Monday, October 19, 2009

righteousness or self-righteousness

Danny Nalliah, Australia's poster child for all things right-wing and his group 'catch the fire ministries' held a prayer vigil on Mount Ainslie this past weekend to pray for Australia to be 'Saved' from all its heathenness and sin (apparently the bushfires and stuff are linked to our sinfulness). The prayer vigil was met by a group of protesters from various groups, gay rights activists, pro-choice, strippers, prostitutes, etc (you know the kind of people that extreme right-wingers see as the spawn of Satan, sinners and tax collectors).
Danny's prayer group was a direct result of signs of satanic rituals being held on the mountain, which was interpreted (possibly quite correctly) as a direct spiritual attack on Australian Politics. I have come from a quite right-wing upbringing, and whilst there are those who would probably see me as very left wing today, there are still things that I hold onto from my upbringing, and spiritual warfare is one of those things... I don't see demons behind everything, a la 'this present darkness' , but I cannot deny that there is some sort of otherworldly battle going on... some may call me naive, but that's OK, I'm comfortable with that.
What does bug me about this right-wing approach to the state of the world, is that it pins all the responsibility on evil spirits or on their human spawn (the anti-Danny protesters etc). In their view, our responsibility as good Christians is to live righteous lives and pray - then God will hear our voice and revival will come. They feel that through doing this and being vocal in the public arena they are doing their bit, they are being honorable to God. As I write this all I can think of is the pharisees that Jesus had to deal with... They too at a time when their nation was being oppressed (not by spiritual forces but Roman ones), saw that they needed to live more 'righteous' lives, to separate themselves and pray, calling all those around them to live a similar life, so that God would hear them and liberation (or in our language revival) would come.
This motivation in and of itself seems honorable, being righteous can never be a bad thing... but us being fallible human beings with big egos we often slip into self-righteousness. This clearly is the position that the pharisees were in. This is what Jesus battled, whilst at the same time hanging out and loving the sinners and tax collectors, those that that the pharisees saw as hell spawn.
Who did Jesus warn were in danger of the fires of hell??? - the pharisees or the sinners and tax collectors???
If you don't know the answer to this question I suggest you read the gospels - Jesus only every really referenced hell when he was talking about those who thought they were safe, but evidently were not - the self-righteous ones, the pharisees.
Interestingly the word righteousness and the word justice are synonymous in both the Old and New Testament. So really a person cannot truly be righteous unless he is fighting for justice, and who is it from a biblical perspective who needs justice? - the poor and oppressed, the marginalised... those that Jesus hung out with and loved, the sinners and tax collectors. Righteousness is not about being set apart and untouched by the world, it is about bringing our faith, our love and our support into a broken and hurting world, and in doing this, we will be truly set apart, because we are the only ones that are there caring for the unloved, risking our comfort, our time and our lives for the sake of others, the lost, the rejected, sinners, prostitutes, disabled, refugees, etc. etc... just like Jesus did (remember WWJD?).
I worry that we as Christians have done the same thing as the Pharisees, we see ourselves as righteous and set apart because we don't hang out with the sinners and tax collectors, but we are happy to condemn them (and possibly even demonise them if the situation suits). We sit in our churches and Christian schools and clubs and home groups and think we are saved and righteous. Outside the sinners and tax collectors continue to live their 'heathen' lives, and we pray, pray that the Lord would send revival and that the sinners would become saved and Australia would be won for Christ... but revival hasn't come. Contrary to Yonggi Cho's assertion, I don't think that prayer is the key to revival.
As I have stated before, Jesus had a different response, he saw the condition of the sinners and tax collectors and did not condemn them but rather lived with them, loved them and through them established his Kingdom. Interestingly if you look at true revivals in history (I'm not talking about the more unusual and dubious revivals of current times) they began amongst the sinners and tax collectors of their day... they began amongst the outcasts of society, those that were marginalised. They began as Christians stepped down from their ivory towers and began to live amongst, and minister to these people.
If we truly want to see Australia Changed for the Lord, then we can't sit back and pray for change, the whole time being self-righteous, waving our fingers in disapproval at the tax collectors and sinners. We need to get our hand's dirty, live amongst, show love to, and help those at the margins. Our faith is meant to be one of love not condemnation, I think we have forgotten that along the way somehow.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Forgive me Father - for I wear Nike

