Jesus' teaching comes out of His deep involvement in our humanity. His preaching is not ivory tower theory, but rooted in the practice of complex and messy life.
- Matthew tells us that Jesus taught in the synagogues, but now He takes preaching (and the authority of the Rabbi) to the hillsides of Galilee. His audience is now not only the comfortable synagogue attender, but also those on the roads and pathways of daily life.
- People listened to Him. The crowds gathered to hear His teachings and Matthew collected these together at the beginning of his gospel to give us the heart of the 'Kingdom' that Jesus proclaimed. We would do well, especially at the start of the year, to pay attention to these core teachings.
|Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him. |
1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them (Matthew4:23-5:2)