This is the fourth year that daily engagement with the Sermon on the Mount has been part of my Lenten discipline.
Each morning I read and reflect on about half of one of the three chapters, which means that it takes six mornings for me to complete the Sermon. Once I complete the chapters, I repeat the sequence. Only this time I read the passages in a different translation or paraphrase.
I ask myself these two questions each morning: Where do I see this being lived by me and/or others? In what situations have I failed to live this way? Throughout the day, I look for examples of faithfulness to and betrayals of Jesus’s vision.
Intentionally holding up my life against Jesus’s life and teaching sensitizes, inspires, and challenges me toward what John Wesley called “holiness of heart and life” and “the entire love of God shed abroad in our hearts.”
I am reminded of the quote from General Omar Bradley from the mid twentieth century:
“Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.”
The contrast today is even more stark! Values, behaviors, and practices opposite those clearly expressed in Jesus’s Sermon and his life have become normalized. The contrast is nowhere more publicly obvious that in today’s political discourse and behaviors by prominent people.
If the Sermon on the Mount contains the vision of life as Jesus lived and invites us to live, it is essential that Jesus’s disciples make the Sermon the basis of our decisions and actions.
The Sermon on the Mount, however, is more than a statement of ethical expectations. It is a revelation of the very nature and action of God. It reveals how God acts in the world.
Therefore, the Sermon is an invitation to live as God lives in the world. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas states it clearly:
The basis for the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount is not what works but rather the way God is. Cheek-turning is not advocated as what works (it usually does not), but advocated because this is the way God is – God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. This is not a stratagem for getting what we want but the only manner of life available, now that, in Jesus, we have seen what God wants. We seek reconciliation with the neighbor, not because we feel so much better afterward, but because reconciliation is what God is doing in the world through Christ.
Perhaps the Sermon on the Mount won’t “work” in a world like this. That’s the point! If we live the Sermon on the Mount, the world won’t be like this!