Dim the Lights
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
One night there was a weary Truck Driver, who after hours on the road decided to pull his rig into an all-night truck stop to grab a bite to eat. As soon as the waitress brings his food, in through the door came three tough looking motorcyclists (Hell’s Angels). The Hell’s Angels began to start harassing the Truck Driver. They started swearing at him. Then one of the Hell’s Angels grabbed the Truck Driver’s hamburger off his plate and threw it on the floor. Another one of the Hell’s Angels grabbed the Truck Driver’s French fries and started eating them. Then the third Hell’s Angel spit in the Truck Driver’s coffee.
The truck driver in response just calmly got up; he grabbed his check, walked to the cash register, settled his bill with the Waitress, and walked out the door. The Waitress while opening the till saw the big rig drive off into the night. The Hell’s Angels sat around the Diner proud of themselves for the grief that they caused this poor Truck Driver.
When the Waitress eventually came over to see the Hell’s Angels, one of them piped up, “What’s that Truck Driver’s deal? He’s not much of a man”.
To which the Waitress replied, “I don’t know about that, but he sure isn’t much of a Truck Driver, on his way out of the parking lot, he ran over three motorcycles.”
This is a good story. We like it when the obnoxious, I’ll use the church appropriate term, “jerks” get what they deserved. Yet is this the best way to handle such situations?
Today’s Gospel Lesson comes to us from the 5th Chapter of Matthew. Today’s lesson brings us to our fourth and final sermon on the Sermon on the Mount.
To understand today’s lesson it’s important to remember that a Christian’s existence is going to be occupied with the never-ending tension between spiritual pride and spiritual despair. Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount by speaking to those in spiritual despair: the mourning, the meek, and the poor in spirit. Jesus assured them that the natures of the Kingdom of God’s blessings are often in direct contrast to the blessings this world has to offer.
Jesus then sought to let the spiritual despair crowd know that their faith can not be wishy-washy because their faith does not belong to them. How Christians by the virtue of being made “salt” and “light” have a totally different outlook on life and their neighbor because of the extent of the Gospel’s promises.
Last week’s lesson spoke to those who have fallen into spiritual pride in the people who hold anger at their neighbors, the people who try to rationalize their sins of anger and lust against their neighbor’s sins. Jesus sought to remind these people that what makes the Gospel truly free to receive is we are not the ones to draw the line between our neighbors and ourselves. The line for our salvation was rather drawn on a cross.
Today’s lesson deals with one of the strongest words of the English language “hate”. Hate is the ultimate outpouring of spiritual pride. Hate is the ultimate expression of our worthiness compared to others that God couldn’t possibly dare to save as not to offend our delicate presence.
Our lesson contains the famous words of Jesus:
“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”- Matthew 5:43-44
Now there are a lot of ways we hear these words from Jesus. Some of you will dismiss Jesus as a pie in the sky, hipper dreamer who was ignorant of berating bosses, abusive spouses, swindling relatives, murderers, sex offenders, and just outright, inconsiderate jerks.
I know personally how hard it is to love one’s enemies. Kids can be cruel when you grow up with a speech impediment. I remember in high school playing Basketball at opposing schools being taunted about my weight and wanting nothing more than to lash out verbally and physically at the one’s doing the taunting. These words of Jesus to love our enemies are maybe the most impossible command that he gives us.
So we like to make excuses. We might be saying but Jesus surely wasn’t thinking about so and so. But the thing is Jesus knew exactly what he was saying. Jesus believed loving one’s enemies was not only necessary for the church he would eventually establish, but also the survival of society.
Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount to a large audience of 1st century Jews. Perhaps the most interesting verse of Today’s Gospel is verse 41, which says:
“And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
The explanation of this passage is in Jesus’ day, Roman soldiers had the right to demand that citizens subject to Roman rule carry their military gear for up to one mile. This practice outraged the citizens of Judea as not only had the Romans taken their land, not only had the Romans exploited their resources, not only had the Romans taxed them to sustain their unwanted military presence, the Roman soldiers had the right when they wanted a rest to demand the citizens of Judea carry their equipment for one mile. The victims of this practice hated it. They would complain, moan, and grumble the whole way without being able to retaliate. Jesus knew how fervently the Jews hated the Romans and that they probably had valid reasons for doing so. So Jesus’ command to his Disciples in verse 41 to carry the Roman military gear an extra mile shows that Jesus knew very well the types of people we’re often going encounter that we’re called to love.
