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Kingdom living: A sermon on Matthew 5
February 20, 2011, 6:14 pm
Filed under: Sermons | Tags: , , , ,

This morning, we continue hearing Jesus’ sermon on the mount. In these chapters, Jesus calls his followers to a difficult life of discipleship. Our passage for this morning can be especially difficult, as we wonder what it means that Jesus calls us to avoid retaliation, accept ridicule, and even love those who hate us. I’m going to read this passage again, this time from a translation by Eugene Peterson, who is less concerned with sticking to what each Greek word means and more concerned with us getting the feel of what Jesus is saying. So, here is his translation of Jesus’ sermon, found in The Message:

 

38-42“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

43-47“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. (God) gives (God’s) best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

48“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.

 

Throughout this sermon on the mount, Jesus is inviting us to enter the kingdom of God. I like how Eugene Peterson puts it with “you’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it.” That’s what all the salt and light, divorce and adultery, turn the other cheek, and love your enemies stuff is about. Jesus is telling us how to live in God’s kingdom right here and right now.

 

I’ve been surprised recently by our tendency to equate the kingdom of God with heaven. I wonder what you think every time you pray “thy kingdom come.” Do you remember Martin Luther’s explanation that “God’s kingdom comes on its own without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may also come to us.” and that the kingdom comes about “Whenever our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that through the Holy Spirit’s grace we believe God’s holy word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity?”

 

God’s kingdom comes- now, to earth. Jesus brings this kingdom to us. God’s kingdom is God’s good purpose for creation. God created all that is with a vision towards its flourishing. Jesus’ preaching and healing points the way to this kingdom, out of the broken reality in which we live today. We were created for relationship with our God, not worship of ourselves. We were created for community, not division and violence. God’s kingdom is the restoring of the wholeness of all creation and relationships.

 

Jesus’ ministry re-establishes this kingdom on earth. Even though Jesus has brought the kingdom, and in his death and resurrection has conquered death and sin, we know that this world has not been fully transformed. We know that people are captive to sin, entrapped by their self-interest, and quick to retaliate or use violence to hold on to whatever they perceive is theirs. So we live in an in-between time. Jesus has already established the kingdom through his ministry and sacrifice. God’s reign is breaking-in, coming to us, right here. And yet we still wait for a final completion of this transformation, this renewal of our world and ourselves.

 

Jesus ministry shows us what the kingdom of God looks like. Even though it has not fully come, we can live as if it were here now, completely. In baptism, we died to the old way of life, the way of a broken creation that seeks its own interests. In baptism, we were raised to new life, kingdom life, united with Jesus, as a child of God. Through Jesus, we have been made “kingdom subjects.” As baptized followers of Jesus, we live in the kingdom now.

 

Even as the world still waits to be fully healed, we can live as people of the kingdom, witnessing to the kingdom that is coming among us. Our lives can point to the new reality Jesus brings to earth. When we live as people who have been renewed as God wills all creation to be renewed, we show forth the kingdom of God. We are the light of God, shining forth glimpses of the kingdom at hand. But, it’s not going to be easy!

 

Let’s think about the examples Jesus gives. In these short paragraphs from the sermon on the mount, Jesus outlines what it might look like to be a kingdom subject in a world that is one step behind, not quite in the kingdom yet. In this passage, Jesus begins with a piece of the Jewish teachings meant to stop the tendency for escalating violent retaliation. He pulls even farther back from “an eye for an eye”- and no more – to “do not resist an evildoer… if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer the other as well.” And then he goes on, “if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.”

There are many different ways people have interpreted these verses. But for our consideration of what it means to live in the kingdom now, with a world that is out of sync, one interpretation comes to the front. I would summarize it as Jesus saying “when people attack you- physically, verbally, legally, emotionally- because you are witnessing to the kingdom- witness even further by throwing them a curveball in your response. Don’t do what they expect and refute or fight. Stand firm in your identity as a child of God. That’s where your life, your self-worth and your authority come from. No one can take that away. So, when people see the light of the kingdom which you carry, and they try to quench it with their displays of power and violence, don’t engage in the same battle. You’re in a whole different game- a whole different kingdom. Give them a taste of that.”

 

So, even when people attack you, misquote you, willfully misunderstand and twist your words and actions so that they can paint a nasty picture of you, don’t be baited into their world. The world, the tv and airwaves, are filled with arguments because its so easy to get drawn in when we perceive an attack. Can you imagine what it would be like if we simply let an irrational attack slide by, unprotested?

 

Now, I think it’s really important to work for understanding and dialogue between people of different opinions and experiences. But, most of the time, in my own life, I’ve experienced someone just trying to bait me into an argument, or spewing their own issues all over me. They’re not in a place where they’re interested in dialogue. Where I tend to falter is when they start to attack who I am, what my motives are, and try to tell me horrible stuff about myself. Typically, this results in me rising to the bait and probably just solidifying for that other person all their twisted ideas.

 

But what if the next time someone tried to insult or attack me – or you- I could simply rest in my identity in Jesus? What if I wasn’t afraid of losing anything through another’s insult- not my reputation, my job, my status, not even my property- but willingly let them all be attacked, smeared, and broken, because I know that who I really am is known and loved by God? I wouldn’t need to try to hold on to, to defend, anything. I could give it all away, let the broken world and its broken people do their best to destroy me.

 

Jesus already has done this before us. Jesus let the broken world and its broken people destroy him. He accepted all the attacks- and he died as a result. But the true kingdom has come. Sin and brokenness did not win, Jesus and the kingdom of God are triumphant. Jesus took whatever was thrown at him, and he suffered under it, but the kingdom of God did not stop there. Jesus was raised from the dead. Through Jesus, we are made citizens of this unending and most powerful kingdom of God.

No matter what is thrown at us, our citizenship in this kingdom has been made sure through Jesus. Insults and attacks will come, but who we are is made firm in Jesus Christ. We are beloved, claimed, and forgiven children of God. We have been gifted with life forever. We are called and given the authority to live the kingdom of God today. Jesus gave us all this, and no one will ever take it away.

 

Jesus preaches this sermon first to those disciples sitting on the hill with him. Their witness to the kingdom will not be easy. They will experience many insults and attacks because of their ministry. Their witness will be doubted and scorned, people will laugh at them, people will kill them, and they will be called blasphemers, people preaching against God. Yet, they will hold fast to what they have witnessed: Jesus’ life and ministry, and his death and resurrection.

 

I think it’s important for us to remember that Jesus was crucified because of the kingdom of God. What Jesus taught about God, about us, was too difficult for people to accept. Jesus shook the whole fabric of society- he turned the way things are supposed to be upside down! If we live as if this kingdom were here now, we’re inviting the same difficulties Jesus faced. It doesn’t sound easy, but that’s how we live as faithful disciples.

 

As we seek to live into this kingdom of God, we follow Jesus’ teaching and example so that we know what it means to live as a kingdom subject. At the center is faith in Jesus Christ, and his love for us. This love is what characterizes our lives as kingdom subjects. We have confidence in God’s love for us, and are free to share that love with a broken world, without worry that it will somehow be diminished or taken from us. One commentator, Douglas Hare, puts it this way: “The Christ whose enemies nailed him to a cross asks us to love our enemies without expecting a miraculous change of heart.” (Interpretation: Matthew).

We can love, and accept attack, knowing that our place is secure and even though the world and its inhabitants are still living in brokenness and sin, there will be a day when the kingdom of God will be fully real. Our kingdom living is a glimpse of that new reality Jesus is creating.

 

So we continue to pray, and to live: “Thy kingdom come.”

 

 

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