Sunday, February 23, 2020

What Happens on the Mountain . . Matthew 17:1-8 (6:16-18)

The Sundays following our celebration of the Epiphany, that is the coming of the Magi, which is on January 6th, until the Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday. These Sundays, make up the Season of Epiphany. The season of Epiphany is about the revelation of Christ as it was given to us in and through the life and teachings of Jesus. Throughout this season of revelation we have been coming to a better understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus by looking at the Sermon on the Mount. In these teachings, Jesus has been revealing to us about what it looks like to be one of his disciples.
As we come to this final Sunday of the season, we remember the time when Jesus took a hand full of his disciples up on a mountain and was transfigured before their eyes, in what has come to be known as the Transfiguration, making today “Transfiguration Sunday”.
As the Season of Epiphany comes to a close, the transfiguration serves as one final story of revelation. In the transfiguration we, along with a select few disciples, see Jesus revealed as the Holy one of God, the Messiah. The transfiguration is the event in the life of Jesus with which we choose to use as the conclusion the season of the revelatory Season of Epiphany, and begin our move into the season of Lent and ultimately points us forward to our celebration of the Resurrection.
In this passage, Jesus takes his disciples up on a mountain. In the Old Testament, the mountain-top was a place where people “met God” so to speak. Abraham takes Isaac up on the mountain where God provided the ram for the sacrifice. Moses went up to the mountain where he received the covenant as well as the 10 commandments. Elisha had an encounter with God in the silence he found while in a cave at the top of the mountain.
This is also not the first time; an encounter with God resulted in a person’s visage changing, as Jesus’ does here. When Moses went up on the mountain when he returned to speak to the people he had to cover his face because it was shining with the glory of God and was reported to have the appearance like that of the Sun. Radiating the reflected glory of God is a sign of an encounter with God.
The Disciples see Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah, two other people who also encountered God on a mountain. Different gospels will use the same events to highlight different themes. Other Gospels use this encounter to show that Jesus’ teachings are a continuation of and built upon the Law and the prophets. This is hardly necessary in Matthew, particularly for the reasons expounded upon in last week’s sermon. Last week we walked through a day in the life of Jesus, after which the disciples worshipped Jesus as the Son of God. So the question is why these two people of all the people who ever lived? We begin to answer this question by knowing it was commonly believed at the time this gospel was written that these two figures both ascended into heaven without dying. We have a biblical account of Elijah’s ascension. And it is most believers in the first century believed Moses did not die on the Mountain overlooking the Promised Land but that instead Moses ascended to be with God, rather than having died.
So what the disciples see here is Jesus glowing as if he was shining with the glory of God and standing, talking to two others who also encountered God, were believed to have gone to be with God instead of having died as all other have done. We then have Peter overwhelmed with the situation stepping forward and offering to make shelters for them there on the mountain. Other Gospels explain that Peter did this because he did not understand, but Matthew leaves this out. Matthew’s implication is that Peter understood, at least in part. For Matthew it is important that the disciples understand, because this is not a revelation TO Jesus. Jesus understands who he is. This is a revelation of Jesus’ divinity TO the disciples. Although the disciples have seen Jesus as the Son of Man, they do not yet fully understand who he truly is. But for the first time, here on the Mountain, they get it. Peter understands (at least in part), there Jesus is shining with the light of God’s glory, communicating with Moses and Elisha and Peter wants to commemorate this great revelation of what he believes to be the fullness of God in Christ Jesus. What he does not understand, is that he has not seen the revelation of Christ’s glory in its fullness, which can only be seen in the resurrection.
And as if this revelation is not enough a voice comes booming out of the sky, just like it did at Jesus’ baptism, saying, “This is my Son.” And then it adds, “Listen to him.” God is telling them that they will come to a better understanding of what is ahead comes from the listening. Again I want to point out is that Matthew makes no comment about the disciples not understanding what it is God is telling them.
Matthew does tell us that the disciples’ reaction is that of terror, which is the most common reaction when one encounters the divine or divine messengers throughout both the Old and New Testament. So here we have the disciples standing on the mountain, seeing the God of the universe reflected in Jesus Christ. And that very same God speaks to them, telling them they should listen to this one who is here shining with the God’s own glory reveling himself to be divine.
And here we stand with the disciples on the mountain, seeing the glory of God in Jesus. We stand in this sanctuary on the virtual mount of transfiguration looking into the valley of Lent before us. This week is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent.
So today we stand on the mountain with the disciples, seeing the divinity of God shining before us, in Jesus. We see the one with whom we have journeyed through Matthew and with whom we will journey toward the cross. And all this happens right after he told his disciples to take up their cross and follow him (16:24) and then he leads them up on this mountain and then following this he begins his decent into Jerusalem and his journey toward the cross.
