We reached the end of our series on the Sermon on the Mount last night. It is astonishing and unprecedented, and deeply challenging even for those of us who are very familiar with it. Here are 10 of the things we learned.
1. We realise that the standards that God sets are not ‘good enough’ or ‘not bad considering’, but perfection. God’s standards are not just about our outward behaviour but also our hearts. And so our starting point is we all have sinned and fallen short and if we are to be justified it will not be by our achievements or our moralising, but through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus on the Cross.
2. We strive to be better people, not in order to impress God or anyone else, but because we believe this is a better way to live. And we will not beat ourselves up when we fail, because God has seen us at our worst and still loves us. Instead we will inspire one another by pointing one another to live in the light of heaven.
3. We take Spiritual Disciplines like prayer, church-going, community, simplicity and fasting seriously. But they are not for self aggrandisement or earning respect. They are to help us walk humbly with God, and to walk alongside others. Spiritual disciplines are a way of subverting the demands and rewards of this world, of disconnecting from the noise and remembering who we are. It is about making a stand and saying though I am in this world I am not of it.
4. We speak the truth. Most lies are told in order to make ourselves look better, to protect ourselves or to get something we want. Truthfulness means first and foremost being honest about ourselves, and letting go of worrying what people think about us. And that truthfulness allows others to know us as we really are, it opens the door to real friendships and real community.
5. We seek fairness in the world, for the sake of others, not ourselves. We will weep over suffering and injustice, but mindful of how much we have been forgiven, we are willing to sacrifice any desires for vengeance. Instead we love our enemies and pray for them, that God will hold together Justice and Mercy.
6. We are learning to pray in the way Jesus taught. Quietly and diligently, turning our focus away from ourselves and towards God. Praying in the Kingdom, even when we don’t understand how it will come, but believing that God acts in response to the prayers of his people.
7. We will give generously of ourselves and of what we have. We are willing to be sacrificial and say no to our comfort. Our goal is neither not heaven when we die, but seeing God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven. Our reward is seeing the Character of Christ formed in us.
8. We do not judge others because we are well aware of our own failings, and in God’s eyes pride and self-righteousness are just as serious as anything else. But we will with all gentleness and humility help to challenge one another. Because sin matters – it hurts us and others, it fractures relationships and it blinds us to the world and the truth.
9. And, like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field we will live one day at a time, receiving each day as a gift, and trusting the future to God.
10. So we end at the beginning – with the beatitudes. Blessed are you if you long for a better world. If you hunger for peace, and you are restless until you find your rest in God. Blessed are you when you found that this world has little for you. When you weep over the suffering and injustice of this world. Blessed are you when pain and grief are more your experience than happiness. When you feel like you don’t belong here. Blessed are you when you long for mercy is more important than vengeance. When you are you willing to sacrifice and suffer for goodness and justice. For the kingdom you long for is coming.