The Sermon On the Mount [Faith and Art]

Claude Lorraine was a seventeenth-century painter who worked primarily in Rome, but also France and Germany.  He was an early pioneer of landscape painting.  Often he would take a subject from history, mythology or scripture (as was the custom of the day) but would set it such that the surrounding landscape was as much a focus of the work as any action.  His Sermon on the Mount is a good example.

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Can you spot Jesus?  He’s the figure in blue on top of the mound.  His placement and attire draw the eye, but you’d be hard-pressed to call Him the sole focus of the painting.  Claude has taken the traditional composition of this story–Jesus seated, surrounded by followers including women and children –and placed it within this sweeping vista.

In doing so, Claude does two things I love.  First, rather than giving the impression of an intimate seminar for the disciples and a select few, this setting reminds that the Sermon on the Mount is a collection of the teachings Jesus did while out in the wide world.  He often spoke to large and varied crowds, and his teaching happened in the midst of daily life.

Second, look again at the picture.  Start at Jesus and let your eye fall toward the lower left.  At the base of the mount is an open rock tomb.  It’s a gentle reminder that foundation of all Christ’s teachings for us is the resurrection.  Though this story takes early in His earthly ministry, we reflect on it with greater meaning because of the coming triumph over sin and death.

I suggest taking some time to sit with this picture alongside Matthew chapters 5-7.  Look especially at Matthew 6:25-34.  What does it mean to place the words “Do not worry about your life” or “seek first the kingdom of God” in such a grand scape?

For more on Claude Lorraine, check out The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

On Faith and Art posts: I preach with slides and over the last few years, I have endeavored to include fine art images wherever appropriate (and legally available).  For more than two thousand years artists across the world have produced moving works based on Biblical texts and the stories of the Christian faith.  These are often so dense with meaning that there isn’t time within bounds of the sermon to show or explain it all.  So these entries are thoughts from the cutting room floor.

 

[Beyond Sunday] If You Really Knew Me

image: Detail from Sistine Chapel 

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.

-Psalm 139: 14

We all carry weights like doubt, shame, and grief.  These can get in the way of our relationship with God and with one another.  But in Christ’s resurrection, we are all made new creations.  We have only to set down the burdens we carry and step into the life God has for us.  Psalm 139 reminds us that we are beloved creations of God.  Nothing we do or believe we are could ever separate us from God.  [hear sermon audio]

 

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • How do you understand the difference between guilt and shame?
  • How is guilt helpful in teachings how to live?
  • Why is shame unhelpful?
  • What shame do you need to release to God?

Do and share:

  • Find art images that depict shame.  Journal about what you see in them.  Are their similarities?  What in the images you chose resonates with you?
  • Share your prayer request on Facebook or Twitter (@dpumc).

 

[Beyond Sunday] Easter

image: Resurrection 1,  Solomon Raj

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

-John 20:15-18

John 19:30 says it is finished.  Indeed, the reign of death is done; the great work of salvation is put in motion; the final battle is won.  But the story isn’t yet complete.  Easter marks the dawn of a new day and calls us into God’s ongoing project of resurrection.  [hear sermon audio]

 

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Explore how each of the gospels recounts the story of Easter.  And how their understanding shapes our faith.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • Who comes to the tomb first and why?
  • What is their first response?
  • What does Jesus say to them?
  • What do they do when they leave?

Do and share:

  • After you have read all four stories and answered the questions for each, consider your own response to the resurrection.  Who are you most like?  How do you respond each year to the news that Christ is risen?
  • Share why Jesus matters for your life with someone you know.  Tell us the story on Facebook or Twitter (@dpumc).

