It’s Super Bowl Sunday! Some of you couldn’t care less about that statement. While others of us have a mild interest in the game that will be taking place this evening. And many in this country are passionate about this annual event of gaming, theatrics, and money, money, money. For better or worse it is part of the mainstream culture at this point and time of American life.
It has been for many years. I remember as a kid that our family would gather to watch the Super Bowl with our church small group. It was one of my favorite small group gatherings of each year. There were fun snacks, the television was on, we were allowed to stay up later than usual, and when we kids got tired of watching the game [and we weren’t quite yet savvy enough to enjoy the uniqueness that is Super Bowl commercials], us kids would sneak away to another room at the hosting families house to play with their collection of toys. We had a family that had a room full of Legos. We had a family who had a large collection of dolls, books, and tea party paraphernalia. And we had a family whose child was slightly older than me and he had a huge collection of action figures. Specifically, he had Star Wars action figures.
I had not yet seen Star Wars in my early childhood, but I was well versed in the concept of Star Wars being a really cool thing. Not to mention that action figures were not something we had many of at our house so the opportunity to play with them was amazing. I distinctly remember at one small group gathering we were in the basement of said family’s house playing with the Star Wars toys and I was handed Luke and Leia to play with. I tried to keep up with the running commentary and storyline being created by the kids around me, who clearly had seen Star Wars. And yet, I kept getting confused because they kept calling my characters rebels.
This deeply upset me. While I didn’t know much about the Star Wars story arc, I did know that Luke and Leia were good guys, heroes even. So why were these kids calling them rebels?! As a young person raised to be respectful of my parents and other adults who had authority over me it seemed pretty clear to me that whoever held the power of authority was the team to be on. I was certain that it was team Empire that my heros were part of. After all, in my understanding, rebels were those who caused trouble and I knew that those storm troopers that the other kids were playing with were troublemakers.
Imagine my surprise when I asked for clarification on this concern from the kids around me. What do you mean by calling Luke and Leia rebels? What do you mean they are trying to overthrow the empire? They aren’t a part of it? Power and authority isn’t always held by the good? Rebellion can be a path to goodness and justice?
I give myself grace for not understanding some of those concepts as a kid because there are many moments of my life now in which I am still trying to wrap my head around the convoluted structures of power and authority masquerading as justice and goodness in our culture. I also give myself grace because I was still a fledgling Jesus follower, not fully versed in his teachings about the kindom of God’s love, which over and over again show us that God’s kindom – God’s justice – is not to be found in the imperial structures of human cultures and politics. To live out God’s love is to rebel against that which causes and upholds oppression, while living out and encouraging wholeness of life for all things.
As Anabaptists we are rooted in a tradition of radical rebellion. And that tradition goes back beyond the martyrs of the reformation, it goes back to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – the foundation for much of what we claim to believe is how we are called to practice our living faith in the world. [If we’re honest the tradition of rebellion goes back, back, back to the beginning of creation when order rebelled against chaos – but that’s a sermon for a different day!] Today, instead of me offering a full sermon of my own making, we will instead practice a supremely anabaptist tradition of listening and responding to scripture together in community. We will do this by hearing Jesus’ own sermon on the rebellious ways of God’s love in the world: The Sermon on the Mount.
As we engage this text together, I invite you to open your mind, spirit, and ears to the words offered for your consideration. Now, because the sermon on the mount is quite long and covers many things, in your bulletin you will find two spaces to jot down notes as you listen:
Connections to what I am hearing; and disconnections in what I am hearing…
Use this space as you will to aid in your experience and reflection of these texts. I will also note that I am not including all of the sermon on the mount. We might call this an abridged version…although it could be argued that all of scripture is an abridged version of what was actually said or occurred and so this might be the super concise version. Whatever this version is, at the end of the reading, you will be invited into a space of shared reflection either on your own or with those around you as you so choose in order for us to speak back to the text and to learn from each other as we all together continue to learn what it is to be followers of Jesus living out God’s love in this world.
The Super-Concise-Abridged Sermon on the Mount offered to the world by Jesus, as recorded in the book of Matthew chapters 5-7 [The First Egalitarian Translation]:
3 “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit:
the kindom of heaven is theirs.