"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever." (1 John 2:15)

In the world, but not of it… This phrase has been one that has haunted me throughout my life (especially my adolescence). I can still remember the preaching from the pulpit, or the lectures from my Sunday school teachers and youth group leaders. To be in the world but not of it, meant that you had to live up to a strict code of moral behaviours… No drinking, no swearing, no drugs, no rock music, no discos, no D&D, no Harry Potter, no Sex, no late nights, no parties…etc…etc. These sort of behaviours were supposed to make us some sort of beacon of hope in the darkness of the morally corrupt world, and the sinners were to be attracted to the light of Christ in you. Or at least those that were ready to see the errors of their ways would be attracted… clearly none of my friends were ready, they all thought I was a loon. As a result, more often than not I would fall back into the world to be with my friends and therefore stuff up any sort of witness that I could have had.

I think somehow, we have missed the point here, Jesus taught that the world would HATE us, not simply think that we were weak or out of date. DON’T GET ME WRONG, I think that many of these sort of ‘rules for Christian living’ are valid and should be practiced by Christians (but clearly as you can see from my above list I also think that often these rules can be manipulated for the sake of control rather than Christian character). But there seems to be some real problems if these ‘rules’ are presented as the way we stand separate from the world.

Firstly, the ‘rules’ are extremely judgemental, If you follow them you are good, if you don’t your bad. If you follow them you are ‘in’ (‘in’ the club, and therefore out of the world), if you don’t your ‘out’ (‘out’ of the word and therefore in the world). If you follow them you can feel very proud of yourself and self righteous (oh, wait… that’s a sin too isn’t it??), if you stuff up and break a rule you are condemned either by your peers/leaders or by your own self talk. In fact, as I write this I notice how close this attitude would seem to be to the actions of the Pharisees that Jesus condemned…

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former”. (Mat 23:23)

Secondly it all seems a bit cheap to me, a bit surface. It seems to be one of those Christian double standards, we are called to live a morally upright life, by following the highly visible and external ‘rules’, but we are not called to address the issues in our life that have to do with mercilessness and injustice. For the most part we are so busy living up to the rules and being a good witness that we have missed how the way we are living our lives is hurting others. We are the rich man, and Lazarus is at our gate. What is worse is that our sin is not simply ignoring Lazarus, it is being part of a system that is harming him!

These sorts of parables and Jesus words quoted above were what made the leaders of His day hate Him. It was this that caused Him to die on the cross. If we limit the purpose of Jesus’ time on earth to simply the atonement, we miss a lot of what he was about… yes he died for our sins, but the reason he hung on the cross is because he spoke out and lived a life that condemned the powers that be… his very life was pointing the finger at the evils of the system.

Think about it… He broke the Sabbath laws to heal a crippled, essentially worthless man. He became unclean when a menstruating woman touched him and he did not condemn her, but rather spoke with her and validated her in the sight of the crowd. He prevented the stoning of a woman caught in adultery, she sinned, and this was her due punishment, yet he stopped it happening. He upturned tables in the temple. Jesus lived a life that was in opposition to the system, and the system hated Him for it.

Anyway… All that to say, maybe it would be more effective to ask if we are in the System but not of the System … if we truly stand up against the system and live an alternative and Godly life following in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus, then the system will not simply think we are old fashioned or a bit wacky, it will truly hate us… and whether we like it or not, that is what Jesus has called us to!


PS. I know I have not really addressed the title of this blog post – unless you read between the lines a bit… I’ll get onto that confession another day

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Journey towards the poor...

I was recently asked what it was that started my journey in ministering to the poor and marginalised. As I thought about it my mind initially went to my introduction to UNOH, visiting and volunteering at Foodbank during my RDO every second Tuesday, or reading some fantastic books by Ash Barker, or even attending the Surrender conference and hearing Jackie Pullinger or Tony Campolo speak. But as I thought about it more, I realised that the Lord had introduced me to the need for ministry to the poor much earlier than I had originally thought.
It was many year earlier as I was just beginning to be introduced to the concept of Missions that I had the opportunity to visit a church plant in Sri Lanka. My home church at the time was a kind of parent church to the church in Sri Lanka, and was a major financial supporter of the church. I was asked to go and visit the church on an annual basis to touch base with them, check them out and let them know they were supported (I guess morally more than financially).