Why did Jesus think this was such a necessary point to make?
One of my favorite Dale Carnegie sayings are “You can't win an argument. You can't because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it.” Carnegie understood that even if you get your way, you damage your relationship with others, thereby winning nothing in the long run.
One of Martin Luther King’s greatest sermons was based on this passage from Matthew 5 on why it’s important to love one’s enemies. I’ve read and heard more sermons in my lifetime then I care to admit. Martin Luther King’s sermon on loving your enemies is one of the few that as soon as I got done reading was speechless and awe-struck by its content.
Martin Luther King had experienced hatred and ignorance first hand in his life. He was told he couldn’t go to certain schools, he was told he couldn’t eat in certain restaurants, be treated in certain hospitals, or have the same rights to public transportation.
Martin Luther King had every reason under the sun to want to fight anger with anger yet he knew this was going to solve nothing other than creating further hard feelings. So Dr. King in a 1957 sermon given at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama gave three reasons why loving one’s enemies are so important.
The first reason is hatred only begets more hatred.
King told the story of one night driving with brother AD to Chattanooga, TN. On this night, every car they encountered on the road would fail to dim their bright lights meeting King’s car. King’s brother AD had a solution. AD was going to get his point across and get it across good. AD promised the next car that refused to dim their lights, AD was going to do the same in return. AD wanted to give the other drivers a taste of their own medicine.
Upon hearing AD’s suggestion, Dr.King turned and said the following. “Oh no, don’t do that. There’s be too much light on this highway, and it will end up in mutual destruction for all. Somebody got to have some sense on this highway.”
King related this highway tale to the history of world civilization as a whole. How civilizations have risen and fallen based on their failure to dim the lights and all the blood shed that follows.
King points out:
“Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.”
The second reason King gave why it is important to love your enemies is because hatred distorts us. Hatred causes us to act in irrational, destructive ways.
King rightly points out:
“For the person who hates, the beautiful becomes ugly and the ugly becomes beautiful. For the person who hates, the good becomes bad and the bad becomes good. For the person who hates, the true becomes false and the false becomes true. That’s what hate does.”
The final reason King gives to love one’s enemies is because:
“It is this: that love had within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That’s why Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies, but if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption.”
King gives a great historical example of these principles in Abraham Lincoln. The one thing to note about Abraham Lincoln is he had plenty of enemies. One of these men traveled all over the country denouncing Lincoln left and right. He made fun of Lincoln for being too tall, for being too skinny, and for being too stupid.
So after Lincoln gets elected President in 1860, a short while later as the Civil War was raging on, Lincoln needed a new Secretary of War. Lincoln wanted to nominate a man named Edwin Stanton. Lincoln’s whole Cabinet was in shock that Lincoln would want to nominate the man who had been traveling around the country insulting Lincoln. His whole Cabinet thought Lincoln to be a fool. They asked Lincoln if he had read all the statements that Stanton had made about him. If Lincoln really knew the depths that Edwin Stanton went to try to defeat him at every turn. Yet Abraham Lincoln knew all this, yet he didn’t care. Lincoln admired Stanton’s tenacity and ability for military strategy.
If Abraham Lincoln had responded to Edwin Stanton like nearly every other person would have, looking back 150 years later, we would have a much different view of Lincoln’s Presidency and the Civil War perhaps might have turned out different.
Yet when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, Edwin Stanton had been changed so much by Lincoln’s actions that he uttered these words:
“Now he (Lincoln) belongs to the ages”, “There lies the most perfect ruler of men the world has ever seen.”
For as Martin Luther King pointed out:
“If Abraham Lincoln had hated Stanton, if Abraham Lincoln had answered everything Stanton said, Abraham Lincoln would not have transformed and redeemed Stanton. Stanton would have gone to his grave hating Lincoln, and Lincoln would have gone to his grave hating Stanton. But through the power of love Abraham Lincoln was able to redeem Stanton.
In the words of Dr.King, “There is a power in love that our world has not discovered yet.”
Some might confuse this sermon this morning with calling on people to be door mats to just allow people to walk over you. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dr. King was thrown in jail on many on occasions over his beliefs. For Dr.King’s goals weren’t to get his way through violence, but to change hearts and minds in the process.
Dr.King cites as a great example of this the French Emperor Napoleon who one day reflected that many men had built great world empires (Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne), but these empires were only sustained by force. As soon these leaders fell out of power not a single person would die for them. Where as Jesus Christ built an empire on love and even today millions of people will die for his Gospel.
As Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount, he stood face to face with people who had experienced the power of the Roman Military might. Jesus was speaking first hand with people who had experienced oppression. Yet Jesus’ response was different, Jesus only response was I will not use their methods. Neither will I speak hatred towards the Roman Empire when everyone wants me to. Because of this conviction the followers of Jesus have risen from a group of twelve men to the world’s largest religion today.
For without Jesus loving those who wronged him on a cross, there would be no Christianity. This is why Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount to set the stage for the rest of his earthly ministry. Jesus gave this sermon to speak to the broad range of human emotions: mourning, despair, acceptance, lust, anger, and hatred. Jesus gave this sermon to proclaim the reason that he came into this messed up world is to one day ultimately redeem it.
 Matthew 5:43-44
 Matthew 5:41
 A quote from How to Win Friends and Influence People.
 A full text of this sermon can be found at http://www.ipoet.com/ARCHIVE/BEYOND/King-Jr/Loving-Your-Enemies.html
 King, Martin Luther. “Loving Your Enemies”. Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, AL. 17. Nov.1957.Sermon
 King. “Loving Your Enemies”.
 King. “Loving Your Enemies”.
 King. “Loving Your Enemies”.
 King. “Loving Your Enemies”.
 King. “Loving Your Enemies”.
Worst Day Ever
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
- Matthew 5:21-22
Frasier Crane Seattle’s most famous radio psychiatrist was having the worst day ever. Frasier’s day began by running late to work. Only for when Frasier to arrive, he discovered that someone had decided to park in his clearly reserved space. Frasier ends up having to park six blocks away, so that he has to sprint the whole way to the studio to proceed not to look any more foolish than he did already in being late for his radio show.
Frasier after work than proceeds to a local video store to try to find a copy of one of his favorite classic movies that he had been unable to enjoy at the theater on the previous night due to older woman in front of him talking the entire time. Frasier waits patiently for only for a clerk to continually ignore him. When Frasier begins to ask a clerk about this movie, a woman overhears him talking about this film, so she decides to check it out upon hearing Frasier’s recommendation before Frasier had a chance to rent it.
Frasier then proceeds to drive around Seattle to three video stores before finally securing a copy of the movie so he can have a nice relaxing night at home. Right when Frasier proceeds to put the tape in the VCR, windows start to rattle; walls start to shake, as Frasier had recently acquired a new upstairs neighbor who proceeds to blast his music as loud as he can. Frasier then decides that a calm, reasoned discussion with his neighbor will get him to stop playing such racket. Only for the music to start up again once Frasier’s phone call to his neighbor ends.
Frasier then decides he needs to go out for some peace, so he decides to meet his brother Niles at his favorite restaurant. The restaurant is seat yourself, so Frasier and Niles wait patiently at the counter for a table to open up. Frasier and Niles keep rushing to every table that becomes available only for someone else to be a half-step quicker in getting there. Finally, after standing over a couple waiting for them patiently to leave, a man sneaks in behind Frasier to claim his table. Frasier finally snapped as he had witnessed display after display of ill manners throughout the day.
Frasier decides to confront the man; he grabs the rude man by the collar while escorting him out of the restaurant lecturing him on his lack of etiquette. Frasier’s escapades are witnessed by a local newspaper columnist who proceeds to single out Frasier the next day for standing up against such rudeness. Frasier then begins to be lifted up as a folk hero amongst the people of Seattle. Frasier’s macho father Martin had never been prouder of Frasier for daring to stand up to himself.
People then all throughout Seattle start to follow Frasier’s example. Frasier’s radio show quickly is filled up by callers who had followed his example of standing up against rudeness. A caller named Mitch had a neighbor running a leaf-blower at 7 AM, Mitch decided to go grab his neighbor’s leaf-blower and smash it against a tree. Another caller had shoveled rotten shrimp into his neighbor’s air-conditioner; another called and had put 100 scorpions in his neighbor’s fed-ex package.
Finally, a woman named Rochelle had a neighbor who refused to clean up after her dog’s messes, Rochelle then proceeded to set her neighbor’s lawn on fire. Frasier is then aghast at Rochelle’s extreme reaction. Rochelle couldn’t believe that this was possibly wrong. Rochelle then proceeded tell Frasier that she was just following his example of confronting the rude patron at the coffee shop earlier.
