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Acts 12:1-5 “1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James,...

Friday, March 31, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 27 of 40: The Eternal

Matthew 6: 19-21
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Oak Island is a 140 acre privately owned island off the south shore of Nova Scotia. It has become known primarily for a century old legend that hidden treasure of pirates, or Templars, or Spanish explorers, or Vikings lies somewhere on its shores.  Many people have searched in vain for this mysterious treasure.    It is said that once you arrive on Oak Island, you develop tunnel vision (treasure sickness) that blots out anything but the vision of the hidden treasure.  Many people have lost their life savings searching for it.  Six people have lost their very lives in the attempts to find it.

In these verses, Jesus compares earthly treasure with heavenly treasure; temporal things vs eternal things.  All people need temporal things that are necessary to survive such as food, clothes, shelter, money, etc.,.  Jesus is saying that while these things are important they should not become the God that we worship.  They should not become the main purpose of our existence.  In our efforts to provide earthly things for ourselves and our families, we should keep the eternal things ever before us.  

I once observed a woman  through my office window walking very briskly down the sidewalk.  Her manner and her gate made me think that she was very focused on her objective and very determined to get there.  Behind her a small child followed.  I think she must have been about 3 or 4 years old.  I also think this child belonged to the woman she was following.  This child was singing as she walked and kicking at fallen leaves; picking them up, throwing them, laughing; her hair blowing in the wind.

Like this woman, if we focus our time and energy only on earthly things, we have no vision to see God's gifts (the eternal things) such as love, mercy, grace, forgiveness.  Our eyes ought to be focused steadily on these.  These are the things which do not rust; these are the things that no one can steal; these are the things freely given.

Tomorrow we study the light.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 26 of 40: Humility in Fasting

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.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 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.

Jewish people, during the time of Jesus, fasted privately during times of mourning, when making amends for sins, when preparing for major events in their lives, when struggling with decisions, to seek deliverance and protection, to express repentance, to overcome temptation, and during times of urgent physical or spiritual needs.

A fast often lasted from sunrise until sunset, (2 Samuel 1:12) and it could be a total or partial abstinence from food (Psalm 35:13).  The objective of the fast was to focus a person's attention on God, to humble oneself before God, and to emphasize a person's total dependence on God.

There was only one day, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), on which public fasting was required. On that day, the High Priest performed elaborate rituals to atone for the sins of the people.  The Pharisees, however, took fasting to new heights and fasted regularly on the second and fifth day of every week, much of which was done in public so that their piety could be observed for all to see.

In the verses above, Christ describes the lengths that the Pharisees went to be seen as pious.  They put on an expression of suffering, they covered their faces with ashes and dust, they disheveled their hair, they dirtied their clothes and they walked through the streets for everyone to witness their suffering.

There is no religious value in practicing a spiritual discipline, such as fasting, for its own sake (mechanically or routinely with no passion or emotion) or as a demonstration of piety, or for any other ulterior motive (such as losing weight).  Once the focus shifts from God to the person practicing the discipline, it becomes wrong.

When we fast or, for that matter, make any kind of self-sacrifice that is for spiritual reasons, Christ says that we should go about our public lives as normal so that our sacrifice is seen only between us and God.

Tomorrow we study eternal treasures.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 25 of 40: How to Pray, Part IV

Matthew 6:13
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

The word temptation is usually associated with something bad.  A slice of chocolate cake is a dietary temptation; a relaxing day reading a book is a temptation to someone who has a lot of urgent work to do; a twenty dollar bill lying on the ground is a temptation to someone without a strong moral compass.  But in the Greek in which the New Testament was written the word peirasmos means the trial of a person's fidelity, integrity, virtue or constancy. 

A temptation, in this context, means a test of a person's ability to withstand adversity; the strength to hold back; a test of loyalty.  Jesus' temptation in the wilderness is an example of such peirasmos.  And remember, Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil.  God led Him into temptation.

Temptation, when God is involved, is not designed to see the person fail and make that person a sinner. Hopefully it will make that person stronger, more focused, and ready to serve.

When we are tempted to sin, we must remember that it is not God that is tempting us but the power of evil.  In the wilderness, even though the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, it was Satan that did the tempting.  Life, the good and the pain, are all tests allowed by God with temptation provided by Satan.  Confronting us everyday in everything we do is the question, will I honor God on this day or will I reject God.

These verses are asking God to keep us from being overwhelmed by our daily temptations and asking God to deliver us when this is about to happen; to keep the pleasure or pain that we are experiencing from interfering with our faith life.

Finally, John Stott wrote this of the Lord's prayer.  "When we pray the Lord's prayer we are expressing our dependence on God for our food, for our forgiveness, and for our deliverance.  God the Father gives us our food.  Jesus provides our salvation (forgiveness), and the Holy Spirit rescues us from the evil one.  The Lord's prayer is actually a prayer to the Trinity."

Tomorrow we study fasting.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 24 of 40: How to Pray, Part III

Matthew 6: 12, 14-15
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.   But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

A debt is something that is legally due, something owed, a duty.  The Greek word is opheilēma, one
of five Greek words in the New Testament used for our word, sin.  Sin, in this usage, reflects a failure of duty.  None of us can say that we have completely fulfilled our duty to God.  We all fall short.

In order for us to have a relationship with God, we must, first, recognize our sins.  It seems that we can readily see the sins of others but have trouble recognizing or admitting our own.  Jesus, in Matthew 7:3 asks, "Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?"  The Holy Spirit leads us into faith and then convicts us of our sins and continues to convict us the rest of our lives....if we listen.  It is possible for us to quench the voice of the Holy Spirit.  The Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 tells us explicitly never to do this.  Our salvation depend upon it.

After we recognize our sins we must repent.  Repentance is not saying we are sorry in the way children apologize to a brother or sister.  Repentance (metanoia) means having a change of heart, which means we also have a corresponding change in behavior.  Repentance, then, is a turning away from our old ways, a turning away from our old relationships if they had a bad influence on us, a turning away from our old thoughts.  With God's help (which we seek each day) we are made new- new ways, new friends, new thoughts. And if and when we sin again, we repent again.  And we ask for forgiveness.

