Sunday, November 14, 2010

Matthew 5-8: When God enters the planet, and we decide to follow him, he turns our world upside down.

From Garden to City reading:  Matthew 5-8

As I read this passage yesterday morning, I tried to picture what it would be like to be on the mountainside with Jesus, surrounded by my countrymen, listening to him deliver what we now call the Sermon on the Mount.  And then I realized that wasn't the way it was all.  I'm not really sure how I got the idea that Jesus was standing on a mountainside speaking to hundreds of people, but when I went back to write this blog, I realized that in order to escape from the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and then sat down with his disciples and shared these words.

I like that.

These words for his disciples, the men who followed Jesus, who wanted to be like him and serve him.  And if we are his disciples, if we are willing to give our lives for him, to be like him and serve him, then these words are for us too.

Like the disciples, we have an idea about how the world should be.  We define concepts like democracy and liberty and equality.  We have pictures of what justice in our head, and we know what the world should look like.  However, there is no single definition for liberty, or equality, or democracy. These ideas, these concepts,  tend to have cultural connotations, which adapt over time.

In the United States, we are still redefining the notion of equality.  One hundred fifty years ago, we held black men and women as slaves.  Seventy-five years ago, they couldn't drink from the same drinking fountains as whites and certain neighborhoods were off-limits for them.  Today, most Americans believe African-Americans should hold the same rights as men and women of European descent.

The thing is, no matter how we define the world we live in, no matter what we think an ideal world should look like, when Jesus enters in, when we decide to follow him, he turns it upside down.

Think about it.  How do you define blessing?  And what does it look like if you're blessed.  I'm guessing it's nothing like what Jesus shares in Matthew 5.

It's the poor in spirit, the brokenhearted, that have the kingdom of heaven, not the people who look successful on the outside.  It's the meek, those quiet, humble people who go around serving, who don't get noticed, who inherit the earth, not the take-charge guy who draws attention to himself.  Oh, and you're blessed when people insult you and persecute you.

We all agree that murder and adultery are sins, but Jesus redefines murder as anger toward your brother, and adultery begins with lust.

Revenge?  Standing up for what belongs to you?  Jesus instructs his disciples not to resist evil men and women.

It's easy to love our friends and hate our enemies, but Jesus asks us to love our enemies and to pray for them.

Do you remember how God shows compassion on his people over and over, no matter they do?  Do you remember how he forgives them and delivers them, even after they betray him?

As disciples of Jesus, we need to follow his example.

No matter how we define the world, Jesus turns it upside down.  His instructions are counterintuitive.  That's just not the way the world works.  People will take advantage of us.

Love.  Forgiveness.  Compassion.
Death to self.

In everything, treat others the way you would want to be treated.  (Matthew 7:12)

I've read this passage many times.  I'm used to the words.  Their familiarity takes away the radical nature of Jesus' words.

I don't know how to live like this.  Not really.  I mean, I'm pretty nice, but I'm not like this.  How can I embrace Jesus' call to radical living?  How do I follow him wholeheartedly?  What does that look like in our world?

After Jesus and his disciples come off the mountain, Matthew records that Jesus touches an unclean man and heals him from leprosy.  He then interacts with a Roman soldier and heals his servant.  To his disciples, he praises this Gentile's faith.  Next, he heals a woman, Peter's mother-in-law.

Lepers, Romans, women--Jesus takes time for those considered less important in his world.  We see his love.   All these people have infinite value to Jesus.

Through Jesus, we see God's heart for the world.  We see God redefining our most basic concepts of justice and equality.  We see God redefining what it means to serve him.

When God enters the planet, and when we decide to follow him, he will turn our world upside down.

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