There are many things that today bother me about this scenario, and there were many things that were being done by both the Parent and Daughter church that I would struggle with today. But regardless of the fact that the Church in Sri Lanka relied on outside support to function and that the relationship was fairly imperialistic, the church was essentially reaching out to the poorest people in the city of Kandy, and the reality was that the structure of the church (with two paid full-time pastors) could not have functioned without outside support as the congregation barely had enough money to feed themselves let alone support any sort of church structure. The church was trying to model itself after the classic mega-church model of Australia and trying to emulate our worship, preaching styles and trappings. They were being influenced by the teachings of Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland by video that some well meaning but direly misguided supporter was posting out to them on a monthly basis.

When I visited I was expected to preach every Sunday as the VIP western Pastor, and although I preach predominantly on how much this church had to offer the wider church and how they should not try to emulate the west but recognise their own forms of worship as pleasing to the Lord, I was obligated to hold an altar call and pray for each and every member of the congregation and see them ‘slain in the Spirit’. But besides the heavily colonial dynamic of the Sunday service it was on the day to day of church life that the true church amongst the poor could be seen.

It was in the nightly bible studies and prayer meetings that various members of the congregation came together to share a meal and simply fellowship, it was at these times that worship was casual and much more culturally relevant, and prayer and study were dialogical and passionate. The congregation were committed to visiting each other on a regular basis and helping each other out when things were difficult. As I reflect back on the church I realise how much they emulated the Church seen in Acts 4. The real inspiration to me was one of the paid pastors who lived on a bare minimum despite being given a very generous income from our church. The rest of his money was given to those in the church who were really struggling, the widows and the lame and he spent all his time visiting congregation members and being a real hands-on support to anyone who needed it.

Unfortunately my involvement with that church was cut short due to the other full time pastor being sent to study in Australia and having his head filled with grand visions of mega-churches, his decision was to no longer come under the cover of our church but to look for support from another bigger, more impressive Aussie mega church who said they would support them for six months after which time they would have to be self supporting. This concept at face value sounds great, however the reality of it was that when they asked how they could support themselves the suggestion was that they should stop trying to attract the poor in the community but should rather aim their church towards the middle class of Kandy. Needless to say the dream of a shiny rich mega church won out in the end for this pastor and they decided to follow that course.

I have not heard from that church since that time, I have no idea if they are still operating. I often think about the generous pastor and what he is doing with his life at the moment. Although I have a lot of sadness about the future of this congregation, I thank God for the experience of this church and the chance to see how a real church amongst the poor can function. This experience was truly foundational to my current vocation even if at the time I did not realise it… But then I guess most of our formation is done on a subconscious level through experiences like this.

I'm Back.... No Really I Mean This Time!!

IT has been almost a year since I last blogged, It has been a tough time for me with a lot of soul searching on top of all the other stuff I do, But I am dedicated to continue Blogging again...

I have found it is an essential outlet for me... I guess it is the same thing as journaling for some, but this is more electronicy as well as more publicy...

So anyway here goes!!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Essay on the Sermon on the Mount - Part 4

Materialism. - Matthew 6:19-24
The first half of Matthew six was a call for individuals not to use their religiosity to dominate those around them, in this section, Jesus is identifying another way that people can dominate others, and that is through the acquisition of wealth and material possessions. The dominating effects of storing up treasures are seen in a brutal reality in our own global context today;

    The most comprehensive study of personal wealth ever undertaken also reports that the richest 1% of adults alone owned 40% of global assets in the year 2000, and that the richest 10% of adults accounted for 85% of the world total. In contrast, the bottom half of the world adult population owned barely 1% of global wealth. (Kazandjian, 2006: NP)

The western world’s hording of wealth has relegated the other 90% of the world to the status of slaves, forced to do backbreaking labor for little or no pay. The Kingdom community is called to stand against this injustice, sharing its wealth with those in need, both inside and outside the community and through doing this breaking their own slavery to mammon and storing up for themselves riches in heaven.

