Good evening to all of you. It’s a pleasure to be gathered again with you for a new class that I’ve entitled, “The Sermon on the Mount: Christian Spirituality in a Nutshell.” When I got working on my notes for this lecture, I thought, “Boy, I blew it. I’ve given myself four nights, and the reality is we probably need 14.” So this is going to be a bit compressed and quick. Because I’m going to be moving quickly, I’m going to ask that each night that we do gather, refrain from asking a question maybe until the end to see if we can’t get through all of our material.
Now, the title—“Christian Spirituality in a Nutshell”—that I’ve attached to the phrase, “The Sermon on the Mount,” is a fair description of what we have before us. We find the Sermon on the Mount, in terms of context, within the gospel of Matthew. It takes up all of chapters five, six, and seven. And the gospel of Matthew itself, with just the most basic information, you can discern that it’s the first book of the New Testament, and that tells you something. If you are reading the New Testament, the first part of it you’re going to read is the gospel of Matthew. If you will, the Church, who assembled the Bible, wants you to have this text in front of you as you move through the rest of the New Testament.
Thematically, the gospel of Matthew is arranged around basically one major theme. There are several other themes, but this theme more than others comes out. “Listen and do.” It’s as if your mother wrote it. You know, your mom would say, “You’re not listening.” “Yeah, I am, Mom.” “No: You didn’t do what I told you to do.” Right? That’s her proof. The same is true in the gospel of Matthew. The text revolves around the idea of listening and doing. You have to connect the two. Now, in the gospel of Matthew—and we’re going to see this in the Sermon on the Mount—the hearer—that’s us—is invited to come into a relationship with Jesus by listening to what he is teaching, and putting it into practice.
Well, that might seem like: Well, okay, Fr. Evan. You’re repeating yourself. But it’s interesting, because if you read the gospel of John or the gospel of Mark or the gospel of Luke, the relationship with Christ is presented to you differently, certainly in the gospel of John, where we find a mystical vision of union. How do we enter into union with God? John’s answer will be through things like baptism, the Eucharist. Not Matthew. Matthew’s gospel is as subtle as stubbing your toe. What he does is he abandons any idea of mystical vision. He doesn’t even really try to hit you with intellectual depth; you can leave that to Luke. He just comes at you with the real value and the real difficulty of what Jesus is saying. In the Sermon on the Mount we find a rather uncompromising position of word and action united.
So you’re invited in this class, as you listen to what we present, to take on this sermon that Jesus gives on that mountain, and to enter into a relationship with him by just putting into practice what Jesus says. So if you would, you could almost say that Jesus declares that my disciples—and this is in the gospel of Matthew—act a certain way. That’s all. That’s what’s radically different about them: their lifestyle, their actions. Again, that’s not what John’s going to say. It’s not what Mark says. It’s not what Luke says. It’s what Matthew says. And it’s important that before we move on to John… In fact, the Church said, “We’re not even going to let you read John until you’re baptized.” That’s what we used to do. Now you can pick up a Bible anywhere. But we used to say, “Before you read John, get Matthew down. Before you get to Mark, get Matthew down. Before you bother with Luke, make sure you can do what Matthew’s asking.” It’s basic: listen and do.
Now as I said in the beginning of my remarks, the sermon that’s found in Matthew’s gospel comes in chapters five through seven, and it’s a long teaching that Jesus gives. He’s talking for a long time, and it’s like one of those 45-minute sermons; it’s not a three-minute sermon. It’s interesting to note the context of this teaching: it’s on a mountain. That’s important. God, throughout holy Scripture, reveals his truth to his people from a mountaintop. One of the simple comparisons that the Church has made from the beginning is: who is the great lawgiver on a mountain? Moses. And who gave Moses the law? God. Who is Jesus? Yeah, we can say that in preschool: Jesus is God. But now, instead of having an intermediary, instead of having to hear through Moses and read something like a dry tablet of stone, we receive a teaching directly from the mouth of the Lawgiver himself. In fact, the text is odd. If you didn’t bring your Bibles, the next time you come, bring them, but we have ones in the pews for you. You can open that up, and if you open that up to chapter five of Matthew’s gospel and verse one, we find the context. This is verse one of chapter five.