 

[Beyond Sunday] Palm Sunday

image: Entry of Christ into Jerusalem,  Wilhelm Morgner

Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

-Mark 11:8-11

Mark’s telling of the entrance into Jerusalem, Jesus asks his disciples to commit larceny, tramples a lot of perfectly good cloaks, has a rather awkward scheduling conflict with Pilot’s Passover procession, sticks his head in the temple for a hot second and then goes straight back to Bethany– where he started in the first place.   There is a lot more happening in this story than a simple parade.  As usual, the work God is about is so much greater than we expect.  But there are no shortcuts to the Kindom. [hear sermon audio]

 

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions in your own devotion time this week.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • When has a friend or family member acted differently than you expected?
  • How did you respond?  What, if anything did you learn about yourself?
  • What expectations do you have of God?
  • How do your expectations support your faith?
  • What might they blind you too?

Do and share:

  • There are no shortcuts to Easter.  This Holy Week, commit to walking through the whole week.
    • Read at least one of the appointed readings each day.  You can find them at this page from the Vanderbilt library . They also have prayers and art.
    • Join us at DPUMC for Holy Thursday and Good Friday services.  Or find Holy Week services in your area.

 

 

[Beyond Sunday] The Way We Thrive

Thus says the Lord,
    who makes a way in the sea,
    a path in the mighty waters,
17 who brings out chariot and horse,
    army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
    they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
18 Do not remember the former things,
    or consider the things of old.
19 I am about to do a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.
20 The wild animals will honor me,
    the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
    rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
21     the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

-Isaiah 43:16-21

The language of Isaiah 43 all indicates God’s ongoing action of salvation and renewal.  We are a part of a long story of being made new.  Even if we seem to be in the wilderness now, God is always ready with the next thing; ready to bring life into places we thought dry.  Celebrate what God is doing right now. [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect on where God is leading you.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • When has God been active in your life in a way you didn’t immediately recognize?
  • What practices help you discern how God is moving when you need direction?
  • What of the past do you need to forget in order to embrace a new way forward?

Do and share:

  • Do a 20 min journal exercise.  On one page, spend 10 minutes listing the questions you are wrestling with right now.  On the next page, spend 10 minutes listing the way’s you’ve seen God at work in the last few months.  Compare the two lists to see if they overlap anywhere.
  • How do you want Deer Park to be different because of this church?  Share your answer on our Facebook or tweet @dpumc with #Wayfinding

 

 

[Beyond Sunday] The Way We Thrive

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

-Matthew 28:16-20

Even in the times of greatest turbulence, God remains the same.  Though means and methods might change, our call as believers and churches remains constant as well.  We thrive by making disciples of Jesus Christ.  Because where disciples are made, lives are changed. [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect on where God is leading you.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • How focused is our church on making disciples?
  • What have you done so far this year to make disciples of Jesus Christ?
  • How could lives in our community be changed if we made 10 new disciples this year?

Do and share:

  • Consider how you could help someone else become a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Write a challenge to yourself, seal it in an envelope and put away and work on it till the end of the year.  Open it on New Year’s Eve and see how you did.
  • Tell us the story of how discipleship has changed your life.  Share on our Facebook or tweet @dpumc with #Wayfinding

 

 

[Beyond Sunday] The Way We Grow

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

Gal 5:22-26

When we find ourselves disoriented or unsure where God is leading next, we need to pause, assess and read the signs to find our own way forward. It is to easy to get caught up in the latest trend or recommendation for finding your best life now.  We get tempted into treating discipleship like a path to self-improvement.  Discipleship is not a method for curating a perfect life; it is the hard work or tending our garden so that God might bear good fruit through us.  [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect on where God is leading you.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • What fruits come most easily for you?
  • What fruits seem like a struggle?
  • How might God be calling you to grow as a disciple?

Do and share:

  • Make a list of 3 people who you look up to for their discipleship.  Make a list of 3 people who might look up to you.  Ask God how these relationships can help you grow.
  • What kind of sacrifice are you prepared to make to further the work of DPUMC?  Share on our Facebook or tweet @dpumc with #Wayfinding

 

 

[Beyond Sunday] The Way of Expectations

My spirit abides among you; do not fear. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.

