Second in series: The Sermon on the Mount
We're in the second week of our current series of talks on Jesus’ sermon on the mount from the Bible's book of Matthew, chapters 5 to 7.
I really love the Sermon on the mount, in part because as much as any snapshot from the Bible, it’s comprehensive. If you want to find yourself living a more purposeful, happy and less self-centered life you'd be hard-pressed to find a better starting point than Jesus' sermon on the mount. And if you're wanting to reach new depths in your spiritual life (to deepen in "discipleship" to use a Biblical phrase) the sermon on the mount will challenge you in the most life-giving ways on an extremely diverse set of factors - touching your whole life. So, we are going to be mining a rich well of resources in this series. Here's hoping you find there's something specifically for you in this!
Last week Vince kicked us off on this new series by taking a look at how Jesus sets the stage for all he is about to say. Jesus begins his sermon on the mount with what is known as the beatitudes, a series of statements about who is blessed.
Blessed are.. SLIDE The poor The mourning The meek The righteousness-seekers The merciful The Peacemakers The persecuted The Insulted
I would encourages us to read the entire sermon on the mount with these beatitudes in mind. With the understanding that the path of Jesus that is leading to all this blessing is not by presenting well, it’s not through strength or success, or heroic feats, but through vulnerability, honesty, softening ourselves, Humility.
Last week I think Vince really helpfully invited us to wonder what a community would be like if it really did believe these beatitudes and also made it safe for others to believe in the beatitudes. You know, I left last week inspired and excited of the possibility, that we could have a place here where people weren’t celebrated for looking put together but for bringing their real, honest, and authentic selfs to the table. I got excited for what kind of community that would create, the safety, the opportunity for connection, for healing, the opportunity to get our actual needs met by a God who loves us and a community that actually support us. Exciting stuff
Slide And that bring us to the passage that come immediately after the beatitude, the passage that I would like to spend the rest of my time with. Slide So continuing in Chapter 5 as Jesus delivers his Sermon on the Mount.
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. SLIDE If Jesus’ Beatitudes last week helped us see what could be true within a community; Jesus’ image of salt and light, I think, help us see how such a community would be perceived by the world around it He’s addressing the question : how should the world around you experience you, as someone trying to follow Jesus? SLIDE Salt in Jesus time was a valuable and precious thing Salt was a necessity of life - It was used, like it is today as a seasoning, a way to add flavor It was also used as a preservative, there was no cold storage back then, so if you want to keep things, maintain the freshness something you would use salt. It kept things good, and helped keep families, communities provided for even if there were shortages Jesus is saying that he is coming to invite them into something that should be experienced as good by everyone around. Add flavor to the world, preserve the good things in life, provide in a lasting way even in lean times. SLIDE And he says they should be like a light on a hill Something that brings sight and fends off the darkness Jesus is saying that he has come to invite them into something that should be seen as a bright light cutting through darkness. In short, Jesus is saying that he has not just come to lead us individually into richer, fuller, more resilient lives. But, has come to invite us into a bigger story a bigger work of making the world around us better. To be salt and light
I think once again, just as Vince showed us last week with the Beatitudes - Jesus' statements here are striking here for a simple reason: people don’t believe this.
People don’t see churches as salt or light SLIDE David Kinnaman, the president of Barna polling, and Gabe Lyons, Wrote a book a few years back For this book Kinnaman and Lyons spent three years polling millions of young 16-29 year olds Americans who do not go to church. Which at the time of their research was 40% of all 16-29 year olds And they asked these 40% of non church going young people, what their perception of Christianity or church was. Maybe to nobody's surprise the first 6 most common responses were all negative. SLIDE They were in order: 1 Hypocritical 2 What Kinnaman and Lyons called “Get Saved” which was that Christians were too focused on getting converts - they seemed more concerned about being right than about listening. Which left the impression of them being insincere, not caring about people but only concerned only with converting others. 3 Anti Gay 4 Sheltered - As in they don’t listen to new things or facts. The impression being that Christianity stifled curiosity. Leading to people become unwilling to face their doubts and questions 5 Too Political 6 Judgmental
And what was interesting is that even among young adults who do participate regularly in church, many shared some of the same negative perceptions
And then way down the list behind all of these, the highest positive association was They pursue answers to a meaningful life. I think this is a sign that this is something people are looking for. But, words and themes that I would associate with Jesus, words like service, compassion, humility, forgiveness, patience, kindness, peace, joy, goodness, and love. These came us so infrequently that they couldn’t even meaningfully record them as part of the study
So no, I don’t think people in our country, in our neighborhoods see church as salt or light.
