November 24, 2019 – Pastor Marissa Jadrich Ortiz

It’s been a good time getting to know the Beatitudes with you this Fall. After spending 8 Sundays on the first 12 verses of Matthew 5:1-12, and 2 Sundays on verses 13-16, we have one last sermon to wrap up the remaining 2 chapters and 36 verses of the Sermon on the Mount. I recommend grabbing a bible from our Bible cart for this sermon. I’ll put up the scriptures we’re visiting on the slide but it might feel like a lot of moving around, and if you’re following a long in a bible it’s all on the same 2 or 3 pages. So that can be easier to keep up with.

Pastor Donnell called his verses on Salt, Light, and Deeds a transition from describing Happiness to encouraging discipleship. Jesus is teaching that participation in God’s rule and reign requires disciples to take up disciplined practices that follow Jesus into countercultural living. Followers of Jesus become a community that obeys God by publicly engaging in works of love, mercy, justice, and the protection of human life and dignity. 

I hope this doesn’t feel too much like a bait and switch to you. After all these weeks of telling you that the Beatitudes is not a to do list, now there is a to-do list after all! I think one reason Jesus opens with the Beatitudes is that he wants us to get a taste for what real happiness can be like. There’s some real payoff to the work of discipleship. And that’s reassuring to me because it’s actually a really hard to do list. I don’t know about you, but it can be hard for me sometimes to feel the joy and freedom in a list of commands. It can easy for me to feel shame and condemnation. So firstly I want you to know we’re in this together! You won’t be the only person in the room wondering if you going to make it through a gate so narrow. There is a King in this Kingdom and he really does have the right to give some order. But he is also a shepherd, and not only that, a Good Shepherd. So we know that for everything Jesus expects us to do, he’s committing to walk with us and guide us all the way.

Before we jump in to the rest of the sermon on the mount, we’re going to step back and look at how it fits into the bigger picture of the story Matthew’s telling. I’m hoping that will give us some helpful perspective and then we’ll sort of moonwalk back in to the Sermon on the mount.

So we’re skipping ahead to Matthew 8:1. This is right at the end of his sermon, when Jesus comes down from the mountain, He meets a man with leprosy. The man says, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Wow! You hear that? Not “if you are able.” Just if you are willing. This man sees that Jesus has power over this incurable skin condition. Jesus is more than willing. Jesus touches him, and the leprosy is gone. 

Next Jesus meets a centurion, a leader in the Roman army. We’re in verse 5 now. This man needs help from Jesus to cure one of his own servants who is sick. Jesus, again, is more than willing to help, but see how the centurion interrupts him. He says Lord, Master, I know how power works. I’m a man who follows orders. I’m a man who gives orders to others who follow me. This is a man whose livelihood depends on his appropriate use of authority, and he can tell immediate that Jesus is someone with significant authority. He knows that Jesus is the one in charge! That whatever Jesus says, that is what is going to happen. And it’s true, Jesus has the power to command that servant’s healing in accordance with this man’s faith.

Next Jesus visits Peter’s family in verse 14. Peter’s mother in law, let’s say her name is Justina. Justina is sick and Jesus commands that fever to leave her just with a touch. Justina gets dinner ready, and then Jesus spends all night healing the sick. Jesus’ authority over illness and bodies is unquestionable.

If we skip ahead to verse 23, we see Jesus’ disciples are afraid for their lives because the water is rough while their out in their boat. They wake Jesus up and in a word he rebukes the wind and waves. And do you see in verse 27 when Jesus’ disciples  get that warm fuzzy feeling of knowing Jesus is always with them taking care of them. No! They’re even more scared than they were of the weather! Who is this person who has authority even over the sky and the sea?

In the next story Jesus’ boat lands in a graveyard haunted by two demon possessed men. These demons are untamable. The men have been driven out of the city because the powers within them were so strong and so totally destructive. And as soon as these demons see Jesus, they know the game is up. They’re just negotiating a little to suffer less. “Let us go into the pigs,” they say. Because they already know Jesus is going to make them Go! And they already know that Jesus’ words carry a power and authority well beyond their own. The pigs all run into the lake, the pig herders take the news into the city, and the whole city comes out to BEG JESUS TO LEAVE. They could handle having 2 violent and powerful demon possessed men in their community. They’d learned how to exile them to the graveyard, to ignore their cries, to almost forget about that dark and destructive spiritual power just beyond their borders. But Jesus comes with a power that is clearly so much stronger than theirs. A power that clearly will not be contained in a graveyard. A word whose authority is not questioned even by demons. And they say, this is too much for us. We can’t handle this. Jesus we need you to go away.

