Headlines from First Thoughts

Monday, January 02, 2006

Sermon for the New Year

The sermon on the Mount is worth reading at the start of each new year. This week, I'll feature a few comments about Matthew 5-6.

Holiness as a State of Being
Matthew 5:1-16

The Academy Awards roll out red carpet for the best actors of the year. No one wins, “Best Custodian of the Year” or “Best Dining Room Server.” The winners are those who have produced revenue for the studios and have helped them build a profit.
The opening of the Sermon on the Mount reads like words of congratulations bestowed on award recipients. These “Kingdom of God” award winners, however, do not fit the profile of modern success. Jesus says, however, they are just as great as the rich and famous. He then challenges his disciples to live among these people, because they are living illustrations of the qualities of holiness that should mark disciples.

Congratulations to those in Crisis (vs. 3-12)
Each person congratulated has experienced a crisis. As a result, they are now living near the bottom wrung of society. They are blessed, however, because they fit two categories: those in right standing with God and people in right relationship with others.
1. People in Right Relationship with God.
The poor in spirit (vs. 3): These are people who know that they need God. Their lives are in such bad shape, they are dependent on the Lord to deliver them.
The mourners (vs. 4): They grieve because God is not pleased with the world. They understand that the world is falling apart, and God must intervene.
The meek (vs. 5): They are simply powerless to do anything. Not only are they poor in spirit, but they have no power to get out of the condition. They are the doormats of life as the people who clean offices and sack groceries.
The thirsty (vs. 6): These people have an insatiable desire to live rightly; they are perfectionists. They want their homes and society to live with justice, and they take action accordingly. They pray constantly about these matters.
Just as the first four kinds of people are in right relationship with God, the second group is in right standing with others. They love their neighbors as themselves.

2. People in right relationship with others.
The merciful (vs. 7): These people will forgive anyone for anything. As Peterson says, “At the moment of being care-full they are cared for.” They do not keep score and can forgive and forget.
The pure in heart (vs. 8): With childlike simplicity, they believe whatever people tell them and believe the best in everyone.
The peacemakers (vs. 9): Not only do these people have the ability to forgive, but they risk their reputations to reunite others.
The persecuted (vs. 10): They are not just the persecuted who will die as a result of Jesus’ death in his time period; they are the martyrs of subsequent generations.
Although these are lofty qualities, Jesus is not distributing a spiritual checklist. He does not say, “Blessed are you when you become….” He lists responsibilities later in the sermon. In this section, he describes the people standing around him who receive no accolades from society but are equally blessed by God.

Challenge to the Believers (vs. 13-16)
After hearing the accolades for those in crisis, the disciples hear a challenge to live holy lives among them in two ways, as salt and light. Holiness means living like salt, different from the other sandy lives around them. The concept also means to shine as lights in dark places. Believers cannot withdraw into isolated communities. Instead they come out of hiding. Holiness is not withdrawal from society; it is the beacon in the secular world.
By listing the crisis-stricken first, Jesus implies that the believers can refer to this list for models in living as salt and light. Believers who do not naturally associate with the lowly should change their attitudes about them. The challenge for believers is to make a new list of priority people and to use them as guides in living as salt and light.
The crisis times for the lowly are laboratory experiences for disciples. A meek person is only meek because he has been walked on; a person is persecuted when someone has ostracized them; a person poor in spirit is only so after being beaten down. When we walk beside these individuals, they teach us how to minister in these situations because they are living in these circumstances. Perhaps it would challenge our modern standards of the best deacons, committee chairs, and leaders if we based their qualifications on their levels of grief they have experienced. Jesus indicates that people in crisis become teachers for salt and light living. As we walk with them, we learn to live in a holy way.My church hosted a brunch for homeless and working poor in the Knoxville area last December. People brought their families and selected a winter coat, shopped for toys, and chose clothing items. One woman came dressed as if she were going to church on Sunday morning. This proud, dignified person met with one of our volunteers and admitted that she needed a size 10 shoe. The volunteer discovered that we did not have any size 10s. Another member of the church overheard the need and told the volunteer working with the poor woman: “I wear size 10s. I have plenty at home. I’ll take my shoes off and give them to you to give to her. I do not want you to tell her where they came from.” The anonymous, touching moment transpired in a matter of minutes. The poor woman stayed and received spiritual care, a meal, and cried with the volunteer who helped find the shoes. Her spiritual testimony and opportunity to serve, however, taught us how to live more like salt and light in the world today.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dr. Shiell, the story of the woman with the size 10 shoes is heart-warming. Thank you for sharing it. I am constantly amazed at the way God is manifesting His love at FBC.

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