Thursday, February 24, 2011

Putting on our Reading Glasses

Our Lectionary texts for this week, the last Sunday in Epiphany and the last Sunday in our Sermon on the Mount series, are Isaiah 49:8-16, 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, and Matthew 6:24-34. Read them here.

Just before we began this series on the Sermon on the Mount five weeks ago with the Beatitudes with which Jesus began His sermon, I had a great post-worship conversation with a member of our congregation who posed a compelling question. His question was something like this: what if Jesus intended the Beatitudes not just as a stand-alone piece, but as the lens through which we can then read and understand the rest of the Sermon on the Mount?

This question has stayed with me as I have studied and preached on and dialogued with you about these texts over this past month. The more I think about it, the more I think Jesus was brilliant (insert the requisite "duh" here if you'd like), because I think that's exactly what Jesus did by beginning with the Beatitudes: he wanted these phrases rolling in our heads through the rest of his sermon. He wanted these to be the phrases through which we could encounter his more detailed teachings, and his more detailed teachings to be further understood as they are held together with Jesus' statements of blessing.

(As an aside, I've also become convicted that the Lord's Prayer is a lens through which we can read the whole Sermon--making Jesus even more brilliant--but that's another blog for another time...or perhaps another sermon series for another season).

Think about putting on the Beatitudes as your reading glasses as you consider these teachings we've studied the past few weeks:

"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."

"But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile."

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled."

"For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy."

"But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift." (I think this could go with "poor in spirit" too...there's lots of overlap here)

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven."

I've been using the Beatitudes as my reading glasses as I've read this week's passage from Matthew 6:24-34...particularly verses 24 and 33. This is because I feel one of the Beatitudes we studied last night in our meditation group, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" connects intimately with what is at the heart of this teaching. Jesus begins by speaking about the disciple's need to be undivided, reminding those who follow him that they cannot serve two masters--it is just impossible, you will end up loving one and hating the other, having to choose one over the other. Then Jesus tells them on the one, singular choice they are to make: to seek first the kingdom of God and God's righteousness, making this their absolute focus and priority. I believe that at least one way we can think about "pure in heart" is in terms of a clearness and singleness of focus...having a heart that seeks after and focuses on one thing above all else, not getting distracted by many peripheral worries and desires...and that such singleness of focus is what can truly enable one to see God. What happens if we read these words of Jesus about anxiety, fruitless striving, and worry in light of Jesus' promise that those who are pure in heart--undivided and undistracted in their pursuits--will see God?

This could all be out there...but I think it's worth thinking about. What do you think?

No comments: