Boy, this has been quite a month. So much going on – so many different voices and messages. These past four weeks we’ve read through the fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. Week by week reading through the first part of the Sermon on the Mount.
We began at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, with the Beatitudes. God’s blessings; framing the call to discipleship with a message that’s cryptic and precise. Full of meaning for our lives.
In case you missed the Announcements, Pastor Mac is away today. After reading today’s lessons, I don’t blame him.
There’s a difference between taking the Bible literally and being faithful to God’s Word. Today’s readings seem to be filled with some tough lessons, anger, and harsh criticisms. But, go a little bit farther, and dig a bit deeper into the texts, we discover a message of new life rooted in God’s love. There’s a clear call to risk, but in those words, we also find God’s promise to be with us – even when we’re not so sure.
It is a now and again a question that Pastor and I get. “Why do you preach so much about the poor? And why do you so often pick these lessons that talk about the poor?” Which brings us to a teaching moment. In the aftermath of Vatican II, that wonderful conclave gathered by Pope John XXIII of blessed memory a half century ago, the Christian Church sought ways to lift up all that we share in common, rather than emphasizing that which divides us. And one of the wonderful gifts of that understanding was our three year common lectionary, the lessons to be read each Sunday in all of our churches. And so today, the overwhelming majority of mainline churches are hearing the same lessons you just heard. One of the goals of all this was so Christians of varied backgrounds could go to work and school and play on Monday morning and talk about the proclamation they had heard on Sunday. And so how did these lessons get picked? Our churches gathered our best theologians to capture the very essence of the Gospel. And their conclusion? We needed to talk about the poor and what you and I do with God’s gifts entrusted to us. That makes sense since Jesus talked about those gifts a lot. One sixth of everything he taught us, concerns our relationship to our material possessions. One third of all the parables are about us and our “stuff.”
And so we do not pick the lessons and we understand we are called to preach on the Word that is before us.