Through the season of Lent, we will journey with him, in our own personal preparations, and our communal fasting, taking out our crosses and following him, as he journeys toward his own. Here we have a foretaste of glory divine.
A foretaste of our resurrected Lord here on the mountain. And then he and his disciples descend toward the cross and we descend toward Ash Wednesday, and Lent which will also lead us to the cross and the glory beyond. And we begin this descent by contemplating the sacrifice of the Lord.
Though this was the Lord’s transfiguration, and revelation of glory it was the DISCIPLE’s encounter on the mountain top. So we too, as disciples who have come late to the mountain, look at the reflection the glory of God in Jesus which will be more fully revealed at Easter, before taking the long dark path toward the cross.
As we progress in our journey through Lent, we have the responsibility to heed the words of God issued toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount, in chapter 6 of Matthew where Jesus talks about fasting. In order to prepare ourselves for the journey on which we are about to embark through Lent toward the cross and beyond, it is tradition for Christians to fast during the season of Lent.
As we think about Lent and we think about fasting, let us listen to the words of Jesus as found in Matthew 6:16-18
 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

The spiritual discipline of Fasting is one of the spiritual practices of the Church which are more than just a little counter-cultural. In our culture of plenty, where more is the goal and sooner is always better, the idea of going without something we want or even need . . . voluntarily . . . for spiritual reasons, is beyond comprehension for many. Our culture is about instant gratification, why would anyone go without something when we can have it delivered to our houses; in two days; for free; from Amazon? We don’t like to wait for something we want, why on earth would we go without something we need? Fasting is about denying ourselves of something otherwise readily available, it is about not giving into our wants, not giving into our desires, and even not giving into our needs, so that we can draw close to God, an act of submission, an act of humility.  Fasting give us practice in the lifelong spiritual skill of saying, “No,” to the things I want and instead saying, “Yes,” to the things of God. In many ways it trains our wants and our desires so that ultimately saying “yes” to God and the things of God is not saying “no” to what I want, because what I want is trained and honed through fasting and other spiritual disciplines so that what we want and what we desire are the things of God. Fasting is truly something that pulls us away from the voices of our culture so that we can focus on really paying attention to the voice of God.
Lent begins this Wednesday with the community Ash Wednesday service (77 Columbia St). With Lent beginning this week, this is the time of year that we think about Fasting.  So as before we move into this season we begin to think about fasting. What is fasting? Voluntary abstinence from the ordinary enjoyment of something – often times food, but can be other things as well.
As we look at the Matthew 6 passage what do we learn about fasting? I know there may not seem like much here in this one verse about fasting but what does this passage specifically say? When you fast don’t make a show of it – don’t make it LOOK like you are fasting for all to see. When you fast do your best to look put together, clean and tidy. If you do God will reward your fast - you will not get your reward in praise or the appearance of piety but instead from God.
At the time Jesus spoke these words, is was popular to put on ripped, torn, dirty, clothes, put ashes on your face and make yourself look pitiful to show that you were fasting. Even if you only fasted for one day or one meal – it was to let everyone know you were fasting, to look pious/ spiritual. It was also common at this time, when people fasted for an extended period of time, a person begins to get weak, they look pale, they look sick. If a person spent extended time in prayer and fasting to the extent that the person was neglecting themselves and their appearance their clothes would look dirty or disheveled and in rare instances might begin to show wear from the amount of time praying.
People who truly gave themselves over to the practice would LOOK like they have been fasting without trying. What Jesus is speaking against is people who DID things to themselves, to make it appear as if they had spent A LOT of time in prayer, in fasting whether they had or not. Jesus is saying that doing that is not pious; it was trying to make oneself look “spiritual” w/o actually doing anything that was actually “spiritual.”
The passage says “Whenever” you fast. Jesus makes the assumption that his disciples will fast and by extension we can assume that we too are expected to fast. Jesus tells us, when we fast we are to do so with a purpose. Fasting is not about piety or looking like a “good Christian” or “spiritual” before others, nor should it simply be about our willpower or endurance, but should be about God.
          As we move into the Lenten Season, we begin to contemplate the sacrifice of the Lord made for us on the cross. As we fast and prepare ourselves to celebrate the resurrection in just a few short weeks, we look at ourselves and humbly see who we are in light of who the Lord is. We stand with the disciples on the holy mount of transfiguration this morning, looking at the reflected Glory of God in Christ, knowing that this is a foretaste of the glory that is soon to come and then we turn and look down into the valley that is Lent and are reminded that although this was the Lord’s transfiguration, it was the DISCIPLE’s, it is our, encounter on the mountain top. So we look at the glory and soak it in before taking the long dark path that is before us, as we follow Jesus toward the cross.
