Set the law books aside and have a little vision. . .
For the past three weeks our Lectionary has appointed Gospels that have been selected portions of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It would ordinarily be preferable to read the entire sermon all at once, but it is the job of a good lectionary to take into account Sunday morning time constraints, as well as thematic content as it coordinates with the events of the Church Calendar.
What I really want to convey is that the Sermon on the Mount is part of a divine vision that Christ so desperately wants to share with us. We Christians were not called to be part of a legal cult; we were initiated into a vision quest.
The Beatitudes are only a small portion of the Sermon on the Mount, but are perhaps the best remembered because all eight of them are such reversals of conventional wisdom, not to even mention their poetic beauty.
Blessed are the poor in Spirit.
Blessed are those that mourn.
We stand up and take notice because Jesus is telling us in no uncertain terms to throw it into reverse.
You might remember that Jesus’ first words in the Gospels are Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at Hand – not repent because God is coming and boy is He mad, as you sometimes see on billboards and bumperstickers.
The word repent essentially means to throw it into reverse.
It’s not an Alice in Wonderland kind of nonsensical reversal, it’s a reversal that turns one’s heart and mind back to the intention of the Creator.
Why are the poor, the meek and the grieving considered blessed? Because they are given the opportunity to acknowledge their utter dependence on God, and that acknowledgment is the beginning of the vision, and it’s open to everyone, rich and poor alike!
The reversal continues in in the Gospel for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany as Jesus says over and over again, You have heard it said, but I say to you.
The reversals continue: You have heard it said, ‘Do not kill,’ but I tell you don’t even let the thought of it enter your mind.
You have heard it said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ I tell you don’t even think of it.
These are sometimes called the hard sayings of Jesus. My goodness, I wonder why? Good God, we have to watch every thought, every inclination, who can possibly find salvation?
Martin Luther feared that the Sermon on the Mount was a second law and that Jesus was a stricter law-giver than Moses. But, again, my point is that I hope we can begin to see more in these words than law; I hope we could see in them a grace-filled vision. A vision where our hearts are purged of hatred even when someone is deserving of our hatred. A vision where greed, and envy, and lust can’t find a place in our souls, even when the world has made a nice space for them there.
All too often we let our vision become the reflection of our own smallness. Though this is sometimes comfortable, it is never fulfilling.
There is a story of a wise tribal chief who sent his three sons on a vision quest. He pointed them in the direction of a high mountain and asked each of them to bring back a token to show how far upward each had been able to climb.
The first son returned quickly. He held in his hand a wild flower. The chief knew that these grew just below the timber line.
The second son brought back a stone of red flint which revealed that he almost made it to the top.
The third son was gone for a very long time, and when he returned he was empty handed.
Father, he said, Where I stood, I saw a beautiful valley where two great rivers joined the ocean. The vision was so magnificent that I couldn’t pull myself away. I’m afraid I got so carried away that I forgot to bring anything back with me.
The chief knew that this son had reached the peak of the mountain and said to him, It has been my ambition in life that one day all my sons shall see the vision you have seen. You having nothing in your hand, but you have a vision in your soul.
As Christians, we have something much better than a legal reference in our hands. It is our God’s wish that that we should carry something much more beautiful and wonderful than that. God wishes us to literally carry the Divine Intention in our souls, the vision of the impossible and the ridiculous, the vision of the Sermon on the Mount.
You have heard it said, but I say to you . . .
It’s not a vision designed to lay a heavy guilt trip on us; it’s a vision meant to lure us into another world. A world free from hatred and contempt, lust and lies, a world where love is the law!
If we can see our moral and spiritual longings as a vision quest rather than a check list, we will be drawn closer to the Word of God, the Vision of God embodied in Jesus Christ.
The story is also told of parents who were preparing their six year old son for the arrival of a new baby sister. They told him that this baby was special because she would be fresh from heaven where God lived.
After they brought the baby home, the little boy kept asking if he could be alone with his baby sister because he had a question he wanted to ask her.
The parents were understandably worried, but after a lot more pestering by the young boy they decided to let him go in her room alone. They left the door open a crack so they could carefully monitor his actions.
At first he just stared at this marvelous new and tiny life that lay in the crib, and all the parents could hear were the coos coming from the infant girl. Then the little boy made his move; he made his real intentions known. He moved as close to the crib as he could, and he looked into his baby sister’s eyes and said, Tell me about heaven and about God. . . I’m starting to forget.
In your spiritual walk, do you ever feel like your starting to forget?
Ours is a sacramental church. We have the aid and grace of the sacraments as we walk our path, especially the aid and the grace of The Holy Eucharist.
Every time we celebrate the Eucharist we hear Christ saying, Do this in remembrance of me. The word remembrance is translated from the Greek word, Anamnesis, which literally means without amnesia, total remembrance, not just remembering certain facts, but to completely feel an event from the past as if you were there in the moment.
If you suffer from occasional spiritual amnesia as I do from time to time, then you are probably as happy as I am to know that an Amnesia Support Group meets in most churches every Sunday.
What we do, in a manner of speaking when we gather about this Holy Table, is we bring the Vision made flesh into our very presence, and that Vision becomes palpable. It is the presence of Jesus Christ, and we follow Jesus up a high mountain and we sit at his feet and we say, Tell me about heaven and about God, I’m starting to forget, and we see the two rivers one human and one divine, joining together on one mission of love.
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Frank Tortorich says
Love is the “word.” Love is heaven, Love is forgivness, Love is tolerance, Love is understnding. Love is God. God is Love.
Uplifting and challenging homily Bill! Thanks
Rev. William Joseph Adams says
Thanks Jim, I was hoping it would be received in that light.
Kenneth Hollingsworth says
Love the idea of the weekly Amnesia Support Group. Thanks for the new vision.
Jeanne Forte says
Bill, Thank you so much for this homily. I will frame my pre-Annual Meeting around much of what you have shared. I serve a tiny remote community on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. They are just getting restarted after years of Covid- closures- and neglect. I hope they are inspired, as was I, to join in the vision quest of Jesus Christ. Blessings to you!
Rev. William Joseph Adams says
Thank you, Jeanne+, for your kind words. I hope you and your community can take up the Vision and grow with it. May your ministry be blessed in the year ahead.