Don’t Worry – Anti-Materialism – Matthew 6:25-34
Worry is indicative of one’s dependence on mammon rather than God. “But how will we survive?” is the question that instantly pops to the mind when considering being free with material possessions, Jesus’ answer is both spiritual and practical. The spiritual aspect is one of trust, if they do what the Lord has required of them he will look after their needs (Mt 6:33). The practical aspect is that within the context of the Kingdom Community none will be in need as the wealth and possessions of the group are shared around, just like it was with the early church (Acts 2:44-47). This concept is a real source of liberation for the poor as their needs are met, however it is a real area of trust for the rich as they learn to let go of the security of their wealth and learn to rely on the security that God through the Kingdom Community has to offer.

The Shelter of the Community – Matthew 7:24-27
The final section of Jesus’ sermon is a parable about two men, one who builds his house on the rock of Jesus teaching and another who builds his house of the sand of his own desires and understandings. This parable is a beautifully poetic conclusion to Jesus’ teaching, and a great reflection of his heart for the poor. A house is a symbol of security, particularly for the poor, who often may not have a place of their own. Jesus’ parable shows that if a person holds to his teachings (remembering that it is all set within the context of the Kingdom Community) that they will have the security they need. The house is figurative, but it represents the care of the community in looking after the needs of the poor, which in many ways makes it literal, as the protection that the community offers is as good as (and will always include) a physical house for that person to reside in.

The foolish man however is the man who tries to build his own Kingdom without the support of the Kingdom Community. Because this person puts his own resources into the house it costs him a lot more than the shared resources of the community, however when the opposition comes this foolish, independent man is left crushed under the rubble of his own desires.

Studying the Sermon on the Mount gives us an amazing insight into how the Lord wants to see his Kingdom operate. It is an in-depth guide to living as a Kingdom Community, in opposition to the values, systems and powers of the Status Quo. Probably the most remarkable aspect of this guide to the Kingdom however, is the importance that it puts on the care for and inclusion of the poor and marginalised both within its community and outside. Such a teaching truly is foolishness to the wise and attests to the compassion and majesty of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.


Kazandjian A. (2006) Pioneering Study Shows Richest Two Percent Own Half World Wealth. In United Nations University, World Institute for Development Economics Research. Press Release: ( (18th March 2008)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Essay on the Sermon on the Mount - Part 3

Subversive Weakness. – Matthew 5:33-48
Jesus, after dealing with the need for being true to your word, turns his attention to how to deal with those who use their positions of power to oppress the poor. Jesus uses three scenarios to highlight the need for passive resistance towards the community’s oppressors; they are the concept of turning the other cheek, giving your cloak as well as your tunic, and going the extra mile. These scenarios present two obvious courses of action, to fight back or to passively accept the abuse of power. Jesus however is suggesting a third course of action. Walter Wink suggests that turning the other cheek is a way to level the playing field against those who are oppressing you;

    … [Jesus] is saying to them, “Refuse to accept this kind of treatment anymore. If they backhand you, turn the other cheek.” By turning the cheek, the servant makes it impossible for the master to use the backhand again: his nose is in the way. …The left cheek now offers a perfect target for a blow with the right fist; but only equals fought with fists …and the last thing the master wishes to do is establish the underling’s equality. This act of defiance renders the master incapable of asserting his dominance in the relationship. (Wink, 1998: 102)

This popular interpretation however ignores the text that follows. If we look at this example in conjunction with the other two examples (walking the extra mile and giving your cloak) and the dialogue about loving your neighbour, it is clear that these passages are not about establishing equality. Rather, in going further than demanded, these examples seem to highlight the oppressive actions of one’s enemies, bringing shame upon their actions and bringing the cultural values that would allow such behaviour into question. The values of the Kingdom do not espouse power or equality, but rather a subversive use of the weak and powerless to shame the structures of the status quo (1 Cor 1:18-31).

Actors for World Domination – Matthew 6:1-18
The first half of chapter six deals with three different religious practices; giving to the needy, prayer and fasting. In all three examples, the disciples are told not to be like the hypocrites, a term Jesus uses to describe the Pharisees. The term hypocrite actually originates from the Greek theatre, where the ‘hypokrites’ (ύπόκριτής) was an actor who played a part and often wore a mask. The references that Jesus gave, though probably somewhat hyperbolic, capture this metaphor beautifully, as the hypocrites seem to do these things only “to be honoured by men” (Carson, 1978: 57). The major problem with the hypocritical nature of these acts however, is not that they are an ego boost for the Pharisees. The sinister reality is that they used these acts to build up their standing within society.