Rochelle’s words provided an epiphany for Frasier Crane. As he proceeds to tell:
“What I did to the gentleman was just as wrong. I mean who am I to draw the line at the acceptable level of force? Because the next person moves a little farther, and the next person, a little farther until we finally end up with scorpions flying through the mail like Christmas Bundt cakes!”
The story about Frasier Crane brings us to our Gospel lesson for today. The third part of a sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount. Two weeks ago, we studied the nature of God’s blessings and how they extend to those who are down in life: the mourning, the meek, and the poor in spirit.
Last Sunday we learned about the nature of a Christian’s existence in an increasingly secular world as Jesus proclaimed the Disciples to be “salt” and “light”. We learned about how the Christian outlook on life can be radically different from normal human expectations.
This Sunday’s sermon is on the nature of sin. It’s based on the nature of Frasier Crane’s realization as he kept hearing about people’s bad behavior in response to his example: “Who am I draw the line?”
Today’s lesson has Jesus making some very strong statements. Our lesson proclaims that anger is the same as murder. Our lesson proclaims that lust is the same as adultery.
Yet Frasier Crane realized the meaning of Jesus’ sermon here. If we are the ones who draw the line as to what constitutes acceptable behavior, then the next person is going to keep pushing it further until the point where our neighbor’s lawns are set on fire over a dog’s bowel movements.
While we would never argue that murder and adultery are equal to anger and lust in their destructive consequences for one’s neighbor. Both anger and lust are the sins at the heart of murder and adultery’s creation.
What Frasier Crane eventually realizes is that the nature of sin is such that not one of us can ever be deemed righteous or without fault. I hear too many Christians speak of the sins that they have committed. Yet Christians don’t merely commit sins, or a series of individual bad decisions that can hopefully be learned from in the future. Christians sin a very rebellion of human nature in thought, word, and deed.
As Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount to set the stage for the rest of his ministry. He is seeking to make the point that the standard of holy living that we often like to cling to is impossible to fulfill.
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus seeks to let the Disciples know that unless they can exceed the standards held by the most religious, most judgmental men of the day. They shall never enter the kingdom of God on their own.
This is why our righteousness must come to us, outside of us, in spite of us. This is why the Sermon on the Mount points the way to the Resurrection.
Second story, first time, I stepped foot in Bockmann Hall at Luther Seminary to see my new dorm room. My next door neighbor had multiple empty beer cases outside his door.
Seminary culture was really no different than a college with Alcohol serving as the primary social unity force. So, I would go out drinking with people then the night would get longer and longer. My 24th Birthday is the only time that people bought me so many drinks that I ended up throwing up from drinking, let alone feeling beyond awful the next morning. I quickly realized how harmful this way for not only my sense of well-being but my sense of calling.
Yet everywhere else I looked, I kept seeing behavior even more extreme than what I had been doing. There were nights that people came back to the dorms so drunk; they needed to be carried up the steps. There were classmates who would get angry and violent through their use of alcohol. There were classmates who would hook up with anything that moves after their use of alcohol.
Seeing other people act this way without consequences for their life began to create an internal anger in me. I began to hold a lot of anger as I saw these people coasting through life without any regard to how their actions affected others. I began to hold anger because these people weren’t making the sacrifices of behavior, I felt I needed to make. I started to wish that a lot of these people would get their comeuppance, so I celebrate as some sort of hollow victory.
What eventually changed my outlook on life and faith was the Seminary sent me out on Internship within a congregation. Internship was a terrible, terrible experience. If my only experience with Christian people was through my Internship, I would probably declare myself to be an Atheist as I learned how nasty so-called “Christian” people can be.
What I learned is that as much as you will often be in a justified position to look down on people, you will always encounter people who can find error in you, and point it out at every opportunity driving people to sake of hopelessness.
In the midst of the darkest moments of my faith, I came to a realization not dissimilar to Frasier Crane that “who am I to draw the line”. Who am I say to say someone’s sins are worse than mine. What I learned about Christian Community out on Internship is it should be as real and as honest as beggars trying to explain to other beggars where to purchase bread. There’s no point to stand before a congregation trying or pretending to be something that I’m ultimately not. Christian community should be about building people up in the midst of their struggles rather than delighting with selfish pride in people’s inevitable downfall.