And seeing the multitudes, Jesus went up on a mountain, and when he was seated, his disciples came up to him.
This is important, because a teacher in the text is seated. Notice, when the bishop comes, where does he stand? Over by a chair where he can sit. Because the traditional conceptual idea of a teacher with authority is he does so seated on his throne, speaking. And it says, “And he opened his mouth and taught them.” This is peculiar, because we say, “Of course he opened his mouth to teach them,” but with Jesus we don’t always have to hear him speak to be taught. We can see him act.
This is important for us to distinguish. In this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not display anything in action, although he’s calling us to it. Isn’t that a little ironic? If he’s expecting us to act, why is he just talking? Well, if we are fair we would say the rest of his life is word in action, but here he’s going to speak and use a lot of words. Again, it’s a little bit like your mom. Sometimes I would say to my mom, “Just spank me!” [Laughter] Does anybody ever say that to their mom? Like, three hours. I’m like: “Hit me! This would be a lot easier.” [Laughter] She just keeps talking, right? I had an Old Testament professor who said, “Jesus has a point here.” When my mom just kept talking and talking, what did I eventually do? “Okay, fine. Whatever you say.” I’d give up! “All right. Whatever you say. Just stop talking!” It’s funny, but it’s also true. What Jesus is doing is like: “I’m going to talk, and I’m going to keep talking until you finally see that what I’m saying is so important and so deep and wise that you’re going to go: ‘You’re right. I give up. I’ve got nothing. Whatever you say. Fine. Got it.’ ”
How do we organize ourselves as we go through this? I’ve gone back and forth. Do I draw out themes, do I give you a list? And all I could really come up with—sorry that it’s not any better than this—is that I just have to go line by line, teaching by teaching, commandment by commandment. Then hopefully as we go we can comment. If you want a summary sheet of those main bulletpoints, let me know at the end of the class if you think that would be helpful, and like we did with the 55 Maxims, we can create these little summary sheets that you can have that you can rotate. I wasn’t sure if that was going to be helpful.
As I said, have your Bibles out. We’re in Matthew 5:1, and we’re going to start. We’re just going to start plowing through this, and then the next time we get together we’re going to start where we left off and keep going. My hope is that tonight we can get through the first ten verses. If you attend my Bible study, you know that that will be a miracle, because sometimes we do one verse in three sessions—one word in an hour. So we’ll see.
If you’re taking notes, you can make a little title here and say that this first part, vv. 1-16, is a section in which Jesus discusses the marks of a disciple, and he’s going to do this by basically going through the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes is something that the Church ingrains into its liturgical life, so if you are part of the daily cycle of prayer, you’re going to go through the Beatitudes at least once a day. The Beatitudes, if you will, describe what it’s like to be a disciple. The Beatitudes tell us what are the blessings that a disciple will get. I think here Jesus is being clever. He’s about to tell you a whole bunch of stuff that he wants you to do. So how does he start? He tells you what you’re going to get if you do it. My mom did this, too. “If you clean the basement, when you’re done, you can have… a cookie.” So I’d go, “Oh!” And then you get older and the cookie ain’t so great, so she’s got to step it up. “If you clean the basement, I’m going to give you… money to go to the movies.” And so it goes.
And Jesus does the same. He starts to give us, in these Beatitudes, dessert. “This is what you’re going to get.” So tonight there was a nice dessert out there that I liked, and I had two helpings of it, and I didn’t have two helpings of salad, but I did have two helpings of the dessert. [Laughter] It was very good. You should have had it if you didn’t. Oh, you wanted some? No, I ate it. Sorry. There’s an expectation in these Beatitudes that you’re going to do them, but there’s also a reward that’s going to come by doing them. As we move down the Sermon on the Mount, the rewards aren’t there as much. Okay, so it’s a ploy.
I already told you that verse one and verse two give us the context, and they tell us a little bit about how Jesus did this. I just have one more thing to say that I haven’t said yet. When we consider where the Sermon on the Mount happens, we said it’s a mountain. Has anybody climbed a mountain? Is it easy? No. Usually by the time you’ve gotten halfway up, you’re feeling it, and even exhausted. By the time you’ve summited, you may have depleted yourself, but you begin to have a euphoric experience through the effort. That is not to be forgotten. The other thing is: do we build cities on mountains? No. No, it’s pretty hard to build a city on a mountain. Where are the cities? Down below, in the valleys.
