Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hard Stuff

Last night our Emerging Community talked about the Sermon on the Mount. We’ve been reading through Philip Yancey’s book “The Jesus I Never I Knew.” Last night our group watched Yancey’s video presentation on the Sermon on the Mount and discussed what he wrote in his book.

I first came across the Sermon on the Mount at a Bible Study at Carleton College. The metaphors about salt and light made so much sense to me then. Later I discovered that the Sermon on the Mount inspired Gandhi and Martin Luther King to develop their views on pacifism and non-violent resistance.

The Sermon on the Mount continues to inspire me, especially the version in Matthew. I so want to see a world where people love their enemies, where anger and lust and retaliation don’t consume people, where people love each other so much that divorce doesn’t happen, where people don’t judge others, where we all live by the Golden Rule.

I’m an idealist—and my ideals are what Jesus shared in the Sermon on the Mount.

But I’m also a realist. Look at the world and we can quickly see that the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount haven’t taken hold. Even worse—look at us Christians, and it’s terribly disappointing that we don’t live out what Jesus taught.

Inevitably when I talk with people about the Sermon on the Mount, someone will say, “this is impossible.” Last night our Emerging Community agreed that the teachings of Jesus are very challenging.

I like how Yancey approached the difficult challenges of living out these ideals. He said that Jesus’ teaching is something that we strive towards and that God accepts us where we are right now. In the Leader’s Guide for this series he wrote, “There is only one way for us to resolve the tension between the high ideals of the gospel and the grim reality of ourselves: to accept that we will never measure up, but that we do not have to. We are judged by the righteousness of the Christ who lives within, not our own.”

I would add that just because we will never measure up, doesn’t mean that we don’t try.

Last night I encouraged the Emerging Community to pray and reflect about how each of us could take one step towards the ideals that Jesus shared. For example it’s probably not realistic to give up anxiety, but we can take one step towards letting go of anxiety. What step can we take?

I was thinking about this when I picked up today’s Star Tribune and saw a front page illustration of this challenge. A little background—this week a man was convicted of luring a 24 old woman to his place through a Craig’s list ad and then killing her. Yesterday the murderer was sentenced to life in prison without parole. The story in the paper was about what the Olson family (the victim’s family) said to the murderer at the sentencing.

The father of the victim is a Lutheran pastor. His quotes in this front page story illustrate the challenges of living out the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount.
“ ‘My faith has been tested,’ said the Rev. Rolf Olson, minutes after Anderson [the murderer] as sentenced to life in prison … ‘I do that pastor thing … evil, forgiveness, God’s grace, sin’ …As for what needs to be done, he finds a comforting clue in the New Testament. ‘It defines forgiveness as to cut free, to let go. We are attempting to do that with Mr. Anderson. We have a lot of living to do, a lot of loving to do. Forgiveness is a process,’ he added after a while. ‘There is no rush.’”
The full front page story is at:

Another story is at:

I can imagine that the following words of Jesus seem impossible today for the Andersons.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45)

Obviously this is very hard stuff.

I’ll pray today that the Olsons can take a step in the days and years ahead towards forgiveness. I’ll pray that we in the Church can effectively communicate the ideals in the Sermon on the Mount and then practically help people take steps towards living them out.

1 comment:

Dawn L said...

I appreciate your clear and concise writing, and wrestling with the difficult issue issues of idealism vs realism and the tensions we live with in life.

Thanks for the challenge of living within the confines of that tension as imperfect human beings, striving to become more and more like our Savior as we follow in his footsteps.

I remember reading Yancey's book and leading the Bible study years ago - he's got a great way of writing, too.

Thanks for making the Sermon on the Mount a bit more accessible and less scary.