What does it mean to be Christian? (Sermon on Matthew 5)

Sermon preached at Quaker Haven at a retreat focusing on “Simplicity”

Reading: Matthew 5
The “sermon on the mount” is something that Christians love to ignore. From the very start it surprises us by looking at live in a way very different than we have experienced, and in a way contrary to what we have been taught by society. We are shocked into asking whether to dismiss what Jesus said as an impossible ideal, something that only works in Heaven, or do we take it literally?

Those of us who thinks that Jesus said these things because he meant them have a very harsh time of it. I often quote James 1:2 to myself: “Consider it pure Joy whenever you face trials of many kinds.” This short verse is like the beatitudes — Be happy when suffering — find the blessing. Yet, no matter how much I say it, I still think it sucks when bad things happen. Yet the truth is Jesus blesses those that the world chooses to curse. Do we believe Christ, or do we fear the power of world?

While it is nice to think of ourselves as salt and light to the world, it is rather scary to think of what this means — it holds us to a very high standard! When we think in terms of law, it does not matter if we like the law or not — what matters is that we follow it. It is possible to follow the law, while the intentions of the heart are completely different. For us to be light, we must live out the spirit, and not only the letter of the law.

Jesus talks about several places where a person might break the written law. He calls on people to be even more virtuous than the people who study and teach the law. Jesus points to sin as starting on the inside, because the outward law was ever broken. We are called to a level of transformation where the rules become unnecessary, because we no longer have the desire to ‘sin’ against others.

Personally, I know very few people who have claimed the Christian perfection named here — personally, I’m skeptical, but this does not mean that I don’t think Jesus meant what he said. I do believe Jesus is calling us to put aside the urge to seek revenge. I think Jesus is calling on us to put aside our jealousy, our greed and lust, our pride, our duplicity. I believe that Jesus meant every word we read — this is what we should be.

When we pray the Lords prayer we pray: “Our Father in Heaven Hollowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I think the key to this passage is found right here. After telling us the way we should live, Jesus commands us to pray that God’s kingdom will come — and it will be just as God wants here on Earth.

Think of how subversive this prayer is! We hear the command that we turn the other cheek — yet our national value tells that the the right thing to do is seek revenge — make the enemy pay a hurt more than “they” hurt us. We are told to love our Enemy, giving him or her food and drink — yet our national values calls this treason. We are told to loan without expecting repayment, yet the values we are taught could not imagine doing so. These are values of very different Kingdoms — Christ calls those who are Christians to embrace the kingdom of heaven — even now.

We look at the world around us, and the values of God’s Kingdom — we protest that this is not how things are, and it is not even possible to live this way. Revenge seems so necessary. We protest that it cannot be done — yet, Jesus seems to tell us ‘this is not how things are done in my kingdom. As far as it is possible, live at peace with everyone.”

So every time we pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven” — we are praying that God’s kingdom will come to the world — and, if we let it come into us through our hearts, then it does come.

The theme this week is ‘simplicity’ — and, here is where we are — all of us are standing in two kingdoms right now. We have the kingdom of God, and we have the kingdom of this world. Simplicity is basically knowing what we are about — and, here is one of the most basic places where we have to make choice — are we citizen’s of heaven or Earth? Do we choose the values that Christ gives us, or the values of the world? People call us to worship the icons of human power — even offering words of worship and loyalty oaths to men. Do we bend to men, or to God? Do we reject Christ’s teachings because our nation tells us that we must hate, exact revenge on others, and that greed is a virtue? — or do we try to pretend that we are in line with both sets of values (not simple?)

Friends throughout history have gotten in trouble simply because we have chosen to assume that Jesus spoke this way because he meant these things. Whether we like it or not, Jesus was not put on the Cross for being a patriot. He was not crucified for his support of either the Sanhedrin, nor of Rome — in fact, the government of Judah worked together with Rome to kill Jesus. His values challenged not only Empire, but even a government run by God fearing people. Jesus was crucified because he taught these things. The first generations of Christians were persecuted because this message is subversive. When Christ says “Not in MY kingdom” Christ calls us to choose who we will serve. Until we choose Christ’s Kingdom, we cannot pray for that Kingdom to come, and for God’s will to be done without bringing opposing values into conflict.

Questions for thought:
What does it mean to be a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven?
How do we change our heart, so that the impulse to sin is gone?
In what ways does nationalism stand against Christ’s teachings?

**After the message, there was lively discussion where people attempted to answer these questions.**

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One comment on “What does it mean to be Christian? (Sermon on Matthew 5)

  1. Bejoy S says:

    nice thoughts . Christ’s message has always been exactly opposite to the worldly wisdom.

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