How many times will God forgive us?  God's forgiveness is infinite and when we sincerely ask for it we shall receive it.  This is hard to believe, but we must have the assurance of this.  Not believing this can hinder our relationship with God and our growth as Christians.  One of the largest hindrances that can stand in a people's way of having a deep and abiding relationship with God is the belief that their pasts cannot be forgiven; their sins cannot be washed away.  But it is true.  When we repent, we stand before God as a new creature and our past sins are forgotten, as if they were never committed.

However, there is one more thing.  In order for God to forgive our sins, we must live a life of forgiveness.  We must forgive others. When we pray the Lord's  prayer and we have not forgiven others for their sins against us, we are asking God not to forgive us our sins.

People tend to take the forgiveness of others lightly, thinking that it is ok for them to harbor a grudge or remain angry at the actions of others.   But the forgiveness of others should not be taken lightly since it is essential for our salvation.

There are several aspects of our forgiveness of others that we should consider:

1.  How many times are we to forgive others?  Jesus tell's Peter that there is no limit (Matthew 18:21).  Why?  Because this is the way God treats us; not because we necessarily deserve it, but because God is merciful and full of grace.

2.  Our forgiveness of others is not contingent upon them asking for forgiveness.  Too often I hear people say, "They are not sorry, so I cannot forgive them."  Christ's cry on the cross "Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing" serves as a model for us.

3.  Forgiveness of others may take time.  Before he died, C.S. Lewis wrote: "I think I have at last forgiven the cruel schoolmaster who so darkened my youth. I had done it many times before, but this time I think I have really done it." Forgiving someone who wronged us may be a long process.  But what is important is that we make up our minds to forgive that person.  And over time, after many, many times of saying "I forgive you," we may actually be free of that heavy burden.

4.  Forgiveness  of others does not require our forgetting.  In Isaiah 43:25 God says, "I am he who blots out your transgression and I will not remember your sins."  But we are not God.  There is absolutely no way that we can forget the abuse and harm suffered at the hands of another.  But we can will ourselves to forgive them.  Forgiveness frees us from the anger and hate that have weighed us down and held us back in our relationship with God and is indispensable to the life and health of our souls.

Tomorrow we study the time of trial.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 23 of 40: How to Pray, Part II

Matthew 6:11
Give us this day our daily bread.

The Greek word for daily is epiousios and it is used only twice in the New Testament; once in Matthew and once in Luke.  There has been some disagreement among scholars about its meaning, but the simplest and most common translation is sustenance or nourishment that is sufficient for our immediate needs.

What did Jesus mean that we should pray for our daily bread?

When we pray for our daily bread, we are acknowledging our total dependence on God for our lives and our well-being.  We are acknowledging that God is in control.

We are praying for something very basic to our subsistence. John Chrysostom, an early Church father, and Bishop of Constantinople, put it this way, "What is daily bread?  Just enough for one day...For it is not for riches or frills that we pray.  It is not for wastefulness or extravagant clothing that we pray, but only for bread.  And only for bread on a daily basis, so as not to 'worry about tomorrow'."

Notice that Jesus says "Give us", not me.  We are to think of others as Jesus did in the wilderness when he fed the 5,000.  If I receive my daily bread and I know someone who has not, I am to share with others.

Finally, If I am to live a spiritual life, I must also include daily spiritual nourishment in the meaning of this prayer.  Just as I must feed my stomach daily, I must also feed my soul.  Too often we are so preoccupied with the things we must do to nourish our stomachs that we forget to put aside time for spiritual nourishment.  Our spiritual lives depend upon regular nourishment.

And like the basic bread that we use to feed our physical bodies, the food that we feed our spirit does not have to be anything extravagant.  It could be the reading of a devotion at the beginning or end of each day; taking a walk to pray or meditate on the goodness of God; or taking someone who is hungry some food.

Tomorrow we study forgiveness.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 22 of 40: How to Pray, Part I

Matthew 6: 9-10
Pray, then, in this way:  Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  

John Wesley wrote that the Lord's prayer  "contains all that we can reasonably pray for." I think it would be safe to say that all Christians have prayed this prayer at some time in their lives.  I was taught it as a child in Sunday School.  Praying this prayer connects you with Christians all around the world, serving as a common ground.  It also connects us with Christians in the past, the present and in the future.  As long as Christianity exists, this prayer will be prayed.

The Lord's prayer was a gift from Jesus to His disciples; a prayer that reveals his thoughts about God, living the spiritual life, forgiveness, being led by God, and the struggles of being human; a model to follow in our own prayers.

We will study this prayer in four parts, the first of which (verses 9-10) describes God, to whom we pray.

In all of our prayers, disciples of Christ are to remember to whom it is that we pray.  To address God as "Father" is not to say that God is male, although it does cause a person to think in that direction.  God is neither male or female.  The Greek word used for Father is patēr which refers to the founder of a family or tribe.  In biblical times ancestry was typically traced using the male line and so all founders of families were considered male.  This word can also mean the one who originates or transmits his/her spirit into others.  If we insist that God is male then we have to ignore the female references to God (Isaiah 49:15, Deut. 32:18, for example).  God is beyond gender and is no more of a male than a female.  When we pray, we are praying to God who is the creator.

Who is this God in heaven?

God is transcendent over all that is, yet present in everything.

God is infinite and knows no boundaries.  Since God is infinite then everything else about God is also infinite, such as God's love, mercy, grace and forgiveness.

God is omnipresent, everywhere at all times; not just in heaven, but also on earth, in our hearts.  So, when we pray to God in heaven, we are expressing our belief in a creator God who is of and outside His creation; and we are expressing our ultimate desire to be with God when all is said and done.

God is omniscient (all-knowing).  So, if God knows everything, then God knows the deepest desires of our hearts.  Why, then, do we need to pray?  Prayer is a way of communing with God, of coming into contact with God in a very personal, intimate way.  We cannot draw close to God and not be changed.   Prayer serves to develop own spiritual growth and those that we pray for.