So if you are to move through the Sermon on the Mount, one of the ideas is that it’s going to take some effort, and, two, it’s going to require a departure. You’re going to have to leave where you’ve been living and go somewhere else. And when you get there, when you get to the top of a mountain, it’s usually just nature and hopefully your phone doesn’t work. So there’s a bit of solitude and quiet to that experience. And that would be true: that Jesus gives us this teaching outside the bustle of a city, on a mountainside, in the midst of the peace of God’s creation, and in the expectation that you’ve left something behind to get there. So don’t forget that on this journey those things have to have happened.
So we’re going to start. 5:3. We read here, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” The first Beatitude is about poverty, and the question becomes: Does it mean materially poor? Not necessarily, although it does mean to be connected with those who do experience material poverty. What do I mean by that? If I’m poor, if I’m totally poor, what am I dependent upon? [The government.] Well, this is a non-political class, but tonight we have the government! No, if I’m poor, truly poor, truly impoverished, what am I dependent upon? Others—that’s the answer. If I cannot walk for myself, if I cannot feed myself, if I cannot clothe myself, if I cannot house myself, what am I dependent upon? Someone else to do it.
This dependency is where the Sermon on the Mount begins. What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”? It means to know that I am not the person who can do it. I require another. And this is humility. Where does the fall begin? Pride. “I can do it.” Adam says, “I can do it. I don’t need you. I can figure this out.” By the way, that’s only true for me. [Laughter] “I can do it. I can figure it out.” And likewise, you and I—you and me, whatever it is—participate, we participate and continue in this fall through our own pride. We do it all the time. “I’m first. It’s about me. I want what I want when I want it.” So Jesus begins by pointing to the way home. “If you’re going to start on this sermon with me, then the first thing you have to do is become dependent—on me.”
So to be poor in spirit is to have pride under your foot. It’s to trust and depend on God, to be faithful to him, to have a heart that is full of poverty. Now what’s the reward? What’s the dessert? It says it right there. You don’t have to look. Heaven! The kingdom of heaven. Now, the kingdom of heaven, this is extra. You didn’t pay for this and I didn’t write it. Because I’m a nice guy I’m going to give you a little salsa. When you hear “kingdom of heaven,” you immediately go, “Oh, harp, cloud—place.” That’s fine, but what you should do is go: “Presence, Person, relationship.”
The kingdom of heaven is a relationship with God, and when you’re in heaven, guess who’s there! Him! And if you don’t like him, you’re not going to like heaven. So if you’re not poor in spirit, if you’re not humble, you can’t enter his presence. Why? Because you don’t need him! So it’s not as if you go to hell; you just can’t get into heaven. Some people marry people like that, that don’t really need them. There are some people who are married to people whose spouses don’t need the other spouse, and in time what do they do? They divorce, because you can’t be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t need you. It’s the same with God. You can’t be in a relationship unless you’re poor in spirit and you need him. Then the relationship begins.
Verse four: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This may seem weird, because it may seem we’re just sad and we go around weepy and we even look for things to be depressed about. In fact, the Scriptures are really clear that there’s a difference between holy sorrow and unholy sorrow. The one I was just describing is unholy sorrow. Unholy sorrow is sadness and despair. So that’s not what we’re talking about; it’s not being sad. It’s not feeling like there’s no hope. That’s not it at all. In fact, 2 Corinthians 7:8-13 is a fantastic passage, so I’m just going to read it to you really quick. This is St. Paul writing to the Corinthians—who were jerks. The Corinthians were jerks. They couldn’t be nice to each other. It’s kind of like your children sometimes. They were mean to each other. You’re like: “What are you being mean to each other for? That’s terrible!” And they were mean to their relations like their parents. They couldn’t follow anything that St. Paul taught them, so St. Paul writes to them. And we don’t have this letter any more.
For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I don’t regret it, though I did regret it, for I see that the letter caused you sorrow, but only for a while. I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance.
You follow me? So we start with “we need the other” and then what? Then we start with: “And I’m not actually okay. I should mourn the fact that I’m broken.”
