Sermon Matthew 5: 13-20 Marcus Curnow. Newmarket Baptist Church 5/2/2017
The Sermon on the Mount is, the pinnacle of Jesus teaching ministry, it only takes 15 minutes to read it ( would that more Sermons in Christianity be that short) and yet it represents a touchstone combination of spiritual beauty and hard ethical thought for our culture.
I have three things to say about the way the gospel comes to us
In Matthew it comes after all the Xmas story and the preludes… here we get it , boom, up front.
Jesus goes up a mountain, a symbolically powerful place in human experience for religious and non religious alike. It says he’s with the crowd but then he takes his followers. Is it broad teaching for the masses or an intensive for the inner circle… And you don’t quite know who he’s addressing … the truth of the gospel is often overheard, and this adds mystery…
Last week we heard the start of the sermon the poetic Beatitudes… This is confronting Spoken word. It’s rhythmic performance which acts like a Donald Trump “Shock event” to wake you up. Theres an assumption and pedagogy here. If you don’t get this you wont get all my teaching. This is the necessary lens, the glasses you have to look through to understand all my teaching!
And the content of the Beatitudes is that history is held not by the powerful but by the meek and the poor and our own human experience is richest not when we are happy and content but when we are deeply sad or discontent in our desires… now there’s a different window into self fulfilment than the health and wealth spirituality that fills the bookshops.
These radically different way of seeing reality is anathema to our sensibilities…. our instinct is to flight or fight these hard sayings. That’s where this sense of being overheard is important and powerfully invitational… In a sense Monty Python got it right when they made the overhearing of the Sermon on the Mount dynamic and comical with their ‘blessed are the cheesemakers’…
Jesus starts broad in categories then brings it in to ‘blessed are yo’u… to this week… YOU! are the Salt of the Earth … Hang on is he talking about them or…. is he talking to me… or is he talking about me…? It gets us in…
What I love about these images are that they are ordinary.
What does it mean to be the salt of the earth at a funeral…
They were a real ‘salt of the earth’?….practical, humble, rough, not rich, no trappings, no bs,
Beatitudinal reality….true power and reality is not wielded nor illuminated and by mega celebrity, reality tv, powers of the world as much as it is held by the salt and light beauty of an ordinary life. Love your ordinary life people!
There’s a creative tension at the core of this teaching about the power of things unseen and the power of things being seen.
As a church we are not seen. Our buildings are not seen. There are people who live on our street who don’t know this is a church. This week our leaders discussed some of the ideas of Ann Morisy, a UK missiologist who asks what would it mean to rebrand the church buildings. To NOT call them Newmarket Baptist Church. How would it change the way we see ourselves and how would it change the way the community see us. What would it mean if for every group that uses the church we trained up and appointed community hosts, servants, chaplains from within our midst, not about getting them to come to our thing but to care for and connect in practical and spiritual ways.
If you were here last week you would have heard about my No Lights No Lycra adventure when for our benediction we replicated their “offering Simba to the universe” spontaneous ‘individual meets communal’ dance moment that took place at their gathering last week. It was hot and I was handing out water at the end of the night and one guy was like, wow, that was amazing, that was a spiritual experience. And so we got the discussing the spirituality of dancing at the heart of our tradition from King David to Ecclesiasties to Baptist resistance to such and the counter with Footloose. At the end of our discussion he said “Wow, I’ve never heard of Kevin Bacon!” Perhaps this is a bit like salt. Handing out water to strangers, no one knows I’m the pastor… but it was also an instance of light, being able to shed some light in explaining some of the experience of dancing from our own spiritual tradition. In what ways can you be salt and light in you place of work or influence?
LIGHT… are we the light, or is it the light of the Economy of God, of this reality, that can shine through us. Light actually isn’t seen but it enables things to be seen.
I became aware of the #saltbae meme this week. This guy is a Turkish Chef who’s love of meat and has a flair for its preparation is something quite ordinary and humble but such little things done with a lot of love can unexpectedly go viral!
This weekend I think of the creative tension of salt and light as I think of 100 years of women organising womens football matches, in modest, salt of the earth, unrecognised ways… trusting/hoping that one day the bushel would be lifted and things would go viral… and the image of surprised men who run the leagues, apologising to those locked out.
