Prelude to Sunday – Locating the Sermon on the Mount When Snow Fell

It is old news that we cancelled services last Sunday. Right now 2-3″ of snow sits on our parking lot. We hope that weather and/or those with tractors or bobcats will help clear the way for cars come Sunday.

Unlike some I think the snow is a welcome and sometimes customary way we get moisture in the winter. I also think that rather than see impassible roads and parking lots as a victory for the enemy in a spiritual battle, we should see this as weather and much needed moisture for winter wheat. We must take care how we talk about these events. What may be described as spiritual warfare impeding a message for one is welcome relief for another.

Since we are working through a portion of the Sermon on the Mount during the Sundays in February, I thought I might offer, in print, the way I might have set up the Sermon on the Mount this past week while we were avoiding the dangers of the road.

This is not exhaustive but intended to take Matthew 3 and 4 into consideration as we follow the way Matthew tells the story of Jesus for those Christians in the first century who, as Matthew Carter points out, may have lived in Antioch at the time.

See you Sunday . . . weather permitting.

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There is no end to the desire for a better world. Sometimes we mistakenly think we are the only ones interested in getting out from under the way things are and into something better. We adopt the divisions at work in our politics thinking if we could just overthrow the liberals we could get onto something better. And, on the other side of the coin, the sentiment is the same. So, rather than work toward a better world, we battle the other in hopes of winning.

Winning then becomes the strategy that reveals we did not spend enough time considering just what sort of world would be better. It is this singular point that affects the Church. Our energy is spent warring at the level above the ground. That is, we want to win the argument that our way is better. But, winning the argument has not indeed made the world better. We have not offered anything hopeful. We simply take on the Orwellian features of the old dressed up in the new, making Animal Farms rather than new worlds.

Matthew’s congregation, the church he may have had in mind in Antioch, would need to hear the story of Jesus that was less about winning arguments and more about living in a way that might make the world a new place. It would be easy to seize on the end of the story – Jesus won. And he did. But, he did not win an argument in his Resurrection. He won a new way, the validation of a new world. We may want to associate it with new heaven and new earth.

By the time we get to the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew has utilized signs and symbols to draw a sharp contrast between a leader that enacts the vision of God according to common expectations and one that creates new expectations. If you are following along as we are reading the Gospel of Matthew you may notice some comparisons, subtly made, to Moses and Israel.

Moses is born during a time when another Country is setting its agenda – Egypt. Jesus is born in the land of his ancestors but under Roman rule. Moses escapes the fate of other boys his age by the ingenuity of his parents. Jesus escapes the fate of other boys by escaping to Egypt carried there by his parents. Moses is confronted by a Voice from the wilderness where the bush did not burn. Jesus hears the Voice in the wilderness of His Baptism. Moses, and the people faced temptations in the wilderness escape and failed. Jesus faced temptations in the wilderness and remained faithful. And Moses went to the Mountain to receive the Law of God. Jesus went to the Mountain to give the Way of Life.

If Moses is held up as a great leader, Matthew sure seems to be saying, Jesus is the new and better Moses. If Moses is associated with receiving God’s Way, Jesus is seen giving us God’s way. If there were ever confusion as to how to apply God’s Way following Moses, Jesus clears it up by vesting it with a life of illustration. And keep this in mind. When Jesus lives God’s Way he dies. Forces opposed to change would prefer to put Jesus to death than repent.

Do not miss this. Following Jesus always means an end to the old and taking up the new. We cannot mask the old by pretending to take up the new. If we take up the new, the old must come to an end.

Jesus’ disciples listening to what we deem the Sermon on the Mount had left everything to follow Jesus. Now we get an understanding of the life to which they are called. Their response will become their life’s work. The crowd listening to the Sermon will hear the difference between cleaning up the old way and embracing Jesus’ Way toward new life. When we take up the Sermon on the Mount, we are faced with the same. Those of us who have hard the call of Jesus, Follow Me, need to regularly remind ourselves what this new life entails. Those who are interested in what Jesus has to say about new life need hear the dream cast for what could be that spawns hope and births faith.

Following Matthew’s telling of the story, it is only natural and fitting that once you identify the Messiah as the Son of David (Matthew 1), tell the story of God’s affirmation of his Way (Matthew 3), consider his faithfulness in the midst of temptation (Matthew 4), that we get the pattern Jesus followed that drew the crowds and the pattern for life that would lead to his death. We find that in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5-7)

Jesus invites people into his life and his way. He takes what is and points to the new way of the Kingdom of God.  Come see what this journey is all about!

One way to think about the mission of Jesus - He calls into question the way things are and points to the way things may be in the Kingdom of God. 

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