The funny thing was that this was true in Jesus time too, it’s actually why I think Jesus says this in the first place, because the religious people who were most devoutly trying to follow the God of the Bible, were so distinctly not salt of light
Throughout the sermon on the mount, Jesus points to this group called the Pharisee as his example of what not to do.
The Pharisees were the religious elite, they were the experts on the Law of the Old Testament.
However, they had turned their focus so much to being right, so much to on the correct side of things.
That they missed the whole point of a life following the God of the Bible.
In this sermon Jesus challenges their hypocrisy, challenges their judgmentalism, their over emphasis on being right, he challenges their self serving political motivations. He challenges their tendency of vilifying and othering people.
I can’t help but see a ton of parallels to what we just looked at in Kinnaman and Lyons research. I think Jesus brilliantly shows us that if in the attempt to follow him we are not seen as salt and light, we should take that as a red flag that we may be missing something.
And I think we see plenty of red flags today, it is a red flags that those in our country who are following Jesus are not seen by the people around them as salt or light. They are not seen as good news.
PAUSE In 2016 Barna updated the research that was originally done when Kinnamann and Lyons wrote their books, and this updated study found that SLIDE now 48% of 16-29 year olds are not church attenders. So in under a decade, the number of non church attending younger people moved up 8 percentage points. That is a huge number. And even more than that, these numbers are looking at our country as a whole. In major urban settings that tend to be more politically liberal, Like Chicago, the church going numbers would be even lower.
What is even more interesting to me is that in the past, as generations aged these numbers would level out a little bit because people who stopped going to church in their 20s would return to church in their 30s. Which would meant that that $48% should drop as this generation gets older. However, now that the older end of Millienials are in their mid 30s they found that they are not returning to church like previous generations did. So, as the older more-church going generations pass away, and they are not being replaced at the same rate by the younger generation. Which is why we have now seen a pretty significant multi-decade long trend of church attendance dropping.
And even while this trend is happening, another finding that came out of this 2016 study was that although an all time high number of folks are not going to church,
75% of people said that they prayed to god or a higher power in the last week.
75% in the last week.
I think in this 75% we see that people are still looking for something, I think the world we live in does leave us looking for more, people are recognizing that they need help they can’t give themselves in life, but... they are not looking for it in church. the church is becoming less and less a place we look to for that help in life. I think, because church is not seen as salt or light...
But, what if we were?
The reality is that there are some churches that are seen as salt and light. There are churches that are seen as making the world around them better
There is a church on the west side of Chicago in the Lawndale neighborhood
And this is a church that I have heard people from all sorts of religious backgrounds speak of glowingly.
It has a health center That helps people get the care they need without taking on crippling financial burden They have a legal services center Which walk youth through — and away from — the criminal justice system to become good citizens and leaders of the community. Offering mentoring and support on top of legal help They have a development center that helps people find affordable housing This is on top of after school programs etc. Now, this is a church that is seen as salt and light. Good news to their community Or I think of La Vina church in Puerto Vallarta where some of us visited a couple summers back. I think of the work that Mario and Letty, the Pastors there do to actually be good news to the people in the neighborhoods around their church. I remember when were there, we walked through the neighborhood and just stopped off at houses of people they knew and we just offered to pray for them. It immediately became clear how much people there loved, respected, and cared for Mario and Letty.
And they had earned that respect, care, and love by showing up in their lives, by being involved in their families, by loving their kids. So, when we came to pray, it was met as another example of Mario and Letty caring for them as person. They are seen as salt and light in their community Or one last example I think of is a Church in Cambridge that we have some relationship with. For years they have been hosting a series of conversations about faith, something that they named seek. It is a space for people to bring honest and open questions and wonderings about God, Jesus, faith. They have been super intentional to make this a space where people are encouraged to bring their own backgrounds and perspectives to the table. It’s accessible, not presumptive, there aren’t looking for the right answers even before the question has been asked And years of these conversations have helped this church gain a reputation in their very liberal, very non-religious city. A reputation for being a safe and good place to explore question of life, meaning, and faith. They, I believe have been salt and light to their community
What if BLV, in our little corner of the world, in this community, in this neighborhood, with people in our lives, around us. What if they saw BLV, a church, a Jesus centered community as something good, as adding salt and light to the world.