God is omnipotent (all powerful).  There is nothing that God cannot do that is consistent with God's nature and will.  So, if we pray for peace or for healing, our faith is that God can do these.  God may answer our prayers exactly as we prayed them, answer our prayers differently than we expect, answer them in God's time, or may withhold things that are not in our best interest (just like a parent with a child).

Since God has all of the above attributes, it follows that God is also sovereign, ruling the entire of creation and in control of all aspects of creation, sustaining all of creation.  Prayer is to be approached in an attitude of reverence and humility (honoring His holy name), and of submission to God's will over our own.

Monday we will study our daily bread.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 21 of 40: Humility in Prayer

Matthew 6: 5-8
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

In all of our spiritual disciplines and actions, Jesus asks us to examine our hearts; to ask ourselves, "What is my motivation?"  Do we wish to please God or ourselves?  Do we want to impress others or to be in communion with God?  Do we want to reach out in love to others or to further our ambitions?

The hypocrites are those who practice their piety for all to see.  To comply with Jesus' instructions some people refuse to pray in public and only pray in a room or an out-of-the way spot in their home for their prayers.  While this is ok, this is not the thrust of Jesus' message.  It is not wrong to pray in front of others (as we do in church and at restaurants).  In fact, the Apostle Paul encourages us to pray continuously, in all places at all times.  But it is wrong if we pray for the sole purpose of being seen or being heard by others.

Any spiritual act, such as praying, should be done in response to our love for God and not in response to the love that we have for ourselves. The spiritual disciplines (prayer, study of scripture, worship, service, fellowship, forgiveness, etc) are disciplines that enable us to nurture our relationship with God.  We practice the spiritual disciplines expecting to encounter God.  If we are to encounter God, all of the disciplines are to be approached in an attitude of humility.

Too often we approach prayer as a time to unload all of our desires, cares, wants, and fears.  While this is one purpose of prayer, another purpose of prayer is to hear the voice of God and to discern His will, to be touched by God, and changed by God.  In order to accomplish this second purpose, we must incorporate a time of silence into our private prayers.

If our prayers are motivated by our desire to know God, prayer will change us.  It will deepen our relationship with God.  It will equip us and strengthen us in our faith.  Prayer changes us, so that we may then change the world.

Tomorrow we will study how to pray, Part I.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 20 of 40: Humility in Service

Matthew 6:1-4
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.  If you do, you will have not reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets to be honored by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your giving may be in secret.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

There is a saying (not sure who said it first) that everyone wants to save the world but nobody wants to help mama with the dishes.  Saving the world would be a glorious achievement, one that would make you world famous and probably rich.  Doing the dishes is a thankless, unremarkable drudgery, and we don't like to do it.

People love recognition whether they like to admit it or not.  A recent survey by the Boston Consulting Group of more than 200,000 people found that recognition for their efforts and achievements ranked number one on their list of things important for "on-the-job happiness" and pay ranked number 8.  We are a recognition hungry culture.

Enter Jesus.  He gives us two rules for serving others:

1) Don't toot your own horn
2) Don't advertise your good deeds

The point being that a Christian's service should be done for the glory of God and not their own.  When service is rendered for our own glory then the service is done in vain.  Our motivation for doing good should flow from our love of God and our faith.  A spirit of humility should govern our service.

Christian service when motivated by love and faith will act as its own reward, resulting in greater joy and peace and a greater and deeper relationship with God.

I once knew a couple who felt they were being called by God to deal with the closet supply problem that had existed in their church for years.  The closet supplies included such things as cups, plastic spoons and forks, paper plates, napkins, etc.  It seems that every time the church needed them, they were not on hand, and this had become a great aggravation to many in the church.  No one was looking after these supplies and no one would step up to manage them.  Finally, this couple, who felt this was their calling, quietly began managing this problem on their own, without telling anyone.  It was like magic.  The supplies never ran out.  The shelves were always full of everything people needed.  And it was years before people found out who was doing this.  I will never forget this example of quiet Christian service.

God calls a few people to save the world.  He calls a great many more to help mama with the dishes.

Tomorrow we study humility in prayer.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 19 of 40: A New Kind of Love

Matthew 5: 42-48
Give to the one who asks you and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.  You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy."  But I tell you, love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Corrie ten Boom lost all of her family in the German concentration camps during World War II.  After her liberation, the only way she could carry on with her life was to speak and write of her horrific experiences (described her experiences in her famous book The Hiding Place).  She traveled widely and lectured on the goodness, grace and mercy of God.

After one of these lectures a man came up to meet her and to shake her hand.  He revealed to her that he was once a guard at the concentration camp where she and her sister, Betsie, were imprisoned, and in which Betsie died.  He asked Corrie to forgive him.

"I had to do it.  The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us.  And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart.  But forgiveness is not an emotion.  Forgiveness is an act of will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.  I prayed silently and I thought, I can lift my hand.  I can do that much. And so, woodenly, mechanically, I thrust our my hand into the one stretched out to me".

"And as I did, an incredible thing took place.  This healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being.  I  cried, I forgive you, brother.  With all of my heart.  For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and the former prisoner.  I had never known God's love so intensely.  But even then, I realized it was not my love.  I had tried and did not have the power.  It was the power of the Holy Spirit."

In these verses, Jesus is describing a radically different love than the world has ever experienced; a love that cannot be understood by the world. This new kind of love requires the power of the Holy Spirit and the will and willingness of the persons involved.  His examples of this love force us to search our hearts:

Give to those who ask, never turn away.
Love those who are difficult to love.
Greet all people in the same manner.
Be perfect in your love, as God is perfect.

When have we ever done this?  For us to live this way, to reach out into all the world in love, we must first be transformed.  All self-interest, self-glorification, anger and other negative worldly emotions have to be destroyed in us.

Jesus is clear, the standard of our love is God's love.  And, as long as this is the standard, none of us, it is true, have room to boast. But we do have hope; the hope of the Holy Spirit leading us, guiding us, pointing us in the direction of God's love, showing us the way.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 18 of 40: A New Kind of Justice

Matthew 5:38-41
You have heard that it was said, "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your outer garment, hand over your inner garment.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 

The Code of Hammurabi was a Babylonian law code that was developed around 1754
BC to "protect the weak from the strong".  Some people think of this code as a code of vengeance since it contains phrases such as the one quoted by Jesus "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth." But the code was developed by King Hammurabi to actually limit the amount of vengeance that a person could take.  Instead of death for an eye, the code established a system of equal vengeance.  In its day, the Hammurabi code was a code of mercy, developed especially for those who lacked power or resources, or force of arms.  It set up a system of justice in which judges determined the punishments according to a written code and removed the administration of justice from the hands of angry individuals.

