SERMON – “A NEW WAY OF LIFE” – Matthew 6:7-34
Grace and Peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen!
This Sunday, as a follow-up to last Sunday, we are still exploring the “Sermon on the Mount” found in Matthew. Last week, we heard about the Beatitudes from Pastor Marie. This week, Matthew continues Jesus’s message about how to live our Christian life. This long passage appears to be a compilation by Matthew of some of the most characteristic and essential teachings of Jesus. There is a shorter passage in the Gospel of Luke called “The Sermon on the Plain” that is shorter, but also contains some of the same ideas, often in similar language; but it sets the sermon on level ground rather than a mountain. However, if we look at the similarities and differences in the two accounts, they both reinforce the impression that these were attempts to summarize Jesus’s message on how we should treat each other, and trust in God implicitly. This sermon was a lot of radical thinking for the times. Jesus was not content to uphold the laws that focus on behaviors of characteristics of the religious atmosphere at the time. Jesus instead sought instead a new kind of life. One that seeks to find the source of good and evil, and then change the heart, rather than seeking the law. Jesus wanted us to seek a purer heart to become true children of the “Father we have in Heaven.” He speaks of the Kingdom of God as something that is not only in the future… but more importantly, right here in front of our eyes.
Matthew is helping those listening to see the old Jewish law in the new light of Christ. The law was sometimes difficult to understand and hard to follow. In Matthew’s Gospel, he evokes Jesus’s teachings that help us to see how to enact those teachings, in a way that comes from our heart and a trust in a God, who provides and protects. The Pharisees claimed Jesus was breaking the law and leading people astray. Jesus was also interfering with their power. Matthew wanted his readers to hear that Jesus said He came to FULFILL the law. The Old Testament Scriptures continue to be present, as an insight into a faithful life. But Jesus wants even more for us. He wants us to see beyond the strictness of “black and white laws” toward a more colorful lens of “obedience mixed with the joy of faith and trust of the Lord.” Instead of looking to law and its constant interpretations to the exclusion of all else, Jesus is urging us to use our time for the freedom to explore and enact more important matters like justice, mercy, and faithfulness. And again, not to say the law was not needed… but that we should see the law through different eyes. And not to make everything “easier for us,” or so we can go off “willy-nilly” on our own. Because both law and love are needed in our world. This is the yin and yang balance of our faith. For instance, the commandment to “Love our Neighbors” is now stretched to include “Loving our enemies” as well.
It is easy to be able to love those you know. But we are now challenged to accept and love those who are strangers, or even those who do not share our beliefs, choices, or opinions. Jesus brought about a more all-encompassing love, a more balanced love. And in showing this love, Jesus tells us we do not need to boast of what we do – OR try to ensure that everyone sees what we are doing just to make ourselves look good. We are not living a Godly life for others so they can stand and clap for us. We are endeavoring to live such a life for God alone. Giving, praying, and fasting are three spiritual disciplines to help us center ourselves. And to bring the love of Christ into our lives. None of these three actions needs an audience.
Within this “sermon,” Jesus also teaches us “how to pray” through a prayer that we all know well. It begins with an intimate name of “Our Father.” We pray that HIS Name is Holy and honored. We pray that God’s Kingdom will one day come here to Earth. And we pray it will be welcomed and loved, and that justice and peace will reign. We ask God for what we need, not what we want. We ask for God’s forgiveness and we forgive others in return. Then we ask to be kept from any testing that would overwhelm or destroy us. And this can only happen through faith in God’s power over the devil himself. A powerful prayer prayed by Christians everywhere.
Matthew’s recount of the Sermon on the Mount moves on to the questions, “What are we living for?” “What consumes our lives?” Jesus answers in a way everyone can understand, putting our lives in a priority mode. We certainly are NOT living for all those things we buy and gather. I think of all the Storage Facilities on Rt. 119 and Rt. 9A. They are gigantic! What good are these possessions that sit in a different home than you do? Who is enjoying them? What purpose do they have? We have to remember… you can’t take a moving truck to Heaven!
We are encouraged to see with our hearts, as well as with our eyes. A desire for more and more only fills storage areas and landfills. Even large bank accounts may sound great initially, but when money and possessions consume us, it is like loving ourselves and forgetting everyone else. We fall short of the kind of life Jesus wants for us. Instead of sharing what we are fortunate enough to have, hoarding it only makes us weaker instead of stronger. Think of how a hoarder’s life and home becomes smaller and smaller with a collection of rutting “stuff.” This is what can happen to our faith. It becomes weaker and weaker, until our hearts and lives barely have room for faith at all.
And then there comes the hardest thing of all for us to do. We need to TRUST that God will take care of us. That He will “give us our daily bread.” That He will help AND guide us. That He will be there always. Just as He cares for the smallest bird or flower, He WILL care for us. Yes, we have to work for what we have. Remember nothing comes to us without action on our part. But we can leave the worry at the door, and allow trust to come in. I remember in Confirmation class, the lesson of trust was always demonstrated by a couple of people standing behind you, and you were asked to fall back and trust that they would catch you! How many of you remember doing this? It was hard to do, right?
Matthew has allowed us to be there on that mountain top, sitting and listening to a sermon for our lifetimes, a blueprint for a Godly life. What should matter and be up front and center in our lives is God’s reign in it. And not just our lives, but in this world. We pray that his reign gives proper priority and a yearning to work together in this building, and outside these doors. And we will continue to pray, “for the Kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, Father, now and forever. Amen.”