So, when I went back to Seminary, my attitude had changed. I still witnessed plenty of the same behavior that I did before. Only this time my response was different. My response was not to get angry. My response was to be comforted by the promise that what I am today is not what I will eventually once be. This is the promise of resurrection. That the old shall indeed become new. The power to ultimately change others is one that I do not possess. Yet I ultimately cannot draw the line over whom God is capable of saving through my own biases or prejudices. Nor can I draw the line over who God can possibly use to lead. All I can do is be comforted by God’s Grace and wish to extend that promise of grace to others at those moments in their life when they need to hear it. All I can do is speak to how my neighbor’s actions affect the world around them from a place of my own brokenness.
Jesus’ sermon today is warning us about the nature of sin.
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
- Matthew 5:29-30
These words remind us how even the seemingly most minor of sins eventually bring destruction to the world where we reside. Yet in the midst of these harshest of words there is a word of hope. We hear them from the one that went through hell on our behalf, the one whose body was battered for our sin. Sin is serious. Sin is destructive. Sin is deadly. Yet sin will one day be wiped away forever in a “new heaven” and a “new earth”. The line between “our” sin and “our” death was drawn on a cross.
 This line is quoted from the script of the Frasier episode “High Crane Drifter” which originally aired on NBC on March 12, 1996. A copy of this script can be found at KACL780.net
 This sermon is inspired by analysis of this episode provided by Lannon, Nick. “Frasier Crane: Lawgiver? The Good Doctor and the Sermon on the Mount.” Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church. Charlottesville, VA. 10.Sept.2011. Web. Feb.9.2014
 Revelation 21:1
 Romans 6:23
Why Christianity Matters
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
As I talk too many of you throughout the course of the week. A similar theme comes up during the course of the week: your children. Your children who were baptized, confirmed, and married within a church yet want nothing to do with the church.
The reasons for this are often varied. The sermon for today is for those whose kids don’t go to church, for people who have sworn off the church, for those who consider themselves spiritual but not religious. This is a sermon about “Why Christianity Matters” as you live it out in the world; this is not a sermon about church. This is a sermon about Christianity outside the church.
To begin with let me describe the typical human existence. People tend to go through life with a win at all costs mentality. It doesn’t matter if it’s relationships, finances, or just having to brag over coffee over how your kids are taller, smarter, and more athletic than the neighbor’s kids. We want to be able to end the day with one-upping others as a way to establish our self-worth.
Families don’t get along with each other, due to some alleged proverbial black sheep always being to blame. The problem might be a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a grandma, an aunt, or an uncle. All the time I hear stories about family members who refuse to speak to each other. Last week, I heard a story about a sister suing her brothers over trinkets that are relatively worthless in the grand scope of existence.
People will often make the claim they don’t need church. They search out different kinds of community at the local bar, online, or what-not. You log into something like Facebook, you see how nasty other people can be towards each other. You see how arrogant people can be as they try to have the answers to all of life’s problems.
People lash out at organized religion as only being about money, while they whine about how other people don’t deserve success at every turn. They assume just a bit more money will make them happier, only for the cycle to keep expanding with every dollar placed in their own bank account.
People can say they don’t need religion; they might have other coping mechanisms from alcohol and then more alcohol to casual sex to cutting yourself off to the world around you. Yet all these so-called coping mechanism keep cutting people’s wounds deeper and deeper.
If you don’t know anybody to whom these descriptions apply. I apologize in advance for my sermon this morning.
First story, a number of years ago there was a Saturday Night Live character named Stuart Smalley who was played by now Senator Al Franken. Smalley would appear on the screen with perfectly groomed hair, a buttoned up to the top (yellow shirt). Smalley’s whole claim to authority was all the previous problems he had in life from overeating, to being the son of alcoholic parents to dysfunctional past relationships. Smalley figured positive reinforcement was the key to turning around his messed up life.
So, Stuart Smalley first thing in the morning with look in the mirror saying “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, doggone it people like me.”
“The only problem with all this was Smalley would then spend every day making a complete fool of himself, bringing him back to the mirror the next morning”.
Smalley’s approach to life isn’t uncommon where kids are raised from their youngest of days to believe that everyone is equal, everyone’s a winner only for the world to present all sorts of evidence to the contrary leaving people with all sorts of questions regarding the meaning of it all.
This all brings us to our Gospel lesson for today from Matthew the 5th chapter. The second part of a sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount. Last’s week lesson dealt with the nature of God’s blessing for the mourning, the meek, and the poor in spirit. How the eventual Kingdom of God contrasts with the values of the kingdom of this world. Our second lesson for today deals with instructions for the Disciples to interact with the world around them.