This system of justice is referred to in the Old Testament in Exodus 21:23-25, Leviticus 24:19-20 and in Deuteronomy 19:21.

Jesus, in these few spoken words, abolishes this ancient system, and in its place he establishes a system of justice based on God's unlimited love and forgiveness.  He uses three examples to illustrate this "system".

1) A slap in the face:  For a person to be slapped on the right cheek by a right handed person, the person doing the slapping has to perform the slap with the back of his hand.  A back-handed slap was seen as a great insult (as it is today).  Jesus' instruction is to "turn the other cheek".  This is an active act of forgiveness that places the person performing the slapping in the position of having to choose his next action.  It offers the slapper a chance to see his actions for what they are and the opportunity to repent.  It is "peaceful resistance" if you will.  We do not take the law into our own hands or retaliate in anger.

2) A garment taken:  What kind of person is sued for their outer garment?  If we look in Deuteronomy 24:10-13, we find that it is a poor person, who has gone deeper into debt and had nothing else to give other than his cloak as collateral for a loan, who has been hauled into court in order to settle the matter of the unpaid loan.  Many of Jesus' listeners were probably poor who could identify with this example, who hated the system that stripped them of everything, even of their outer garments.  Jesus tells these people to give the loan holders their inner garments as well.  This would mean that the poor person would be left naked, bereft of everything.  Again, this is an active act of forgiveness that places the person who took the outer garment in the position of having to choose his next action. It offers the debt holder the chance to see his actions for what they are and the opportunity to change course.

3) A mile walked:  A Roman soldier had the authority to conscript local citizens for menial tasks or forced labor and they were known to abuse this authority.  Going the extra mile for a thankless, harsh oppressor was unthinkable.  But, again, Jesus asks us to perform an active act of forgiveness by walking an extra mile with this person, giving him the opportunity to see his actions for what they are  and to make a choice about his next action.

Jesus often used hyperbole to force us to see the truth in human interactions, in ourselves and in others.  In these three examples Jesus is showing us God's eternal love for us, His his forgiveness that knows no bounds, and a new justice, that knows no vengeance.  Jesus is asking us to forsake all we know about human justice and to consider God's justice and to consider the strength, courage, endurance and faith necessary to live out God's justice on earth.

In these three examples, Jesus was foretelling his own fate and future.  The decision of God to send his only begotten son to earth to walk among us was to be the ultimate example of this new justice.  Jesus was sent to show us how to live and to give us a path to salvation.  In His life, he was insulted and slapped, His garments were taken, He was forced to walk to his death with heavy loads.  His death and resurrection are God's acts of forgiveness and the time when we should consider our lives in light of Christ's life and sacrifice, and choose to accept God's justice; a justice of love.

Tomorrow we study a new kind of love.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 17 of 40: A New Kind of Righteousness, Part IV

Matthew 5:33-37
Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, "Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made."  But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.  All you need to say is simply "Yes", or "No".  Anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

The new righteousness requires us to be painfully honest; honest with ourselves and honest with others in word and in deed.   Jesus is saying that such honesty would never require an oath or a vow, because our word would be better.  Oaths and vows are used because people are prone to lie.

This honesty is to affect and guide the way we conduct ourselves at all times.  George Washington is quoted as saying: "Be not apt to relate news, if you know not the truth thereof.  Speak no evil of the absent, for it is unjust.  Undertake not what you cannot perform, but be careful to keep your promise.  There is but one straight course and that is to seek truth, and pursue it steadily.  Nothing but harmony, honesty, industry and frugality are necessary to make us a great nation."

Honesty is a requirement if there is to be trust among people.  It is a necessity for living in a relationship with another person.  It is a requirement for doing business, or for politics or for building a great nation.  Yet, University of Massachusetts psychologist, Robert Feldman, found through his decade long research that 60% of people lie during a 10 minute conversation and that they average two to three lies during that timeframe.  We read in Psalms 116:11 and in Romans 1:29 none of us has told the truth on all occasions and we are all prone to lying.

The new righteousness requires us to be honest, so honest that no oath or vow is ever necessary.  Obviously, this requires the help of the Holy Spirit and the honesty and humility to admit we need it.

Tomorrow, we study a new justice.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 16 of 40: A New Kind of Righteousness: Part III

Matthew 5:31-32
It was also said, "Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce".  But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

In reading these verses, we must remember that they are part of a group of verses in which Jesus is defining a new kind of righteousness; a righteousness that goes beyond mere compliance with a law but involves a righteousness of heart and soul and the realization that without a savior, this kind of righteousness is not possible.  This kind of righteousness cannot be achieved on our own strength and can only be achieved when we live in the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God.

When Jesus preached this sermon and spoke these words about divorce, men were divorcing their wives in order to marry other women with which they had become involved outside of marriage. Since divorce was allowed under the law the men felt that they had done nothing wrong under the law and their status had not changed in the eyes of God because they had acted legally.  They were actually using the laws of divorce for their own selfish desires, thinking they were outsmarting God.

So, Jesus is using this as an example of the righteousness given under the law versus the righteousness of God.  He tells His audience that marriage is not to be taken lightly and that men basically had no reason for divorcing their wives unless they had committed adultery. Further, if a man divorced his wife for any other reason and remarried, he committed adultery (and he actually caused his former wife to commit adultery if she remarried).

In Jesus' time we must remember that women had few options.  Women were not allowed to testify in court because they were held to be in the same category as minors, gentiles, deaf-mutes and the insane. A woman was not allowed to have her own business or work in a business unless she and her family had no other option (no man to depend upon for their needs).  She had to be veiled from head to toe when in public and could not speak with other men.  Most of the time she was confined to her home.  A woman was considered to be a prostitute if she did not conform to these laws/rules.  More than likely, women were illiterate.

