July 8, 2018
Our Sermon Series continues …. Five weeks ago we began with the call to embark on what the world might consider “a ridiculous journey,” following “a nobody from nowhere.” A nobody who was a “revolutionary,” God’s agent of change, revealing and opening up the Kingdom of God; A nobody who was a peacemaker, “reconciling” of all creation unto God and unto each other; A nobody who was “the love of God” embodied in human flesh in order that we might understand the radical and all-encompassing nature of God’s unconditional, sacrificial, “agape” love. Today we continue to unpack the human archetypes found in this “nobody from nowhere,” today in part five we explore - Jesus, “The Sage.”
To be a “Sage,” is to be reflective, thoughtful, experienced, - and in with and through all these things, - to be wise. To be a sage is to be learned, astute, perceptive, a thinker, a philosopher, a statesman, a mentor, - a wise person. Jesus, as The Word made flesh, brings to us all the wisdom of the ages, the insights of heaven, and the awareness of the presence of the Kingdom of God.
So it is, that when Jesus spoke the crowds were always amazed, he was different; they had never heard anyone speak this way before. Following the Sermon on the Mount, The Gospel of Matthew comments, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” Jesus certainly was a sage, the Word of God incarnate, wisdom from on high!
The Gospel for today features “The Beatitudes,” Jesus opening prologue to the “Sermon on the Mount,” his magnificent vision of the Kingdom of God. These words spoken by Jesus are poetic, but not to be lost in their beauty is a message that literally changes the world. Pastor Rich Nelson, curator of our series, writes, “And even if the first few lines of this sermon were the only ones to have survived over time, they would still be just as world-changing as the entire sermon was. Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the poor ...,’ Wait, what? No. I’m afraid not. That is not at all how it is. It is the rich who have all the ‘blessings.’ They are the ones with big fancy houses, the servants who care for their every need, the doctors who heal their diseases, the lavish garments, the sumptuous banquets, the beautiful concubines, the fear and respect of the people, the fancy umbrellas to shield them from the sun and the rain.” No, they’re the lucky ones, the ones who are blessed!
However, Jesus sees things from a different perspective, from the perspective of God, from a place beyond time and circumstance, from a place of eternal truth and love. Jesus goes on in the Sermon on the Mount to proclaim that the reality of God’s kingdom is very different than that of this world, offering them the true blessings of God, and challenging them with the truths of the Kingdom of God. Each word inspiring faith, instilling hope, creating peace, and sharing love. Each word changing their understanding of the world and opening them up to the everlasting reality of God’s kingdom. Redefining love, forgiveness, wisdom, peace, justice and the very purpose of life. Redefining what it means to be blessed, and reversely, what it means to be cursed. Jesus teachings begin to turn the world upside down and inside out.
The people who first heard these words, that sermon on the mount, were truly amazed. Even today those very same words from two thousand years ago grab hold of us and speak to our deepest understanding of self along with our deepest hopes for the world. The Beatitudes have a life of their own that somehow claim authority. The crowds followed Jesus because he was different. We follow Jesus because he is different. Jesus does not take advantage of our fears, Jesus does not beat us down with loud and empty rhetoric, Jesus voice is somehow distinctively discernable in the midst of all the collective noise and confusion present in the world. His word, his teachings, and the way he lived them out, was different and continues to be different. Jesus has a way of making us stop, lean in, and listen. Pastor Nelson concludes, “People yearn for mentors, someone who has walked ahead of us a little farther on life’s path and knows a thing or two that we yet need to learn. But true mentors, true sages are extraordinarily hard to come by.” Jesus might have been “a nobody from nowhere”without any credentials but the words he spoke were alive.
Rowan Williams, Former Archbishop of Canterbury, reflects on the question, “What is God doing in Jesus?” He concludes that in Jesus, captured for a moment in history, in his life from start to finish; in this Jesus we have “as much God as humanity can hold.” In Jesus we have God’s witness to “the way, the truth, and the life.” And this sudden, dramatic, and unique outpouring of God stops the world in its tracks! In Jesus God reveals just how broken and distorted our understanding of life has become! In love, Jesus points out how things have become - messed up. In Jesus God comes not to condemn the world but to save it from itself. Jesus comes into our world only that we might know “the way,”the way to the Father, the way of love, the way of the kingdom; that we might have life, that all might have life, life abundant.
And this is where it gets interesting. You see, for some these words spoken by Jesus, make good perfect sense. It especially makes good perfect sense for those who have been marginalized, those who have not been included, those for whom life has only always been about survival. For “those who have nothing to lose,”those first lines spoken in the Beatitudes, those beautiful poetic words, “Blessed are the poor,”are heard and received as, “Good News.” Even “Great News.”
But for others, those who have “too much to lose” in this world; the aristocracy, those invested in the temple system, the administration of empire; for those folks these words come as a threat to their way of life. The Word that is the life and teachings of Jesus exposes the distortion of this world, the corruption of greed, the bending of truth, and the injustice of poverty; and so those who benefit from such things, those who benefit from the way things are, those in power, those who are blessed by the status quo; they push back on “the way, the truth, and the life,” they push back hard on this Word made flesh; ultimately hoping that violence can put an end to it once and for all. Archbishop Williams describes it this way, “They are embarrassed, afraid, they are hateful, they push back at it. They push it right out over the cliff edge on the cross. (However) as they look down into the abyss a voice behind them (surprises them saying,) ‘Peace be with You.’” God’s Word of Love will not be silenced!
And perhaps that’s where we are today? As we gather together Christ becomes present in our fellowship, in our hearing of the Word, in our sharing of the meal, and speaks, “Peace be with you.” Even in our own broken-ness, in those moments when we push back, when we try to hide from the truth, Jesus steps up beside us and gently offers again, “Peace be with you.” Jesus is still at work in the world, still revealing the broken-ness that surrounds us in order that we might rise up with him in the Kingdom! The question is, “How might we respond?”
Pastor Nelson concludes, “Today, we give great authority to the voices we hear on TV, or the radio, or online, or in print. We are an easily convinced people, gullible to those who would speak with conviction to our fears about tomorrow. … How then, can we discern the voice of God in the midst of the collective noise and our own confusion? What will strike our hearts as words of divine authority? … Perhaps it will not come from those under the spotlight who seek attention for themselves, but rather from an unlikely source, far removed from the camera’s aim, who will speak a word that sounds like ... ‘Blessed are the poor …’”
Jesus, as much God as humanity could hold, came into the world that we might know, that we might see, that we might experience, “the way, the truth, and the life.” God continues to come into our world, in the midst of all the noise and confusion, that we might in our gathering together; in our serving those in need; in our sharing of word, water, bread and wine, continue to discern; “the way, the truth, and the life.”
How might we respond to “Jesus the Sage,” the wisdom of the ages, the insights of heaven, the judgments of the Kingdom? It might depend on how much we have to lose? I hope it depends on how much we have to gain! “Peace be with you!” Amen.
6 Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.