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Up on the Mountain: Seeing Ourselves Anew

a sermon on Matthew 7:1-12, the sixth in a series on the Sermon on the Mount
preached at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone on February 27, 2011

Preacher’s note: A significant portion of this sermon is highly dependent on two items of copyrighted material. Nonetheless, I will share the framework for the sermon and point you to the resources used. Thanks for your understanding as I seek to respect the hard and creative work of others and yet still want to share!

We’ve been up on the mountain for the last several weeks – with a little break for my vacation last week! – hearing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount anew, and by and large he’s offered us a new view of the world even from this early place in his ministry. Up on the mountain, Jesus insists that blessing is not a gift to be counted but rather a call to embody a new way of life. Jesus suggests that we need to be both seen and unseen in our work to show and be a part of what God is doing in our world. Jesus makes it clear here that relationship and reconciliation count for far more than exacting adherence to legal codes. In this sermon, Jesus demands that our actions match up with our words – and that everything we do deepen our life of faith on the inside at least as much as it invites others to join us in that way on the outside. And Jesus maintains up on the mountain that God’s economy calls us to live in a different way that counts not the cost but the potential for something new.

So much of the Sermon on the Mount is about how to live in a way that embodies the kingdom of God for others, but in our reading from this famous sermon today, Jesus turns a little more inward. He isn’t addressing the church, per se – such an institution did not exist in his time – but in this section of his sermon he nonetheless seems to be talking a little more about how to live with each other on the mountain as we must do in the church rather than just looking out to the world beyond this place.

First we hear a very familiar verse: “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” It’s an incredible verse – an important reminder of our limitations as human beings and our inability to understand and see things as God sees, for judgment is, in the end, reserved for God. But that simple view doesn’t capture everything he wants to say. While Jesus certainly wants us to refrain from harsh or inappropriate judgment, I doubt that he would say that we should not serve on a jury or that someone should escape punishment for wrongdoing because no one is willing or able to bring down judgment. For Jesus, judgment is not so much prohibited as it is reframed – each of us must submit ourselves to the same sort of judgment we ourselves would offer. And so judgment is more about how we see things – not just seeing what others have done but also seeing one another in new ways, seeing our own actions through others’ eyes, and seeing the new thing that God is doing in our midst.

So that we can see things in this way and be honest about how we see  others and ourselves as we begin living out this command, I invite you now to join me in a brief meditation on this text, originally used in the Iona Community in Scotland.

In summary, this meditation invites a blinded listener to hear others speaking the truth about their lives, concluding with an invitation to remove the log that the listener does not even realize is in her eye. This portion of the sermon concludes with a symbolic action as worshipers are invited to come forward, remove a piece of wood from atop a mirror to discover that they can see a little more of themselves as the logs are removed. The meditation and action are adapted from “The log in your eye” in Present on Earth, The Iona Community/Wild Goose Worship Group/GIA Publications, p. 219-221.)

Following the symbolic action, the sermon continues with the following prayer:

Let us pray. God of judgment and grace, we have ignored Jesus’ command: “Do not judge.” We have pointed out the splinters in others’ eyes without recognizing the planks of our own. Remove these specks from our sight, and help us to see with new light. Open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts to ourselves and those around us, that we might be aware of our own shortcomings and know the fullness of your grace even as we offer it to others as Christ has offered it to us. Amen.

Now Jesus doesn’t leave things there, though – there is a little more to today’s vision from up on the mountain. From this place, he insists that his listeners will receive all that they ask for, find all that they search for, and have all doors on which they knock opened, even as he demands that they offer others the same respect, love, and grace that they seek for themselves. This is not an open promise to receive all things without question – rather, it suggests that God offers us all that we truly need in graciousness and love even as we too are called and expected to show that same sort of grace and love in our asking of God and our living with and for others.

Living like this is not easy. Jesus’ vision from up on the mountain is rarely in line with our self-interest. We don’t like being honest with ourselves about the planks in our eyes or the ways we constantly fall short, and we demand everything that God can offer us without being willing to make that same offer to others. But this is the vision set before us, a vision we will surely question and maybe even mock or criticize, yet it is nonetheless God’s vision for our world to be made new.

And so we ask so that this way will be given to us. We search so that we might find this something new. We knock so that God will open the door of new life before us and all the world. May then this song be our prayer for this vision to be real among us.

The sermon concludes with the singing of “Lord, can this really be?” (words by William Rutherford, music by John L. Bell) as found in Church Hymnary 4 of the Church of Scotland, #205.

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