Jesus was warning against this sort of ladder climbing within the Kingdom Community, those who had the finances to give alms, or the theological knowledge to pray impressive prayers, or the self control to fast should not use those ‘powers’ to build themselves up over the others in the community (the poor, the uneducated or the struggling addict). Such actions and motivations are about domination and stand in direct opposition to the values of the Kingdom Community.

Transformative Prayer – Matthew 6:9-13
Amongst all this talk of hypocrites is a passage often referred to as the Lord’s Prayer, though a more accurate name for in might be the Community’s prayer. For many this passage is purely a guideline for what we should pray for (that Jesus would return and establish his kingdom, that our needs would be met, that our sins would be forgiven, and that God would protect us from stumbling), but it is much more than that, it is a recognition that the light of the Kingdom is breaking through into a corrupt system;

    …Every clause [of the Lord’s Prayer] resonates with Jesus’ announcement that God’s kingdom is breaking into the story of Israel and the world, opening up God’s long-promised new world and summoning people to share it. If this context is marginalized… the prayer loses its peculiar force and falls back into a generalized petition for things to improve, albeit still admittedly to God’s glory. (Wright,2001: NP)

Verse ten then is a call on the Lord to continue the transformative work in the world through the community, it is a refusal to see the present corruption as normal, but to see the will of God as the goal. Verse eleven is a call for the Lord to supply us with our daily bread, this is a call to have our needs met, but also a call to not become greedy or want more than we need.

Verse twelve is a recognition of the need to keep short accounts as the disciples live in community together (Mt 5:21-26). Verse thirteen calls for us not to be lead into temptation. This verse is a call for the disciples not to fall back into the rut of living a life that embraces the status quo, another temptation may be a tendency to look at the troubles around and fret that the darkness is winning.

Carson, D. A. (1978) The Sermon on the Mount. An Evangelical exposition of Matthew 5-7. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
Wink, W. (1998) The powers that be. New York: Doubleday Publishing.
Wright, N. T. (2001) The Lord’s Prayer as a Paradigm of Christian Prayer. In (17th March 2008)

    Tuesday, July 01, 2008

    Essay on the Sermon on the Mount - Part 2

    The Beatitudes – a Kingdom Community. – Matthew 5:3-12
    In studying the Sermon on the Mount, it is essential that we keep in mind that this passage is describing the way that a community within the Kingdom of Heaven should behave (herein referred to as a Kingdom Community as it is not the Kingdom of Heaven in its entirety, nor is it yet the church as the church was not established until after Christ’s assertion). Many suggest that the sermon is a guide for Christian ethics (Lloyd-Jones, ND: 33), but this is to set an impossible task before the individual believer. The result of this is the spiritualising of the passage and the reduction of it into a general guide to live by. The regrettably clichéd “…do to others what you would have them do to you...” (NIV, Mt 7:12) is a prime example of this, where the whole sermon is reduced to one line that mothers can tell their children to stop them arguing with their siblings.
    But if the Sermon is seen as the framework of the Kingdom, then the impossible becomes possible. Within this understanding then, the beatitudes are seen as a description of who will be part of this new Kingdom Community. The first four beatitudes listed represent the poor who will be drawn into the community, the outcast of the society. It is within this setting that these outcasts will begin to find the promised blessings;
      …these four beatitudes describe not personal qualities but oppressive situations of distress or bad fortune, which are honoured or esteemed because God’s reign reverses them. This reversal is under way in Jesus’ ministry but is not yet complete. The First four beatitudes critique the political, economic, social, religious and personal distress that results from the powerful elite who enrich their own position at the expense of the rest. (Carter, 2003: 131).
    If we hold to this view, then the poor in spirit are literally the poor, rather than some spiritualised form of humble Christian. Carter suggest that the “spirit” in this passage refers to the spirit of the poor that has been crushed by economic injustice (2003: 131); likewise, those who mourn are those who have suffered at the hand of the corrupt and evil; The Meek are those who have no voice in society and so have no choice but to stand by passively as their situations are exploited; And finally, Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, as Bosch argues (1991: 71-73), are those who yearn for justice but do not receive it.

