What a curious intersection.
I thought this was going to be the year of C.S. Lewis and a rabid reading of the New Testament. But my devotional life has been overtaken by Bonhoeffer. Reading Metaxas’ somewhat foreboding behemoth biography of Bonhoeffer I have not only been drawn into reading simultaneously Bonhoeffer’s books (Life Together, Cost of Discipleship and Ethics), but I’m being drawn into a prolonged contemplation of the Sermon on the Mount.
It’s a Sermon I memorized nearly two decades ago. It’s one that I’ve literally preached on numerous occasions in various churches over the years – it makes for a very brief Sunday sermon (all of ten minutes or so). The first time I preached the Sermon was in my former church fellowship as I was on the way out. I mounted the podium dressed in my usual Sunday best (meaning suit and tie in that context) and without preface or explanation preached the Sermon. I recall literally weeping out the final words. Reflecting back on that, I believe the weeping was rooted in a deep seated realization that this rubber was not meeting my road.
Listening to the sermon this past Sunday, I had the Sermon open before me, meditating upon it as I listened. “Seeing the crowds, Jesus went eis to oros (pronounced “ace tow oh-rohs”) – up the mountain – and his disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.” I still haven’t advanced beyond those words this week. As I rolled them around my tongue and turned them over in my spirit, I heard mention in the sermon of Matthew 28 and the “great commission.” Turning there the words leapt off the page like a bolt. “The eleven proceeded into Galilee eis to oros – up the mountain – which Jesus had appointed/told/tasked them.” The Sermon on the Mount is not just another sermon; the Mount of the Sermon is also the Mount of our sending, our commission. “Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” The “all things I have commanded you” is not an invitation to a commandment scavenger hunt back through Matthew or the rest of the Bible, for that matter. Think of where they are sitting as they hear this commission. It’s the same spot, perhaps even at the same time of year. All that was missing was the large crowd below. The commission – its nature, its content, its direction – flows from the Mount, from the Sermon given there that functions as the Jesus Manifesto. All else in the New Testament is commentary.
This is what Bonhoeffer saw in the midst of the perilous times his generation faced, writing to his brother after deciding to lead an illegal seminary (O, for a few more of those!):
The restoration of the church must surely depend on a new kind of monasticism, which has nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising discipleship, following Christ according to the Sermon on the Mount. I believe the time has come to gather people together and do this.
What other point as believers, ultimately, is there to gather than to pursue a life together in becoming active practitioners of the Sermon on the Mount? Some gather on the one hand for fun and frolic (and I’m all for fun!) and others for an academic exchange on theology (I can get into that right along with the best of them). But to gather to go eis to oros, to go up the mountain, to sit at his feet, to truly hear and digest his words, and to divinely pursue that rubber meeting my road – not only is this the restoration of the church, it is the restoration of the world, of “all things spoken before by the prophets of old.” Anything less than journeying eis to oros and then living from there, and we are only building academic/theological/speculative societies long on talking and activities but woefully short on the one doing that is needed, the only meaningful doing that can issue from being rooted with him eis to oros. Living from the Mountain.
Enter the third party in this intersection via a friend’s posting of a Bill Maher rant. I’ve caught glimpses of Maher for years now and found him genuinely funny and frequently offensive but just about always thought-provoking. Sometimes Maher, like all of us, is off by the proverbial country mile. Other times he is so dead on that he verifies the fact God does indeed still speak through donkeys (which means there’s hope for us all). I’ve listened a few times to this “rant” of his on Christians celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden, and each time I find myself laughing as well as wincing. As usual, Maher doesn’t pull any punches, nor spare any words – including one usage of the “f” word (not forgiveness or faith…the other one), so be advised. Watch and listen if you dare. But for me it’s worth the listen simply because in it I hear echoed the challenge and call heard by Bonhoeffer (if delivered a bit more crassly). If more of us (myself included) were truly doing our “home” work and were active practitioners of the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps we would supply much less angst fodder for a rant like this.
Now it’s true, some will rant regardless because it’s more about what’s in them than what’s out there. But the question remains before me, challenging and even taunting me: if we defined a “Christian” as someone who is an actual practitioner of the Sermon on the Mount, how many of us would in fact qualify as “Christians”?