The scripture is where I am transformed and this one here is exposing me. A weekly submitting myself to the gospel in the lectionary is renewing my heart and mind. Come along for the pilgrimage? We call it Word Seeds.
1. First we prepare our minds. Heavenly Father, You said that Your Word never returns to You void. We pray for that now. We humble ourselves before Your word and ask for transformation, mind, soul and spirit.
2. Then we read the gospel: Matthew 5:1-12 This will be the gospel reading in most of your churches this Sunday. Year A, Epiphany 4
Modern-day success is intricately tied to self-marketing whether it is explained away as putting on make-up for a new friend, branding for church planting or platform building for publishing. But self-marketing is tied to many of our loudest demons. Mine included. How many people approve of me? How many people enjoy my work enough to come back, to taste more? Will my performance be enough? Am I loveable? Unfortunately, we’ve compounded the lies by taking the message of our capitalist world and spiritualizing it like this: More people (more money, more attention, etc.) equals the blessing of God.
It’s completely counter to the message of Jesus in the Beatitudes. Pretty soon we’re daily tearing petals off a daisy, “they like me, they like me not.” Often I’m consumed with outcomes and not hidden in His love.
Matthew 5:1 starts off with this: “Jesus saw the crowds and He took His disciples and went up onto a mountain to teach them.” The commentaries agree that Jesus started teaching the Sermon on the Mount looking into just the eyes of his disciples. It seems to be that the crowds found them later.
Could it be that He saw the gleam in their eyes? With the crowds milling about, the disciples were beginning to feel the electricity of coming power. Crowds mean success and success means a new King and if we’re close to the guy, we could be at the helm. Jesus saw their desire to rally against the Roman oppressor but he knew the way crowds can turn into mobs and spin out of control.
You can imagine Peter had set up a soapbox in the market of Capernaum and some of the louder disciples were taking turns cheerleading for a coming revolution. The resident Roman centurions were being pushed around a little bit more by the growing mob bravado.
And I’ll bet the cunning were sitting around outdoor tables beginning to make plans. You could hear their whispers if you leaned in, “If we keep these crowds happy and then begin raising up groups all along the route to Jerusalem, by the time we get there, we’ll be able to make an attack on the Romans.”
A little success has a way of uncovering our most embarrassing fantasies. Taste a little and we start dreaming of vacation houses and stadium seating. Only if we are willing to drag our fantasies into the light of God’s Presence, will we get untangled. If we don’t, the fantasies themselves will begin to drive us. In Matthew 5, Jesus saw the need for a complete identity check. They were about to build another kingdom, not His, try their hand at another Tower of Babel.
So He took them up the hill by themselves, away from the crowds.
And we understand the equation. We are crowd lovers, too. The larger the stadium, the larger the church, the more twitter followers, the larger the platform, the more friends, the more successful we feel. But here’s the deeper truth. The larger the crowd, the more unlikely the podium itself will be filled with the poor in spirit. And the people in those seats? Their own desire for success will keep them hanging onto the promises of MORE, more success, more money, more of God’s “blessing.” If they touch the hem of his garment, read the book, listen to the TED talk, maybe some of the success will rub off on them too. I get it.
Am I addicted to numbers?
But the Beatitudes turn all of this upside down. You can almost hear the plea in His voice. My friends, revolution will not create the disciple I and my Father are looking for. We cannot change the world with success, only through dying. I am looking to make disciples who are humble, meek, broken hearted, merciful, quick to mourn, thirsty for righteousness, pure in heart, peacemakers.
I have no need for the self-reliant, self-confident and they have no need for me.
I want disciples who are able to withstand persecution, who are teachable.
But Jesus was not requiring something from them that wasn’t already in Him:
He was so poor in spirit He refused to do anything He didn’t hear the Father say to do.
He mourned over Jerusalem, wept over his friend Lazarus’ death.
Jesus’ meekness kept Him silent before his oppressors, silent in the face of bold lies.
His hunger for righteousness was so pure the false stuff irked Him and He picked up whips and words like weapons.
He was humble enough to know that His power came from His connection,
merciful to the most egregious sinners,
pure enough to be kept on his knees.
And Peacemaker? His death became our ultimate “peace be still.”
In ten lines the disciples’ hearts are exposed. In one line my own heart is laid bare. Holiness is impossible without humility and God can only piece together mosaics out of a person who is broken at His feet.
God is in the business of loving and transforming people, breathing the Spirit into dry bones one rickety stack after another. Only the humble broken can lean down and take the hand of another beautiful broken and bring them to their feet, point them to the cross. It is the Samaritan woman who said, “come see the man who told me everything I ever did,” who drew a village straight to Jesus’ feet. When we pretend perfect, we let go of the power of our testimony.
When we offer the world:
our bits of words scrawled on a paper or a screen,
our ideas to a boardroom,
our colors on canvas,
our roast chicken to the five plates around our table,
our encouragement to our neighbor,
a speech to a packed-out room,
the sermon etched on our heart,
a new way of being the church,
we don’t have to flinch, to fear success or failure.
We can consciously bring it all to His feet and ask the only one who matters, “Abba, I’m your child, here’s my offering to you today. What do You think of the work I’ve done?” And we can wait for our Father to love on his child, to receive our broken finger paintings of effort…and let Him who knows we are human and loves us anyway be our only judge.
Join me for the pilgrimage through the gospel? Weekly Bible studies based on the lectionary slipped into your email? Go to the front page and add your email to the CONNECT box. Blessings, Friends!
I’ve spent the week rereading Brokenness by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. I highly recommend it. Her revival-spreading talk on the same subject to Campus Crusade’s staff in 1995 is on Youtube and will open up areas of your life where His light needs open doors. Put it on while you fold that pile of laundry?