    The use of the present tense “is” in the first and last beatitudes suggests that indeed the kingdom of heaven is not limited to an eschatological understanding, but rather, the kingdom is to reverse these sufferings both now and more fully in the future. This brings the beatitudes and indeed the entire Sermon on the Mount into a present reality rather than a spiritual set of moralities that we are to live by in order to attain entrance into heaven.

    The final four beatitudes in a similar way represent those that are fighting for the rights of the poor within society. Therefore, those in the Kingdom Community should display mercy to all, especially the poor; their actions should show that they are pure in heart, not having any deceitfulness or malice; the peacemakers stand in direct contrast to the occupying forces of the day who forced their “peace” upon the people; persecution is a direct result of standing up against the dominant and oppressive kingdom of this age.

    Societal Transformation – Matthew 5:13-16
    The next section of the sermon talks about salt and light. Salt is a preserving agent as well as a flavour enhancer, light breaks through the darkness. Both elements are seen as agents of change within culture. The salt preserves the world from going off as well as supplying flavour, whilst the light breaks through the darkness of an oppressive system. These elements highlight the dialectic between the kingdom of heaven and the present age, but they operate on two different levels;
      So Jesus calls his disciples to exert a double influence on the secular community, a negative influence by arresting its decay and a positive influence by bringing light into its darkness. For it is one thing to stop the spread of evil; it is another to promote the spread of truth, beauty and goodness. (Stott, 1978: 64-65)

    The salt is the Kingdom Community’s ability to arrest the suffering and evil that is happening in the world. With this in mind, the eschatological excitement that many in today’s church display over the decay of this present age as a supposed sign of the imminent return of Christ actually stand in stark contrast to Jesus’ teaching here. It is not Jesus’ will that the world get worse and more people suffer due to greed, it is the Kingdom Communities role to arrest the decay of this age.The light then, is the missional reality of the Kingdom Community. When the world sees what this community is doing it will be drawn to it as a moth to a flame. For the marginalised of the world it will mean good news, however it will also bring with it persecution from the powers that control the status quo. This is why Christ teaches against hiding the light under a bowl (Mt 5:15). Hiding would keep the community safe from persecution (Mt 5:11-12), but keeping the blessing to themselves would mean that those in need of the ministry of the community would never receive it
    Respecting Women - Matthew 5:27- 32
    In talking about how the values of the Kingdom community fulfil and take seriously the law and the prophets, Jesus sneaks in an important lesson about one of the marginalised groups in society, women. Many see Jesus’ teaching on lust, adultery and divorce, as nothing more than dealing with sexual immorality and the sanctity of marriage (see for example Boice, 1972:134-141). However a deeper look into the passages will show that there is more to Jesus’ teachings;
      While women are mentioned merely as an example, the example is significant because it involves a cultural criticism of the status of women. When the Gospel presents Jesus' discussion of divorce and adultery, the dignity of women (and perhaps even their rights) is clearly implied. Jesus says that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully commits adultery in his heart. Clearly the entire discussion of the collected sayings is geared toward the relation of action and faith. But, at the same time, it undeniably insists that women are not to be regarded as objects to be discarded at will. (Kopas, 1990: 15)
    Boice, J. M. (1972) The Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
    Bosch, D. J(1991) Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
    Carter, W. (2003) Matthew and the margins. A socio-political and religious reading. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
    Kopas, J. (1990) Jesus and Women in Matthew. in Theology Today. 1990, University of Scranton. ( (17th March 2008)
    Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (N.D.) Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
    Stott, J. R. W. (1978) The Bible speaks today. The Sermon on the Mount. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

    Saturday, June 21, 2008

    Essay on the Sermon on the Mount - Part 1

    This is an excerpt of an essay I wrote for bible college, it really changed the way I looked at Jesus' Sermon on the Mount when I wrote it, changing my view of it being a set of moral or spiritual rules to be followed by believers into a radical call to an alternative form of community.
    Anyway here is part one...
    sorry about the formal format of it all, but as I said it was an essay and I had to follow certain conventions...
    The Sermon on the Mount is an amazing collection of teachings that demonstrate how Jesus expects his followers to live, it is however more than just a collection of moral codes by which we as individuals are called to live. It is the assertion of this essay, that the Sermon on the Mount is a call to live in a radical form of community. This call to community reflects Jesus’ heart for the poor in excitingly profound ways, and it is this aspect of Jesus’ teachings that this essay will focus on.