So, how can you help us be good news to our neighborhood? SLIDE Help make our neighborhood a little better I think sometimes the hugeness of the problems of our world can make us a little paralyzed Like, what am I really going to do. But, I don’t think that's true. I think things get better by us trying to do what we can, however small they can they are. I can think of two quick examples of this There is actually a whole community group that started over by the rockwell stop, whose focus was to try and make things look more beautiful. They brought a bunch of planters over there and put in flowers. They did some murals on store walls. I’ve talked to the chamber of commerce here in Lincoln Square. They are all in for that kind of stuff, and even have some funding to support it, but they struggle to find people who want to do things like that. Secondly, I would suggest that you consider serving somewhere in our neighborhood. Maybe it’s at the warming center we work with here, Maybe it is by participating in our next neighboring sunday Maybe it’s helping out at a before or after school program. If you are interested in any of this kind of stuff we can help connect you Here’s the thing. Not only are you actually making a difference in the world around you, being salt and light. But, this kind of thing is, at least for me, what makes me feel most alive. Most part of what God is doing in this world, something beyond myself.
Point the finger at yourself, not others You know what is about the quickest way to not be salt or light It’s to be constantly blaming others for the problems of the world. I really do think you will like your life a lot more. You will be less cynical, less angry, More open, softer, And honestly a lot easier to be around if you start by looking inward before looking outward for the problems of this world
Enjoy all kinds of friendships I would encourage everyone here to make time for friends who do not go to BLV It is no service to anyone if we become insular, if we only care about people who are in this community. I don’t say this as an agenda thing. Not that we can make friends so that we can win them over. No, have friends who are not part of BLV because you’ll be happy that you do. People are cool, and I think we grow more, learn more, discover more of who God is, when we have friends who come from different backgrounds, who are currently coming from different experiences.
to talk about your experience of your faith. As we saw in that study, I think people are looking for help in life, they are looking for something beyond themselves. But of course the research would also suggest that there are some ways that Churchgoers try to talk about their faith that is not super helpful. But, that is not what I am talking about here. I think there is a way to talk about your experience of faith that can be inviting, welcoming, and helpful to anyone. It’s to talk about it because it is part of your story. Because it matters to you. Because you have experienced it to be good. Like I think about a story our friend from cambridge told us about something happened as a result of one of those conversation about faith. This women felt like, “Wow, I think Jesus is awesome. I want to go to church because that seems like the best place to lean more and get more of this Jesus stuff.” But she stopped and stared down our friend and said, “But, I am never going to try and convert, you know that evangelism thing I am never going to do that. So our friend was like, “okay, noted” But, then that next Sunday, she shows up to church with like 4 new friends. And he was like, I thought you said you weren’t going to do whole evangelism thing. And she was like, “You right I am not.” And he’s like, “but your friends” And she shoots back at him. “No wasn’t evangelism” I just really love it here, I just find Jesus and all of this so wonderful and helpful. I and love my friends and I wanted them to experience things good things too. So, I invited them. You see, that I think is being salt and light. Sharing your experiences of how faith, Jesus, God has been helpful to you. Not trying convince someone, not trying win someone to your side. But sharing the good things you have experienced in life. And so if you have experienced anything to be good, to be helpful, to be transformative, or healing share it. You don’t have to have special language or strategy to do this. Just talk about it like you talk about anything you thing good in life. Like you talk about your gym, or your favorite book, or anything you would recommend that someone else should try. And if you don’t think this has been good news to you, if this isn’t something you would recommend. Then that’s something to pay attention to. I would encourage you in moment when we pray to ask God about that. I would guess he would have some sort of suggestion, encouragement, or challenge to invite you into. Because faith, Jesus is meant to be good news in our life.
Well, in moment I will pray, and we will enter into a time of singing and prayer. Something that spiritual communities have done for centuries. And I invite you to engage in that time in whatever way feels best to you. Maybe it is singing along and dancing. Maybe it is just sitting back and letting the music hit you. And, as we are doing that we will have a team of people in the back who would love to pray with you, It can be a really meaningful thing to have somebody else pray along with you. And I have found that God tends to show up in surprising and powerful ways when I have asked someone else to pray for me. It’s a safe and good group of people, no one is going to make you feel uncomfortable or give you unasked for advice.
Please Stand with me