I don’t like to do this in a class, but I’m going to pick on you, Miles. Miles just came back from a monastery. I said, “Miles, how was it?” He goes, “Oh, it was fantastic! I couldn’t… There’s no words!” But he said, “You know, one of the things that I came away with is that I’m a mess, but I was really encouraged.” That is what happens at a healthy church. That’s what happens at a healthy monastery. That’s what happens when we are healthy spiritually. We go: “You know, this is terrible. I’m a jerk to my wife. I’m a tyrant to my children. Ah, but I have hope. I am encouraged.” So he says:
... you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance. For you were not made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us, for the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces repentance without regret.
We don’t sit there and wallow in it.
...leading to salvation. But the sorrow of the world produces death. Godly sorrow has produced in you what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong!
When you have true mourning, then it pricks your conscience and you get up and you work hard to change the way you’re living. So what’s the reward? Comfort. You will be comforted. When you can have holy sorrow for the sufferings that occur in your life through your own sin, when you can have sorrow for the pain and suffering for another, when you can have sorrow for the state of the world, then you can be comforted. But if you’re not mournful of these things, no comfort.
Verse five: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” We have to make a distinction here. Meekness is not humility. In fact, the Greek words are different. Meekness here is a quality of Christ that we’re encouraged to imitate. There’s another time (here is 5:5) where we see this word, “meek.” We’re going to find this word again in 11:29, Jesus again speaking, and he says this: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” In Christ, meekness is strength. Can you find a combination? Is Jesus a weakling? No, he’s not a weakling, is he? If you just read his life: does he flip-flop? Never. Is he a pushover, is he cheesy? He’s really strong, but he’s also meek. How does this work?
Well, pride is certainly something that would not lead us to meekness, but the way that we can kind of find a way through this is to say strength in control. How many of you have strong passions? Anger, gluttony, greed. Now, one of the wonderful ways that the Church talks about these passions… There’s a couple of schools of thought. I’m going to present one school of thought, that passions are good, but they have been disfigured by our sin, and Christ comes to reclaim them for their goodness. When we do that and when we combine that with meekness, then it’s strength that’s in control.
Is anger a sin? Most of the time when you use it, it is. But if that passion is meekness, which is strength in control, then can anger be used meekly, and can it be used rightly? For example, we might use anger to war against sin and injustice. But how we usually use anger is: “You’re wearing my headband. Take it off.” And then, if they don’t… This happened this morning. [Laughter] “That’s mine. Take it off!” And then it escalates, and the anger boils over and someone’s snatching a headband off someone’s head and then there’s a fight. You’re not any different. You’re all snatching headbands. [Laughter] It’s just something more complex. Whatever it is, but that’s all we’re doing. Someone cuts you off? It’s a headband. Your sister did something about the holiday party—headband.
What we look for here is we say that when we are meek we can place our passions in their right place, they are controlled, and we are strong. We find that we get a reward. What is it? We inherit the earth. All that is in the earth is now ours.
Verse six: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” What brings fullness? Protein. It’s a joke. [Laughter] What brings fullness? Well, we have been taught that wealth or greediness, obtaining things, consuming them, brings fullness. What’s the lotto up to? One and a half billion! So if you win that, you will be full. Now what’s funny is that, when they study lotto winners, what do the lotto winners tell you? “It’s the worst thing that ever happened to me!” Those of us who haven’t won say, “Well, I’d like to have that worst thing happen to me.” [Laughter] What did you get for Christmas when you were eight? You remember? You got socks. (He’s weird. He can remember.) [Laughter] [My parents were weird.] Your parents were weird, and you’re weird! You remembered, and they gave you socks, too. If I ask my children what did they get last year, that they were pining for, they remember. The abundance of things does not make us full, and we don’t very easily dismiss this illusion, and we spend most of our lives pursuing fullness, not by means of righteousness.
So what do we do? Well, Christ, again, in setting this up for us, says, “If you want to be full, if you want to be complete, if you want to feel satiated and satisfied, that will only come through a constant pursuit of righteousness.” Righteousness: dikaiosynē is the Greek. How are we going to say and define that for you? It’s hard. It’s a word that needs a little bit more than just one word. Be excellent in what is good, and be innocent of what is evil. Right living.
