May 22, 2011
The Sermon On the Mount
The Beatitudes – Considering Our Attachments
Years ago, after a worship service, I was greeting people as they came out of the sanctuary. As one of the ladies shook my hand she said, I really enjoyed your message this morning. I appreciated her comment, but I didn’t preach that morning; it was an all-music service. Maybe that’s why she liked it so much – she didn’t have to listen to me!
I will be the first to admit that some sermons are forgettable, and I have preached my share of forgettable sermons over the years. But there are some sermons that really lodge in our hearts and minds, and the Sermon On the Mount is one of those. In fact, the Sermon On the Mount is so ingrained into the hearts and minds of people that many of its phrases have been adopted into our language, used by people whether they are believers or unbelievers and whether or not they have read the Sermon. Phrases such as salt of the earth (5:13), a city on a hill (5:14), let your light shine (5:15), turn the other cheek (5:39), and do not judge (7:1) are but a few of the phrases that are a part of our language. By my count, there are 32 phrases in the Sermon On the Mount that have entered into the common language of society. That’s amazing, isn’t it?
The Sermon On the Mount, I believe, is the greatest sermon in history, because of its content and because of the preacher. My preaching professor told our class that true preaching is the combination of a person’s words and the content of their heart and life. The Sermon On the Mount is powerful because it is not just words; it is a reflection of the heart and the life of Jesus. These are not just the words of Jesus; they are the definition of his character, his heart, and his soul. It was a message that he not only spoke, but lived, and the challenge of the Sermon On the Mount is that Jesus asks us to live it as well.
Last week we began a series of messages based on the Sermon On the Mount. We studied the Beatitudes as a prescription for happiness, and for the next few weeks we will look at the Beatitudes in greater detail as we group them together in several categories. I have put the Beatitudes in three categories – Relationships, which encompasses the beatitudes on mercy, peacemakers, and the persecuted; Attitudes – represented by the beatitudes on mourning, meekness, and hunger and thirst for righteousness; and today, Attachments – spoken to us by the beatitudes on the poor in spirit and the pure in heart.
Matthew begins his record of the Sermon On the Mount with the note that Jesus began to teach them (verse 2). This was a continual teaching, not just a one-time sermon. The Sermon On the Mount is the essence of the teaching of Jesus; this is what he continually taught his disciples, indicating these are qualities that we are called to continually practice.
One of the things Jesus speaks to is our attachments in life. What do we attach ourselves to, and what attaches to us? He does this first in the first beatitude –
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Tom Shadyac may not be a name you recognize, but you may be familiar with his work. He directed/wrote/produced some of the highest grossing comedy movies in recent years – Bruce Almighty; Evan Almighty; Patch Adams, Liar, Liar; The Nutty Professor and one of the great cinematic masterpieces of our time – Ace Ventura, Pet Detective (I’m still in shock that movie was overlooked by the Oscars). By many standards, he seemed to have it all – a successful career in Hollywood, a 17,000-square-foot mansion, and the kinds of things that millions of people dream of having.
After a very serious injury from a bike accident he began to review his life. I was standing in the house that my culture had taught me was a measure of the good life, he says. I was struck with one very clear, very strange feeling: I was no happier.
He continues – Facing my own death brought an instant sense of clarity and purpose. If I was, indeed, going to die, I asked myself: What did I want to say before I went? It became very simple and very clear. I wanted to tell people what I had come to know. And what I had come to know was that the world I was living in was a lie. So he did something that shocked many people; he sold his house and gave away his millions.
He is right about this – the world we live in is very often a lie. It is a lie because we are presented with counterfeit truths that can be difficult to recognize, and one of those counterfeit truths is this – that having a lot of things and a lot of money is the goal of life. And in our culture, we pursue things and we pursue money with a passion. And we get attached both to things and money and to the pursuit of things and money and they can take over our lives.
And here is one of the dangers of things and money – we have enough to live and take care of our needs but never enough to give us a sense of security. Even when a person has a lot of money and a lot of things there is always the fear of losing that money and losing those things, so security, if it ever exists, is always very fleeting.
Years ago, when I was expressing my desire to have more money, my father-in-law told me that no amount of money will ever make you secure. He said, interestingly, the more you have, the more you worry because of how much you have to lose. He was certainly correct that no amount of money can make us secure, as we have witnessed in recent years just how quickly money can be lost.
It’s important that we note Jesus is not praising poverty in this verse or calling people to poverty. Poverty is not a good condition in life. Poverty grinds one down physically, emotionally, and spiritually. One of the goals of faith is to work to remove poverty.
But those who are poor, Jesus is saying, often learn a lesson that is never learned by others and it is this – when you have little or nothing you learn that real security rests only in one source, and that is God and it is to God that we should attach ourselves, and not money or things. The poor know this because they have no power, no prestige, are often oppressed by others but, because they have no earthly resources, they learn to place their trust in God. (Barclay, p. 91).
Once a person becomes dependent upon God, hopefully, they become less attached to things. I like things. I like stuff. I have a garage full of stuff and a storage building full of stuff and at times I feel as though stuff has overtaken my life. And it has. I am too attached to my stuff.
When Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom in heaven, he is raising the question of attachment – in what do we place our trust? In the Sermon On the Mount rich and poor are not so much descriptions of one’s wealth, but one’s attitude toward God and dependence upon him. The rich were less likely to feel reliant upon God or anyone else, while the poor realized their precarious position and knew they could depend only upon God.
The second beatitude that speaks to the idea of attachment is –
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
When I was growing up I would often drink out of a creek as I hiked around the woods on our farm. Our water supply at the house came from a spring just over the hill from the house. We built a springhouse and a pipe came out of the springhouse and filled a big old bathtub where the animals could come and drink. We kept an old tin cup hanging by the pipe so you could fill it with cold water right out of the spring on a hot day. How many of you did something similar when you were growing up? How many of you would today?
There is no way I would drink water out of a stream now or water that came out of the hillside unless it is first been purified through a half dozen filters and other apparatus’ that guaranteed it wouldn’t make me sick. Pure water is about gone in our environment, unfortunately.
The Greek word for pure is katharos. Do you recognize that word? It is the root for our word catharsis, which means to cleanse or purge ourselves of something. This beatitude warns us to be careful of the attachments in life that prevent us from being able to see God and the work of God in our lives and our world.
As we move through life we are like a stream – we pick up a lot of things and those things move along with us, and in the process they clutter up our hearts and minds and make it more difficult to be able to see what God is doing in our lives. Jesus is saying that having a pure heart gives us an uncluttered vision, and an uncluttered vision allows us to see God.
Over the years I have known many people who have experienced a cathartic event – and that event is often one of great difficulty – that clears their field of vision to be able to see what God is doing in their lives. For Tom Shayac it was an accident that almost took his life, but in almost losing his life, his life was given to him.
My father has been gone for over twenty years. I remember vividly going home to help go through his stuff, as we tried to decide what to do with it all. My dad had a lot of tools. I stood in the garage, picking through some of the tools to take home with me. I’m not much of a tool person, because I am not very handy, but I took a lot of them with me. I even took a torque wrench, and I have no idea what a torque wrench does. I use it as a hammer. As I picked through the tools I wondered, is this what life come to? We spend a lifetime collecting some things and then someone else has to worry about what to do with them. Is this what we leave behind? It was not, thankfully, in my dad’s case.
Jesus is presenting matters of great importance in the Sermon On the Mount. He is reminding us that where we place our trust is of immense importance, and reminding us that a clarity of vision, uncluttered by the distortions of this world, will help us to place our trust in him.