As we progress in our journey through Lent, we have the responsibility to listen to Jesus, as God calls for us to do here. Our familiarity with this journey taken each year can let us coast easily into complacency. We know the road down which we travel and we know, even as we pass through the darkest days the earth has seen that Son will rise on Easter morning. So we allow ourselves to be teachable by taking time to focus on God, to put aside things here on earth, to allow ourselves to draw close to God by spending time in fasting and prayer during Lent as we journey with Jesus toward the cross. 

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus: The Heart of the Law

As we move on to our third section on the sermon on the Mount, Jesus continues to teach about what he expects from his disciples in terms of the Law. The Law being the commands and ordinances God had given to the people of God to help them understand what it means to be a people to live in such a way that they reflected the character of God to the world around them. 
Jesus has said elsewhere that the Law can be summed up in one two-part command: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus at point is elaborating on what it means for us to not only Love God, but for us to love one another in the manner in which God would have us love, that is to live the love we experience from God in all our relationships with others. In this particular section of the Sermon on the Mount in his teachings, Jesus mirrors the commands found in the latter half of the Ten Commandments, the core of the Law given to God's people via Moses on mount Sinai when the Hebrew people covenanted with God for God to be their God and for them to be the people of God.
The first part of the Ten Commandments deals with what it means to love God. The second part deals with loving others. Jesus begins with looking at the command against murder. He says, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder.’” He then goes one to say that if you are angry with someone that a kin to murder. He also says that speaking unkind words, calling people names is a kin to murder.
Jesus is explaining that the command to not murdering others is about more than simply not killing them. When we respond to those around us in unloving unkind ways we are breaking this command, whether we would EVER even think about murdering someone or not. Jesus goes on to say that if someone has a problem with you, even if you realize this in the middle of making an offering at the temple, you should go seek to make things right with you. He also says that when you have done something wrong and someone has a problem with you, you should settle that disagreement as well. Whether you are at fault or whether you are not, you are to work to set things right with the people around you.
Jesus then moves on to the command against adultery. Most people would agree that stepping out on your spouse not an acceptable thing to do in our society. It is not the proper way to treat a spouse. Jesus says if you look lustfully at someone else that it is the same as adultery. Again, this is about how you are treating other people. First of all, how you are treating your spouse but also how you are treating the people in the world around you. When Jesus is speaking about looking lustfully at someone, what he is meaning is more than just noticing someone is attractive. The world is full of handsome men and beautiful women and most of notice this from time to time and that is fine. Seeing a person as attractive is not lust. Lust is when you look at another person as the object of desire. Lust is the line between noticing someone whose appearance is pleasing to the eye, and objectifying another human being because they are attractive to you. Objectifying someone is when you look at them and only see them as the attractive parts of their body. You notice the attractive waitress, or you notice a pair of legs. When a person is simply their parts, particularly the parts you like to look at, you are objectifying them. A person is more than just the attractive parts of their body, they are a whole being who is to be treated with dignity and respect. Ultimately lust goes against the loving other part of loving God and loving other because lust is one of the many ways we can treat a person as a thing instead of a person.
This is not just about how you are treating the passerby in the red dress, but it is also about how you are treating your spouse, when you objectify a stranger, you are also objectifying your spouse. When your head turns after a tall drink of water who just passed by on the street, and you turn that person into an object to be admired (perhaps even possessed) you are turning your spouse into an object as well, one that does not please you as much as that handsome thing that just walked by.
Jesus then goes on to say if it is your eye that is wandering gauge out, if it is your hand that is wandering cut it off. Jesus believes all people are people not matter how . . . who they are. People are never things, they should never be treated as less than human, there is no excuse to keep treating people in ways which dehumanize them, or objectify them in anyway. Jesus tells us, his disciples should be willing to go to extreme measures to love others properly at all times.
He then goes on to talk about divorce. We should begin by noting the words Jesus uses when it comes to divorce. Jesus talks about a husband dismissing his wife. Jesus is speaking in a time when all a husband had to do was give his wife a writ of divorce and he could be done with her, for whatever reason. This is once again about treating people properly. When you take this in context and remember this is one sentence after Jesus just warned people about lust, we should assume the two are connected. When you dismiss your spouse to run after someone else, that does not make things “right.” Just because you freed yourself up to chase after the new “object” of your desire, does not make it right.  Your spouse is not a household item you can get rid of when you lose interest or find one that you like better. Again, this is about treating people with respect and dignity.
