The Sermon on the Mount is one of those teachings of Jesus which seems to transcend our religion and work its way into the social fabric around us. People of all walks of life seem to know much of it. Far too often, it seems to become a reason for people to have left the Church or have abandoned their faith. Why? Much of the blame, of course, lies with us pastors and preachers. If I had a dollar for every time a man told me he could not stand the teaching because it makes men become “girlie-men” or “wimps,” our budget would no doubt be balanced. And, in their defense, it does seem to do that by worldly standards. We are told by Jesus to be humble—I am sure we will see that kind of behavior on display during Super Bowl scores, we are told to be meek—ya, that always helps us get ahead when climbing corporate ladders, we are told to be merciful—like everyone else is always merciful to us when we ask for help or a day off or something else, and we are told to rejoice when we are persecuted for His name’s sake—You want us to rejoice that we are being teased? Are You nuts? It is no wonder that the Sermon does not resonate with men who like those new Irish Spring commercials about a man's man.
And to be fair, the sermon sometimes aggravates women, though they seem not to be nearly as vocal about it as the “manly” men. Again, I think the fault lies with the preachers and teachers. Far too often, we are taught that the Sermon is a “to do” list. The Sermon is put before us like a list that ought to be stuck to our refrigerators at home. Was I humble today? Was I meek today? Did I hunger and thirst for righteousness, or was I sort of nibbling? We see the list and begin to think of ourselves as failures. Between running the kids to school and practices and putting in 55 hours at the office this week, who has time to work on these behaviors? In between the laundry and meals, how can I be expected to work on a pure heart? Has He seen my to-do list, and now He wants to add these many more?
The truth is, brothers and sisters, the Sermon on the Mount is not meant to be a check list or a to-do list. It is not even meant to eviscerate so-called “manly” men. It is meant, however, to teach us a great deal about discipleship. First and foremost brothers and sisters, how are these transformations carried out in our lives? When we decide to follow Jesus, when we make that commitment to become His disciple, how is the change enacted within us? Put another way, do we circumcise our own hearts? Do we got to a hospital and ask them to cut the fat or hardness out? And do we head to the spiritual work-out room? Do we walk meek-masters instead of stairmasters? Do we find ourselves focusing of a spiritual set of muscle groups in our bodies the way we might when we are strengthening our bodies physically? No. God, acting through the Holy Spirit, begins that process, in some of our cases, that looonnnnngggggg process of sanctification, in our lives. Put still another way, He changes us.
God is the one who makes us worthy to stand before Him, as our Prayer Book reminds us. We don’t do it ourselves. We can’t go to some spiritual weight room and exercise our various muscle groups in an effort to train ourselves. We don’t build ourselves up, at least not in the way that many of us would like to build ourselves up. Our big contribution to this process is a contrite heart. We repent, we pray for forgiveness, and we ask to serve Him. That’s really about it. True, we are called to pray without ceasing. True, we are called to gather together often and worship Him. True, we are called to meet Him daily in the Scriptures, which He revealed to us. But it’s not like any physical activity that the manly men train for. The change which occurs in us is wrought by God.
Of course, the fact that the change is wrought by Him acting upon us does not mean that we cannot identify the changes in our lives. And, part of the function of this sermon is to demonstrate to the believer whether He or she is truly following Christ. Think back to when you first made the decision. Comparing then to now, are you more poor in spirit? Do you find yourself mourning a bit more? Does the more you learn about God make you want to know Him more and more? Do you find yourself trying to make peace rather than start fights? Do you not find yourself living a life more like the life described by our Lord in this sermon? Thinking back to who you were before you accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, do you think you could have ever imagined, let alone foreseen, this transformation in you? What if your answers to those questions are “no”? What if you find yourself more full of pride, more of a war-maker, more indifferent to the death and suffering around you? Did you really accept Him as Lord and Savior? Do you truly love Him? Or do you just want others to think you do and hope that, at the end, church attendance will count like a “get out of hell free” card in a board game?
The Sermon, brothers and sisters, allows us to evaluate both ourselves and those around us. Who do you know that is humble? Who do you know that thirsts for a closer relationship with God? Who do you know that is merciful? Chances are, they are people whom He has placed in our lives to teach us even more about Him. Take the time to get to know them. Take the time to begin to get their story. You might be surprised that they do not see the very qualities in their own lives which you so admires and reminds them of the very real presence of His Holy Spirit in their lives working and shaping them to receive their reward. And chances are, there is something in you which inspires them, and might remind you that He is ever present in your life too!