This is the last half of this Sunday's sermon. The notes from the first half aren't complete enough to post. You know - you are the light of the world.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sets forth a vision of the Kingdom of God, and invites people to participate in what God is doing to make that Kingdom a reality.
And I can’t sit down and shut up before touching on the often neglected portion of the passage we heard this morning: Jesus says to his followers, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will fall short of the kingdom.” I want to give a little shout out to my friends the scribes and Pharisees. They were doing their best to live out what they knew of God through the Law - the Torah - that they had been given as a map of the Kingdom. They were trying to live out God’s intention by minding, very carefully, the letter of the law. Jesus doesn’t fault them for that. And neither can we.
But Jesus is saying to his disciples, “You can do better than that. You have my life, my teachings, my example, my fulfillment of God’s vision to follow. You have me - the way, the truth and the life - to follow. You don’t rely on what are just words on a page. You have me to light your path. And you can do better than even the most rigorously faithful follower of the Law. I expect more of you. I expect something greater from you.”
Too often I fear, we afflict our spiritual lives with low expectations. We lower our sights for our own spiritual life, and we expect too little of the church to which we belong. There’s a new book out, called “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still be a Christian?” The title is firmly tongue in cheek - it’s not about a small faith, but an argument that mainline moderate Protestant churches can actually offer a vibrant, grace-filled, life-giving faith that many people in our world are longing to find and embrace. I’m thinking about ordering a few copies of that book. Would anyone be interested in reading it and talking about it with me?
High expectations produce high quality results. Since it is Super Bowl Sunday, let me just quote from one of our secular saints, the person for whom the trophy for tonight’s game is named. Vince Lombardi said:
“The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.”
Lombardi was not an dewy-eyed romantic. Neither was Jesus. But they both knew that human beings, be they football players or followers of Christ, are capable of great things, if they are challenged with a worthy goal. “Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”
Maybe that is Gospel - that is good news - for us: We are told that we are the light of the world, so that we may be mindful of how our light shines. We are called to perfection, so that we may acheive excellence.
We don’t have a scoreboard to tell us how we are doing. But we have a table. To remind us of the goal and to keep our heads in the game.
In a few minutes we will come to receive a taste of the Kingdom that Christ has set before us. To raise our sights to the goal of the prize of the Kingdom of God.
Here we see, and touch and taste the Kingdom -
The bonds of sin broken.
Bread shared with hungry ones.
Life poured out in forgiveness and grace.
This is the goal and purpose of the Christian life:
For here the prophet’s words are fulfilled: God says, “You shall call, and I will answer. You shall cry and I will say, “Here I am.”