June, 2007

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On Being Perfect Matt. 5:48

Monday, June 25th, 2007

Mack Davis wrote a song that went like this, ” Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way….. Perhaps you remember hearing it. It was good for laughs, but like many funny things, it carries a bit of truth about it as well as folly. The fact is that none of us is perfect in many ways, if any. And most all of us have plenty of reason to be humble.

When I think of God, I see him as great and good (the childhood pray contained good theology) also as loving and free. I hope that as I mature in the faith that these qualities will be mine as well. Perhaps, you and I need to begin with working on being loving. I. Corinthians 13 provides a pretty good description of love. And when we live the beatitude way–being a peace maker, being merciful, and having a pure heart–then some progress can be made toward loving others.

Jesus expressed freedom in his relationships. He was not constricted by culture. He saw needs and responded appropriately. Rules, about hygiene, race, gender, the Sabbath, did not stop him from doing what needed to be done. This threatened the rulers. And it contributed much to their desire to kill him.

Jesus was great. Matthew beginning in Chapter 8 tells story after story about how Jesus had power over disease, death, storms, natural processes, and even his enemies. After winning over Satan and refusing to use his great power for his own purposes, he continued to win victory after victory.

And Jesus was good. When he say needs he responded with compassion. Great, good, loving and free–these qualities desribe God, his son, and his spirit who dwells within his children. These should become descriptors in the lives of his children.

Love for Enemies. Matt. 5:43-47

Monday, June 25th, 2007

The concept of “turning the other cheek” must have been the most talked about theological topic on the playgrounds of my childhood. It was during World War II and this teaching of Jesus was not held with high regard in popular culture. It appears to continue to be one of the least appreciated teaching by Jesus.

It is obvious that he was trying to defuse conflict. But nine year old lay theologians, even, saw this as opening the door to abuse and domination of the bullies of the world.

As we grow older we continue to see this as risky. But, on many occasions when we have put this principle into practice, we have seen it work. While one must not come to see this as a wise practice for its own benefit, it indeed is. This is becuase is it so much nicer to walk through life seeing those around us as friends, not as enemies. Certainly, I have known some very bitter persons who see everyone as an enemy, or potentially one, out to get them and take advantage of them. It strikes me that this is a very unhappy way to live. I feel sorry for such folk. I have even taken them on as a project and loved them and demonstrated to them that there is at least one person in the world who is not out to get them. I think that in a few cases, I have at least gotten them to question their common opinion of human kind.

Reflecting, however, it seems that for many of us as we grow older we become less optimistic and more critical of others. We come into relationships expecting the worse, not the best. And, it seems that this results in us not being disappointed.

Retaliation. Matt. 5:38-42

Monday, June 25th, 2007

It bothers me when I hear Christians quote the popular culture phrase, “I do not get mad, I get even.” It seems to me that it is this attitude that was the focus of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. It is never a matter of “getting even.” Rather, it is a matter of having a pure heart, being merciful, and working for peace in relationships with others.

I suspect that we have all been guilty of retaliating when hurt by another, only to see the hurt escalate. Have you also had experience of “loving an enemy” and seeing a conflict come to a halt with the enemy now becoming a friend. In Peterson’s translation he encourages us to pray for our enemies, this bringing out the best in us. He calls for each of us to “live generously.” “Be gracious,” he continues.

Here we are encouraged to very actively seek to be peacemakers. Surely, this is something that all Christians should take seriously.

Oaths Matt. 5:33-37

Sunday, June 24th, 2007

There is a tradition within ethics called “mental reservation”. It allows a person to make a statement which is technically true in such a way that one knows his hearer will draw a misleading conclusion for it. This tradition justifies the speaker because he has not lied directly. This text suggests to me that this is not approved by Jesus. Think about Jesus and his responses to questions when he was being tried by the Sanhedrin and again by Pilate. He either answered truthfully or refused to answer. It cost him his life, but he did not sin.

In the arena of relationships, the topics we have just been looking at, turth telling is crucial. Relationships are normally built on trust and truthfulness is the foundation of trust. If someone is not truthful with another, then there is no trust and a relationship stalls, falls apart, or experiences more and more deception.

Jesus seems to be insisting that we be so truthful, that no one will question our integrity. Personally, I now worry about those who lie and then pass it off by declaring, “I was just kidding”, when confronted by another. It seems to me that Jesus provides good advice here.