The words we here today are amongst Jesus most famous: “You are the salt of the earth”, “You are the light of the world”, and “You are the city on the hill that cannot be hidden”.
Words meant to let the Disciples know that when the world around them is beginning to fall apart that their faith can be a beacon for the entire world to see.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that[b] they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”-Matthew 5:16
These verses though are often greatly misunderstood. We assume that these words are dealing with our own self-improvement, our own use of the Bible for daily living.
But note the words: “You are the salt of the earth,” and “You are the light of the world”. The Disciples aren’t told to become salt and light, the disciples are told they already are salt and light.
What this passage seeks to remind us is the goal in reaching more people isn’t to convince them that if they come with us to Church then their life will be wonderful, just as our life is wonderful. The truth is we cannot become “salt” and “light” on our own. Instead, it is because of what Christ does in us through the power of his life-giving word that we are made into salt and light.
This week, I came across a story that I found interesting. It has to do with Approval Ratings for the New Pope Francis. Pope Francis had a popularity rating of 88% among American Catholics with a favorability rating of ¾ Americans .
These numbers shocked me because such popularity would be unheard for an American President, let alone a religious leader who takes all sorts of hot-button stands on issues like: gay marriage, abortion, and even birth control.
People that don’t even agree with Francis on a host of issues tend to be drawn to him. What this poll seems to indicate is that people are out there searching for something that often times they can’t quite say what it is. But they are intrigued by a new religious leader who is different from the old religious leaders.
What I wonder about is if the greatest issue that Christianity faces is one of marketing. Pope Francis seems to recognize this.
Robert Farar Capon described our Gospel lesson for today the best when he said:
“Yes, I know. The church is indeed to be the salt of an otherwise bland earth. But that doesn’t mean that the church itself is supposed to be all salt or that it is supposed to turn the world into nothing but salt. Therefore, when it represents itself to the world, it probably should not first of all be seen as salt. That’s misleading advertising. You don’t put doughnuts in the window of a shoe store: that only confuses the public about your real business. Likewise you don’t turn the church into a sodality (fellowship) that consists only of bright, white Anglo-Saxons who are happily married, have 1.8 children, and never get drunk. Instead, you just let it be what it in fact already is: a random sampling of the broken, sinful, half-cocked world that God in Christ loves–dampened by the waters of baptism but in no way necessarily turned into perfect peaches by them.”
A while back, I was at a Silver Bay High School Basketball game. It wasn’t a good afternoon for the good guys in blue; they had lost by more than 40 points. It was the type of game that was tough on players, tough on coaches, and tough on fans. They had lost plenty of other games recently in such a fashion. As I’m leaving the gym, someone says to me “You don’t’ have to be here, so why do you come and watch this?”
My answer was simple because the last thing I want to do is only support people when they are at their best. Champions don’t have a hard time attracting fans, beautiful woman don’t have a hard time attracting suitors, and the extraordinarily gifted don’t have trouble finding people to tell them how wonderful they are. Where people need support the most is when the world feels like it’s crashing down on their shoulders. Where Christianity comes into one’s life is at these moments. Christianity says what we see today doesn’t define your self-worth.
Jesus doesn’t seek to instruct the Disciples within Today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus seeks to comfort the disciples through a word of promise. Jesus sets to let the Disciples know that they are forgiven, and they have been set free. With this promise comes a radical change in how they see the world as “salt” and “light”. The Disciples are being told that they no longer need to refer to anyone “from a human point of view” (2 Cor 5:16), but rather refer to everyone they encounter as the one for whom Christ will die.
What if the typical human existence was different then it is today?
Whether instead of going through life at a win at all costs mentality, we see that we are free from spiritual bookkeeping, free from having to live for ourselves, but instead seek to live for the world around us.
What if instead of holding grudges with family and neighbors, we were able to take the first step towards them, because we know that Christ holds them dearly in all their black sheep ways, no differently then he holds the white sheep in his arms in the famous Sunday School painting.
What if people came to realize this church exists, not because we’re perfect, but rather because we’re imperfect. What if people saw the church as the place that would take them in and call them a friend when the rest of the world seems to be against them? What if people saw the church as a vessel then would stand beside them when they are at their lowest.
What if the people of Silver Bay saw that the Christian Life goes beyond not swearing, not drinking too much, not engaging in casual sex, and attending church on a regular basis? What if people came to instead recognize that Christianity matters because it is a radically different, a grace-centered, forgiveness oriented way of responding to the broken world around you.