    Defining Poor.
    Before looking at Christ’s heart for the poor, it is important to define what is meant by the word “poor”. Ronald J. Sider argues that the predominant definition of the poor within the bible is “those who are economically impoverished due to calamity or exploitation” (1997: 42). This would include the widow and orphan (Jas 1:27), the ill such as a leper, the lame or blind (Lev 18:14), as well as the homeless or alien (Lev 18:33). However, it would seem that Jesus definition was wider and included many of the marginalised within society; His concern for women is clearly evident (Jn 4:5-42,Mt 9:20-22,Lk 7:11-15, 10:38-42), as well as his care for those who are ostracised by society like the tax collectors (Lk 19:1-10) and prostitutes (Mt:26:6-13).

    A definition of the poor then, goes beyond a simple recognition of economic hardship. “The poor” refer to those who have been marginalised by society, whether that is due to financial impoverishment, physical or mental afflictions, social standing or gender.

    Christ’s Heart.
    Christ’s heart for the poor is an aspect of God’s character that is woven throughout the bible. It is a concept that is written into the very foundation and law of the people of Israel (see Lev 19:13-15, 19: 33, 25:8-55, Deut 24:19-22 etc.), yet time and time again, the people ignored the poor amongst them. In response, the Lord sent his prophets to address the people’s blindness. Through the prophets, God taught that the people’s religious observances were nothing but hollow ritual if they did not contain a response to the poor (see Is 58, Amos 4:1-5, Jer 22:16-17 etc.). It is in this tradition that Christ heart beats;

      Jesus shares table fellowship with outcast public “sinners and tax collectors. His statements about the “poor” betray an obvious sympathy for the defenceless and place Jesus thoroughly within the prophetic tradition, which sided with the oppressed against the exploiters… These provocative associations of Jesus are not incidental to his ministry. The extension of compassion, loyalty, and friendship across well-defined boundaries of exclusion was a parable in action, a way of vividly communicating Jesus’ understanding of God and the quality of his rule. (Senior and Stuhlmueller, 1995: 147)

    On the Mount. – Matthew 5:1--2
    Stereotypically, when we think of the Sermon on the Mount, we think of Jesus standing on a small hill, orating on ethical living to the milling crowd around him. However, in verse one of chapter five we see that although there was a crowd around him, Jesus sat down on the mountainside and his disciples gathered around him. Sitting is not the posture one takes in addressing a large crowd. His position was rather that of a teacher addressing his disciples (France, 1985: 107). Although the crowd did listen in (see Mt 7:28), the “sermon” was predominantly addressed to his disciples, a band of people who had given up their own standing in society to follow this radical teacher named Jesus.

    Jesus’ instructions on the mount were a call for those who had completely dedicated themselves to his teachings to seek the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth (Mt 6:10). This Kingdom was to stand in direct contrast to that of their age. By abandoning their livelihoods (Mk 1:14-20), the disciples had lowered their social status to that of the poor. Jesus’ teachings call for his followers to throw their lot in with the poor even further, joining with them in becoming an integral community that cares for one another and stands up against oppressive structures that will try to destroy them.

      [The Disciples] have… left the people to join him. He has called each individual one. They have given up everything in response to his call… They have only him. Yes, and with him they have nothing in the world, nothing at all, but everything, everything with God. So far, he has found only a small community, but it is a great community he is looking for, when he looks at the people. (Bonhoeffer, 2001: 101)

    Bonhoeffer, D. (2001) Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 4. Discipleship. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
    France, R. T. (1985) Tyndale New Testament commentaries – Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

    Senior, D. and Stuhlmueller, C. (1995) The Biblical foundation for mission. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
    Sider, R.J. (1997) Rich Christians in an age of hunger. (5th ed.). U.S.A: W Publishing Group.