Jesus lived in a land ruled by tyrants, and he had his own ideas about nonviolent resistance. You can read all about it in the Sermon on the Mount. What I'm going to share with you today is what biblical scholar Walter Wink calls Jesus' "Third Way." Most of us think that there are only two options in a crisis situation: fight or flight. Either we resist evil violently or we give into it entirely. Wink argues that there is an alternative, a third way. It's the hard way: the way of Jesus.
When it comes to organized religion and marriage, sometimes it doesn't seem like we've progressed much in 20 centuries. And some folks would blame the Bible for it. The truth is that you won't find a marriage manual in Scripture. The Hebrew Bible is full of polygamy. The New Testament promotes celibacy. The two figures who dominate the New Testament are Jesus and the Apostle Paul, neither of whom ever got married... Saddled as we are with impossible expectations, we want to know whether we still have any hope of salvation. So let me tell where you can find some. Just compare what Jesus said about adultery and divorce to what he did when he encountered people who were caught up in those situations.
Anger is at the root of so much of the world’s tragedy today, in that part of the world anyway. It’s our global concern now. But it is also a gospel concern. So I want to invite you to take a look at anger in the Book of Genesis in order to understand what Jesus is saying about anger in the Gospel of Matthew.
What goes for the water of life goes for the Word of God. Too many people throughout our history have attempted to fence the Word and charge admission to it. Too many have proclaimed themselves the sole proprietors of the Holy Bible and were so engrossed in their rules of interpretation that they didn’t notice that the word they were preaching was no longer life-giving. The living Word had to go elsewhere to be heard. Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount to people who were seeking a living Word. In his day there were many competing interpretations of the scriptures, what Jesus here calls, "the law and the prophets." The Pharisees, the Sadducees, the scribes and the priests all made their claims on the truth. But in their efforts to control the meaning of the text, they rendered it meaningless for the masses. Jesus came not to abolish their Law. He came to fulfill it, to fill it full of life and power. He came to take down the fences, turn over the admissions tables, so that the Word of Life could live again for the least and the lost. He came not to debate the letter of the Law but to expand its reach into all the dark corners of our conscience, filling all the holes in the human heart, and touching every tendril of the human spirit.
The beatitudes, or blessings, at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, give us general guidelines for living the blessed life. Today, I'm going to share with you the way John Wesley understood these 12 verses. It's going to remind a lot of us of the 12 steps of AA. You could say that Wesley makes the Good Book read like the Big Book today. What's unique about the way Wesley read these verses is that he didn't think of them as just a list of quaint sayings about the Christian life. For Wesley, this isn't a list; it's a map or a trail guide that Christians can use to hike into the heart of God. Get your water bottle and your backpack and let's get going.