Matthew 5:1-16, 7:24-29
Today we will explore Jesus’ teachings on the mountaintop. It is probably no coincidence that Jesus was drawn to the mountains. Their majestic beauty brings to mind stories of significance. Abraham heard the voice of God while on Mount Moriah. Moses was working on Mount Horeb when he saw the burning bush. David wrote many psalms from the mountains. Elijah heard the voice of God while on the mountain.
Jesus connected to the mountains in a special way as well. He would often retreat to the mountains for times of rest and prayer. He multiplied the loaves and fishes on the mountainside. He was transfigured on the mountaintop. He entered Jerusalem for his last week prior to death from the Mount of Olives, than returned there every night for prayer and meditation. He was arrested on the Mount of Olives, crucified on Mount Calvary, and gave the great commission from the mountain where he ascended to heaven. Our scripture today is known as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Take a look at this week’s video as we are reminded that we are following the sermon series based on The Way: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus, and we are focusing on the section, ‘Proclaiming the Kingdom’ [play video.]
Jesus spent a great deal of time and focus on what is believed to be his central message – the Kingdom of God. “He spoke of this more than forgiveness, sin, and even love combined” (Hamilton, 77.) What is the Kingdom of God? What did Jesus mean when he spoke of it? Hamilton explains three senses in which Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God – a present reality, a vision, and something yet to be.
The Kingdom of God as a present reality – what does that look like? We spoke about this when we studied the War Room sermon series. It is the acceptance of God as the ruler of all creation and of our hearts. It is the understanding that we do not have to stand alone. We are embraced and welcomed as God’s very own. The hand of grace is extended to us – we can choose to accept this grace for ourselves, and as we do we are turning away from our natural tendency to pull away from God and instead align ourselves with God’s will for us. It is the idea of repentance – to ‘turn around’ and become a follower of the one true King.
Jesus also presents the Kingdom of God as a vision. We see this as Jesus spelled out each of what is known as the Beattitudes – this ideal and a reversal than what we typically experience. Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted – our experience often seems to contradict these ‘blessings.’ Evil often appears to have the upper hand, yet the vision of the Kingdom of God is before us. How can we live out that vision? By becoming peacemakers, comforters, humble servants of the most-high God. As we go on toward perfection, we continue to strive to do good in all ways possible. Consider how different our world would be if each of us lived this out in our everyday lives.
Jesus lastly referred to the Kingdom of God as a future hope – something yet to be. We look forward to the day when the world will be made anew, free from evil and sin. A time of a new heaven and a new earth is the future when the words of the Lord’s Prayer will be ultimately fulfilled – “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Right after Jesus sums up these blessings for those of us who are often overlooked and downtrodden, he provides a charge for each of us. We are to be salt and light. We like the image of light – we see the symbolism of driving out the darkness. This weekend marks the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His words resonate for us today – “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hatred cannot drive out hatred, only love can do that.” I shared the Chris Rice song last week, Carry Your Candle. One of the most powerful images we have from Christmas eve is the candle lighting service where we start with small sources of light that grow throughout the congregation as we share the light with one another. It is a powerful visual that can help us to live out our charge – share light within a dark world. Be kind when others are not. Give when the world will tell you to steel and scrounge. Seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.
While we like that image of being a light on a hill, we are maybe not so sure about being salt. We often shy away from salt, particularly those of us suffering from high blood pressure. I remember when I had a home garden I would can tomatoes because as you know when there is a good crop you often have an abundance of tomatoes. So I boiled my tomatoes, placed them in cold water to help remove the skins, than cooked them with some Italian spices thinking that I would use them for spaghetti or chili sauces. I carefully placed the stewed tomatoes in mason jars, properly sealed them and put them away for later use. Imagine my surprise when after just a few short weeks all my canned tomatoes had molded. I had no idea what I did wrong, until I was educated on the need for salt. Just 1 teaspoon of salt per jar solved the problem.
Salt is a powerful and necessary preservative. When we use salt like this, food is sustained. Can we be salt for others? Can we help someone who is going through a really hard time maybe forget about their troubles for a while? I remember a special visit to see Ben Matthews. He had just endured a very painful procedure only to have to have it redone again. He was exhausted and in obvious pain, until a hen party arrived. Two wonderful women from Mayo joined me as we trekked to Washington to visit Ben on a football Sunday. After just a few minutes, Ben was laughing and bantering back and forth. Even though it was for a short time, in that span he was not in pain. In that span he felt the love of Jesus. In that span, he was not just a sick patient in the hospital. We were salt that day, and I wanted to publically thank Mary Gerhart and Sharon Williams for being the salty gals we know you to be!
Salt and light – the makings for a firm foundation, like a house that is built on a rock. If the foundation is good, the house will stand no matter what the weather holds. If the foundation is good, the joy will reign within the walls even in the midst of sorrow. If the foundation is good, others will flock to its doors of safety and love.
But beware of the house built on sand. Our house simply cannot withstand all the evils of this world if we have not built a foundation of love, peace, joy, and hope. Our house is in serious danger when the first winds of doubt, fear, addiction, greed, anger, bitterness, selfishness, impatience and loneliness begin to assault the structure of our souls. We can only stand firm if we have built our house on the rock of salvation in Jesus the Christ.
I would encourage each of you to take on a little extra reading this week. Take about 20 minutes or so this week and reread the words of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew chapters 5-7. These three chapters are packed with wisdom and encouragement as we strive to seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. Let God be the Lord of our lives and we will see the foundation of our hearts built on the rock. Amen.