Divorce Matt. 5:31-32

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007

Jesus also condemns divorce. It appears that generally divorce reflects a failure of one or two persons to be beatitude persons. That is, they fail to show mercy, live out of a pure heart, and/or be a peacemaker. Can you think of a divorce where the couple had actively lived the beatitude life. Perhaps, one partner did, but not two. Right?

Jesus continues that in his day a divorced woman was stigmatized and was likely to have a bad future. Most of the time students of the Bible have treated this statement by Jesus as those it was a new law of the kind given by Moses. A new legalist phariseeism has been the result.

One element in this has been a discussion about whether a new couple where one or both have been divorced commits adultery anytime that they have intercourse, or if this is a sin only on the initial occasion.

I fear that this one of the many times when we have stressed the letter and missed the spirit. I hear Jesus saying that divorce is not good. Does the spirit of the law have anything to say to us here. I

First, among some Christians there has been a tendency to treat divorce as an “unpardonable sin”. Yet, most of us know divorced persons who are living godly lives and making good contributions to the churches and to the kingdom of God. We also know couples where one or both of the persons in a new marriage have been divorced who are wonderful Christians.

So, rather than looking at this passage and trying to figure out how to make some divorces and some divorced persons OK, or acceptable, perhaps we need to just declare it to be a sin, but see that like almost any other sin, God will forgive. Then work redemptively with those who have been divorced to help them become effective kingdom people.

What I am attempting to say is that I fear that often Christians become “neo-pharisees” in that we treat the teachings of Jesus as law, and we as lawyers, need to apply it to a given situation, perhaps finding a way to forgive the divorce because of other circumstances. Is it not better to say boldly that it is sin; to ask God for forgiveness; learn from it; and then get back into the task of becoming a good disciple of Jesus?

Adultery Matt. 5:27-30

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

The spirit of the law against Adultery is that relationship between men and women should be characterized by fidelity; ie, treat one another as a person, not a thing to be used for our personal benefit. To do this, in our culture is to “swim against the curent”. Adultery is the subject of many of the offerings of popular culture. It has become glorified–a source of pride more than of guilt.

It appears that the Beatitude that calls for a “pure heart” is applicable here. A pure heart respects other persons. A pure heart does not put the satisfaction of the fleshly desires of an individual over the well-being of another. A pure heart loves God and the neighbor well. It seeks to find and do the good and the right.

Jesus has some strong things to suggest as a cure–remove an offending eye or hand. I doubt that Jesus was into mutilation. Rather, he was seeking to impress his hearers of just how serious adultry can be. It is just not the thing that kingdom people do. It certainly sounds like Jesus did not approve of adultery.

Jesus continues that hell is the destination of a person who practices adultery. That is serious. But, we must see the posibility of forgiveness for those who repent and allow God to transform them.

Jesus as one fulfilling the law. Matt. 5:17-20

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

This is a transitional statement. Jesus opened the Sermon on the Mount with how we are to be and to live in relationship with others. He warned that we would likely suffer some for this. And he called us to live as salt and light for the world. Now he will look at and affirm the law and the prophets by helping us see beyond the “letter” of the law and “embrace its spirit”.

We will see this in the paragraphs that continue in this chapter. He will address the important laws of Israel concerning murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, lex talionis, and treatment of enemies. (In the next chapter he will consider the spiritual disciplines of alms, prayer and fasting, as well as the need to depend upon the dependable God.)

Later, as we study the life of Jesus we will find in his treatment of the laws related to the Sabbath the way in which Jesus dealt with the law. He did not focus on the application of the core law to the issues of everyday life, but rather dealt with the purpose that God had in giving the law to begin with. His statement that the sabbath was created for the benefit of humankind, not humankind created for the benefit of the sabbath.

It should become abundantly clear to us that God is not satisfied with our “technical” righteousness. Rather, God wants us to be deeply righteous in how we see and respond to the challenges and opportunities of everyday life. (I hope that someday we will reflect upon the devisive issues of our day–ordination of women, literalism in biblical interpretation, divorce, the use of divorced persons as pastors or deacons, abortion, and war.) I will seek to do just this as I look at each of the examples of the law which Jesus cites.

Be sure to take note of the fact that Jesus is talking here about how we are to live in the emerging kingdom of heaven. We will next look at the six examples that Jesus gives as to how one can focus on the spirit of a law and thus be truly righteous.

Being Light. Matt. 5:14-16

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

My wife grew up in the Ozark Mountains near the old zinc mining town of Rush, Arkansas which is now a ghost town on the Buffalo River in southern Marion County. They had no electricity until after she had grown up and gone away to train as a Registered Nurse.

