A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Instruction and Indictment: The Sermon on the Mount and Discipleship-- Introduction

Currently the Gospel readings in the Lectionary are from the Sermon on the Mount. Given what is happening in the world right now, I appreciate the irony of the church hearing these words on Sunday morning from this manual of discipleship that Jesus gave to us some two thousand years ago.

I have been burdened for over a week now that I need to post a series of reflections on Matthew chapters 5-7 for these times in which we live. I plan to publish on the entire sermon so this series will contain many posts and will likely take several months, but I don't think it is possible to over-emphasize the importance of Matthew 5-7 as the way of the followers of Jesus.

The title of this series is "Instruction and Indictment." These words come from Scot McKnight's commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus' words in Matthew are instructive for how disciples are to live in the world, but they also serve as an indictment on how the church has fallen woefully short of those words; and indeed I would say subverted Jesus' words. Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount are themselves quite subversive, but all too often Christians have subverted the subversive by watering down Jesus' instructions to make them much less challenging and more palatable for settling into life in the world. When that happens, the Sermon on the Mount becomes an indictment of the church.

By the way, I need to say that the Sermon on the Mount is for disciples and how disciples are to live. It is not a blueprint for nation states either in foreign and domestic policy. It is a subversive sketch for how the followers of Jesus are to bear witness to the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ in the world, and in so doing model for the world the ways of God in the world. Christians on both sides of the political aisle make an interpretive mistake when they attempt to draw a straight line from Scripture to nation state policy. Scripture is almost completely (notice I said "almost") directed to God's people-- Israel in the Old Testament, and the church in the New Testament. It will not do to refer to Scripture to justify our earthly political agendas and then conveniently ignore it when it doesn't fit with our programs. Christians on the left and right do this quite regularly and it is a misuse and sometimes even an abuse of Scripture, plain and simple.

That doesn't mean that the Sermon on the Mount is not political. It is deeply political. But its politics can only be embodied by the followers of Jesus, the citizens of God's kingdom, which the powers-that-be so often find to be a threat to their continued existence.-- as well they should.

So, I invite my readers to join me in this sermon through Matthew 5-7 and join me in dialogue. Discipleship matters and that means the Sermon on the Mount matters.

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