Jesus rounds things out by addressing the final commandment on bearing false witness. Jesus says that we should speak truth at all times. Our “yes”, should mean, “yes,” and our, “no,” should mean, “no.” Disciples of Jesus should be people whom others can trust. We should not have to say, “I swear.” Those who know us, should simply know what we say is good and right. We should be such people of integrity, that those around us know that we say what we mean and we mean what we say. The language we use, the words we use, as well as how we live our lives, should always be speak in such a way that those around us know that what we say can be trusted.
Jesus is getting to the heart of what it means to live, to act to be the people of God. Disciples of Jesus are people who treat those around them with love, respect and dignity at all times in all things. What Jesus is doing here is not elaborating on the commandments, nor is he making them stricter, but instead he is opening up the heart of the law, exposing the intent behind the simple rules God has laid down for living. Jesus is teaching us that following the ten commandments, living the way God wants us to live is not simply a set of commands about doing or not doing the “right” things. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not about living by a certain set standard. Being a Christian is not a checklist of how to live our lives.  It is about loving the people around us, it is about acting and reacting in kind, loving, caring ways to each person in every situation. It is about how we treat; how we speak to and about; how we think about one another. Jesus disciples, Christians, exemplify the love God has us by living out that love in all we do, all we say, in each and every action and interaction we have with our fellow human beings each and every day.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus: Salt and Light - Matthew 5:13-20

Jesus has gone off a little ways from the crowds. He gathered his disciples and he began to teach them. Jesus has recently begun teaching what has come to be known by Christians, down through the ages as the sermon on the mount by saying, “Blessed are those.” Jesus begins teaching his disciples, speaking blessing upon those who are hurting, who are struggling, calling out those who were seen as the least, as other, as ones who are surely at the bottom of an calculation and left out of most things. Jesus extends the embrace of the promise of God to those who were most overlooked, most stepped over and upon; to those whose struggle may have seemed worthless, undesirable, and without merit. Jesus is informing those who follow him that these who are the least are the ones who are blessed. They are the ones who will inherit the kingdom of God.
Jesus then begins talking directly to his disciples about what it means to be a disciple, what the life of one who follows him will look like. Now that they understand who Jesus values and who Jesus sees as worthy of blessing and promise, what then is one who wishes to follow him, to be one of his disciples to do?
Jesus’ answer to this is a simple metaphor. A follower of Jesus is to be salt and light. Jesus in casting a vision about what it means to be counted among his disciples, and does so begins speaking about salt, light and being more righteous than the strictest adherents to the Law. Phrases like “Salt of the earth,” and “Light of the world,” are not unfamiliar to the seasoned church goer.
Most of us have had heard Sunday school lessons, sermons, Bible study talks, and may even remember a cute little Children’s song or two on one or both of these metaphors (humming “This Little Light of Mine”).  The hardest passages  to learn from, to hear the voice of Jesus continuing to speak to us today, are passages just like this one, which we know so well, and have come to believe that we already know what Jesus is telling us, what God has to teach us. We have already learned this lesson. We can hear it again, affirm its truth, but it has perhaps lost its flavor. Our understanding of what it means to be salt and light has become bland, so we need to taste it anew; we need to shed some light on this and perhaps see it in a new light which has been released from the confines of the darkening basket of overexposure.
Salt is an amazing thing. We cannot live without salt, our bodies need salt to survive, but too much salt will kill you. (I am sure more than one of have hear that from our doctors)  Salt is a fairly simple compound. NACL, Sodium Chloride. It is made up of two elements, which on their own can kill you. Chlorine is a poisonous gas which if combined with water is explosive, and considering we are comprised of, something in the neighborhood of, 65% water, that is not a good thing. Chlorine on its own, it is not something I would advise ingesting. Sodium is a metal, it is not particularly good for you and is somewhat toxic. But salt, the perfect combination of poisonous, explosive gas and toxic metal, is something not one of us can live without, and to make this little miracle compound even better, in the just the right amount, it makes almost everything taste better.
Salt; salt is . . . well salty. It is used to bring out the flavor of food; to make food taste good. Salt is one of the three main ingredients that make bread. Bread was one of the main stays of the ancient diet. It is also used to keep meat and fish from spoiling. As well as being a pretty decent disinfectant. It was one of the single most useful things used by ancient societies.
It was valuable. Everyone used it and everyone needed it. It was even a form of currency. It was used to pay Roman soldiers. The “salary package” of every Roman soldiers included a certain measure of salt. In fact the English word we use, when we are talking about how much we pay a person, Salary, is rooted in the word Salt.  Ever heard someone who is a hard worker referred to as being “worth their salt?” This references that idea that a person who works that hard is worth the salt given to them in pay. Salt was an important and valuable commodity in the ancient world.
