A sermon delivered by Dr. Randy K. Hammer, January 29, 2017
Matthew 5:1-12 ESV
In looking to be inspired for today’s sermon topic, I glanced at my church desk calendar and saw that today’s Lectionary gospel reading, that many churches who follow the Christian Lectionary will hear read today, is this passage from Matthew known as The Beatitudes. And I thought to myself, How timely! We seem to be at a critical time in our nation today when a fresh look at The Beatitudes is in order. Because the values presented in The Beatitudes and the verses following them seem to be in short supply in today’s world.
And I really wanted to read more than just the twelve verses I read to you. I would have liked to have read the entire Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7), but I feared that your patience would wear thin, if I tried to read three full chapters of the Bible to you this morning J. But the truth is, the verses that follow The Beatitudes are an elaboration upon or explanation of sorts on these ten verses that begin, “Blessed are . . .”
As a personal sidenote, it just so happens that I was privileged to stand on the spot where Christian tradition says the Sermon on the Mount was delivered, and I have a photo of myself standing there. And the Mount of Beatitudes is actually a hillside rather than a mountain as we think of mountains, a hillside that overlooks the Sea of Galilee. A beautiful little church has been built on the site, and you can Google “Church of the Mount of Beatitudes,” if you are interested in seeing it.
However, the Sermon on the Mount, of which The Beatitudes constitute a Prelude of sorts, is more likely Matthew’s summation of Jesus’ teachings, rather than a literal sermon that Jesus preached at one sitting. Such seems to be the consensus of most biblical scholars today, a consensus with which I concur. After all, it is not likely that Matthew or anyone else was sitting there on the hillside and taking shorthand of a sermon that Jesus might have given, on this day or any other day. And how could Matthew or whoever the writer was have remembered verbatim such a lengthy sermon anyway?
No, the way these three beautiful chapters are constructed – and they are some of the most beautiful and favorite chapters of the Bible – they would seem to indicate that this material was well thought-out in an orderly fashion, making the material one of the most beautiful pieces of ancient literature.
The Beatitudes and the verses that follow give us values by which to live our lives. For instance,
“Blessed are the meek” (5:5), “Blessed are the merciful” (5:7), “Blessed are the peacemakers” (5:9).
In addition to the Beatitudes, in the verses that follow we also find the following positive values upon which we can base our lives:
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (5:44).
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (6:12).
“Judge not, that you be not judged” (7:1).
“Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (7:12).
Yet, the Christian values we see in the Sermon on the Mount seem to be in short supply today, as already noted. We seem to be living in a time when civility is in very short supply. Instead of the values and principles just named, we see a lot of pride, intolerance, violence, finger-pointing and passing judgment. And because of the climate in our country today, many people feel helpless and are at a loss of what to do in the face of such anger, division, polarization, insensitivity, and such. Some feel led to protest and march. That is the way that works for them to help them deal with the issues of the day and the rapid changes they see taking place. Others who do not feel comfortable protesting and marching may seek other ways to lift up positive reactions to the negativity evident in our country and world. The two approaches need not be exclusive one to the other. Someone could easily do both.
Regarding a positive approach, this week’s news brought a ray of hope that things could, indeed, be different in the world. And as is often the case, it is little children who offer to lead us. You may have seen what I am getting ready to share on the world news or read about it in a newspaper or online. I am talking about the Kids for Peace 2017 Great Kindness Challenge. The Great Kindness Challenge was launched in Carlsbad, California, in 2012 (just five years ago) with only three schools. The program was created to promote inclusion and compassion among students. This year’s Great Kindness Challenge was this past week – January 23-27. But in five years the annual program has grown from three schools to over 12,000 schools in all 50 US states, as well as 90 countries. Kids for Peace announced that this year’s program will unite over ten million students in kindness. And I think I heard an update to the effect that since the story ran on Good Morning America this past Monday, another 1,000 schools have come on board.
The program stated, “with many people feeling that our country is more divided now than ever, there is a great need for unity, compassion, love, and respect in our schools, communities, country, and world. The Great Kindness Challenge proactively creates a culture of kindness in schools nationwide.” They sponsor “a simple checklist of 50 kind acts.” Some of the acts of kindness include sharing daily kindness quotes, “Be Kind” t-shirts, inspirational “Post It” messages on students’ lockers, a variety of school-wide community service projects, smile at 25 people, help your teacher with a needed task, help a younger student, sit with new kids at lunch, and so on. The idea is that “When students perform kind act after kind act, kindness becomes a habit. And when kindness becomes a habit, peace becomes possible.” I believe that if we can instill a culture of kindness and compassion in today’s kids, there may be hope for positive change in the future.
The truth is, if we were to study and take to heart the teachings in the Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount, our lives would be all the more better for them. It is obvious that if everyone lived by the “Kindness Principle” and the other principles found in the Sermon on the Mount – humility, tolerance, mercy, peacemaking, forgiveness, no finger pointing and name-calling, and doing unto others as we would have them do unto us – we would live in a much more humane, more peaceful, less violent, more civil world.
Such values would change how we relate in our families, resulting in more shared household duties, less arguments around the dinner table, more peaceful and happier car rides, and so on.
Living by such values would change community dynamics, resulting in more civility, enhanced ecumenical relationships, and more joint human services to the less fortunate of our community.
If everyone chose to live by The Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount, we would realize a much better world, with less international strife, more assistance to developing countries, and less money spent on weapons of war and more money spent on humane endeavors.
So, may I propose a Beatitudes – Kindness Challenge of my own? May we extend the Great Kindness Challenge to include this coming week, as we commit ourselves to coming up with 15 intentional acts of kindness to others in our family, workplace, community relationships, church community, doctor’s office waiting room, hospital, grocery store, and any other place we may find ourselves the next seven days? With the many and diverse associations that most of us have, 15 intentional acts of kindness in one week shouldn’t be that difficult. That is only two additional kind acts per day.
Values, such as found in The Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount – who needs them? Our families need them, our community needs them, and our nation today desperately needs them. Values for living that we find in The Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount are the “glue” that literally holds society and the world together, and perhaps the only “super glue” that can mend the fractured world that we live in today. May it be so. Amen.