Text of the Day for 2-7-17

the_sermon_on_the_mount_karoly_ferenczy

The Sermon on the Mount (1896), Károly Ferenczy. Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest

Today’s text comes from Matthew 5:3-12:

  • Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
  • Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad.
  • Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.
  • Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full.
  • Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy.
  • Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God.
  • Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children.
  • Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
  • Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me.Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before you.

I formatted it as a dot list so you can see (in a contemporary way) the kind of impact it is supposed to have.

I said this past Sunday that the words of The Sermon on the Mount are fire. From the beginning, Jesus speaks revolution: the world is upside-down, and God is going to turn it right-side-up. It is not the winners who are blessed: the confident, the happy, the alpha dogs, the satisfied, the privileged. No, the blessed are those who are poor (or poor in spirit), those who mourn, those who are starving for justice. The blessed are those who are persecuted for seeking peace and justice and righteousness.

Which is what you will be, if you follow the words of this sermon: both persecuted and blessed. You will be persecuted and blessed because you will be a prophet in a community of prophets, and prophets are always persecuted. (That’s what “people harassed the prophets who came before you” means—you, too, are in the company of prophets.)

By your light, Jesus says, others will see reality, the way the world really is. Your light is not something to stare at—it’s meant to give light “to all in the house,” so that they can see.

All of this is just the prologue. Jesus spends 15 verses telling us who to aspire to be as individuals and as a community before he ever says anything about himself.

I gave our church some homework: read the Sermon on the Mount over the next few weeks. Read it, or part of it, every day. See how it changes you.

Have fun.


Twice a week (usually Tuesday and Thursday) I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: 
Text Of The Day

God’s Wrath (And Other Inconveniences)

I’m excited about starting a new sermon series this Sunday.

Does God Have a Temper Problem? from Dave Barnhart on Vimeo.

I don’t think Christians wrestle with this issue enough, honestly. Plenty of atheists are happy to point out that although we say “God is love,” it seems that kind of love is often smiting people rather indiscriminately, slaughtering entire towns, including children. Christians—people I consider my friends, even educated clergy colleagues—will often float the argument that the genocide detailed in the book of Joshua was necessary. You know, because of the corrupting influence of the surrounding cultures.

……o-kay. That’s more or less always the reason for genocide, right? Corrupting influences and the purity of the race?

One good reason for leaving literalism-which-isn’t-really-literalism behind is that it leads us to this kind of thinking: that God is the kind of God who kills kids, giving our Lord and Savior the same moral character as school shooters.

Yet historians and archeologists cast doubt on whether this kind of large-scale invasion ever happened, which points us, I believe, toward a better way of thinking about these stories. What were the original authors of these stories trying to tell their audiences? What was their lived experience of siege warfare, cultural assimilation, and persecution?

In the Noah story, I believe the author is raising critical questions about the violence we attribute to God. I think the same is true in the story of Jonah, and Tamar, and Job, and in prophets like Isaiah.

I think Jesus expresses a Jewish tradition that is highly critical (and self critical) of violence and its users. We understand the wrath of God not in plagues, floods, or invading armies that hurt our enemies, but in the cross, where we see our complicity in the injustice and ugliness of the world.