Righteousness is more than doing one thing versus another. It’s about having a whole picture of what life looks like, and executing it. That’s what righteousness is. That’s why people who see people who don’t do that say, “Oh, he’s a righteous prig.” Why? Because they’ve only executed a part of it, and righteousness requires all of it. If we’re going to be righteous, we can’t just take out a few things. So fullness comes through full living. We call God in our prayers sometimes the Architect of our souls. That’s a beautiful phrase. It comes out most poignantly in the baptism service, before the tonsure. The priest reads this prayer: The One who is the Architect of us, who put us together, who formed us, who said, “Ah, this and that,” and knows not just our looks and our height and our weight, but our thoughts, all of it, what’s right—he would want us living this way.
And what’s the reward? Read it. You’re filled! Have you ever had one of those really good meals where you’re just sitting at the table and you’re filled, you’re full, you’re whole, you’re complete? And you have peace. The eye is calmed. When you’ve eaten well, you don’t want more, do you? No. You’re good. The one time I had a really good example of that is [the time] I was in Wyoming at the retreat center at the chapel that was there at the time, and a bishop visited, a really beautiful man, a beautiful Christian. We served the Liturgy. After Liturgy we walked over to the dorm and there was a big porch where they served the brunch. They brought out his plate, and he said, “No, I am full.” And we were all like: “…” And then another person tried. “No, I’m full.” Finally, someone said, “Your Eminence, what do you mean you’re full?” And he said, “I have just tasted of God. I am full.” If we were totally righteous and tasted God, we’re filled.
Number seven: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Now, this is an interesting one, because the thing that you’re supposed to do is the thing that you get. It’s the only one like it, but it’s just the way it is. The word here, merciful, the word is eleēmosynē. The Greek verb is eleēm-. The word itself means mercy, but it also means almsgiving, so we’re going to take this apart. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” That’s your reward if you do it.
The first part is to say the merciful are those who give charity. To display mercy to another is to give them something that they need and they don’t have. That could be material—maybe they need food or maybe they need clothing or maybe they—who knows?—maybe they need help bathing themselves; I don’t know, whatever. It could mean an idea or a thought: they need comfort, some form of mercy. We’re going to see this a bit more as we get into the Sermon on the Mount, but this is a really important one that you’re supposed to be doing, and no one else is supposed to know you’re doing it.
But the second way that we can be merciful is to show merciful treatment to others. So the one daughter goes: “That’s my headband.” She lost her mercy. What should she have done? Been silent. “It’s yours. Would you like my other headband?” But what we’re busy doing is not only telling someone that they’re wearing our headband, we’re snatching it off their head. And when we want a headband, we’re mad that no one gives us one. If you want to be treated mercifully, then what do you have to do? Be merciful! It’s an exchange, and God’s giving you kind of a simple exchange. He’s saying, “Look, the measure by which you measure shall be measured back to you.” That’s Luke 6. The mercy you give will be the mercy you get back.
And then he says something beautiful: “Pressed over, running full.” In other words, the more merciful you are… So think of it this way: If you have a situation in which someone really does you a bad one, I mean really is a stinker, go: “Sweet! Because if I treat this one mercifully, guess what I just got: abundance. I just got mercy for myself.” So sometimes God loves us—sometimes—and he gives us these situations to see what we’re going to do with them. When we’re not faithful, he takes it back a step and he makes it like a headband. But he wants to move you onto something deeper, and I can say personally I fail all the time.
The last thing I would give you is for any of you who come for confession, as you stand before the icon of the Lord and you confess your sins, what’s your hope that he’s going to do with your sin? Forgive you, loose you, be merciful, right? So what should you give? Mercy. No one who goes under the stole says, “I want justice. Give me justice, God.” [Laughter] Yeah, you give justice, you’re going to get it. You’re going to get justice.
Verse eight: “Blessed are the pure at heart, for they shall see God.” Purity in body and in your heart: maybe this is the toughest Beatitude, for to be pure means to be unmixed with anything else, and we know that from commercials. “It’s the purest of—whatever,” and that means it’s nothing else: “pure as the driven snow.” Christ wants us to practice and have at our command all of the virtues. It’s a little bit like that early one about righteousness. So, for example, if you give charity to those in need but still have greed in your heart… Yeah. If you are humble, but fornicate, then you have not yet obeyed the commandments of God. God would have us holy. Without this, no one can see God. The Fathers give us a simple way to understand this. They say it’s a mirror. If we’re holy, then we can see clearly our reflection, but if we are unclean, if our souls are not pure and our hearts are mixed with the world, then there can be no vision of God: we can’t understand the Scriptures, we can’t understand the holy teachings.