Our last story, before we blast back to the sermon on the mount, is at the start of chapter nine. A few friends bring a paralyzed man to Jesus and Jesus responds by forgiving the man’s sins. And that’s a crazy thing to do because no one has the AUTHORITY to do that except God. Jesus knows this so he says in verse 6, “this is how you’ll know that the son of man has power on earth to forgive sins…” And he tells the paralyzed man to get up and walk. The crowd leaves in awe that God has given such authority to a person.

Do you see this escalating story Matthew is telling about Jesus’ spiritual authority? Jesus has authority over leprosy. Jesus commands sickness to be gone just like a military commander gives orders to his soldiers. Jesus tells the weather what to do and it obeys. Jesus’ power overwhelms the most powerful demons. Jesus even has the power to forgive sins.

So follow along with me back to the end of the sermon on the mount. Matthew 7:28 says “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” At first I thought this meant their regular teachers just didn’t know what they were talking about and everyone thought “wow this guy sounds like a real expert!” But it’s more than that. It means Jesus speaks the words of this sermon not as someone teaching a lesson but someone giving orders. Just like Jesus has clear and direct instructions for the wind and the waves, for demons and diseases, Jesus has clear and direct instructions for us. That’s what’s going on in the sermon on the mount. 

And here’s where I start running out of something to preach, church. Because I wish I could tell you what Jesus really means when he says living in anger is wrong like murder. when he says lust is as bad as adultery. when he says keeping every commitment is as important as keeping a vow. When he says revenge and retribution are completely off the table. But that’s what Jesus really means and there’s not a whole lot else to say! He actually expects us to do these things, just as much as he actually expects the wind and waves to shut up while he’s taking a nap on his friends’ boat. 

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus speaks to us as a Master with the authority to give orders. And this is a real sticky spot for me with Jesus. I like suggestions. I like coaching. I like spiritual care and support. I deeply object to the word Master, I have no positive connotations for it whatsoever. It’s just icky and controlling and the opposite of freedom. But Jesus is really comfortable with that title. Every time someone in the scripture calls Jesus “lord”, that’s not a fancy title like “Lord high archduke of christendom”. Lord means master. The people who call Jesus Lord are acknowledging that Jesus is their master just like the demons and the diseases know that Jesus is the master. Church, some of us want to be part of God’s kingdom but we don’t like that there’s actually a KING in it. I used to get real scared reading Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to me Lord Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the ones who do the will of my father.” And when I think of Jesus as the master, this makes sense. Jesus is saying “I’m not really your master if you’re not doing the things I told you to do!” That’s what having a master means.

Where this really hits home to me is when Jesus starts talking about Money. In chapter 6 verse 19 Jesus says “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” But then Jesus goes on to say that what you do money proves your allegiance. “No one can serve two masters, Jesus says, you cannot serve both God and money.

Church, I don’t even want to have ONE master! I want to be master of my money AND master of my fate! We love this picture of Jesus that’s the master over disease, master over demons, master of weather. We want Jesus to use that kind of power in our favor but we don’t want Jesus to be master over us. Because we’re a freedom-loving people! We call our own shots! 

So maybe this is a good time for us to just acknowledge that we don’t. We don’t call our own shots. Far more often than we’re willing to admit, the things we’re trying to be in control of, are in control of us. That’s a big part of why Jesus is claiming his authority as Master in the place of our anger, revenge, lust, infidelity, money. He can see the toll they’re already taking on us and he wants to set us free from that. It can be a hard hard word to hear that the thing you cherish the deepest, the thing that makes you feel powerful and worthy, is actually a fear in disguise and it’s controlling you. That’s what Jesus sees in our anger and adultery, in our conditional love and our worry, even in our prayer and our religion. None of us want to own up to this and I don’t want anybody to sit here feeling condemned. So I’ll just say that we are all familiar with this when we see it in someone else. When someone cherishes a relationship but uses that attachment to stifle the person they care for. When someone is far more anxious to get ahead next year than joyful or grateful to have gotten where they got to by getting ahead last year. When standing up for something they believe in causes someone to see everyone who disagrees with them as an enemy. You’ve seen that person. And Jesus sees you. Jesus has made a way for us to be free from those things, and that freedom comes from putting ourselves under the authority of Jesus. 