The thing about salt is that if it is misused it becomes worthless. If you use too much salt, it ruins the taste of the food (and we all know, too much salt is just plain bad for you), if you don’t use enough salt, it doesn’t do its job, it is as if you have not used it at all.  Too much, too little, either will render it useless, might as well have not used it at all. Might as well have just thrown the salt out on the street to be trampled by all those who passed by. Which I know is something we do, around here, throughout the winter, on purpose, but people would not have done that in the ancient near east.
Salt’s limited ability to de-ice a road was not one its’ many properties which ancient people had discovered. Throwing salt down on the road would have been unheard of and a horrible waste of something valuable. Using too much, or too little, thus robbing salt of its intended purpose, to make food taste good, was robbing if its saltiness, and to do so, was as bad as throwing it in the street. If salt was not salty then it might as well be nothing more than dirt beneath your feet, trampled on, ignored, useless.
The thing about salt being not salty would have been a completely incomprehensible idea. I mean it is a completely incomprehensible statement. If salt is not “salty”. . . then. . . it is not salt. Because being salty is one of the indelible properties of salt. If salt is not salty it is in fact NOT salt, it cannot be.
Light was also just as important but in a very different way. Light as such was not a commodity, able to be bought or sold. The oil needed to make light was very valuable. In fact the miracle, which the Jews celebrate at Hanukah is a miracle of the continued replenishment of the oil needed to keep the Temple lamps lit, at a time when they were unable to purchase the needed to oil needed to keep the lamps lit.
Light in and of itself was important and as such had a certain value.  In a world without electricity and the undying light which it provides, darkness was nearly a tangible force, which consumed and oppressed everyone. Dark permeated and surrounded everything at night. The night with its darkness was dangerous. In the dark of night was when predators hunted. Those who wished to do you ill could hide in the dark and much more easily surprise you, over take you, beat you, rob you, do all sorts of harm to you, and then run off into the night, without ever truly being seen. In order to see at night when the moon is hidden behind clouds, or when you are surrounded by trees where the light of the moon does not easily penetrate, or during the time of the month when it is gone from the sky completely, or at the dimmer points of its cycle, it could be impossible to see your way at night. Light is needed to see in the dark. This is why we have headlights on our cars, and street lights lining our streets. This is why electric lights were invented, because the dark is dangerous.
Dark is, well, DARK. But even at night a city can always be seen from a long way off. At the time Jesus spoke these words, much like today, but to a lesser degree, the cumulative effect of a city worth light, created a glow that could be seen in the distance. A City worth of light can be seen, even on the darkest night. A city, on a hill, at night, could not be hidden from the surrounding countryside.
Light allows you to see what cannot otherwise be seen. In the dark very little can be seen, vague outlines nothing more. Light a candle and once your eyes adjust, you would be amazed at how much you can see with even just one small light. The more light you have, the more that is able to be seen. So Jesus is speaking very logically when he says that no one lights a lamp and then covers it up. (hides it under a bushel – No!) It makes no sense. It is a waste of light, it is a waste of oil and wick. It is a waste. You simply do not do it.
Jesus tells us we are the salt and light of the world. We make things taste good. We preserve that which would otherwise spoil and rot. We allow things to be seen clearly. We illuminate what was otherwise engulfed in the frightening, oppressive force of darkness. In short, Jesus says that his followers are two of the most useful and most valuable things used in the ancient world. If we as Christ’s disciples do not enhance flavor, if we do not glow brightly in the dark, if we are salty-less salt or covered lights, we are useless, we are ridiculous non-sense, dark light, unsalty salt.
And then Jesus ends this section of teaching by telling us we must be more righteous than the Pharisees. The Pharisees were a group which was formed after the exile. Their intentions were good, at first. They saw what had happened when the people of God had not lived by the statutes and ordinances laid out by God. They saw that the consequences of disobeying God’s law were bad, very bad indeed. They wanted to rectify this situation in their own lives and the lives of all those around them.
They wanted to be sure that nothing like the Exile would ever happen again. So they sat upon a quest to follow the law in all things. They even worked to bring clarity to the unclear places of the law, but defining every detail, accounting for every possible scenario and explaining how to understand the law and what to do in every circumstance. And they worked to follow every detail laid out, to never deviate from the strictest applications of the law. So they would know they were righteous before. And they worked to hold all of their fellow Jews to these standards as well. They did not want their people to be sent into exile by God again. They wanted God to be pleased with them at every turn.
I think it comes as no surprise that people who were so focused  on the minute details of following God’s commands in at all times, in all things, that they lost their way as some point. They became so obsessed with this strict adherence to the law, they somehow forgot the God who had given the law; the God who really just wanted to be their God and for them to be God’s people.