4 Blessed are those who are mourning:
they will be consoled.
5 Blessed are those who are gentle:
they will inherit the land.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice:
they will have their fill.
Blessed are those who show mercy to others:
they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are those whose hearts are clean:
they will see God.
9 Blessed are those who work for peace:
they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted
because of their struggle for justice:
the kindom of heaven is theirs.
[You see] 13 “You are the salt of the earth. But what if salt were to lose its flavor? How could you restore it? It would be fit for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. You don’t build a city on a hill, then try to hide it, do you? 15 You don’t light a lamp, then put it under a bushel basket, do you? No, you set it on a stand where it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, your light must shine before others so that they may see your good acts and give praise to your Abba God in heaven.
17 “Don’t think I’ve come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them. 18 The truth is, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter of the Law, not even the smallest part of a letter, will be done away with until it is all fulfilled. 19 That’s why whoever breaks the least significant of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the least in the kindom of heaven. Whoever fulfills and teaches these commands will be called great in the kindom of heaven.
[Let me remind you of a few of those commands:]
21 “You’ve heard that our ancestors were told, ‘No killing’ and, ‘Every murderer will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that everyone who is angry with sister or brother is subject to judgment; anyone who says to sister or brother, ‘I spit in your face!’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin; and anyone who vilifies them with name-calling will be subject to the fires of Gehenna.
“If you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your sister or brother has a grudge against you, 24 leave your gift there at the altar. Go to be reconciled to them, and then come and offer your gift.
[Likewise] 25 “Lose no time in settling with your opponents—do so while still on the way to the courthouse with them. Otherwise your opponents may hand you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the bailiff, who will throw you into prison. 26 I warn you, you won’t get out until you have paid the last penny.
33 “Again, you have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘Don’t break your vow; fulfill all oaths made to our God.’ 34 But I tell you not to swear oaths at all. Don’t swear by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 don’t swear by the earth, for it is God’s footstool. Don’t swear by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great Ruler. 36 And don’t swear by your own head, for you can’t make a single hair white or black. 37 Say ‘Yes’ when you mean ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ when you mean ‘No.’ Anything beyond that is from the Evil One.
38 “You’ve heard the commandment, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, offer no resistance whatsoever when you’re confronted with violence. When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer the other. 40 If anyone wants to sue you for your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go two miles. 42 Give to those who beg from you. And don’t turn your back on those who want to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor—but hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for your persecutors. 45 This will prove that you are children of God. For God makes the sun rise on bad and good alike; God’s rain falls on the just and the unjust. 46 If you love those who love you, what merit is there in that? 47 And if you greet only your beloved siblings, what is so praiseworthy about that? 48 Instead be perfect, as Abba God in heaven is perfect.
6 :1 “Beware of practicing your piety before others to attract their attention; if you do this, you will have no reward from your Abba God in heaven. 2 “When you do acts of charity, for example, don’t have it trumpeted before you; that is what hypocrites do in the synagogues and the streets, that they may be praised by others. The truth is, they’ve already received their reward in full. 3 But when you do acts of charity, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing; 4 your good deeds must be done in secret, [without ego] and your Abba God—who sees all that is done in secret—will repay you.
5 “And when you pray, don’t behave like the hypocrites; they love to pray standing up in the synagogues and on street corners for people to see them. The truth is, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to God who is in that secret place, and your Abba God—who sees all that is done in secret—will reward you.
7 “And when you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles. They think God will hear them if they use a lot of words. 8 Don’t imitate them. Your God knows what you need before you ask it. 9 This is how you are to pray:
‘Abba God in heaven,
hallowed be your name!
May your reign come;
may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven:
11 give us today the bread of Tomorrow.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we hereby forgive those
who are indebted to us.
13 Don’t put us to the test, but free us from evil.’
[You see,] 14 “If you forgive the faults of others, Abba God will forgive you yours. 15 If you don’t forgive others, neither will Abba God forgive you.
16 “And when you fast, don’t look depressed like the hypocrites. They deliberately neglect their appearance to let everyone know that they are fasting. The truth is, they have already received their reward. 17 But when you fast, brush your hair and wash your face. 18 Don’t let anyone know you’re fasting except your Abba God, who sees all that is done in secret. And Abba God—who sees everything that is done in secret—will reward you.