Haggai 2: 5b-9

Wayfinding refers to a class of ancient arts that allowed our ancestors to navigate seemingly impossible expanses.  Today, when we find ourselves disoriented or unsure where God is leading next, we too can pause, assess and read the signs to find our own way forward. Sometimes the biggest obstacle we face is ourselves.  As individual and communities, we go the way of our expectations.  God has promised great things; are we prepared to embrace them? [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect on where God is leading you.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • What do you expect of God?
  • What do you think God expects of you?
  • How are you investing in God’s kingdom right now?

Do and share:

  • Track how you spend your time for a week.  What do you do that provides for basic necessities?  What is about leaving a legacy?  What of your time reflects your faith?
  • What do you hope for our church over the next 5 years?  Share on our Facebook or tweet @dpumc with #Wayfinding

 

Bonus:  Check out this graphical overview of the book of Haggai

haggai-chart

[Beyond Sunday] The Way We’ve Come

Image:  Gathering to Build the Tabernacle  by Yoram Raanan

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him,
tell of all his wonderful works.

1 Chronicles 16:8-9

For millennia, people traveled the world without Google Maps or even physical maps as we know them.  Wayfinding refers to a class of ancient arts that allowed our ancestors to navigate seemingly impossible expanses.  Today, when we find ourselves disoriented or unsure where God is leading next, we too can pause, assess and read the signs to find our own way forward.  We begin by remembering all God has brought us through to reach this point.    [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect on where God is leading you.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • Describe a time God carried you through a situation.
  • How did you celebrate that victory?
  • How have you seen God at work through DPUMC (or your faith community)?

Do and share:

  • Write a thank-you note to God for the way God has been active in your life or church.
  • Make a video testimony of something God has done for you and share it on our Facebook or tweet @dpumc with #Wayfinding

 

Mark with Ash

photo from: JOEL AUERBACH/AP

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday for many Christian communities.  It is the day we remember our mortality and repent of our sins before beginning a season of discipleship, Lent.  During our service, I shared a devotion about when I was in high school and how strange it was to see teenagers get ashes in the middle of the day.

In general, mortality is the last thing on teenagers’ minds is mortality; at least we think it should be. Most teens do think they are 10 feet tall and invincible; it is a gift of the age. What I didn’t know while I was preaching, was that 17 students and teachers lay dead in Florida. They were victims of the 18th school shooting on record this year. It is February.

As I read the news last night, an image captured by an AP photographer stood out. Two women grieving, one marked with the Ash Wednesday cross. Ashes are meant to remind us that all things die. From dust we come, and to dust we return. The cross reminds us that mortality doesn’t mean futility. Christ has died and been raised, so repentance and life are possible for us.

The hope in this image is so important for all the families and friends grieving today. But for the rest of us, the ash should not be overlooked. We are currently averaging 1 school shooting every 60 hours. Something is broken in our country, and we need to do some repenting.

Repenting is not “thoughts and prayers”. All who mourn of course have our prayers. But repentance is grief that leads to change.

Sometime today the talking head chorus will start singing the old refrain “we shouldn’t politicize a tragedy”. A gunman murdered a group of people in a public space; like it or not, it was a political act. It should not be used to forward partisan agendas, but to patently reject the political nature of what has happened, what keeps happening, is to refuse any hope of redemption.

Because we are afraid of the optics (or the negative opinion polls) we choose argument over action.  We debate the cause:  there are too many guns, not enough mental health resources, the culture glorifies violence.  We are paralyzed by a never ending  game of laying blame.  Are we really comfortable with our children continuing to die because we cannot agree on the proper gradation of our sins?

The truth is everyone is a little bit right, and it’s time to stop arguing and do some things. Firearms are too readily available; we need common sense restrictions. The mental health system in this country is woefully inadequate; we need better access and more affordable care. Our culture does glorify violence; we need to teach our children that service, and sacrifice, and compromise are better than fighting at all costs.

Every Ash Wednesday, the prayer of confession in our church is Psalm 51, but a modified version. I find myself sitting this morning with the verses we skip:

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God[d] is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Today I will pray for those affected; I will also call my Senators and my Congressman. I will tell them it is time for grief to lead to change. I will ask them to take up the cause of repentance.