Sometimes Christ says some hard things. He says in one place, “Don’t throw your pearls in front of swine.” What do swine eat? Anything and everything, mixed together with dirt and muck. They’re [impure] and unclean. That’s why it was a dietary restriction in the Old Testament, not because you can’t have bacon—because the swine represented something unclean and mixed up and filthy: don’t eat it. By that, he was teaching you something that he was going to expound on later on. So if you think that for a moment the pearls of God can be understood if you’re living a mixed-up life—it ain’t going to happen.
Right before the Eucharist is served, the priest exclaims, “Holy things for the holy.” Agios—what does that mean? A-gē: not of this earth. Set apart. Not of this world. To be unmixed, unstained, untainted. Not to be not in the world—where else would you go? Christians are in the world, but we’re not of the world. That’s the difference. We can be in the world all day long. St. Paul even says it in one of his letters. “If I told you to leave the world, where would you go?” You’ve got to stay in the world. Okay.
Verse nine: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” How do you become a peacemaker? It starts with being at peace with yourself, knowing yourself, finding the kingdom of God in yourself. That book, Reclaiming Conversations, that I’ve been mentioning a lot—it’s a great book—it quotes Thoreau who had one chair for solitude, two for a friend, and three for community. But you’ve got to sit in the first chair first. To be a peacemaker means to have made the journey inside, to reconcile ourselves with ourselves.
Think about distraction. What does distraction do? Keeps you from dealing with yourself. You know that experiment where there was… I heard about this experiment that is in this book as well. He told people, “You’re going to sit in this room, 20 minutes of silence. There’s a machine that will shock you; that’s all you can have.” You know what most people did after the 13th minute? Started shocking themselves. It was so painful to be alone with themselves that physical pain was better than being left alone. What do you do the minute you’re bored when you’re in the line at the grocery store? What do people do at stop lights? What do they do when they’re walking? No one can be with themselves! Peace starts with being with ourselves, reconciling ourselves with ourselves.
Peace begins—and please listen to me on this one—peace begins with God’s peace. We must accept that all that occurs in our lives is in the hands of God. That’s called providence. The minute we say, “No matter what happens today, it’s in God’s hands,” and if we connect that with the conviction that God is victorious and it’ll be okay because he’s conquered death, then we can have peace. So Jesus Christ himself, having that peace in himself, he then brought that peace into the world.
What do you often try to do? You try to be a peacemaker to your daughters who have a headband problem, and you haven’t spent any time on your own at peace. So then what do you do? You bring your lack of peace into a very peaceless situation.
What’s the reward? That you’re sons of God. The Son of God is the one who brought peace.
Verse ten: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteous’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” The simple way to understand this is to say this: Jesus was persecuted. If you’re going to listen to him, then the same will happen to you. And persecution for the Gospel comes to any of us who choose to live it and what it teaches and what it promotes. So in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, this is what St. Paul writes:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, the covetous, drunkards, revilers, swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you.
Lest you start looking down your nose at someone else. “Well, I used to be a drunkard, but… I used to be a homosexual, but I’m not any more.” Any of that is just uncalled-for in the Church. “Such were some of you.”
But you were washed. [You were baptized.] You were sanctified; you were anointed in the Holy Spirit. You were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
And what’s your reward? The kingdom of God.
So now we’re going to wrap up here, in ten minutes. Verses 11 and 12: so in vv. 11-12, we move out of the Beatitudes. Some say maybe verse 11 is still a Beatitude, but for most they say it’s not: it’s connected with what comes after it. So vv. 11-12 read this way:
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Notice that the persecution and the reviling is false. It’s one thing to be reviled and persecuted when the person who’s saying it is saying something true. That’s hard to take, isn’t it? But what about when they’re lying? “Oh, I won’t stand for that.” And what is Jesus saying here? You have to do that. When they falsely accuse you, you have to accept this. Why? “For my sake.” He says that even when it happens, rejoice and be exceedingly glad, because you’re going to get a reward.