How Christianity is a religion for the helpless, a religion for the guilty, a religion for outcasts, a religion for sinners. So, that when we look at the mirror every day we no longer need to be crushed, but instead see a Child of God claimed on a Cross.
“You are the salt of the Earth”, “You are the light of the world”, and “You are the city on the hill that cannot be hidden”. Amen
 This description of Stuart Smalley is taken from a sermon given by the Rev. Frank Limehouse at Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, AL as referenced by Zahl, John in “Take Heed! (A sermon from Frank Limehouse). Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church. Charlottesville, VA. 20.Mar.2010. Web. Feb.5.2014
 Matthew 5:13-14
 These results are taken from a CNN/ORC International Poll released on December 24th ,2013.
 Richardson, Ethan. “Robert Farrar Capon on Church Saltiness”. Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church. Charlottesville, VA. 10.Oct.2011. Web. Feb.8.2014
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”- Matthew 5:3
These words come at the beginning of the most famous sermon that Jesus ever gave the Sermon on the Mount. It is this sermon that Jesus gave to his disciples at the beginning of his ministry that helped set the stage for the meaning of his entire ministry. It is this sermon that comprises our Gospel lessons for the month of February. The Sermon on the Mount is an important sermon because it’s not an academic sermon; nor is it a how to lecture; the Sermon on the Mount’s importance is how it speaks about the realities of life.
Today’s opening section is entitled the Beatitudes. Jesus wishes to use the Beatitudes to contrast our everyday experiences such as mourning, meekness, persecution, and poverty of spirit with the promises of the coming Kingdom of God.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.
What these words mean are blessed are those people whose life didn’t end up quite the way they wished for it to be. Blessed are those who realize that there is a need for faith when they are at their very lowest.
I want to tell you a story of a gentleman named Julio Diaz as told to NPR. Diaz was a social worker who lived in the Bronx. Every night Diaz would take the train home from work. But one night in 2008, Diaz’s evening took an unexpected turn. As Diaz was heading towards the stairs to exit the train platform, Diaz came across a young teenage boy who pulled a knife on Diaz demanding his wallet. Diaz eventually gives the Boy his wallet. Yet soon a surprising perhaps even shocking thought pops in Diaz’s head.
Most people in this situation would probably hope for something horrible to happen to this Mugger. Diaz’s response thought was different. Diaz called the Boy back realizing that this boy must be in really rough shape if he needed to rob people at knife point. Diaz offered this Boy to take his coat also out of concern that he might grow cold throughout the night.
The Mugger was in shock at the offer. Only for Diaz to make a more surprising offer to the Boy who mugged him, Diaz told the Boy that all he was planning to do that night was to stop by his favorite diner for some dinner. Diaz informed the Boy that if he would like something to eat that he was more than welcome to join him. The Mugger confused by Diaz’s generosity decided to take Julio Diaz up on his dinner invitation.
As soon as the Boy entered the diner with Julio Diaz, he immediately picked up something about Diaz’s presence. Diaz knew the name of every single person within the restaurant. Diaz knew the managers by name. Diaz knew the waitresses by name. Diaz even knew the dishwashers by name. At this point, the mugger probably wondered what was going on.
So the Mugger asked Diaz, “If he owned this place?” To which Diaz responded, “No, I just eat here a lot?” But the Boy was shocked that Diaz was nice to even the dishwasher. Diaz asked the Boy hadn’t he been taught to be nice to everyone, hadn’t he been taught to see the vale in every single person he encountered.
To which the Boy responded with a surprised look on his face saying, “Yea, but I didn’t actually think people behaved this way.” Diaz then asked the Boy, “What did he want out of life?” At which point the Boy couldn’t formulate a response, he could merely have a sad look creep over his face. For this mugger was more than just a punk or hooligan. This mugger was a frightened, desperate kid unsure of his place in the world.
Well eventually the bill arrived for Julio Diaz and the Boy who mugged him. At which point, Diaz looked at the Mugger saying, “Look, I guess you’re going to have to pay for this bill ‘cause you have my money and I can’t pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I’ll gladly treat you.”
Upon receiving this offer, the Mugger didn’t even hesitate he grabbed Julio Diaz’s wallet and gave it back to him. Julio Diaz then took a $20 dollar bill out of his wallet hoping it would help the Boy out. All Julio Diaz asked in return was that the Mugger gives him his knife. At which point, Diaz’s Mugger gave him the knife; he had used to take Julio Diaz’s wallet hours earlier.
