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] The Gifts We Bring

 “On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

 

-Matthew 2:11

The three wisemen have only a brief appearance in Matthews gospel.  But those verses have spawned a myriad of traditions about who they were, why they brought their gifts and what the visitation means.  Behind all of it is a simple idea: the birth of Christ was a momentous event and this King is worthy of honor and due the gifts of our own hearts.  [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect on the meaning of Epiphany for your own life.

Texts to read:

  • 1 Corinthians 12
  • Romans 11:1-7
  • Numbers 24:15-19 (chapters 22-24)

Questions to ponder:

  • What gifts have been given to you?
  • Who in your community could be helped by your gifts?
  • What part does fear play in the gifts we give and the gifts we withhold?

Do and share:

 

[Beyond Sunday] Washed by Grace 3

Right then, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowds. When he sent them away, he went up onto a mountain by himself to pray. Evening came and he was alone. Meanwhile, the boat, fighting a strong headwind, was being battered by the waves and was already far away from land. Very early in the morning he came to his disciples, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” They were so frightened they screamed.

Just then Jesus spoke to them, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.”

And Jesus said, “Come.”

Then Peter got out of the boat and was walking on the water toward Jesus. But when Peter saw the strong wind, he became frightened. As he began to sink, he shouted, “Lord, rescue me!”

Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him, saying, “You man of weak faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?” When they got into the boat, the wind settled down.

Then those in the boat worshipped Jesus and said, “You must be God’s Son!”

-Matthew 14:22-32

In the midst of our storms, God always shows up.  But sometimes we have trouble recognizing the Spirit at work.  We might be too focused on our own faith and feelings; or we might be looking for a bigger miracle than God has planned.  Yet if we reach out, Christ is still there, waiting to catch hold and bring us to safety.  [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Ponder your own baptism, or what being baptized could mean for your life.  Read and reflect on these scriptures and questions.

Texts to read:

  • 1 Kings 19: 11-13
  • Romans 8:26-39

Questions to ponder:

  • What storms are raging in your life right now?
  • How have you asked God to be present?
  • Taking a hard look, where might God have already shown up?

Do and share:

  • The news is full of weather related stories right now.  Share a story about God showing up in affected communities to our twitter: @dpumc.
  • Is God calling you to be present for someone else in turmoil?  Tell us about it on our Facebook page (dpumctx)

 

[Beyond Sunday] The Workers in the Vineyard

image from Agnusday.org  check it out from more great comics from the lectionary.

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?  14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

-Matthew 20:1-16

This week we talked about the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Mercy is wonderful when we need it. But when it is extended to others, we, like Peter, can be tempted to resent God’s grace.  God does not withhold liberation to protect the privilege of a few.  Instead, all are met with love and an invitation to life. [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Talk with God about where you see yourself in this story.  Read and reflect on these scriptures and questions.

Texts to read:

  • Romans 15:1-6
  • Mark 10:17-31

Questions to ponder:

  • Compared to the first disciples, any believer today is coming late to the party.  How does the parable feel from this perspective?
  • Grace is not a zero sum resource.  Was there ever a time you were frustrated by forgiveness or opportunities extended to others?

Do and share:

  • Take a picture of grace in action.  Tag @dpumc on twitter.
  • Share a story of fairness that felt unfair on our Facebook 

 

[Beyond Sunday] The UnMerciful Servant

For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents[c] was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii;[d] and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister[e] from your heart.”

-Matthew 18:23-35

This week we talked about the parable of the Unmerciful Servant. Forgiveness is such a gift when it is offered to us.  But it can be a burden when it is required from us.  Yet as heirs of God, we are called to behave as God has behaved toward us. [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Talk with God about where you see yourself in this story.  Read and reflect on these scriptures and questions.

Texts to read:

  • Matthew 18:15-20
  • Matthew 7: 1-5, 21-23

Questions to ponder:

  • When have you needed forgiveness?  What was it like to ask for it?
  • When have you felt wronged by the choices of others?  How did you respond?
  • If having all the Father has, also means behaving as the Father would, how would it shape our interactions with others?

Do and share:

  • Write a note this week to someone you need to forgive, or with whom you need to be reconciled.  Share it with God, and if you feel led, send it to that person.
  • Share a story of forgiveness on our Facebook 

 

[Beyond Sunday] Lip Service vs Life Service

“What do you think? A man had two sons. Now he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’
“‘No, I don’t want to,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went.
“The father said the same thing to the other son, who replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ But he didn’t go.
“Which one of these two did his father’s will?”
They said, “The first one.”
Jesus said to them, “I assure you that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of you. For John came to you on the righteous road, and you didn’t believe him. But tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Yet even after you saw this, you didn’t change your hearts and lives and you didn’t believe him.”

-Matthew 21:28-32

This week we talked about the parable of the Two Brothers.  Neither brother is completely in the right.  Through the story, Jesus challenges the disciples and authorities of his day to be both proclaimers and doers of the will of God. [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Set aside some time to reflect on the will of God and how it is reflected in your own life.

Texts to read:

  • Philippians 4:4-9
  • Amos 5:23-24
  • Jeremiah 7:3-7

Questions to ponder:

  • When was a time that you made a commitment and then struggled to follow through?
  • When you look at the scriptures above, what about the will of God is exciting?  What is intimidating?
  • How wide is the gap in your life between lip service and life service?

Do and share:

  • Find another scripture about the will of God and tweet us @dpumc with #beyondsunday
  • Share a story of a time you went out of your way to do the will of God on our Facebook with the #jesusstory

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[Beyond Sunday] Finding Focus

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls;  on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

-Matthew 13:44-46

This week we talked about the parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price. These are stories of discoveries that disrupt normal daily life and priorities; they
require risk and sacrifice. [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Set aside some time to reflect and discern where your top priorities lie.

