Sunday, June 9, 2013

Raising the Bar - Matthew 5.3-12 (Sermon)

It has been a bur under my saddle for a while now. Times are changing and it seems now the we seek affirmation wherever we go, whatever we do. One example is the difference between scouting today and when I was in scouting. When I was a scout, there were not a whole lot of patches. Sure, there were the council patches, rank patches and lodge patch if you earned the right to be in the Order of the Arrow. There were a few patches that were participation patch, such as Jamborees and Camporees. There were even patches for the scout's favorite summer camp. And of course there were special milestones, such as the Diamond Jubilee of Scouting. But that was it. Today, my kids were able to get patches for everything that isn't rank related. Attend a scout day, there's a patch. Wear your uniform on Scout Sunday, there's a patch. Race your derby car, get a patch. Help your son build his derby car, there's again a patch. But unlike when I was a scout, we make a big deal of it today. We make the “awarding of patches” part of the awards ceremony, to celebrate not only advancements in rank, but also the achievement of showing up.

But that's just one example. Another is that of Soccer. As a coach to little kids, it was emphasized to me to not keep score, and to not assign a goalie to tend the goal. The reasoning is the the AYSO wants kids to learn a great, healthy sport without risking their feelings should they lose, or should they miss blocking a goal. There are many other examples where we strive to help people feel better rather than raising the bar, challenging them to do better. Yet, the world seems content with simplifying.

And as we simplify our daily lives, it spills into our spiritual lives as well. We don't read as much. We take what others say, or rationalize our actions. We redefine what is sinful and say that it's natural. We say that God's Word is an authority, but Love, an unquantifiable entity, trumps even God's Standard. "But we love each other." And then we ask for God's blessings on our lives. Is it any wonder why we don't see His blessings?

But we should be the opposite. We should strive to live holier lives and rest in the grace for when we fail. Peter, in his letter, calls us a peculiar people, a royal priesthood. We are the children of God according to John's letter. So the question now becomes, how shall we raise the bar? How shall we rise to the challenge? Let me tell you why. Following Jesus isn't as easy as people tend to make it out to be. We tend to gloss over what Jesus expects of us, and perhaps this is to our detriment.

This morning, as we raise the bar, we begin with perhaps the toughest of Jesus' teachings, the Sermon on the Mount. It stars in Matthew 5 with the first section referred to as the Beatitudes. Some teachers say that this is the attitude to be, therefore, beatitudes. But the whole of the sermon, all three chapters deal with our attitude, not just these first 10 verses. As we begin looking at the difficult teachings of Jesus, we will see that the sermon often deals with our attitudes, our motives and our actions. It will challenge how we deal with people we love as well as with those we can't stand. It will deal with how we approach our Heavenly Father and how we see ourselves.

Now remember about creation. God spoke everything into existence except man. Man He formed by hand. Woman as well. We were created for fellowship with Him, and for each other, a husband and his wife. God said that everything He created was good, but of mankind, He said we were very good. This is the assumption that I keep as I read the Scriptures.

So let's begin by looking at ourselves in the light of what happened next. Adam and Eve worked the Garden. They had a simple, single command. Do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If you disobey, you will surely die. And they did. They were then driven from the Garden so that they would not continue to eat from the Tree of Life.

The poor in spirit are blessed for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Those who mourn are blessed for they will be comforted. (5.3,4)

Paul tells us in the Roman letter that we are all sinful people, broken people. When we come to God, we really offer Him nothing. We cannot bribe Him, we cannot plead with Him. And this is how He wants us to come. I have no value before God, and I know how broken a man that I am. It shames me.

But here is the good news: When we are clothed into Christ, we are declared righteous. Back in the Garden, God gave a promise that one day, Satan will think he's gotten the upper hand, but the reality is that as he thinks his poison is killing the Son of Man, the Son of Man will actually be crushing his head, giving the real death blow. And Jesus, according to Paul, did this while we were still enemies with God. And that as long as we confess our shortcomings to Him, He is faithful to forgive us and see us as righteous. Isn't this a comfort?

The gentle are blessed because they will inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed for they will be filled. (5.5,6)

This is therefore our response to the gift God, our Heavenly Father, has given freely to us. Because He's taken my brokenness and has given me a new spirit, shouldn't I want to live for Him? His grace motivates me to want to be better. Now I can't do this on my own. I know that. That is why I love the promise that we have when we are clothed into Christ. When we are baptized, we are baptized not only for the forgiveness of sins, but also to receive the Holy Spirit who is given to guide and strengthen us.

Now living righteously isn't a one-time commitment. It is a decision that we must make not only daily, but several times a day. And when we mess up, for each of us will, then we press onward, forgetting what has passed, but strive forward to the prize before us. This is the comfort of the Holy Spirit, helping us when we are weak, if we but listen while praying, while reading, while around fellow believers.

The merciful are blessed because they will shown mercy. The pure in heart are blessed for they will see God. The peacemakers are blessed for they will be called sons of God. (5.7-9)

This set of verses is how we deal with other people. The first set was how we come to our Father. The next, how we commit ourselves. Once we are motivated to live for Christ, then it spills over into our interaction with others. We will want other broken people to know the hope that we have. By doing so out of love for our neighbor, we are making peace between our neighbor and our Father in Heaven. How beautiful are the feet of him who brings good news.

Now the final part of our passage this morning is the warning. This is where we need to see the costs and decide whether or not we want to pay them.

Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (5.10-12)

Mind you, Jesus is already at the beginning of his ministry promising that following Him will be hard. They world will hate you. But also know that even then, there is a better place waiting. Again, Paul said that as long as he lived here in this world, his aim was to live for Christ. Should he die, he would gain much. He also said that as such, he is torn between the two.

Following Jesus is seldom easy. It isn't easy because it requires us to look inward before looking upward so that we can look outward. Raising the bar will require us to change our hearts and way of thinking in every facet of our lives. But you can rise to the challenge. God has given you three tools. He's given you His Word to read and study. He's given you His Spirit to help guide and direct us. And He's given you me, and to me you, and to one another, each other. Can you, will you rise to the bar of the Faith? In Christ, all things are possible.

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