They had forgotten the heart of the covenant, even as they recited it morning, noon and night, (literally what the law told them to do), they had forgotten that the core teaching of the law: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.” The law was a description of what it meant to be a community of people who lived this all-encompassing love for their God and for the world around them.  They literally tore out the heart of the law, loving God and neighbor, and in doing so tore God out of the law.
Even as they were working to be the people God wanted them to be, by living out all the minute details of the law, they were failing at being the people the God of the law was calling them to be. They were un-salty salt, they were light-less lights. Jesus told those who were listening, you must be more righteous than this. Your righteousness must be salt that is actually making food taste good. You must be salt that keeps things from rotting and spoiling, you must be light that can be seen throughout the house. You must be a city on a hill that cannot help but be seen by all those around you. You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all you might, and your neighbor as yourself (as Jesus himself explains elsewhere).
We are salt and light and to be such, is to be righteous. To be righteous is to be salt, making a world which tastes, bitter, and bland, taste good. We are that which makes the lives of those around us good. We take away the bitterness, as well as the blandness. We are goodness, we are kindness, we are grace and peace to those who lives and work within our spheres of influence.
The thing about salt is when it is doing its’ job, you don’t necessarily know it is there. Things are just good. They taste right. But when it is not boy do you notice. Be salt. Make things good, set things right. Be kind, be gracious, be helpful and just. To be righteous is to be salt in a bland and bitter world. But also do not be overly salty. Do not be too much salt in the stew ruining everything with your intensity, over doing it with your strict adherence to Christian principles while at the same time losing sight of what it means to truly be people who exemplify the nature of God and live out the heart of God in our communities.
To be righteous salt is to be an influence working to counteract the natural decay in the world; inhibiting the rot is going on all around, a disinfectant in a contaminated world. We are to bring God’s justice, grace, love and mercy to all places of our communities, our country, our world; as well as in the lives of the individuals around us. As salt we are to help the hurting, to lift up the weak, to break down the barriers, which trap some within and hold others out. Work to create a world where all are valued equally and all know they are loved, and cared for, not only by us, but by a loving God who is the driving force behind people who are working to bring God’s preservative love to every part of our world.
To be righteous is to be preservative salt, to keep things from decaying, preserve the world, keep it from spoiling, from going bad. To be righteous, is to work to keep work against the forces which rot our society, decay the livelihoods and spoil the lives of people in our world. We are to work to bring kindness, mercy, justice to systems, to people, to keep it all from going bad. To be righteous, is to work to keep the world around us from decaying, from rotting from going foul, being spoiled. We are righteous preservative salt.
To be righteous is to be light; to allow things to be seen clearly. Good light allows all in the house to see; to take away the fear, the danger found in the dark. We are to be a city on a hill, something a weary traveler can see from far away, and head toward; knowing that with us there is safety and security. The light we shine illuminates all that we are doing to bring goodness, graciousness, mercy and justice to this world. Our light shows the world the love of God, in our actions and in our lives, as we work to love God and others in all things, just at the “law” calls us to.
To be righteous is to be salt and light in a world which so desperately needs both. To be righteous is to live a life of radical love in all things in the face of blandness, bitterness and all-consuming darkness.
“This little light of mine. . .”

Teachings of Jesus: #Blessed - Matthew 5:1-12

I was sick last week, so my husband preached this passage for me. - My understanding is he did a phenomenal job and preached it better than I would have, but if I had preached this is the one I planned to preach 

The text tells us that Jesus saw the crowds, and then he went up on the mountain.  He sat down and his disciples gathered around him and he began to teach them, what is probably one of the most well known collections of teachings Jesus ever taught, which is commonly referred to as the Sermon on the Mount.  I don’t know when but sometime during this great “sermon” the crowd must have noticed that something was going on. 
In my imagination, I see the people, who gathered around Jesus that day, trickling in.  One notices the disciples gathered around Jesus and wants to know what is going on.  She tentatively walks a little closer, standing just on the edge of hearing range, not wanting to disturb the great teachers as he teaches his disciples. She is pulled in, step by step she gets closer until she finds her self sitting down on the outside of the circle of disciples. This type of scenario is repeated over and over again, with individuals and small groups of people; all noticing the rabbi instructing his disciples, who are then overcome with a want, a need to know what it is he is saying. By the end of Jesus’ instruction there is a great crowd gathered around Jesus, who are all astonished by his teaching and the authority with which he taught.
I don’t know how many from outside the inner circle of disciples had wandered over, when Jesus began this particular bit of instruction, but I imagine that many have not yet realized that Jesus is teaching, so the majority of the people who have gathered around Jesus are his disciples and a handful of curious persons lingering on the very outer fringes.
