Read Matthew 5:21-48
Making Disciples for Jesus Who Are Eager to Serve Others. Thats our mission statement for the West-Ark family. We have decided that it is important enough to emblazon on a banner in our worship center. Do we believe it? Are we really ready to accept it? If we are going to make disciples for Jesus, then must be disciples for Jesus.
Jesus is ringing up the cost of discipleship in his sermon on the mount. His vision for his community of disciples is nothing less than salt of the earth and light of the world. Being a disciple of Jesus means following Christ; not just following the rules. But dont think for a moment that this implies that following Jesus is a sloppy righteousness. He isnt playing fast and loose with the law, rather he is intensifying it. Following Jesus isnt less strict than following the rules. In fact, Jesus disciples must have a righteousness that is much better than the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees and they were the ultimate rule-keepers.But what does this Christ-focused, Pharisee-surpassing rigtheousness look like? How do we go beyond the law in our discipleship? This is what Jesus fleshes out in the part of his sermon that we just heard. The righteousness of his disciples goes beyond anger and insult, it goes beyond contracted relationship, it goes beyond technicalities in truthtelling, it goes beyond rights and revenge. Jesus sums it all up by saying that we are to be perfect.
We are to be perfect just as our Father in heaven is perfect. Perfection, according to Jesus, means living out the spirit of law. It means incorporating the spirit of the law-giver into us. If we are going to be perfect we cannot afford a choice between loving God and loving other people. The cost of discipleship includes both. The kingdom righteousness Jesus preaches asks us to go beyond anger and contempt and demanding our rights ...
Quote Bonhoeffer: Every idle word which we think so little of betrays our lack of respect for our neighbor, and shows that we place ourselves on a pinnacle above him and value our own lives higher than his. The angry word is a blow struck at our brother, a stab at his heart: it seeks to hit, to hurt, and to destroy. A deliberate insult is even worse, for we are then openly disgracing our brother in the eyes of the world, and causing others to despise him. With our hearts burning with hatred we seek to annihilate his moral and material existence. We are passing judgment on him, and that is murder. And the murderer will himself be judged.
Our culture divides people into innocent persecuted and relentless persecuters. We are either the wronged or we are doing wrong. But the cycle of anger, hatred, and revenge is cyclical. It feeds on itself and those who were once done wrong are often corrupted themselves with anger and hatred ... [personal story about hate toward "PR"]
Whether we are victim or victimizers, no one is exempt from the cost of discipleship. Part of that cost is to give up the bitterness, the fear, the contempt, that causes us to act or feel hatefully and badly toward another. It rings up as part of what we pay for the blessedness of following Jesus. We shall not give in to anger, contempt, bitterness, or insult. We shall not demand our rights or revenge ourselves. We will love others. Not just those we like, but those who hate us. Anyone can love people they like, but to love an enemy is a kingdom characteristic.
All of this doesnt mean we are passive. Quite the opposite the disciple of Jesus actively persues peace and reconciliation. Thats what it means to be a disciple thats what it means to be perfect. Jesus instructs us on how to actively pursue righteousness and peace ...
I remember driving to Houston one day with one of the elders of my congregation in Texas. He was included in a class action group suing an asbestos company and the law firm in Houston wanted his deposition. He really didnt want any part of it, but he was made to feel obligated to go. I drove him to Houston and waited for an hour while he gave his deposition. When we left the office the law clerks gave him a ball cap with the law firms name on it. And he talked them into giving me one too. On the way out he smiled at me and said laughingly, Those two hats and a check for $23 is probably the most Ill ever get from this! My old friend had taught me a valuable lesson. He wasnt concerned about his rights. He didnt let it bother him. And in his grin and the matching ball caps we wore I saw the entire culture of everyone demanding their rights come crumbling down. Sort of the same way I am sure it did everytime someone cheerfully carried anothers persons load another mile not because they had to, but because they chose to.
Everytime we offer to let a violent person hit us again because we are not afraid, the whole system of self-righteous protection of our own interests comes crumbling down. My dear friend Carolyn was only nine when the Civil Rights movement the 1960s was at its peak. She and her parents were walking into a store in their Georgia town and a prim and proper white-skinned woman put her cigarette out on Carolyns cheek. The woman expressed her rage uppity blacks demanding their rights. How did you or your family, how did any decent human present not want to arrest that woman, I asked Carolyn. She said, I remembered how our preacher told us to turn the other cheek. And a system of violence came crumbling down not because Carolyn fought back, but because it was exposed for all its ugliness.
Disciples of Jesus have got to be different, not just for our sake but for the sake of the world. If--and this may be a big if--we can do this, we just might be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. And if we can be this kind of alternative society, then perhaps the other society can be blessed and reconciled back to its creative design.
The good news is that we are still on the way to court. Theres still time to reconcile. Theres still time to go another mile. We can turn the other cheek. We can give away freely what has been given to us. Get right with your brother or sister! Get right with God!
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. God is calling his children to the dinner table.
Link to next sermon
Link to other sermons of Chris Benjamin