And I wish that I could tell you, like Pastor Donnell did, that Jesus isn’t asking for grand gestures here. But I really believe he is! I think Jesus is DEAD SERIOUS about completely giving up on money to save us. No matter how much or how little money we have. Look, when Jesus says “Don’t store up treasure on earth.” That sounds a lot like he’s talking to people with some money. People who have something to lose. But a lot of Jesus’ audience did not have treasures on earth at all. They were at or below the poverty line, not a poverty line defined in relation to median income but to survival threshold of caloric intake. Those are the people to whom Jesus is saying in verse 25, do not worry about what you will eat or drink. Trust that a loving God knows you and sees your struggle, so don’t partner with evil today to make ends meet tomorrow. Jesus sees Money as a cruel and heartless master to rich and poor alike. And Jesus wants us to be free from it by following him.

A lot of us are going to get uncomfortable and defensive anytime somebody talks about wanting to free us from our money. And I was really grateful to find an example for us here in Matthew–a man named Matthew. Matthew shows up in chapter 9 as a tax collector. I think we’ve talked before about tax collectors as having an easy way of accumulating wealth by extorting their neighbors through partnership with the oppressive Roman invaders. It seems like by the time someone is a tax collector, they’ve pretty much given in to Money, and Power as the real controllers of their lives. But Jesus doesn’t see Matthew as too far gone for the kingdom. Jesus sees in Matthew a follower and a disciple.

So Jesus just walks up to the tax collection booth and calls Matthew to follow him in chapter 9 verse 9. Matthew just gets up from his booth and follows Jesus. For me that’s definitely in the grand gestures category. He really was leaving everything behind. He didn’t say “just a sec Jesus I need to pack up, how much of this can I take with me.” There’s a definitive shift in allegiance. Now in the next verse, Matthew throws a party for Jesus. So I wonder, okay, maybe Matthew didn’t totally give up all his possessions. He had the means still to entertain a party of 12 along with many tax collectors and sinners. And Jesus doesn’t complain about that excess or boycott the party for being funded by dirty money. Jesus knows that he is there as a healer. Celebrating together is an act of mercy, it is a miracle of healing and power no less than all these others. What we see in Matthew is not that he stops having money but that the money is not his master anymore. Not because he transcended materialism but because he has a new master. 

Whether you have or don’t have money, I invite you to imagine: what it would be like for Jesus to be your master? You cannot serve both God and Money. I used to worry, when I first read this as a twelve year old, that it meant I had to give away everything. I thought maybe if I really obeyed Jesus I wouldn’t even have a roof over my head or a closet or a bed to sleep on and I got scared. This is funny in retrospect because I was twelve and I actually didn’t own anything. I definitely didn’t own the roof over my head or the bed I slept on. I don’t think I could get away with giving them away, because my sister and I shared a room and a closet and bunk beds. 

So I just wish I’d had a better imagination of what it looks like to serve God instead of Money. If the first picture that comes to mind is scarcity, we have some work to do because scarcity has no place in Kingdom Living. When we choose Jesus as our master, it means we worry less, not more. It means we have more to give, generous hands. When we walk away from financial opportunities like Matthew did, it’s not so much a walking away as a walking towards someone so much more worth following. And when do spend money or throw parties like Matthew did, they can be places of healing because Jesus is there. Maybe, like twelve year old Marissa, we’ll find out that the things we’re scared to lose already belong to someone else. Someone much wiser and stronger than ourselves, someone we can trust to give us good things.

I challenge you today to make Jesus the master in your places of worry. Be honest with yourself and God about the thing you can’t control that has been controlling you.

God is someone who you can trust for your future. As your provider, your lover, your father, your shepherd. Listen to those worries as an invitation to get yourself a better master, and let’s be free of these things today.