A Bridge From Old to New
We are coming to the end of what some scholars believe are the most important series of texts in our 3-year lectionary cycle. This story today is the climax of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. His first official act to begin his ministry in Matthew’s gospel. Some of our ancient church fathers, like Marcion and Origen of Alexandria in the early 3rd century placed Matthew’s gospel first in the New Testament for a reason. You see Matthew is the bridge we have from old to new. Matthew was written to teach us about the true nature of God as shown to us in the life & death & resurrection & ascension of Jesus Christ… the Messiah. To reveal the true heart of God to devout first century Jews. And Matthew’s gospel is the only place we find this “Sermon” presented like this.
And still to this day, 2000 years later Jesus completely throws us for a loop. Beginning with the Beatitudes, saying that God doesn’t give a hoot about what our consumer driven, self-centered materialistic world values. In fact it’s almost the exact opposite of what we’d write if left to our own devices. BLESSED are the poor, the meek, the persecuted, the hungry. Last week we we’re called to be the LIGHT of the world & the SALT of the earth. The world is counting on us as God’s children to live that kind of life. So your homework for this week is to read through Chapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel. Every morning, every night read through it, it’s fascinating, its life changing. Because it reveals to us the true heart of God. And Matthew is the perfect transition from old to new.
What’s in our Heart
Because in Mathew the life of Jesus parallels the life of Moses. Both begin life narrowly escaping death at the hands of an evil dictator. Jesus spent 40 days (like Moses’ 40 years) in the desert. Both are transfigured during a mountaintop meeting with God. And Jesus begins his ministry building a bridge between the law of Moses And the true heart of God. A prophetic bridge between Abraham & Isaac & Jacob & YOU & ME. This is why throughout Epiphany we’ve had the Sermon on the Mount paired with some of the most important prophets in the Old Testament. The Beatitudes were paired with a pre-exhillic prophet named Micah. Who came preaching to a people who had turned away from God. Saying God doesn’t care about your religious rituals or temple or sacrifices, God cares about what is in HERE (our heart)… And how that impacts what you do out there…
Micah summed up a life of faith in one sentence…
“SEEK JUSTICE, LOVE MERCY, WALK HUMBLY WITH YOUR GOD.”
A message repeated in the Beatitudes. Blessed are the merciful and pure in heart… Blessed are the peacemakers, and the persecuted… like the prophets who were before you. Last week we heard Isaiah prophesy about the true heart of God, saying, your practices & laws serve your self-interests while oppressing others! You FAST only to FIGHT and STRIKE with a WICKED FIST. But at the heart of the KINGDOM OF GOD lies a call:
- To LOOSEN the bonds of INJUSTICE,
- To give HOUSING to the HOMELESS.
- To CLOTHE the NAKED… SHARE your BREAD.
- This is how we become SALT and LIGHT.
And Jesus asked last week: “If salt has lost its saltiness what good is it? He said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to GOD!”And this week we find Moses in Deuteronomy, teaching the people of Israel the difference between Life & Death, between Prosperity & Adversity. Chapters 28-30 of Deuteronomy renew the Covenant God made with Abraham. Saying if you will only love God & walk in His ways: Blessed shall you be when you come in & when you go out. He says: Chose life, so that you and your descendants may live the type of life promised to Abraham & Isaac & Jacob. LOVE GOD!!! WALK IN HIS WAYS!!!! CHOSE LIFE!!!
And in the Sermon on the Mount, the most important sermon ever given. Jesus tells us what is at the heart of this kind of life. Saying: “YOU’VE HEARD IT SAID, BUT I SAY TO YOU…” You can quote the law all you want, all the little nuggets that in our minds prove exactly what we believe. But here is the true heart of God as seen through the Commandments. Which are to be used more like a window than a hammer. It’s great you’re not out killing people, but thou shalt not kill is a pretty low bar. In the Kingdom your actually responsible for your THOUGHTS & ACTIONS. Your ANGER, your TREATMENT of your BROTHERS & SISTERS, YOUR SPOUSE! Which was radical stuff in the PATRIARCHY of the 1st century. Where wives could be cast aside for ridiculous reasons, like burning bread.
The Truth Close to God’s Heart
This is how the heart of God’s message had been twisted using scripture. But in radical contrast Jesus shows us at the true heart of God lies equity & truth. Jesus preaches the importance morality & ethics in the Kingdom, in community. And the fascinating thing about the Sermon on the Mount. When we look back through our history as God’s children. Through the story of Abraham & Issac & Jacob & Moses & Micah & Isaiah, The fascinating thing is that Jesus isn’t saying anything new, It’s a message as OLD AS THE HILLS, The same TRUTH preached 4000 years ago is the same TRUTH today. The TRUTH about what lies close to God’s heart. A truth Jesus was willing to die for.
So, I took a quick trip to San Antonio this past weekend. To attend the funeral of a dear friend & mentor named Jeff Dibiasi. Who provided some direction in my life when it was seriously needed. He was the Staff Sergeant at the University of Colorado’s ROTC Detachment. He was in college as well & graduated with my class in 93, this is a picture of us at our Commissioning ceremony, a little thinner & a little less gray! But Jeff was a salt of the earth kind of guy. He worked all of our assignments with the Air Force, He was counselor and coach and parent when needed. If you had one phone call, Jeff was the guy you were going to call. And he bailed us out a lot more times than we deserved. But people showed up from all over the world, to share stories with his wife & son about how Jeff’s light had impacted there life.
The Gift of Community
And I can honestly say I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for Jeff. I may not have graduated college on the first try. I never would’ve gotten into pilot training. Which means I would’ve never met my wife, had our boys, or gone into ministry. I wouldn’t have the life I have without Jeff, & he was a man of great faith. And I would assume most of us don’t have to think very hard to name a person like Jeff in our life, Someone God placed in our lives at a time when we needed it. But we all agreed the most important gift Jeff gave to us. Something I have been in search of ever since, trying to recreate. His gift was showing us what true authentic community looks like and feels like. And what a difference that can make in the purpose & direction of your life.
And that is what Jesus is teaching throughout the Sermon on the Mount. What true authentic community looks like & feels like in the Kingdom of God. And I’m convinced if all we knew about Jesus was chapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel. If those were the only scraps of parchment paper Marcion & Origen had to go off when creating the NT, no virgin birth, no miracles or crucifixion or resurrection. The very foundations of our faith… these words would be enough, They are at the very heart of our callings as children of God.
An “Executive Order”
Tomorrow is Presidents Day, a time when we celebrate our founders. And in recent years means a day when we take an honest and open look at our complicated history as a nation. But Washington at his farewell address, and I’m paraphrasing so please don’t quote me. He said that he had come to understand and agree with the importance of the separation between church and state. But he also warned that no fledgling democracy, Especially one like what had been laid out in our Constitution. No democracy could survive without the moral fabric of Christianity around it.
And the blessing of these words today – the closest thing we have to an EXECUTIVE ORDER from Jesus, are that they are telling us to CHOSE LIFE! A new way of abundant life that lies at the Heart of God’s timeless message. A flourishing life that recognizes who you are as a disciple, It’s not just about you and your personal relationship with God (UP / DOWN) But is also about how you live your life within community (SIDE to SIDE.)
That the Bible and our history as God’s children, Is not a checklist of do’s and don’ts but a roadmap to the heart of God. Not a baseline of minimum rules to follow but directions to a relationally transforming, embodied encounter with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and every person we meet. This is the true heart of God. And we have a choice, every second of every hour of every day.
So choose love… choose community… chose life… AMEN