Fourteen miles from a town of any size, she knew what dark dark was. When I first visited there, I was taken back by all of the stars one could see across the wide panorama from the ridge on which their house set. In such a place light is a prized commodity.

My mind also goes back to a time when three of us had become well lost on country roads in southeastern Montana. Then in the night sky we could see the glow of a small town. We joyfully turned toward the town and found shelter.

Ours is a dark world. Evil is all around us. We are often scared. We take joy when we finally see the “light of the world” and come under His influence. He makes it possible for us to see things as they really are, even including ourselves.

As we live out the Beatitude life treating others with mercy, being a peacemaker, and displaying a pure heart in our dealings with others, we are reflecting, like a moon, the rays of the true light. Lost folk are drawn to light with its protection, illumination and warmth.

What good works is Jesus talking about. Perhaps the list in Matthew 25 provides a good baseline for us:

*feed the hungry, quench thirst, provide shelter, cloth the naked, minister to the sick, visit the prisoners.

I rejoice when I think about what Christians in our county are doing to address each one of these areas of good works. More is needed. But good work is under way.

When these producers of good works are asked why they do it, they most often reply because that is something that a disciple of Jesus just does.

Being Salt. Matt. 5:13

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

Is Jesus declaring that when one lives the Beattitude life that he/she will function for others like salt? If so, what function or functions? Flavor. Preservation. Cure. The idea came to me that he may have been referring to a block of salt like one sees near where cattle are being fed. (Unfortunately, I could not discover if this was a common practice among the sheep raisers in Galilee.)

As I understand it the purpose of the salt block is to make livestock thirsty so that they will drink enough water to be healthy. The application of this in the Sermon on the Mount would be that as Beatitude living Christians our lives have so much joy in them that non-christians want a similar kind of life. Refering bqck to Matt. 5:4, they come to be hungry and thirsty for righteousness.

In sharing this take on this verse with some friends, they declared that they were drawn to the Christian faith and life because of a the life of wonderful Christian persons with whom they became acquainted. And one might add that this is the upside of the warning in Matt. 5:9.

So, as we live out the Beattitude life, there will be the thrill of hearing from those who were made open to the invitation of God to be a disciple of Jesus because they saw the value of it in the life that you live.

Here is one of several times that Jesus warns those who want to be his disciples that they must be consistant in their witness across the time aloted to them. If we are not “salty” then we are of little worth to Jesus’ cause.

Some see this as a warning concerning the possibility of one’s losing his/her salvation. I do not want to get into that. So, let me say only what all Christians ought to be able to say. We know that if we are consistant disciples then there is no chance that we might lose our salvation, so the wise disciple will work at being consistant and not dwell on the possibility of losing it. Then there is no occasion to be worried. Be positive on this.

Beatitude Living. Matt. 5:3-12

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

Several times recently as I have been checking out at a store the clerk, typically an African American, has wished me a “blessed day”. I like that. I want that. It would seem to follow that if I really want a blessed day, and a blessed life, then I need to seek to make the Beatitudes an integral part of my character–things which shape what I think and what I do.

*I am spiritual poor. I need to be much closer to my Master.

*I do mourn about my spiritual conditon. I know that God has forgiven me for my sins. I know that I have been born again. But I am not satisified. I do want to be more holy.
*I want to be meek and recognize my dependence upon God, but I often fail to do so. I want to fix things and run off to do them, rather than depending upon God.
*Realizing my spiritual poverty, I long to be righteous, to be just want God wants me to be.
*I still must work on being merciful. I tend to blame those with problems. They “made that bed. Now they can sleep in it.” I do think that I am making some progress here. Certainly, when I fail to be merciful, my conscience punishes me.
*I do try to be a peacemaker. I do not encourage conflict.
*Fortunately, I live and work with people who do not persecute me for my commitment to Jesus. I pray for those who are not so fortunate.

I do have a blessed life. But I need to take those blessing and be a blessing to those whose life is not blessed.

It is of interest to me that Jesus begins this great Sermon with these comments about how one’s life can be blessed and then concludes it with the illustration about the wise and the foolish builders. Could he have been saying to his listeners then and to us today that if we are wise we will built our lives upon him and his teaching; that we will construct it with the materials we find presented in the Beatitudes.

I am also wondering if the teachings in the remainder of the 5th chaper where Jesus looks at some of the laws of Israel, can be best understood by looking at them through the template of the Beatitudes. I will try that as I blog on.