What happens when you set the record straight? You lose your reward. That’s all. You’re not in trouble, but there comes a point—I don’t know where this is, because I’m not there, because every time someone falsely accuses me, I set the record straight. But at some point, if you were to mature spiritually, you would accept the false accusation because you would be interested in the reward that you would receive. And then you say, “Well, I’ll just take it. God’s going to give me something. I don’t know what he’s going to give me, but there’s some reward that’s coming.”
This is, in Christ’s words, the path of the prophets. You could insert: It’s the path of the saints. It’s the path of the martyrs. And that their persecution for Christ is accompanied with great joy. Is that true, when we read their stories? Yeah! They’re like, “Sweet! We’re going to be beheaded!” [Laughter] What!? What is, if you really read the epistles, what is St. Paul’s most joyful epistle? There’s only one answer: Philippians. Read Philippians. It’s like… Full of joy. Where is he writing it? On death row. His persecution… Why is he in prison? Falsely, wrongly! For preaching Christ. And he’s so excited. What does it say about the apostles, Peter and John, after they go to the Sanhedrin and they beat them? They come out and they’re like “Yay!” They’re singing praises because they got to suffer for Christ’s sake. What!? None of us are there. This is why it’s a mountain, and this is why we’re trying to climb it: because we may not be there at 16 or 18 or 30 or 47, almost, or 65 or 70, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not trying to put one more foot in front of the other, and at some point we should be there.
Verse 13. (I might do it.) [Laughter] “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing, but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” Whew. This is the first warning, but it starts off with: “You are the salt of the world.” I was saying earlier in my sermon after our worship service tonight that there are three things that God uses often to describe a disciple: salt, water, light. Here’s salt. The disciple, then, is the person who begins to put into practice what Jesus has just taught us above in his Beatitudes. That’s why this verse comes here. At verse 13, he’s saying, “Okay, I just told you in vv. 3-12, I gave you my Beatitudes, I told you what’s going to happen when you do them, you’re going to get persecuted, and now I’m telling you that if you lose this teaching I’ve given you, you’re going to be worthless. But if you can keep it, you’re salt.”
What is salt? I love salt. It seasons everything. I asked a good friend of mine, his wife, “How come all your food is so good?” She goes: “I use a lot of salt.” [Laughter] That was it. You’ve got a salad? Throw a little salt on that thing. You’ve got a steak, put a little salt on it. Is there much that you can’t put salt on? Even sweet things with salt—it’s fantastic! [Laughter] It is, right? Sweet and salty. Come on: salty caramel. I gave a whole sermon on that ice cream, remember that? [Laughter] It was two summers ago. I talked about the caramel. It was like: What the heck? We didn’t have this when I was a kid! Did we? No. Someone figured it out: Put the salt in the sweet! Yes! Put it on everything!
What else does salt do? It dries up things that are wet and moldy—the teachings of the world. It aspirates them—is that the… [snaps fingers] No, what’s the technical term? Desiccates. Desiccates? Desiccates. It desiccates them; it dries them up. It cleans things. It’s an astringent—no, what’s that word? I said the right word? Okay. You put salt on anything, it cleans it. It preserves things. That’s why Jesus is using it. It gives flavor, I said at the beginning. So this is something that we will begin to be in the world if we’re following these teachings that Jesus just gave us.
But then there’s a warning. If you become insipid, if you lose that edge, especially a teacher, then you are good for nothing. So that’s scary.
Verse 14: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Okay, so we were salt; now we’re light. What are the qualities of light? You can see! Close your eyes, turn out the lights, walk around. Ouch. Simple as that. So Jesus is asking us, and here I would say, “Go read Ephesians 5.” St. Paul says, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. Walk in love.” “Walk in love?” Okay. Walk in love. Love illumines. Walking is the progress of your life. If you go through life in love then you can see, just as Christ also loved.
But immorality or impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. And there must be no filthiness and silly talk, coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.
