The sermon on the mount still fascinates me. Generations of dialogue between theologians concerning how to interpret sermon equally fascinates me. There are three things I would like to share. At the end I will attempt to make a connection with what I believe are the politics of Jesus and the politics of the USA. I will get after it by working out the Sermon on the Mount in three categories in this order: the end, the beginning, and the middle.
1. The End (Matthew 7:24-29). Jesus ends the sermon with what will become a Sunday School song. His conclusion leads me to believe that Jesus’ sermon isn’t merely about “understanding,” e.g. Martin Luther, but doing (the one who “hears and acts on these teachings of mine“). I’ll close the post with some observations on Jesus’ conclusion in a bit, but for now I think it is important to see his sermon as a call to action, outlining both the politics and ethics of God’s kingdom.¹ Jesus’ sermon is a summons, calling us to adopt the politics and ethics of God’s Kingdom. It is a practical guide toward living under the Lordship of King Jesus.
2. The Beginning (Matthew 6:3-8). Before Jesus gives any commands it is important to see that he starts out with a pronouncement of blessings. The politics of Jesus offers a blessing before issuing a summons for action. Jesus postures his hearers with a specific understanding of how they should view themselves in society (in this case under the rule of a foreign empire). It is an invitation to a different way of being in society, to see as Jesus sees and believe that the kingdom of God is a place where:
- those who are poor in spirit, the ones who have had the life sucked out of them, are viewed as hopeless causes, are actually blessed because they have inherited God’s Kingdom, because Jesus is Lord.
- those who mourn and weep, the ones viewed by the world as inconvenient needy burdens, are actually blessed and find comfort, because Jesus is Lord.
- those who are gentle and meek, the ones the world would call unworthy and weak, are actually blessed and made strong, because Jesus is Lord.
- those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the ones who long for the wrongs and injustices of this world to be set right, are actually blessed and find their hearts filled with peace, because Jesus is Lord.
- the merciful, the ones viewed as foolish because they do not give people what they deserve, are actually blessed because they receive mercy from God the Highest Judge, because Jesus is Lord.
- those who are pure in heart, the ones viewed as naive idealists in the matters of life, are actually blessed because they see God, because Jesus is Lord.
- those who are peacemakers, the ones the world labels as push-overs, are actually blessed, because they are called sons and daughters of God.
- those are persecuted for doing what is just and right, the ones the world mocks and places on death row, are actually blessed because the Kingdom of heaven is theirs, because Jesus is Lord.
3. The Middle: Love your enemies and bless them. Give to those who ask without expectation of return. If someone wants to sue you for your shirt, give them your coat too. Don’t worry about tomorrow because the birds and flowers are doing alright. Love generously and graciously just like your heavenly Father. Wow. Who can do this in a world racked by fear and drowning under the dominant narratives of consumerism, anxiety, fear, violence, and self preservation? Who can adopt these politics and embrace these ethics?
I think the answer is found at the beginning in Jesus’ words, blessed are you. Our blessedness is secure. God’s sovereign love can satisfy and his life-shaping presence can give us peace. We are blessed as we rest securely in his presence. We can participate in his life and love, therefore we can faithfully participate in his work in the world, adopt his politics and ethics, and make his kingdom tangible by the power of his Spirit.
- We can love and bless our enemies because our lives ultimately rest securely in the eternal nature of God’s love and the eternal reality of his reign. We do not have to fear the one who cannot kill the soul. Those who believe in Jesus as risen Lord will never truly die.
- We can give to those who ask because all we have is a gift from God and he will reward us in due time.
- We can voluntarily give away our coat when someone wants to sue us for the shirt off our back because we can trust that God will still provide.
- We can love generously and graciously because God’s Spirit lives within us .
- We can be peacemakers because we are lovers and have nothing to fear.
The people blessed by God trust in His reign and have nothing to prove, nothing to fear and nothing to lose. This leads me to the middle, the core of Jesus’ politics and ethics.
A Life that Works
Before you scoff at this thinking that is some sort of romanticized idealism or pollyanna way of living, I must tell you something. I’ve not experienced this to be true when I’ve trusted Jesus as Lord while I faced the choice to embrace his politics and ethics, or not. I’ve witnessed many others more faithfully do the same. These men and women embody the life of Jesus in how they live and love and stand as witnesses to the blessed life, even when the storms of life rage all around them. On that note, back to the end of the sermon.
“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great!” Matthew 7:24-27
Do you notice what both men have in common? They hear his words, they build a house, and they experience a storm and the pounding winds and torrential rains of suffering. The one whose house is built upon the sand—the hearer of the sermon who chooses not to adopt the politics and ethics of God’s kingdom—his house is washed away by the storm of suffering. But the one whose house is built upon the rock—the hearer of the sermon who chooses to trust Jesus and adopted his politics and ethics—their house withstands the storm of suffering.
You and I have been given the freedom by God to choose which political system we will adopt. The politics of our country matters, but they do not matter as much as our country would like us to believe. Either way, you and I are free to choose whether we will pledge allegiance to the Lamb of God that was slain for the sins of the world, or pledge our allegiance toward a donkey or elephant (or porcupine if you’re the libertarian party-type). By “pledge of allegiance” I mean what the phrase means: offering our whole-hearted devotion and unconditional commitment. The choice is ours. Just remember, placing trust in the Lordship of Jesus sometimes makes a fool out of what “makes sense.”
I pray that the revelation of God’s love for us in the beautiful life, scandalous death, and glorious resurrection of the Lord Jesus will be enough to compel us to re-order our lives in light of his politics and ethics. I pray that his love will compel us to pledge all our allegiance, our whole-hearted devotion and unconditional commitment, to the Lamb of God so we will have no allegiance left to pledge to the elephant or donkey.
We cannot place our hope in two kingdoms and cannot pledge our allegiance to two kings. When you feel that you are faltering or overwhelmed by the worry or anxiety of this election season, or when you feel you are placing too much trust in the kingdoms of the world, remember the first few words of Jesus: as a child of God and a member of his beloved family you need not fear because you are blessed. You can trust his Lordship. You can embrace his politics and live by his ethics because you are a citizen of a Kingdom that is not frail, will never falter, and never fail. All other kingdoms will one day become a footnote in the pages of history, but God’s kingdom will stand forever. Pledge to him your allegiance and live the blessed life, my friend.