Matthew Dyer - March 1, 2020

Manifesto of the Kingdom of Heaven

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives five main discourses of teaching. The first and most famous of these, found in chapters 5 -7, has become known as “The Sermon on the Mount.” It has also been called “The Manifesto of the Kingdom of Heaven” because here Jesus lays out much of his core teaching about personal and community ethics, morality and spirituality. He used a powerful metaphor in his time to describe what life lived in harmony with God could look like—the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus dreams of and invites us into a future where the divine way (the way of heaven) is possible on earth. This “sermon” is given early on in the writer of Matthew’s account, and not long after Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. We are currently marking the forty days of Lent, and this week we root Jesus’ teaching in the Lenten season of personal transformation. We explore the meaning and significance of Lent, and through this lens, consider how the Kingdom of Heaven is both upside down and inside out. It is upside down because people normally viewed as at the bottom of the pile are raised to the top; and also because it turns out that divine power is not domineering but expressed as empowering, life-giving love. It’s inside out because the way we behave is determined by the health of our inner motivations (which is where Jesus points); and also because how we live and behave really matters. So we begin with the end in mind by considering what kind of life Jesus is calling us to, and practicing stillness to be able to look at ourselves more honestly in God’s presence.

From Series: "Inside Out and Upside Down"

Before Jesus ever chose a disciple or began to teach, he was baptized in the River Jordan. As he came up out of the water, a voice from heaven declared, “This is my Son, whom I love.” Immediately following this, Jesus went into the desert region alone and stayed there for 40 days. Freed from the noise of society, the demands of other people, and the distractions of food and drink, work and entertainment, Jesus reflected on his identity, his relationship with God, and the life he would lead and call others to. Following this time alone, Jesus began to teach—and this teaching is summarized in Matthew 5-7, which we now call the “Sermon on the Mount.” Each year, we commemorate and seek to follow Jesus’ example of self-reflection for the 40-day period of Lent. In a culture addicted to noise and action, stillness can seem unnecessary and even uncomfortable. But we know that it is in quiet and rest that we hear the “still, small voice” of God in our inner selves. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus urges the stillness of complete trust, saying, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” By laying aside our past regrets and future anxieties, and living in the present moment, we become more aware of our connection to the source of all life. As our sense of connectedness grows, we understand that the Kingdom of Heaven is “at hand;” the “divine life” we might imagine only to exist in a place called heaven, is actually possible here and now in our everyday lives. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus dares to dream of heaven on earth, where love, justice, mercy and forgiveness prevail over hatred, fear and violence. This way of living requires us to think differently, to open our hearts and minds to new possibilities, and to take on a higher consciousness. Jesus offers a pathway into this life by simply becoming his apprentices and following him. As we learn and grow, we experience more of this heavenly life and are able to let it flow out of us to transform the world around us. As the writer Pico Iyer expressed it, “The point of gathering stillness is not to enrich the sanctuary or the mountaintop, but to bring that calm into the motion, the commotion of the world.” This Lent, we will set out on a Lenten journey to practice stillness and quietness as a means to engage deeply with Jesus’ teaching, open our hearts honestly to its compassionate challenge, and seek the enlightenment and empowerment of God’s love in our everyday lives. We will explore the teaching through themed worship services and messages, and will dig deeper in a variety of “challenge groups” that will run for three consecutive weeks.

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