Last spring we began a journey through the greatest of Jesus’ teachings: the Sermon on the Mount. It is an incredible privilege that we have this sermon, straight from Jesus: “When [he] saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. He opened his mouth and began to teach them, saying…” (Matt. 5:1-2)
By relaying the intentionality of Jesus’ actions, Matthew shows us that Jesus is sharing something of profound importance to him. What Jesus has to say is significant and he means every word. His message, though, is not meant to present some unobtainable goal or unrealistic idea. Rather, Jesus provides guidelines for living. More specifically, his sermon is a call to those living in him and with him; it is, in fact, a call to normal Christian living. It is about living ‘in step’ with God’s kingdom breaking into the world today, and about living in anticipation of the world he will finally bring about when he renews all things and his glory fills all.
Jesus’ sermon is a very high call, and something that forces us to rely greatly upon God’s Spirit. We do not have it in us, left to our own strength or efforts, to live the way that Jesus calls us to. But isn’t it also a beautiful way to live? And a thrill, really, when we courageously venture into this call, by God’s Spirit?
So after a few months away it’s time for a short reset, because this Sunday we will get back into Jesus’ sermon.
As a brief reminder, we are dividing our study of the Sermon on the Mount into five parts:
We began last spring looking at 5:1-16, which is largely about the beatitudes. (You can revisit all the previous sermons in this series, beginning here.) The beatitudes present a series of seemingly odd statements about people who are called “blessed,” even though many of them, by our cultural definitions, don’t really seem to be blessed at all: the poor in spirit, the weeping, the hungry, and even the persecuted.
But it is different in God’s kingdom, where the last will be first, and the first will be last. “Blessed” here does not mean “has an easy life.”
Rather, those who are blessed are those to whom God is particularly near, those to whom he draws especially close. The beatitudes invite us to look beyond this life and toward the kingdom that will be.
In the summer we moved into part two, 5:17-48. Here Jesus teaches us what life looks like when we live God’s way in this world, when we live as though God’s kingdom is already here. But this is one of the toughest ethics Jesus teaches. It is counter-intuitive and incredibly challenging to love our enemies, go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, and so on.
We left off before Advent (a bit untidily) in the midst of part three, just after the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus is teaching us about ‘inner life’ with God, our Father who “sees in secret” and who deeply loves us. It is by living the way the Son teaches—as challenging as it may be—that we are brought closer to the Father.
So here is where we will pick up this Sunday, resuming our journey with Matthew 6:16-18 and talking about fasting. I can’t wait to get back to walking with our Lord Jesus through this sermon, a message that was so important to him. I hope you will join us!
Two final pieces of news worth sharing, one happy and one unhappy.
The hard one first: Please join me and our diocese in praying for the people of Nairobi, where there was a terrorist attack on a hotel Tuesday and 14 lives were lost. I heard an interview that day with a dear woman who works at the hotel and managed to escape after sending warning messages to others. She, like so many Kenyans would, expressed her gratitude to God for delivering her, and mentioned her earnest prayers for those injured, in danger, or in grief. The Church of Kenya is dear to us, and Nairobi is a city I and several others have visited multiple times and enjoyed wonderful fellowship with our brothers and sisters there.
Happier news: The College of Bishops, at their annual January gathering last week, consented to the election of Rev. Drew Williams as the next bishop of the Anglican Diocese in New England. Drew+ will be consecrated bishop at the cathedral in Amesbury on March 16. Please join me in giving prayers of thanksgiving for Bishop Bill’s ministry among us, and for Drew+ and his ministry in the days to come. Drew’s first visit to CTR is scheduled for March 31.