Archive for February, 2014

Kingdom Thinking

February 19, 2014

Over the past few Sundays at Community of Faith we’ve been spending time in the Sermon on the Mount. We began with the Beatitudes, moved on to some teachings about discipleship, and last week addressed some difficult human behaviors with kingdom language rather than law language (the sermons are posted on the sermon page of the COF website– www.cofnky.org). But even though Jesus takes a different approach than the religious leaders of the day, he makes it very clear that living without any rules at all isn’t what he is about. He even says that he has come to fulfill the law, not to do away with it.

It is this idea that Jesus fulfills the law that confuses us sometimes. On the one hand,  he’s turning things upside down, like in the Beatitudes: the meek will inherit the earth. The kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit. Those who crave righteousness will be filled. Peacemakers will be called children of God. On the other hand, he’s saying it’s better to cut off a part of your body if it keeps you from doing wrong, and even though murder is a very bad thing, it is just as bad to harbor anger towards someone or make fun of them. 

The thing is, it is how we conduct ourselves in relationships with others that seems to be Jesus’ focus. Beginning with the two greatest commandments: Love God with all you’ve got, and love your neighbor as yourself, it is how we treat the people around us that Jesus is concerned with. So it makes sense that we should live in peace with others, and even encourage peace in our communities. It makes sense that we should work for justice. It makes sense that we shouldn’t throw people away, or objectify them, or take what is theirs (either by force or by trickery) or bully them or call them names just because they’re different than we are. The Pharisees demonstrated how difficult it was to follow every “jot and tittle” of the law; but when we live like Jesus, when we work for justice and healing in the world, when we feed the hungry, we are fulfilling the law just as much as if the Torah were still our only guide. If we treat others as human beings, if we refuse to marginalize someone just because they’re different or they seem scary to us or we don’t understand their “lifestyle” then we are truly following the law by following Jesus.

This Sunday will be our last week with the Sermon on the Mount, and it’s a pity that we won’t be going through the second half of the sermon, because it contains some pretty gritty stuff: where your treasure is, there your heart will be also; no one can serve God and wealth; seek first the kingdom of God. Serious talk about our attitudes toward money and wealth and where we put our faith and trust.

The political and social climate today doesn’t seem to lend itself to this vision of how we are to live together. People are demonized for being different– sometimes for being poor and hungry. A very legalistic view of salvation is prevalent right now, one in which if I have mine– my wealth, my food, my house, my job, my salvation- then who cares about anyone else. And if you don’t have these things, then somehow it must be your own fault. And sometimes it may be our own fault, we all make mistakes and some are more life-altering than others, but that doesn’t mean we throw compassion out the window, that doesn’t mean that we don’t help people begin to make better choices, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help them have a roof over their heads and food in their bellies.

If we are to claim the mantle of Christ, we must do more than accept the gift of grace that he offers; we must take up his causes, follow his teachings, and walk the path he walked. This is what it means to fulfill the law as Jesus did. This is what it means to embody the kingdom of heaven.