Jesus saw the crowds that day and, for some unmentioned reason, was compelled to go a little ways off. Then when his disciples had gathered around him, he is moved to speak these words, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit. . . Blessed are those who mourn. .  . the meek . . . those who hunger and thirst for righteousness . . . the pure in heart . . . peacemakers . . . those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”  It makes me wonder what Jesus saw in the crowd which made him need to tell his disciples that these people are blessed.  We know at another time Jesus looked at the crowd and had compassion on them and still another, while in Jerusalem was moved to tears on their behalf. 
It seems to me that Jesus’ heart broke when he looked into the faces of the crowds which followed him everywhere he went, because he saw into the heart of their very beings and knew more profoundly how deeply hurting each of them were.  When Jesus looked into the crowd he did not see a mass of people clamoring to see and hear the new teacher, he did not see a bunch of dirty, smelly, overly needy people.  Jesus saw a meek woman, being walked all over by others in her life. He saw the young man mourning the loss of his son. He saw the man who had tried so hard, and strived so long but no matter how hard he scrapped and clawed he could not find his way spiritually and all he had to show for his work and labor was emptiness, he was still poor in spirit. He saw the one who worked to make peace everywhere she went. He saw the man who had forgiven time-and-time-again, only to find his forgiveness was needed once more, who stood in the crowd that day wondering if there should ever be an end to his mercy.  When Jesus looked into that crowd that day he saw each and everyone one of these individuals.  He saw how hurt they were, he saw how broken they were.  He knew they had been let down, beaten down, used and abused time-and-time-again, so he turned away from them, waited for his disciples to gather around him and began to teach them to see as he saw.
Most people, had they seen these same people in the crowd, would see people who were hopeless, people who had nothing, and would never have anything.  They would see people who were abandoned and perhaps even cursed by God.  The common understanding of things was that if you were at the bottom, there was a reason you were where you were.  You had done something to deserve the lot in life you in which you had found yourself. If you were poor, you were poor because you did not work hard enough.  If you were broken and downtrodden, it was because you had not lived a life that would enable you to be whole and well off.  What ever happened to you was a direct result of your actions and God blessed you or cursed you to put you were you are based on what you deserved.  (To tell you the truth, I don’t think that is too far off from the way many think today.)
Jesus did not think this way.  Jesus did not see that any of these people deserved to be where they were.  Jesus did not see people who had gotten what they had coming to them.  When he looked out across the crowd that day he did not see anyone who was cursed and rejected by God.  Where most anyone else would have seen a crowd full of wretched people, cursed by God, worthy only of our scorn and distain, Jesus saw people who were blessed; blessed (not cursed) by God.  Blessed but not in worldly ways, with worldly things but blessed in ways, which can only come through God. Where the world saw the cursed, Jesus saw the blessed.
These people were not people whom those who followed Jesus should pull back from and avoid.  These people were not people to be avoided, they were people who were to be embraced, they were people who should be gathered in, and included, instead of scattered and excluded.  They were blessed!
Some of you of you are thinking, “But, Pastor they most definitely were not blessed.  Their lives were sad, their lives were fragmented, they were harassed, they were despondent, they were all the people everyone else distained.  Unless, you are going to completely redefine the meaning of blessed, Pastor, these people’s lives were anything but blessed.”
And I am with you on that.  When you are among those who are seen by the world as at the bottom of the heap; when you are pure in heart, you are lost in this debased world.  The reality too often is, when you are merciful, your mercy is abused; when you are mourning, there seems to be no comfort; when you are poor in spirit, it seems you will never be rich in what truly matters; when you are hungry for righteousness and you live in this world full of sin, there is nothing, which can fill you.  When you are among these mentioned by Jesus here, you are far too often at the bottom, being stepped on by the world and you feel nothing but blessed.  Yet, Jesus says that is when you are blessed. So how can we argue with Jesus?  If Jesus said it, it surely must be true.  But, how can it be true, when their lives are quite obviously not blessed in anyway we have ever come to think of this world?
Perhaps it would be good to look at how it is they are blessed.  Jesus tells us they are blessed, by God. But how?  How are they blessed, through what means?  This answer can be found in understanding to whom it was Jesus was addressing, when he began to teach in this manner.  It seems he said these things in response to those whom he saw amongst the crowd that day, but he spoke these words to his disciples when they gathered around him on the mountain.  He wanted his disciples to know that these people are blessed, so they, through his disciples, could be blessed. 
The blessing these people receive is not found in simply being the desperate people they are, it is not found in being blessed by those who have chosen to associate themselves with Jesus. It is found in those who listen to the words of Jesus, learn the lessons he is teaching them and live in the ways Jesus is calling for them to live.  Jesus came to bring the kingdom of Heaven, kingdom of heaven living down to earth. 