19 “Don’t store up earthly treasures for yourselves, which moths and rust destroy and thieves can break in and steal. 20 But store up treasures for yourselves in heaven, where neither moth nor rust can destroy them and thieves cannot break in and steal them. 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be as well.
24 “No one can serve two superiors. You will either hate one and love the other, or be attentive to one and despise the other. You cannot give yourself to God and Money.
25 That’s why I tell you not to worry about your livelihood, what you are to eat or drink or use for clothing. Isn’t life more than just food? Isn’t the body more than just clothes? 26 “Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet our God in heaven feeds them. Aren’t you more important than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add a moment to your lifespan? 28 And why be anxious about clothing? Learn a lesson from the way the wildflowers grow. They don’t work; they don’t spin. 29 Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in full splendor was arrayed like one of these. 30 If God can clothe in such splendor the grasses of the field, which bloom today and are thrown on the fire tomorrow, won’t God do so much more for you—you who have so little faith?
“Stop worrying, then, over questions such as, ‘What are we to eat,’ or ‘what are we to drink,’ or ‘what are we to wear?’ 32 Those without faith are always running after these things. God knows everything you need. 33 Seek first God’s reign, and God’s justice, and all these things will be given to you besides. 34 Enough of worrying about tomorrow! Let tomorrow take care of itself. Today has troubles enough of its own.
7 :1 “Don’t judge, or you yourself will be judged. 2 Your judgment on others will be the judgment you receive. The measure you use will be used to measure you. 3 Why do you look at the splinter in your neighbor’s eye and never see the board in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me remove the splinter in your eye,’ when the whole time there’s a two-by-four in your own? 5 …Remove the board from your own eye first; then you’ll be able to see clearly to remove the splinter from your neighbor’s eye.
6 “Don’t give dogs what is sacred; don’t throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they’ll just trample them underfoot—then turn and tear you to pieces.
7 “Ask and keep asking, and you will receive. Seek and keep seeking, and you will find. Knock and keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For the one who keeps asking, receives. The one who keeps seeking, finds. And the one who keeps knocking, enters.
9 “Is there any among you who would hand your child a stone when they asked for bread? 10 Would one of you hand your child a snake when they asked for a fish? 11 If you, with all your faults, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will your AbbaGod in heaven give good things to those who ask!
12 “Therefore treat others as you would have them treat you. This is the whole meaning of the Law and the prophets.
13 “Enter by the narrow gate. The wide gate puts you on the spacious road to damnation, and many take it. 14 But it’s a small gate, a narrow road that leads to Life, and only a few find it.
[So] 15 “Be on your guard against false prophets who come to you disguised as sheep, but underneath are ravenous wolves. 16 You will be able to tell them by their fruit. Can people pick grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, a sound tree produces good fruit and a rotten tree produces bad fruit. 18 A sound tree cannot produce rotten fruit, and a rotten tree cannot produce good fruit. 19 Any tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire. 20 I repeat, you’ll be able to tell them by their fruit.
24 “Anyone who hears my words and puts them into practice is like the sage who built a house on rock. 25 When the rainy season set in, the torrents came and the winds blew and buffeted the house. It didn’t collapse because it had been set solidly on rock. 26 Anyone who hears my words but does not put them into practice is like the fool who built a house on sandy ground. 27 The rains fell; the torrents came; the winds blew and lashed against the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”
28 Jesus finished speaking and left the crowds spellbound at his teaching, 29 because he taught with an authority that was unlike their religious scholars.
I invite you now to turn and take a few moments to share and listen with those around you some of what connected and felt disconnected in these words.
As we come back into a large group I invite you to consider if there is anything from your reflections that you would like to share with the larger group and if so please do so during our response and sharing time after the hymn.
And as we go from this place today and in the week ahead, in whatever you encounter – be it watching the Super Bowl this evening, going to work tomorrow, listening to or avoiding the outcomes of the impeachment trial, sharing meals with friends and family, passing strangers on the street…through it all may you remember that you are rooted in the unrestrained love of God, a love that has its own language of authority, a love always about the work of life-giving presence and transformation.