The core of the teaching of Jesus Christ is the Beatitudes. At the heart of these words, which frame the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), is a reversal of the world’s values. To be a disciple of Jesus is not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12). The Sermon on the Mount was also at the center of the teaching of John Wesley, one of the founders of the Methodist movement. For example, of the Forty-Four Standard Sermons, thirteen (sermons twenty-one through thirty-three) are taken from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ words to his disciples are a guide to our faith and practice.
Over the past two weeks our nation has experienced a turbulent transition in political leadership. While it has been a part of a larger and peaceful transfer of power, it has also surfaced deep divisions among our citizens; indeed, the state where I serve (Florida) is often described as a “battleground state”. And yet beneath these divisions are threats to the common good and to the great commandments, that we love God and our neighbor (Mark 12).
I want to offer guidance in seeking “a more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 13) and one that is grounded in a vision of human flourishing, which is the blessed life Jesus describes in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. 1-12. For us, this is the conviction that every person is created in the image of God (Genesis 1) and that we have an obligation to see every person as our neighbor (Luke 10).
So what does this mean, in practice? When we welcome the #unborn and the Muslim #refugee, we remember that the meek will inherit the earth. When we cease the #bullying of LGBTQ youth and the #torture of political enemies, we recall that peacemakers will be called children of God. When we hear the cries of the persecuted church and women degraded in the #2016election season, the Lord’s voice echoes from the mountain, that the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
To ignore the events of the last eight days — the Women’s Marches, the March for Life, Protests of the Muslim Ban — will feel like suppression in our church. The Psalms remind us that the spiritual life includes our deepest passions, angers and hopes. To frame these same events from the pulpit in ways identical to a favorite news network will seem like coercion, and is surely less than the gospel.
The power of worship in a turbulent time is to name what God requires (Micah 6), it is to glory in who God is and to struggle with a kingdom that is often a reversal of our expectations. The role of a spiritual leader is not to please people or to place them in partisan boxes. The call is to clearly and faithfully preach the word, to name the struggles and then to come down from our pulpits and say that we are in the struggle with our people. The church can be the conscience of a community or a nation or a world. And a spiritual leader can be the conscience of a people.
Many of our congregations are blessed with disciples of Jesus Christ who have migrated from other nations. Clergy and lay leaders have expressed their apprehension about the construction of a wall that would separate families and policies that would accelerate the deportation of persons fleeing violence. The true meaning of church is sanctuary, and while we are citizens of the United States, we have a higher allegiance: Jesus is Lord. I will support and stand with local churches who are called to provide sanctuary for refugees (Matthew 25).
In the Beatitudes Jesus calls us to be peacemakers. Disciples of Jesus live with a heart of peace and insofar as it depends on us, we seek to live in peace with all people (Romans 12). There is a need for communities of disciples who live with a heart of peace that allows them to transcend political categories in loving their neighbors, in doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God (Micah 6).
In the present moment, this may be what it actually means to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Prayer: Gracious creator of us all, we do not ask that you would bless us. We ask for courage to do the things that you are able to bless. May your kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven. In the name of #Jesus, our teacher, healer and Lord. Amen.