But Jesus had a more liberal view of the role of women.  He spoke directly to them and offered them his teachings.  It did not matter if women sat at his feet as his male disciples did when he taught or listened to him from afar.  We see this behavior time after time in the gospels.

So, it is in this context that I view this teaching of Jesus.  A new righteousness raises women to their rightful place as equal children of God and impresses upon men and women the importance of their commitment to one another and the eternal quality of love that is shared in their union.  A marriage is based on a holy love, given from God as a gift of the Holy Spirit.  This union can only be broken whenever the covenant of love is broken to the point that it cannot be repaired for reasons not only of adultery but for mental and physical abuse that is so prevalent in our society today.

{The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church related to divorce are as follows:

God’s plan is for lifelong, faithful marriage. The church must be on the forefront of premarital, marital, and post-marital counseling in order to create and preserve healthy relationships. However, when a married couple is estranged beyond reconciliation, even after thoughtful consideration and counsel, divorce is a regrettable alternative in the midst of brokenness. We grieve over the devastating emotional, spiritual, and economic consequences of divorce for all involved, understanding that women and especially children are disproportionately impacted by such burdens. As the Church we are concerned about high divorce rates. It is recommended that methods of mediation be used to minimize the adversarial nature and fault-finding that are often part of our current judicial processes, encouraging reconciliation wherever possible. We also support efforts by governments to reform divorce laws and other aspects of family law in order to address negative trends such as high divorce rates.

Although divorce publicly declares that a marriage no longer exists, other covenantal relationships resulting from the marriage remain, such as the nurture and support of children and extended family ties. We urge respectful negotiations in deciding the custody of minor children and support the consideration of either or both parents for this responsibility in that custody not be reduced to financial support, control, or manipulation and retaliation. The welfare of each child is the most important consideration.

Divorce does not preclude a new marriage. We encourage an intentional commitment of the Church and society to minister compassionately to those in the process of divorce, as well as members of divorced and remarried families, in a community of faith where God’s grace is shared by all.}

{The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church related to men and women are:

We affirm with Scripture the common humanity of male and female, both having equal worth in the eyes of God. We reject the erroneous notion that one gender is superior to another, that one gender must strive against another, and that members of one gender may receive love, power, and esteem only at the expense of another. We especially reject the idea that God made individuals as incomplete fragments, made whole only in union with another. We call upon women and men alike to share power and control, to learn to give freely and to receive freely, to be complete and to respect the wholeness of others. We seek for every individual opportunities and freedom to love and be loved, to seek and receive justice, and to practice ethical self-determination. We understand our gender diversity to be a gift from God, intended to add to the rich variety of human experience and perspective; and we guard against attitudes and traditions that would use this good gift to leave members of one sex more vulnerable in relationships than members of another.}

Monday we study oaths and vows.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 15 of 40: A New Kind of Righteousness Part II

Matthew 5:27-30
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

In an interview in 1976 with Playboy Magazine, President Jimmy Carter is quoted as saying, "I've looked on a lot of women with lust.  I've committed adultery in my heart many times".  While this is an admission that practically no men or women would publicly make, practically all men and women are guilty of this.  Yet Jesus says having lust in your heart for another person is the same as having committed adultery.

As we learned previously, the Jewish law focused on a person's outward action.  Jesus' new righteousness focuses on the inward actions of the heart.  Whoever has the desire to commit adultery is also guilty.  Are there any people who can stand up to this standard when it comes to the issue of lust?  Modern researchers estimate that 90 percent of men and women in committed relationships today frequently find other women or men sexually attractive.

Some people have suggested that to control our thoughts, we should plunge ourselves into Christian action; to do something to fill life so full that there is no time for these thoughts to enter; to decline to read certain literature; to decline to see certain films; to decline to visit certain institutions.  Now, Jesus does say that we are to go to great lengths to avoid compromising situations.  And while these are worthy suggestions, in my opinion, they are temporary solutions to an eternal problem.  

If we are being honest with ourselves, as President Carter was, we know that we cannot be so vigilant as to avoid these thoughts altogether, no matter how busy we make ourselves, no matter how hard we try to avoid certain things.  We are humans, with human weaknesses; fallen creatures.

In this teaching, Jesus is showing us the weakness of the law and at the same time He is showing us our own human weakness and telling us that we, on our own, will never be righteous.  We will fail to meet this standard, and we will need God's grace and mercy and forgiveness- always.  We are always in need of a savior.

Maybe, instead of avoiding our thoughts or pretending they do not exist, we should confront our thoughts, and attempt to understand them and their source.  This may be a better way of resolving them.  Maybe we need to recognize that we may never rid ourselves of them completely and to make a conscious, sincere effort to seek forgiveness at the end of each day.

Tomorrow we study divorce.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 14 of 40: A New Kind of Righteousness, Part 1

Matthew 5:21-26
You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 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. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

In Matthew 5:20, Jesus stated that, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

In the next 28 verses of Matthew 5, Jesus goes on to describe the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.  In doing so, Jesus spoke as His own authority, correcting the law, because He was who He was.  Jesus gave us a new standard, which was not the law, but the condition of one's heart.  If a person is able to live in such a way that their hearts were pure, then the law is unnecessary.

In this new standard, it is not enough to say that you have not murdered someone or committed some violence or committed adultery.  If we have dwelled upon these things in our hearts, then we have done them.  Our thoughts are as important as our deeds.  The Jewish law was concerned more with one's outer life.  Jesus is concerned with both our inner and our outer lives.  This is the new righteousness after which we must hunger and thirst.

As his first example of this new standard, Jesus addresses the problem of anger.  Everyone gets angry.  Someone says or does something that we feel is wrong or is an injustice to us or someone else and our tempers flare.  But, looking back over the 64 years of my life, I can honestly say that nothing good ever came of my anger.  It is only after I cool down that I am able deal with and understand, or attempt to understand the situation.  It is only then that I can handle things in a positive, constructive way.  This realization has come to me after long years of struggle and with the help of the Holy Spirit.  But I still have times when my temper flares.

