Ignoring the Sermon on the Mount

In keeping with my time-honored practice of reading 4-5 books at the same time, I’m slowly plodding through Resident Aliens. It’s a fantastic book about the calling of the church and the church’s place in culture. Willimon and Hauerwas’ ideas are so fresh and provocative that they must be right.

The latest chapter deals with the sermon on the mount. The authors point out that the sermon begins with a proclamation, not a series of pithy commands to be obeyed. Jesus isn’t saying we should be poor in spirit necessarily. He’s saying there’s a new kingdom, order, norm for this world. Only by submitting to the Lordship of Jesus will any of this make sense.

The Sermon is the inauguration manifesto of how the world looks now that God in Christ has taken matters in hand. And essential to the way God has taken matters in hand is an invitation to all people to become citizens of a new Kingdom, a messianic community where the world God is creating takes visible, practical form (87).

Let’s step back for a minute now.

The reality of God’s Kingdom is hard to accept sometimes. It’s hard to believe that the poor, weak, and needy are blessed. It’s hard to believe that the sorrowful and humble are blessed. What is God going to do with those who work hard and invest wisely?

Jesus has turned this world upside down and now we have completely lost our bearings. It’s uncomfortable and disruptive. Let’s face it, sometimes life would be easier if the Sermon on the Mount just went away.

Over the past few weeks I have wrestled with situations involving weak, selfish, needy people. I find it all too easy to be dismissive, feel superior, and write them off because they can’t find their own way, as everyone in America should.

In a culture thriving on the myth of self-reliance, I don’t want to reach out and bless those whom God already declares as the blessed. I want them to figure things out for themselves and get their act together. Is that so much to ask?

How unamerican to be dependent and constantly demanding help from others. How unamerican to just take it quietly, to let yourself be exploited and used. How unamerican to put your own priorities on the back burner.

Following Jesus should not be easy and comfortable, but that doesn’t mean my expectations have lined up with his command to take up my cross and follow him. The extent to which I am able to lay myself aside is the extent to which I have entered his new Kingdom.