I can’t tell you anything about Julio Diaz’s backstory. I can’t tell you why he acted like he did on this night. But what this story does illustrate is that Julio Diaz understood the meaning of being “poor in spirit”.
Julio Diaz took one of the worst situations that we could have imagined and turned it into a blessing. Julio Diaz was able to see the Mugger in a way that rose above present circumstances, and past experiences. Julio Diaz saw this mugger as one of God’s Children, and offered to come together with him in the midst of his brokenness. It was precisely because Julio Diaz understood the reality of being poor in spirit that transformation could occur in the Mugger.
Today’s Gospel has Jesus issuing some really strange blessings for those who are poor in spirit, for those who mourn, for those who are humble, and for those who feel like the whole world against them. The reason that this passage is so important is because Jesus promises to these people the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus in our lesson for today is seeking to remind the Disciples of one the most profound spiritual truths that we have a God who is truly present at those very moments that we do not expect it, at those very moments when we often can’t even begin to comprehend God’s presence such as the during the act of being mugged.
This week, I was talking to a woman that has recently been going through a litany of issues in life that many people face such as issues within her relationships, issues with finances, and issues with self-esteem. As she had been undergoing these issues for the past few months she said something that jumped out at me, when she said “I’m tired of hating myself.”
Hearing the word hate jolts you because it is such a strong word. We hate others because of our abundance of pride. We hate others when our pride as I crushed. As I heard this woman talk, the one thing that kept going through my head is that she is not the only one that feels this way.
My Sister when she was in high school seemed to have it all, she was smart, she was outgoing, and she was voted Prom Queen at a fairly large high school, yet the weight of the world crushed her at times to such a degree that she couldn’t’ get out of bed in the morning.
What the Beatitudes seek to remind is that the world is harsh, the world is unrelenting, and Satan attacks our every weakness. Way too many of us misunderstand the Christian Life and this is what the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes seeks to correct.
Think of the way we often process the things that Jesus talks about today being poor in spirit, mourning, or coming to grips with our sense of powerlessness to change it and how we naturally assume this isn’t the way life is supposed to be. We often talk about pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps and turning lemons into lemonade. The Sermon on the Mount is written to tell us that there will be moments when you feel like failures. There will be moments when a sense of sadness comes over you that won’t easily go away. The Beatitudes remind us that the Christian existence doesn’t promise you joy or victories, but rather crosses that you have to bear. Yet what the Sermon on the Mount wishes to assure you is at those moments when you’re at your lowest, you have not been left behind.
The Sermon on the Mount is written to assure people who feel guilty, excluded, or plain weird that they are not alone in the challenges that they face. The Beatitudes seek to address the present life according to how it really is not how we wish, or think it should be. Jesus seeks to remind us today of the reality of the human condition is to be broken no different then Julio Diaz’s Mugger.
The reason that human brokenness is such good news is because it points out how the reach of God’s grace and the coming transformation is way bigger then we can even imagine.
It points out how in the words of Tullian Tchavadian that “While I am far more incapable than I may have initially thought, God is infinitely more capable than I ever hoped.”
The Sermon on the Mount is a sermon that in the words of Saint Paul reminds us, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”-Romans 8:18
This week, I was visiting Mervel Hanson who has recently been placed in Hospice. When I was talking to Jenny (his wife), she made the comment that “his faith really seems to be strong”.
I said there is something to be said for moments like these when our bodies are breaking down, when we begin to confront the reality that the next breath could be our last breath. These moments serve as a contrast to how the realities of this world contrast with the promises of the coming Kingdom of God.
This seems to be the point of why Jesus speaks of the poor in spirit, the mourning, and the meek as being the ones who shall be blessed not because there life is necessarily going to turn around tomorrow morning. Rather what Jesus seeks to remind us today is the blessings which he promises us; we have not yet received. What the Sermon on the Mount seeks to remind us is that no matter what our circumstances are in a given moment, they shall one day be changed. We all have moments in our life where God’s presence appears to be hidden from us. Yet as we look towards Our Cross, we are reminded that it is at those moments when God seems most absent, he is often most present.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”-Matthew 5:3
 Matthew 5:3
 “A Victim Treats His Mugger Right”. NPR. 28.Mar.2008. Web. Feb.1.2014
 Richard, Pastor Matt. “A Steadfast Lutheran Interview with Pastor Tullian Tchividjian.” Steadfast Lutherans. 14.Jan.2014. Web. Feb.1.2014.