In this passage, Jesus is warning us against an anger that can take over our lives.  An anger that can cause us to hold grudges and not to speak to a friend or relative for years, or an anger that we turn inward causing us to hate ourselves.  This kind of anger not only causes our relationships with others to suffer but it also causes our relationship with God to suffer.  It interferes with our ability to worship, to pray, or to offer our service with a sincere heart.

So, we must be peacemakers in order to preserve our relationship with God.  We must humble ourselves and reach out to those that anger us in order to serve God and the church; in order to sacrifice our time, our talent, our gifts and our witness fully to God.

In Romans 12:18 Paul says, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men."  We cannot control what others do, but we can control what we do.  Jesus is asking that we live in peace and that we reach out and reconcile with others.  But he also told us that people we do not even know will persecute us for no reason other than following Christ.  In this case, we are to make peace with these people in our hearts.

Anger, for the most part, is not good for our spiritual lives.  But, anger can teach us our limits.  It can show us that we are human and that we are not perfect, that we are in need of a savior.

Tomorrow we study adultery.

Sermon on the Mount, Day 13 of 40: The Law and the Prophets

Matthew 5: 17-20
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

In Matthew 15:1-3 Jesus is accused by the Pharisees and the teachers of the law of breaking traditions and the law (hand washing).  This accusation is made again in Luke 6:1-4 (harvesting grain on the Sabbath).  Yet He seems to support the Jewish law in these verses.  In Jesus' day the word "Law" had come to mean several things.  It could have meant the 10 commandments, the first five Old Testament books (the Pentateuch), the whole of Old Testament scripture, or it could have meant the Scribal Law.  Scholars feel that the last option is the likeliest interpretation of the word "Law" since it was the most common use of the word.

Scribal law was an interpretation of the 10 commandments, the Pentateuch, and other Old Testament scriptures.  Scribes interpreted how the various laws and traditions were to be applied to everyday life.  If the law did not explicitly speak to a situation, the scribes spoke to what was inferred by the law.  Religion soon became filled with rules and regulations, from tying knots to taking a walk.  Serving God became a matter of keeping thousands of these legalistic "laws".

Jesus, then, saw Himself as the fulfillment of the law, who came into the world to show the world the true meaning of the law.  The law is fulfilled when we love God and allow that love to lead us in our speech, in our thoughts, and in our actions; when we come to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  In Romans 13:8-10, Paul wrote, "Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law."(see also James 2:8).

Love such as this cannot be found in the practice of legalism (the religion of the Pharisees and scribes), but can only be given by the Holy Spirit to those who have been transformed by the love of God.  Love is not something we do but is the fruit of our relationship with Christ.

Tomorrow we will study anger.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 12 of 40: The Light of the World

Matthew 5: 14-16
You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your father in heaven.

Jesus describes His followers using the same terms that He used to describe himself in John 8:12, "I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life; and again in John 9:5, "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."  If Jesus is the light of the world, how can His followers be the light of the world?

Have you ever been outside on a cloudless night when there was a full moon?  The light of the moon fills the night sky.  The moon's light is so bright that you can even see your shadow on the ground.  But the moon's light is not really its light.  The light of the moon is actually the light of the sun reflected off the moon's surface to earth.  The sun's light is really the light of our world during the day and at night.

In the same way, followers of Christ are to be the reflected light of the Son to a world in darkness.

This light, given to us by Christ, is meant to be shared.  The light of Christ is meant to be seen in the world.  Christ's followers should not retreat from the world but living unafraid and unashamed in the world, actively involved in the activities of the world, showing the world the love of Christ in the way we treat others, in the way we perform our jobs, in the way we play, in the way we drive, in the language we use.  In this way, our light will lead others to God.

 A light can also be a warning light.  As a child, my family would vacation a couple of weeks every summer on the coast of North Carolina.  One of my favorite memories is getting up early before the sun and helping my father load the car, then sitting in the backseat with my brothers and my sister while my father drove us to the beach in the darkness of a cool summer early morning.  Along the way, I remember the road forked and in the middle of the fork was a bright, blinking light.  My father and mother would always have different opinions as to which fork of the road to take.  We knew that one fork led directly to the beach, and the other fork would take us to a small town where we had to circle around in order to get to the beach and would add about 30 minutes to our trip.  The blinking light was a warning that a decision had to be made.

If we are the light of the world, let us point the way to God, the true light, not the way that leads to ourselves or away from God.

Tomorrow we will study the law and the Prophets.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 11 of 40: The Salt of the Earth

Matthew 5: 13
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

In Jesus' time, salt was highly valued.  It was thought to be pure and to have a cleansing quality, so it was frequently offered as a sacrifice by the Jewish people.  It was also used to season and to preserve food; to prevent meat from spoiling.

Jesus, in verses 10-12, has told his disciples that they will be persecuted for their faith, but they are to persevere and in fact rejoice in their suffering.  Christians should approach each day with thankfulness and awareness of the presence of God.  We should not flee or withdraw from the world but should live in the world openly as examples of Christ.  By showing the world love and joy in a time of hate disciples would be acting as salt.   In a world of strife and war Christians should be islands of peace. In a world of poverty and suffering, Christians should be sources of caring and help.  In a world focused on materialism, power, and greed, Christians should offer the world a living example of Christ.

Salt, when added to a dish of food becomes part of that dish but is still distinct from the food.  It flavors the food but does not become the food.  If Christians become indistinguishable from the world they serve, then their salt loses it flavor and its preservative qualities.  God desires us to be a people of the gospel, a people set apart and distinct, yet adding something to the world that the world cannot provide for itself.

We are to be in the world, involved in the world but not absorbed by it.  We are to give the world a unique flavor- the flavor of the love of Christ.

Tomorrow we will study the light of the world.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 10 of 40: The Persecuted

Matthew 5: 10-12
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Not all of our attempts at peacemaking will be successful. In these verses Jesus changes the focus from peacemaking to persecution; from those who seek to have good relationships with others to those who suffer hostility from others.

Jesus knew that the kind of life he was asking His followers to lead was very different to the kind of life the world asks a person to lead. The Apostle Paul, having been accused of "turning the world upside down" (Acts 17:6), wrote in 2 Timothy 3:12, "Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."

