Dwell in Possibility
Dwell in Possibility
What do we do with the Sermon on the Mount or the Beatitudes? How do we approach and handle the most compelling sermon that Jesus preached? As I was preparing this week, I came across the following from Prof. Eric Barreto where asks the question, “After Jesus has preached in such a compelling way, what do we have left to say?” (Eric Barreto)
The Sermon on the Mount really does have it all. I could get scholarly on you and talk about the connection Matthew is making between Jesus and Moses. Between the Beatitudes and the Ten Commandments. I’m not sure how interesting a sermon it would be, but the connection is there.
It leaves me with the question, what is there to say about the most worldly advice Jesus has for us? About the message he has for us today about the way the kingdom of heaven is organized?
The words we find in the Sermon on the Mount are simple:
- Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
- Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
- Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
These passages are easy to say, they are easy to envision, and they are easy to imagine doing. However, they are extremely difficult to put into practice.
Don’t believe me? Look around, look at the society we live in, look at the world we inhabit. We as a collective have done a very poor job of putting these simple words into practice. Now this isn’t a criticism of the church, or of you or of anyone who works hard to live by these words that we find in Matthew’s gospel. That wouldn’t be fair, in fact it would be cruel, and we know it wouldn’t be true because I know how hard we as a community of faith work. And yet when we look around the world, we see injustice, oppression, violence and inequality and we know that the kingdom Jesus imagined has not yet come to be. That there is still work to do. And it is the word imagined that I want to cling to and use as our muse this morning to guide us forward, because I want us to imagine a world where the kingdom Jesus describes comes into fruition.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes it like this, “He comes in the form of the beggar, of the dissolute human child in ragged clothes, asking for help. He confronts you in every person that you meet. As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neighbour…” This is who Jesus is and so long as we can imagine Christ in our neighbour, then Christ is with us. The kingdom is at work.
Our passage from Micah touches on how we should be in relationship with people and God. The passage clearly sets out a conflict with the voice of the prophet initially speaking. We then hear the voice of God speaking of how God has been present for the people in the past. The people then ask what they can do to earn forgiveness. Is it burnt offerings, a firstborn child?
The response is perhaps the most quoted line from Micah, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).
Imagine that a world where we all see that justice is done. Not justice as we understand it, which is often retributive and punitive, but justice as God understands. Where a sense of fairness prevails. Imagine if you will a world where everyone is kind. The next time you are cut off while driving, pay attention to your reaction. Is it kind? Or are the words which escape your lips ones that are less than kind and perhaps words that you wouldn’t repeat in polite company. Imagine a world where we walk humbly.
The following is a quote from Martin Luther King Jr which I believe sums up the time we are living in, “We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.”
Jesus was a leader; a rabbi, a respected religious teacher. Many scholars believe that Jesus was a Pharisee. Jesus was a leader in love with humanity. Here at this early juncture in his ministry Jesus has been baptized, tested in the wilderness, when he returns, he discovers his cousin has been arrested. Jesus then set out to heal and teach all the people in the countryside. The people follow him, large crowds and so Jesus climbs up a mountain for some respite. Then with the disciples and crowds present he begins to teach.
Jesus is saying to them, if you are going to follow me here is what you need to know and what you need to do. Jesus breaks it down for them and speaks as plainly as he can. The Beatitudes are a challenging and transformative sermon. This passage from Matthew should force us to ask questions about our worldview, it should challenge our assumptions. It should make us wonder if we are imagining the possibilities of the kingdom of heaven in ways that make us uncomfortable or in ways that simply uphold the status quo.
Greg Paul, the founding pastor of Sanctuary Church in Toronto rewrites the Beatitudes. He writes the following in his book Resurrecting Religion, “This is my paraphrase of the beatitudes – what I think those crowds of sick, desperate people thronging around Jesus on the hillside might have understood him to say:
“Blessed are the spiritually bankrupt, for all the riches of the kingdom are available to bail themout.
Blessed are those who se life is a litany of loss and destruction and who are so blasted by grief they cannot stand, for they will find a new and strengthening intimacy among others who grieve and with the Comforter by their side.
Blessed are the shoved out, put down, and ripped off, for they will discover that everything –everything! – belongs to them and nothing can restrain them.
Blessed are those who are starving for justice, dying of thirst for someone to treat them right, for a feast is coming.
Blessed are the guilty ones who, knowing their own guilt, show mercy to others; they’ll receive mercy too.
Blessed are those whose whole being – body, soul, and spirit – is so focused on discovering God for themselves that nothing in this world ever seems good enough; they’ll find what they’ve been looking for at last.
Blessed are the ones who stand in the middle of other people’s disputes and are hated by both sides; it’s a horrible place to be, but it’s where they are claiming their identity as children of God.
Blessed are those who are battered and bruised because they try to treat others well: they are displaying their citizenship in the Kingdom of God here and now.” (Greg Paul, Resurrecting Religion, 2018, p203).
Our job, when we read and hear these words in Matthew’s gospel is not to romanticize them and wish for a different world. Our job is not to dilute the prophetic imagination that brought them forth. Those who Jesus speaks to in this passage are the recipients of grace, but they are also the victims of violence in a world that is bent towards destruction, not resurrection. (Eric Barreto)
We owe it to ourselves to do better. We are called by Christ to do more. We must dwell in the possibility of the kingdom of heaven and make it a reality.
The poet Emily Dickinson writes the following in her poem I Dwell in Possibility:
I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –
Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –
About the poem and the Beatitudes Prof Cameron Howard writes, “We might be so busy looking for a right answer, or an overarching theme, that we do not let the Bible transport us into its radical, ridiculous visions for the future. The prophets, as well as Jesus himself, “dwell in possibility,” and their poems invite us, too, to dwell in that “fairer house.”” (Cameron Howard)
Let’s you and I, this community of faith dwell in that fairer house that we have been called to build and let’s ensure that there is a room available for everyone. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.