Monty Python and the Sermon on the Mount

I am a fan of British comedy.  I do not know why, most of the time I do not understand the type of humor, but there is something about it that I guess refreshing.  They do not take themselves very serious, and they are not afraid to laugh at themselves.  I am especially fond of the comedy of Monty Python.  I was introduced to this troupe at a very young age and their comedy; I guess you would say had formed my sense of comedy in my life.  From time to time we have to deal with rather serious topics from this pulpit, and we will get to that, but I use Monty Python today as an illustration of how what we think we hear we do not hear.

Without going into a defense of their movie “The Life of Brian” which is a story of a man called Brian, who lives in first century Palestine, and gains attention and a following.  All Brian wants is to be left alone, but the harder he struggles, the more people follow him.  I will not tell you how the movie ends so I won’t spoil it for you.

So picture this.  The opening scene of the film.  We are transported to first century Palestine.  We are in the desert.  It’s hot, lots of sand around, and a large group of people has come together at the foot of a small mound.  A top of that mound is a man, dressed in white.  Long hair and beard, not uncharacteristic of a man of his age and position.  We are not told who the man is, so I will let your imagination run with it.  He is speaking “Blessed are this group” and “Blessed is that group.”  The camera pulls back through the crowd, back some 50 to one hundred yards.  People are straining to hear what is being said and then someone yells out, “Blessed are the cheese makers?”  It’s a question; the man is not sure he has heard correctly.  Someone, who is dressed in fine linen with a slave boy holding a parasol over his head to shield him from the sun, obvious a man of great importance and learning.  The man replies, “It’s not meant to be taken. Literally, he means all manufacturers of dairy products.”  It’s much better with a British accent. The crowd seems content with that answer, and they continue to struggle to listen.

Next someone mentions the Greeks and that they are going to inherit the earth.  Well, this sets off a fire storm of conversation, why the Greeks?  Why not us?  Then someone yells out, “the meek,” he said “the meek.”  Ah, well that changes things.

The point of this illustration and the point of the scene from the movie is the further away from the actual event you get the more open to interpretation we become.  The people listening were a hundred yards away, and they were only getting part of the story, so they filled in the parts that they needed too with what they wanted to hear.  They were indeed listening the problem was they were not hearing.

When we approach any passage of scripture, it is important for us to leave our bias at home.  This is not an easy task, and yes, we all have bias we are human after all.  The Scripture passage we read this morning was spoken by an actual person, Jesus, to a real crowd of people standing in the desert in first century Palestine.  But let’s go back a little further in time. Back to another mount and another speech.

Moses stood at the foot of Mount Saini and gazed up.  The people who lived at the foot of the mountain believed that the mountain top was where God lived and if the mountain glowed red God was angry.  We have all watched the Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston; you know the scene I am talking about.  Moses feels a calling to climb this mountain, to see this God they speak of.  He arrives to find the bush burning, now we Christian look upon this Bush as an image of the Trinity, but Moses did not know this.  God speaks to Moses and gives him the Law written by the very finger of God.  The man climbed a mountain to receive the law of God.

Now, standing years later on a dune in the Palestinian Desert is the fulfillment of that law, not some burning bush, but the very, living and breathing Word of God.  No longer is this Word contain on stone tablets to be carried around in a golden ark, this living Word of God is to be carried around in the ark of our hearts!  And what he is about to share with those listening is how to fulfill that law.

Scholars agree that what we read here in Matthew’s Gospel and also what is written in Luke’s Gospel was not proclaimed at one time but is rather a summation of the teachings of Jesus.  Be that as it may, these are still vital words from the Word himself.  It is a list of the Blesseds or the Beatitudes, the way of life.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness sake, merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those persecuted for righteousness sake, and blessed when people revile you and hate you because of me.  We have all been here at one point in time or another.

This chapter goes on to describe those listening as salt but cautions us not to lose our taste.  Salt is bitter to the taste but is also an important part of life.  Sure low salt is all the rage, but one cannot completely remove salt from one’s diet.  When salt, us, loses its taste, faith, we become useless and should be cast out.  We cannot lose faith; we must keep fighting for what is just and what is right.

Jesus then makes reference to us being the light of the world.  I have used this illustration with you before so it should come as no surprise.  We must be that light now more than ever.  The forces of darkness are all around us, and we must be the ones that carry the light for justice and mercy for all people regardless of where they are from or what religion they are.  Our job, and I have said this before as well, is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted no matter who they are and no matter what color their skin happens to be. Blessed are the merciful, why?  Because they will be shown mercy.

To be a flower of Jesus is to work to break down barriers, artificial and physical, between people.  We are to work for justice and peace in the world, not just right here, but around the world. Blessed are the peacemakers, why?  Because they will be called the children of God.  In Verse 42 of this chapter Jesus says, “Give to everyone who begs from you and does not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”

Give to everyone who begs from you.  If someone comes banging on your door in the middle of the night and tells you people are after them and are going to try and hurt them, I hope you would let them come in your home and shelter them and try, as best you can, to assist them.  There are people begging at our doors right now, and we have slammed it shut and turned our backs on them, and this is not the first time this has happened.  Blessed are the merciful, why? Because they will be shown mercy.  Blessed are the peacemakers, why?  For they shall be called the children of God!

The end of this chapter Jesus tells those listening, and yes that is us, that we are to love not only our neighbor but we are to love even those who hate us and want us dead.  He goes on to say that it is easy to love those who love us back he tells us the reason why we need to do this in verse 48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your heaven father is perfect.”  To find perfection, we have to love everyone, and that means we have to care for them, help them, seek justice for them, work for mercy for them and treat them as if it was Jesus Christ himself standing right in front of us.  Remember what he said, for what you do for the least of these you do it for me!

Friends, where are we in the crowd?  Are we close to the front where we hear the words of Jesus clearly?  God is still speaking I know this as certain as I know my name, but the question is, are we listening and are we hearing?  We listen with our hearts, and we hear with our hearts and with our minds.  When we listen and hear God speaking, we will hear His voice on our hearts that will compel us to do what is right, not what is popular, but what is right.  Being a follower of Jesus requires risk, it is not safety that we look for when we say yes to Jesus.  Mary said yes and that that yes could have cost her her very life.  Peter said Jesus and that yes got him crucified upside down in Rome.  Countless numbers of people have said yes, and it has cost them dearly, but the crown is worth the cost and the crown is worth the cross!

I know that we all come from different backgrounds and represented in this room are people all along the theological and political spectrum, but this transcends all of that.  I hope that whether I have made you happy today or whether you are getting ready to nail me on that cross we can agree that love is the answer, love is, in fact, the only answer.  It has to start somewhere so why not let is start right here and right now.

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