He goes on and says beautifully what this means, and then he says, “For you were formerly in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light.” What do we call the brothers and sisters of the Lord? Adelphōtitos, adelphōtitē: a brother of light, a sister of light. That’s what a Christian is. “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead expose them.” Where? In someone else? No. In yourself. You know how many Christians read that passage differently? Most. [Laughter] Okay, thank you. That’s not where you’re supposed to expose them. Where does judgment begin? With the household of God, not with everybody else. As far as you’re concerned, they’re all in heaven; you’re not. Don’t pay attention to what they’re doing.
“But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light.” Everything that becomes visible is light. And the rest. “We disciples of Christ, then, are to be the light of the world.” So it’s interesting, because his disciples were to be salt and light, and if you think about this, light providing illumination, knowing where and how to go, exposing what is wrong in ourselves, our own sins, providing for the world a way out! Don’t tell them about the way out; be the way out.
Philippians 2:15: “The way and life of a Christian can stimulate those in the world to consider another path in a new way.” I haven’t done anything really that good in my life, but it’s interesting to me that, when I decided to go to seminary, my former life was not seminarian-esque. [Laughter] People are always intrigued by meeting my mom. “Oh, what was he like?” [Laughter] “Did he fast? Did he pray? Was he reading his Bible? Was he so sweet and kind and gentle?” No! None of those things! [Laughter]
So when I went to the seminary, when I made the shift in my life, I had a dear friend that I had grown up with; she came up to me and she said, “I don’t know what to do with this, but you going back to seminary has caused me to look at myself.” That’s all she said. I didn’t say anything to her, but it caused a crisis, and what’s difficult is that if the world no longer has salt and light in it, then no one knows where to go and nothing has flavor. So if we as Christians don’t provide a different way, if you line us all up next to everybody else and there’s no difference, then what good are we?
Okay, there’s more to say about light, but we’ve got to finish. I would say you could look at Romans 13:12, because the light can’t be overcome by darkness. You can consider the Paschal Liturgy; it’s the Liturgy of light: “Come, receive the light from the light, the unwaning Light, which is Christ.” You know, that whole thing and we light our lights. We take our lights home, we keep our lights in our home.
Verse 15 and then verse 16 and then we’re done. I’m going to go over just a couple of minutes. Verse 15: “Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket”—it’s connected to the previous verse—“but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” We just said earlier that we have to be light in the world so that people know where to go, but we have to be careful here. When we do that, where does the glory go? To God. Where do we like the glory to go?
I sent someone an email today, because someone gave some money to the church and said, “Help this person with it.” So I said, “Okay.” I’m the intermediary; I take care of it. I sent the email; they said, “Thank you, Fr. Evan!” Oh, no. Capitals, bold: Don’t thank me. I didn’t do anything. Give thanks to God. We have to be practical like that, because it happens all the time. “Oh, thank you.” No, whoa—stop. Don’t thank me. No thanks are necessary.
We know that Christ is the light of the world, and then we take this light that’s been imparted to us, unworthy as we are, by his grace, and we endeavor to let that light shine, to make sure it’s not extinguished in us. And this vigilance then brings light to the world, it illumines our lives and other people’s lives, and we say, “Glory to God!” not “Glory to me.”
Last one. Oh, I did it. The last one says, “Let your light shine.” I guess I already talked about it. It’s not about you. It is about me, though, right? Isn’t that what it is? It really is about you, isn’t it, Katerina? It really is. No matter how much you say it isn’t, it ends up being about you again, doesn’t it? How hard it is to rail and wail and fight against that tendency to bring it back to us, right where we started: poverty. It can’t be about you. We can say that a Christian life has a private, but it has a public function, and we have to be doing the things that the light has required us to do in the world, not just in our churches. You have to do it at work, you have to do it at the dinner table, you have to do it at the grocery store.
It’s really hard for me to hear, sometimes, when a vendor who’s encountered the Church says, “I was treated rudely by one of your church members.” It hasn’t happened here, thank God, but I was at a big church; we had lots of vendors. Sometimes the Christians in the church were not treating the people outside the Church like Christians should, and we’d hear about it from the vendor, and I thought, “Oh, this is so sad.” So other verses to consider are John 3:21, 1 Corinthians 10:31, and 1 Peter 2:12. We’re going to end here. We went five minutes over. The next time we will pick it up at verse 17. Why don’t we rise for a prayer.