What are some things in my life that no one will ever see but would really matter?
What are some things in my life that should shine a light, come out from the bushel that would shine a light in powerful ways?
Alright I said there’s three O’s… this is a 4th point from Verse 17 on about the mystery / creative tension of LAW, GRACE & the nature of JUSTICE
“Unless your justice exceeds that of the Pharisees”
The Pharisees get a bad rap in Matthew. Not because they were so bad I would suggest but because they were so good. The time these stories were written was post the destruction of the temple when the physical and institutional structures of the old religion had been destroyed.
The Pharisees had taken the religion and the politics and made it personal, they cared about ethical shopping and personal spirituality and growing a movement. They didn’t rely on a temple. They were present and real competition for the hearts and minds of Jesus followers.
I sometimes explore this dynamic by considering the rise of more contemporary radical renewal movements such as the right wing, One Nation party or a Donald Trump. Whatever you think you cant ignore that this vision of justice and righteousness connects with ‘salt of the earth’ people. Or on the other side of the fence this week the Greens Left Renewal faction in NSW. They call them Watermelons but they are inspired by the rise of the Bernie Sanders critique. You don’t want to poo poo these movements. These are powerful movements that tie in with some of our communities real problems and our deepest needs and desires.
When I see the note about the righteousness of the Pharisees I think about how we put so much on our leaders. Like the Trump and Turnbull phone call this week. Michael Frost posted that there is all this fuss about two multi millionare, privileged white men having a barney and who macho-trumped who in a phone call, forgetting the content is over the fate of some of the most vulnerable people in the world in incredible suffering.
We get the leaders we deserve so I think so much of the hype is from our own sense of a shame which is often primal and subconscious. So much of what we project on to these leaders . It is why the media run it and why we click on it.
Many people find it hard to read the Sermon on the Mount without it becoming legalism on one hand or abstract idealism on the other but so I think we need hear in Jesus, another creative tension here, a deep call to the art of embracing the fullness of law and grace. Unless your justice exceeds that of conventional politics, or the renewal movements of left and right, dare I suggest One Nation or Green Renewal…
The Sermon on the Mount is not a political platform for a particular kind of government or organising but it is profoundly ethical question to any and every form. Love your enemies;don’t worry about money; talk to God intimately… its shocking and its madness to our sensibilities.
The sermon on the Mount is a wisdom deep and profound. This is a Pray service for our congregation today with a focus on spirituality or our practices. When I get lost and don’t feel like I’m very spiritual or cant pray i often read it and interact with it, meditate upon it. I have put the words on a poster for us in our sanctuary and I would like to podcast it with various congregational voices. Can I encourage you to Pray it. Apparently Gandhi, a Hindu made it a regular spiritual practise of his own.
As a leader of the I dont have the paradigm or the program. Our leaders met on Monday. Pray for them as they are working really hard on buildings and budgets and employing a children’s worker. We want to take risks, like the BUV took with us 5 years ago, to be salt and light in this place.
In the struggle and poverty of a beatitudinal life at times it can feel like we are barely cleaning the buildings and scratching together a service and some money and some programs. But in a broken and divided world its the thing I want to do most! Even though its hard i will clean and scratch and fight for spaces where we can deeply meditate, with others, different to yourself about the light and salt of the Sermon on the Mount. I believe this humble salty work is literally the light of the world…
And You know what… i’ve overhead something… it goes beyond the beautiful and radical teachings of a middle eastern prophet 2000 years ago. See I’ve heard that what he said is that YOU are the salt and light, the Greek word here is plural, Yes…YOUSE are the salt and light of the world!
I’ve overheard that its the poor, its those that are in deep grief and depression, who are mourning personally and politically, hungry and thirsty for something better. It’s the meek, those who assume nothing of or for themselves, that will trump the powerful and inherit the earth, those struggling to build peace in the midst of war zones and seeking transparency, purity of heart amidst all the false news, and white noise and click bait and social media echo chambers. Those willing to risk it and cop it. Will you join me in passing on what I’ve heard. Will you shed light on this reality, this economy of God, this city on a hill that cant be hidden will you spread the word in whispers that can be overheard on the mountain breeze, like unseen salt in food that gives flavour and preserves life and what is good in the midst of corruption and decay.
You are the #saltbae of the earth! Live it. Amen!