The values of Christians, as described by Christ, are subversive to the culture in which it exists.  Self-control, walking humbly, showing mercy, being transparent, offering forgiveness, living simply, loving your neighbors as you love yourself, loving your enemies, are spiritual values that can only be lived out by people who are led by the Holy Spirit, not by the leaders of this world.

Christians should not seek to be reviled and persecuted.  And we are told that such "evils" will be unjustified.  But if this happens, we should not fear or curse God. We are not to retaliate in kind. We should regard ourselves as blessed because the persecution and hate of the world is a sign that we are living the kind of subversive life Jesus described in the Beatitudes and it has been noticed.

The purpose of our light is not to hide it out of fear but to shine it into the world out of love for humankind.  In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus taught "You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."

Show God's love to the world, even if it is rejected, and rejoice and be glad.

Monday, we will study the salt of the earth.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 9 of 40: The Peacemakers

Matthew 5: 9
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

We all love peace.  Most people can remember a time when they felt a deep and abiding peace.  We often look back on those times fondly and we look forward to feeling that way again.  But the blessing in this passage is not on the peace lovers it is on the peace makers.

All followers of Christ are meant to be peacemakers.  In John 1:12 we read "To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God."  And in Galatians 3:26 we read, "For in Christ we are all children of God through faith."  If we are children of God, then we are also peacemakers.

So, what does it mean to be a peacemaker?

People can make peace in their own hearts and souls.  They can resolve their inner conflicts between good and evil and this will give them peace. Through the forgiveness of God, they come to terms with their pasts.

People can also make peace with other people by living in right relationships with them.  Anyone who unites people and causes good relationships to exist is doing the work of God.

In discovering and revealing God's truth, peacemakers are led by the Holy Spirit instead of  their worldly desires, motivations or prejudices. In Romans 8:14, Paul writes, "For all who are led by the Spirit are children of God."

Abraham Lincoln once said, "Die when I may, I would like it to be said of me that I always pulled up a weed and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow."

The children of God, led by the Spirit, plant flowers of peace where the weeds of strife and dissension once grew.  They build bridges where people are divided.  Where there is hate, they offer love and prayer.  Where there are calls for retribution, they offer mercy.  Where there is a longing for revenge, they offer forgiveness.  Where there is persecution, they offer an outstretched hand.

Tomorrow we study the persecuted.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 8 of 40: The Pure in Heart

Matthew 5: 8
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

For Jesus, it is never enough to simply comply with the law.  Jesus is concerned with a person's heart.  If I never murder someone and comply with the law but in my heart I actually want to murder someone, then, according to Jesus,  I have complied with the laws of humans but not of God.  In 1 Samuel 16:7 we read "Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."

In every action and interaction Jesus asks us to examine the motivations of our hearts. The heart is where our thoughts, desires and character reside.   The heart is vitally important to Jesus.  What we do, say, and think in our hearts is what Jesus came into this world to change.

As disciples, we should ask, are we serving God or are we serving ourselves?  Do we give our service with a glad heart or do we serve reluctantly?  Do we build others up or do we promote ourselves?  In all things we are to be honest and utterly sincere, and, according to the Apostle Paul, in all things we are to be motivated by love.

I once knew a man that worked tirelessly at the church as a volunteer.  No matter what time you were in the church, you would see this man performing some task that no one else wanted to do.  But one day he came up to me and pulled a small notebook from his pocket and showed me, very proudly, all of the things he had done for the church and beside each accomplishment he had carefully recorded the number of hours he had spent on that task.

What was his motivation for showing me that notebook?  What was his motivation for working in the church?  Only he and God knew for sure.

 "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me."  (Psalm 51: 10)

Tomorrow we study the peacemakers.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 7 of 40: The Merciful

Matthew 5: 7
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Mercy resides in those who have realized their own utter helplessness and have put their trust in God (the poor in spirit); those who know and grieve their own sins and who repent (those who mourn); those who put aside their own pride and self-interests for the authority and will of God (the meek); those who seek righteousness above all things (those who hunger and thirst).

Being merciful involves knowing and experiencing Christ in a very personal way and being led by the Holy Spirit to reach out into the world to help those in need.  It is not enough to simply know Christ.  Those who know Him are called to go into the world; to encounter the hurting and to bring them comfort and peace.

In Matthew 9:13 we read of Jesus eating with sinners:
"And as he sat at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples.  And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"  But when he heard it, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice."  For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."

Christianity asks more from us than worshipping on Sundays and going through the motions (fulfilling our obligations).  We are called to be broken before God, filled with God's mercy and grace, and then to offer the same to the world.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37), we find that mercy requires that we put aside our own needs and desires so that we can recognize the needs of others; mercy requires that we overcome our own prejudices and self pride so that we will be able to reach out to those who are different than us; mercy requires us to respond not with reluctant hearts but with hearts full of love, compassion, understanding and forgiveness; and finally, mercy requires us to translate these things into action and to go the extra mile for people that we may not know.

Tomorrow we study the pure in heart.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 6 of 40: Those Who Hunger and Thirst

Matthew 5: 6
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessedness comes to those who desire righteousness.  Most people, if asked, would reply that, yes, they hunger and thirst for righteousness. But the Greek words that are used for hunger and thirst are words that indicate a complete and absolute hunger and a complete and absolute thirst for a spiritual righteousness that completely fills one's heart and soul; a desire for righteousness that is all consuming.

I think that people do not fully understand the concept of righteousness; that people are not prepared for the sacrifices that righteousness demands.  The word used for righteousness is defined as a state of being that is acceptable to God.  The poor in spirit and those who mourn (as defined in previous posts) know that a state of being that is acceptable to God is impossible to achieve except through Christ.  Those with an all-consuming desire for righteousness must also desire Christ.

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled, not through their own efforts but by the grace and mercy of God.

Tomorrow we study the merciful.

Sermon on the Mount, Day 5 of 40: Blessed are the Meek

Matthew 5: 5
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

The meek are those who put aside their own pride and self centeredness for the will of God in their lives.  Instead of relying on their own strength, they put their trust in God and are willing to be led by the Holy Spirit, knowing that God is good, and wherever he leads, it is for His good purpose.