As Christians we are called to live as if God was the authority and the rule maker here.  Our goal is to bring the goodness and the greatness of the kingdom of God here to earth.  Those around us live by the rules of our world.  When we live contrary the world, when we bless where others curse, we are bringing the kingdom God to earth through our lives, we are extending the blessing of God in this world. 
We are called to live Godly lives, to live by the rules of God so that in doing so we can bring the goodness, the kindness the grace of God to the people around us.   It is in this way that the blessings of God are brought to this world.
Jesus called disciples who choose to follow him and learn as he taught.  Jesus taught his disciples what it meant to live kingdom living that is living by the way God would want them to live in this world.  Sin has destroyed our world.  Sin and the consequences of sin are innumerable.  It separates us from God.  It separates us one from another.  It tears people lives apart.  It ruins our families.  It corrodes our marriages.  It pulls us away from our children; it puts divides between us and our parents.  It causes us to fail one another.  It causes pain and hardship in.  It brings us nothing but sorrow. But Jesus came to change all that. 
Jesus came to bring the kingdom of God to our lives.  Jesus came to restore us to who we would have been had sin not stained everything.  This restoration begins by allowing our relationship with God to be restored.  But it goes beyond that.  In choosing to believe in Jesus Christ we are in essence choosing to be his disciples to sit at his feet to learn from his teaching and choosing to live those teachings in our everyday lives.  Jesus told his disciple that the kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.  And it was.  It was at hand as Jesus’ disciples learned through Jesus’ teachings to be Kingdom people, that is to be people who truly lived as if God reined here on earth.  Whenever the disciples choose to live by the rules and statutes of God they were living the kingdom of God, they were bringing the kingdom of Heaven down to earth. 
The blessing of those who are the least, those who are at the bottom is twofold.  First, of all they are blessed by God.  God has a word for these that are scrapping and clamoring just to make it by physically, emotionally or spiritually.  God sees your pain, your sorrow, the peace you make, the mercy you give.  God sees it all and pronounces blessing upon you.  God blesses you, should you choose to accept God’s blessing, first by reaching out and restoring relationship with you, but also by blessing you with strength where you are weak, healing where you are hurting, giving comfort where you sorrow.  God will stand in the gap and give to you what you truly need where you are the weakest and most venerable.
But the blessing does not end with the blessings of God but God continues to bless those most vulnerable, those most hurting, those most in need by allowing them to be blessed by those who have chosen to live the kingdom of God in their lives and therefore bless as God blesses.
Those of us who would call ourselves Christians, we are disciples; we are choosing to follow Jesus.  We too are learning to be kingdom people, learning how to live as if the kingdom of God has come to earth, because it has, in Jesus Christ, and it continues to come to earth each and every time we choose to live as Christ calls for us to live instead of living as the world around us would have us live.
Our world tells us that certain people are at the bottom. It tells us that some people it are less than worthy.  We are told that some people, for any number of reasons are in essence cursed.  Too many times we buy into it.  We come to believe that some people have chosen their lot; they deserve the pain and hardship in their lives that somehow, in someway they have brought it upon themselves.  It is their own fault.  We see the meek and wonder why they don’t stick up for themselves.  We see the poor in spirit and simply expect them to be spiritual giants.  We see those who mourn and wonder why they can’t just get over it.  We see those who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness and can’t understand why they are starving.  We see those who call for peace and think that they are looking for something unobtainable.  We look at these people and we know what they need to do to make their lives better.  We see them as weak.  We alongside of all those in the world around us see these people as less than worthy.  We are told in many spoken and unspoken ways that some deserve censure at worst and pity at best, but God tells us, that they are blessed.
On one level Jesus as he spoke that day wanted those hurting people he saw in the crowd to know that where they felt nothing but cursing, where they were despised by the society around them that this was not the way it was with God.  God saw who they were, God saw that they were hurting, broken and beat down by those around them and Jesus wanted them to know, with God there is blessing where the world would curse.  God brings strength to our weakness and fullness to our emptiness. 
But Jesus’ teaching went beyond that, he also told his disciples to live as he lived, to see the world as he saw the world and to love as he loved.  When Jesus saw the crowd his was moved to teach his disciples a different way to see the people around him.  He wanted them to see blessing where the world saw cursing.  He wanted those who followed him to see people the way he saw people.  And begin to bless where he blessed. 
This passage does two things.  It gives hope to the hurting and calls for all those who choose to follow Christ to live a life of blessing; to bless the least, the lowliest; to love the unloved, to reach out and give the hope of Christ to the hopeless, to support the falling. To be the blessing which Christ pronounces in this world.