Texts to read:

  • Matthew 6: 19-21

Questions to ponder:

  • What takes up most of your waking time during the week?
  • What do you think about first thing in the morning?  Last in the evening?
  • How would your life change if you made God a higher priority?

Do and share:

  • Go through your weekly calendar.  If you have free time, reflect on how are you spending it.  Make a plan to offer 1 extra hour to God.
  • Go through your weekly budget.  If you have discretionary money, reflect on how are you spending it. Make a plan to offer an extra $7 dollars to God.
  • Take a picture during your devotion time and share it to our Facebook with the #jesusstory

 

[Beyond Sunday] How is it with your soil?

This week we talked about the parable of the Sower and the Soils.  Each of us goes through times when our faith is shallow; or when the distractions of life seem to squeeze God out; or when we’ve just been trod over so often we don’t want to let anyone in, not even God. But God never gives up on us.  God keeps casting out grace and inviting us to become good soil.

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Set aside some time to reflect and invite God to work in your soul.

Texts to read:

  • Luke 8:5-15

Questions to ponder:

  • What kind of soil are you this week?
  • If your roots feel shallow, how can you sink deeper into God’s word?
  • If things are rocky, what distractions do you need to hand over to God?
  • If you feel trod over, what friends can refresh you and soften your heart?
  • If you are good, what fruit is God trying to bring forth through you?

Do and share:

  • Find soil that reflects your soul this week.  Hold it in your hands and ask God to be at work in you.
  • Take a picture that represents where you are on your spiritual journey right now.  Share it to our Facebook with the #jesusstory

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Unlikely Anti-Anxiety (or Okay Martin Luthur Might have Gotten some of it right)

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Matt 6:25

I’ve been a bit anxious lately about many things and nothing in particular. It’s just one of those moods that happens, but working in a church rarely makes it easier. Today I found some comfort (challenge?) in an unlikely source.

I am far from Martin Luthur’s biggest fan, but today (courtesy of Richard Foster) I found my self reading part of his sermon on Matthew 6:25-7:11. It went like this:

Listen … to what serving Mammon [the god of possession] means. It means being concerned about our life and our body, about what we should eat and drink and put on. It means thinking only about this life, about how to get rich here and how to accumulate and increase our money and property, as though we were going to stay here forever. The sinful worship of Mammon does not consist in eat ing and drinking and wearing clothes, nor in looking for a way to make a living and working at it; for the needs of this life and of the body make food and clothing a requirement. But the sin consists in being concerned about it and making it the reliance and confidence of your heart. Concern does not stick to clothing or to food, but directly to the heart, which cannot let a thing go and has to hang on to it. As the saying goes, “Property makes a person bold.” Thus “being concerned” means clinging to it with your heart. I am not concerned about anything that my heart does not think about, but I must have a heart for anything about which I am concerned…

It goes on from there. But what I found myself reading over and over sounded a little more like this:

Listen … to what serving Success [the god of Numbers] means. It means being concerned about our life and our size, about what is cool and how many people show up and other’s opinions. It means thinking only about this job, about how to stay employed and how to accumulate and increase our power and fame, as though we were going to stay here forever. The sinful worship of Success does not consist in being relevant and inviting and being visible in the community, nor in looking for a way to make a living and working at it; for the needs of this world and of the church body make relevance and visibility a requirement. But the sin consists in being concerned about it and making it the reliance and confidence of your heart. Concern does not stick to invitations or to hugs, but directly to the heart, which cannot let a thing go and has to hang on to it. As the saying goes, “Success makes a person bold.” Thus “being concerned” means clinging to it with your heart. I am not concerned about anything that my heart does not think about, but I must have a heart for anything about which I am concerned

You must not tighten this text too much, however, as if it prohibited any kind of concern at all. Ever ministry and occupation involves taking on certain concerns, especially being in charge of other people. As St. Paul says about spiritual offices in Christendom (Rom. 12:8): “He who rules, let him be careful.” In this sense the head of a household has to be concerned about whether his children are being brought up properly;. . . if he neglects this, he does wrong. . . .

Christ is not talking here about this sort of concern. This is an official concern, which must be sharply distinguished from greed. It is not concerned for its own sake but for the neighbor’s sake; it does not seek its own interests (1 Cor. 13:5), but even neglects them and forgets them in order to serve somebody else. Therefore it may be called a concern of love, something divine and Christian, not a concern devoted to its own advantage or to Success, militating against faith and love, and even interfering with the official concern. The one whose reputation is dear to him and who is on the lookout for his own advantage will not have much regard for his neighbor or for the ministry that involves his neighbor. . . .

Christ has forbidden this greedy concern and worship of Success as an idolatry that makes ministers enemies of God.

There is always the pressure in ministry to judge ourselves solely by the inputs (money in the plate and tails in the seats). While these can be an indication that something has gone awry, we truer, more valuable measures of success if they are our only markers.

A few months ago, the lovable engineers in my congregation conducted this massive study about why our membership was declining and what were the most effective ways to change it. It yielded a lot of useful insights, but the one that stuck with me most was this: a positive change in almost any area of the church (worship, communication, leadership development, clearer vision) was likely to result in more participation. The only sure way to NOT increase membership, was to chase new members. (there is actually a formula, spreadsheet, and graph and rendered this result).

The more you are concerned making members, the less time you have to worry about making disciples, or feeding the hungry, or caring for the sick, or visiting the lonely and imprisoned, or pursing any other mark of the Kingdom Christ laid out for us. It makes a certain amount of sense…but somehow its so hard to remember in the midst of parish life.So I suppose I owe a (only slightly grudging) thank you to Martin. Though I might have to pin this in my office and read it everyday for a long time to make it stick.