We see this sort of meekness in the Apostle Paul, as described in Acts.  During his travels, Paul is led by the Holy Spirit from city to city and from country to country, preaching the gospel, leading others to Christ and making disciples.  It wasn't easy.  During the course of these travels, Paul describes, in 2 Corinthians 11 the following hardships that he personally suffered:

"24 Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked."

Yet, after each beating or stoning or shipwreck; after each sleepless night; after each instance of hunger and thirst, Paul is found in the next city, preaching the gospel, making disciples.  After any one of these hardships, Paul could have given up.  And who among us could have blamed him?  But his own "meekness" would not let him.  And the next day, hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit, he was willing to be led, knowing that God is good.

Tomorrow we will study the blessedness of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 4 of 40: Those Who Mourn

Matthew 5: 4
Blessed are those that mourn, for they will be comforted.

Jesus is not speaking of those who mourn the loss of a loved one, although I do believe that God reaches out to them.  But in the context of this sermon I believe Jesus is speaking of those people who  mourn their sins.

People who are poor in spirit have a keen sense of their own sins and are deeply troubled by them. They are said to be "convicted of their sins by the Holy Spirit." In my years as a pastor I have found that one of the biggest obstacles to a person's spiritual life is their past and specifically their past sins.  Many people do not feel worthy to approach God in prayer, take communion, participate in Sunday School, or even read scripture because of their past.

The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins but then provides us with power and strength to overcome our pasts.  We are made anew.  We are new a creation.  And when we experience this, when we discover that our past no longer weighs us down or defines us, we are comforted.  And we find great joy and peace in this.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can begin to live in a different way.  The Holy Spirit leads us in our practice of the spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, scripture study, sacrifice of our time, talents and resources, fellowship, and service. As a result, we are drawn into an ever deepening, ever evolving relationship with God.

On Monday (skipping Sunday) we will study the meek, who will inherit the earth.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 3 of 40: The Poor in Spirit

Matthew 5: 3
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Who are the poor in spirit?  In Greek there are two words for poor, penes and ptochos.  Penes describes a person who lives and works day to day, barely making ends meet, barely getting by.  Ptochos describes someone who lives in abject poverty, someone who has nothing at all and is forced to beg.  They are utterly helpless.  This is the word used for poor in Matthew 5:3.

Jesus is not calling for material poverty.  Being homeless and without means is never a good thing and Jesus would never have claimed material poverty was good.

The poverty that Jesus says is blessed is the poverty of the spirit.  Poverty of the spirit occurs when  people realize that their own efforts will not result in their salvation.  The poor in spirit are blessed because, realizing how helpless they are, they have recognized their need for God and have put their trust in God.   The true spiritual life begins at this point.

After seeing a vision of the glory of God on the throne, the prophet Isaiah cried out, "Woe is me, I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts."  (Isaiah 6:5)

This is the realization of all who are poor in spirit.  Only when we are able to see who we truly are,
are we able to confess our sins  and live in the light of the Spirit.  The Kingdom of Heaven belongs only to these "enlightened" people.

Jesus illustrated this in his parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18: 9-14).  "The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, "God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week, I give a tenth of all my income." But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, "God be merciful to me, a sinner!"

Jesus continued, " I tell you, this man [the tax collector] went down to his home justified rather than the other [the Pharisee]; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

Tomorrow we study those who mourn.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 2 of 40: Blessed

All of the eight beatitudes are expressed in the same form,  "blessed are..." The Greek word for blessed or happy is makarios, used to describe something that is almost indescribable; something that is untouchable and unaffected by the world; something that is self-contained; a kind of deep peace we may experience in a crisis even though we are suffering or shedding tears.

Blessed describes a present state of existence, the here and now; not a future state.  So, Jesus is saying to the crowds and to his disciples, "Through me, this is the way you can live now."  Not in the future, not just in the afterlife, but you can live this way now.  The beatitudes are not glimpses of some distant future existence.

Followers of Christ are the center of an untouchable peace and joy in the middle of chaos; a peace that comes from a daily walk with Christ.

A few years ago, I flew to Washington, D. C. for a conference.  As the plane approached Washington, the pilot informed us that a storm would delay our landing and, in the meantime, we would circle the airport until we were allowed to land.  

I could see that we were not the only plane in this predicament.  Behind us and in front of us were other planes, flying in one long circle over Reagan National Airport.  As we flew around and around, people began to curse under their breath and I heard a woman across the isle crying.  The pilot would occasionally announce that there was no change in the weather down below and we would continue to circle, which darkened the mood on the plane each time he made this announcement.

After we circled the airport for about an hour, the pilot cheerily announced that we were turning around and flying back to Charlotte, N. C. because we were nearly out of fuel.  The result of this bit of news caused a new, more energetic round of cursing and wailing and gnashing of teeth; as if the pilot and his crew were responsible for the weather.

After we landed in Charlotte and rolled to a stop, everyone jumped out of their seat at once in a race to grab their carry on bags, jostling one another to be the first off the plane.  But, more bad news awaited us at the baggage claim.  We were informed, after waiting for 30 minutes, that our luggage had successfully landed in Washington D. C. on a flight ahead of us.

Once this news spread, total chaos erupted.  People were cursing loudly, yelling at no one in particular or yelling directly at someone; people were running with their arms waiving wildly, eyes rolling, faces contorted.  There was a great deal of pushing and shoving; disrespect for other people was the rule.

But there was one exception; an island of peace in this sea of chaos.  A father had gathered his wife and two children together in a circle in the middle of this madness.  As I stood close by, I heard him say, “Let’s hold hands and pray.  Let’s thank God that we landed safely and that we have each other.  Let’s thank God for being with us on this flight and with us in this airport.”  And they stood together and prayed, as people all about them cursed and swirled in their anger and their confusion; an example of humility and respect in a crowd that had neither; a reflection of God’s love and peace in a world gone mad.

Blessed are those whose peace is of Christ and not of the world.

Tomorrow we study the poor in spirit.