Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 3, 2013

2013.03.03 “The Way: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus – Proclaiming the Kingdom” – Matthew 5: 1 – 3; 7: 24 – 29

Central United Methodist Church

The Way: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus

Proclaiming the Kingdom

Pastor David L. Haley

Matthew 5: 1 – 3; 7: 24 – 29

March 3rd, 2013

 

[5: 1 – 3] When Jesussaw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

[7: 24 – 29] Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell — and great was its fall!

Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

 

Are you a water person, or a mountain person?  Which of these two places most restores YOUR soul?

Personally, I am a water person. I love water in all its forms: showering, swimming, scuba diving, even surfing. I love creeks, streams, rivers, lakes, and especially the ocean. I find something about it so primal and restorative. So I’ve often wondered why it is I wound up living most of my life here in the Midwest, far from an ocean.  At least we’ve got Lake Michigan.

Some people, on the other hand, prefer mountains as their place of restoration, and when they take a vacation, head there: to the Smokies, or the Rockies, or perhaps best of all, to volcanic islands, like Hawaii, with both mountains and oceans. Once again, living here in the flat Midwest, you have to go a long way to find a decent mountain. Let’s face it, the only mountains we get is when we build our own; but even then the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower or Trump Tower or John Hancock is a poor substitute.

Whether it is water or mountains, let me ask you this: when was the last time you were there? Failing easy access to either of those, where is your mountaintop, the place you go to in order to seek renewal and restoration, and to find God? Again, most importantly, when is the last time you were there? This Lenten season, a time of reflection in preparation for Easter, would be a good time to do that.

As it turns out, Jesus loved both water and mountains. Two weeks ago we heard how Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan, and then afterwards fled to the mountains of the Judean desert, where he was tempted by Satan. Last week, we heard how – after his rejection in Nazareth – he made his home in the town of Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee.

This week, it’s mountains again, Jesus’ favorite place for restoration and retreat. As Adam Hamilton points out, you could tell much of Jesus story by talking about the mountains where events in his life happened. After arriving in Galilee, before choosing his disciples, he prayed all night on a mountain. It was on a mountain Jesus was transfigured before his disciples. It was on the Mt. of Olives that he prayed before his betrayal and arrest. It was upon Mount Zion that he was tried and sentenced, and upon Mount Calvary that he was crucified. After his resurrection, he gave the great commission from a mountain, before ascending to heaven. Clearly mountains were important in Jesus’ life.

Most importantly, according to Matthew, it was on a mountain that Jesus delivered his most famous sermon: the Sermon on the Mount, the best-known sermon in western civilization. You remember how it begins: “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he began to speak and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

And that’s only the beginning. It is in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus delivers his beatitudes, those blessings upon the poor and those who mourn, peacemakers, and those who seek righteousness. It is in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray, in the words of the prayer we still pray, the Lord’s Prayer. What would the Christian life be without the Lord’s Prayer? It is in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus gives us the Golden Rule: (No, it is not, “Those who have all the gold, make the rules”) but rather, “Do unto others, as you would have them do to you.”

There are other things in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that we know equally well but may not love as much, things which challenge us: loving one’s enemies, for example, or turning the other cheek; forgiving others, as we have been forgiven; doing not only what is required, but going the extra mile; laying up treasures not on earth, but in heaven. As many of you will remember, we have done whole sermon series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and barely scraped the surface of what that is there. Not to mention, putting it into practice in our lives.

For the purposes of our series, The Way: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus, there are two things about the Sermon on the Mount that we ought to especially note: (1) Jesus’ excellence as a teacher, and (2), the content of his Message.

Last week we saw how Jesus first gained fame as a healer, casting out demons and making people whole in a way no one had ever seen. But don’t you find it extraordinary, that if Jesus had never healed a single person, he would still be known as one of the greatest teachers who ever lived, with his teachings still known and practiced (not very well) 2,000 year later? Pretty good for a man who not only didn’t write a book, but for all we know, didn’t write down a single word.

And yet what a great teacher he was! He wasn’t a teacher like many teachers we’ve known, but a teacher whose stories and sermons were taken from life:  “Once there was a man who had two sons . . . For the kingdom of heaven is like . . . A man went out to sow . . . Consider the birds of the air . . .” Nothing and no one were safe from becoming lessons or illustrations of how God works in the world.

And consider the Sermon on the Mount.  Whether it was given in one piece or in bits and pieces at different places, whether it was given on a mountain or on a plain as in Luke, it’s one of the most amazing pieces of religious instruction every given.  Yes, you can find bits and pieces among the rabbis and other religious teachers like Confucius or Buddha, but altogether, there is nothing like it.  Not bad for an untraveled, uneducated Jesus Rabbi.  No wonder the crowds were astounded at his teaching, as indeed we still are today.

Which brings us to the second point, Jesus’ Message. As Adam Hamilton points out, many churches and many Christians would have you believe that the most important part of Jesus message was having a personal relationship with him, “accepting him into your heart.” But the surprising thing is, if you actually read the Gospels, especially Matthew Mark and Luke, you’ll find Jesus talks very little about this. He was more concerned about inviting people to become his followers and to live according to The Way he laid out for them. After all, when Jesus approached the fishermen on the seashore, he did not say, “Accept me into your hearts;” what he said was, “Come and follow me.” There is a lot of truth in the statement that the early church took the Message OF Jesus, and made it into a message ABOUT Jesus.

For those who will hear and heed Jesus’ Message, The Way he laid out for us, the central focus of his preaching and teaching, was on doing the will of God, which Jesus referred to most often as the Kingdom of God, sometimes the Kingdom of Heaven. Did you know that Jesus mentions the Kingdom of God more than 100 times, more than love, forgiveness, and sin, combined? Do you think that might be important? At the very beginning of his Gospel, Mark sums up Jesus’ message this way:

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

To follow Jesus: – to walk in his way and to follow in his footsteps – is to live under God’s rule and reign, rather than the rule and reign of the corrupt kingdoms of the earth we currently live under.  It is to live – fail though we may – as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount; and pray daily as he uniquely taught us to pray: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”   No one ever said, or ever found – it to be easy.

It’s like this.  Many years ago, my family went on a trip to New Zealand, one of those countries I referred to at the beginning that has both mountains and oceans. For that trip, we had the bright idea of renting a motor home.  In that Commonwealth country, I’ll never forget the first time I pulled out of the rental lot. A right-hander, I was sitting on the right side (what we would call the passenger side) of the cab. I had to shift with my left hand, look out at the mirror on my right, drive on the left side of the road, and turn left at the first intersection into a roundabout. It was against everything I believed in, and had known it up to then. Yet somehow, by the grace of God, I did it, and we survived.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is like that.  So much of it goes against everything we’re taught to believe, life as we have know it: calling those blessed that the world says are cursed, being peacemakers, loving our enemies, forgiving, not judging, turning the other cheek, going the extra mile. But by the grace of God, if we try it, we may just find ourselves in that Blessed place Jesus talked about, living under the reign of our a just and compassionate God.

Let’s go now, with Adam Hamilton, to the mountains.

[Note: In worship, I used the 10-minute excerpt contained on The Way DVD. For the reader, I recommend you use the link below to view Adam Hamilton’s longer version, as originally delivered to his congregation on March 11, 2012, which may be viewed here:

http://www.cor.org/worship/sermon-archives/show/sermons/Jesus-Went-Up-the-Mountain/

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