Sermon on the Mount Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Sermon on the Mount

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To experience the Sermon on the Mount and walk away unscathed with your good opinion of yourself intact is to read Jesus' words — and yourself — all wrong. Jesus' multiple "You have heard it said . . . but I say to you" constructions are meant to unsettle, to deconstruct and to reconstruct an ethic that both challenges us to do better and reminds us that we are sinners all, in need of great grace.

In Scripture

Beatitudes. "Then he looked up at his disciples and said: `Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets'" (Luke 6:17-49).

"Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night" (Ps. 1).

Salt and Light. "Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).

"As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world" (John 9:5).

Fulfillment of the Law. "You shall not murder. You shall not adultery. . . . You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Ex. 20:1-17).

"Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house" (Deut. 24:1-5).

"Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him, they asked, `Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?'" (Matt.19:1-12).

Divorce "They said to him, "Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?" He said to them, "It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so" (Mark 10:1-12).

"To the married I give this command — not I but the Lord — that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife." (1 Cor. 7:10-16).

Retaliation and Enemies. "If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life,[ ]eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe" (Ex. 21:12-27).

Injury "Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered." (Lev. 24:10-23).

"Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot" (Deut. 19:21).

"You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord" (Lev. 19:18).

Doing Good. "For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted" (Luke 14:7-14).

Lord's Prayer "[Jesus] said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial'" (Luke 11:1-13).

"Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Luke 12:22-34).

"No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth" (Luke 16:1-13).

"Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God" (1 Cor. 4:1-13).

Points to Ponder

What's the Point? In preparing to preach from the Sermon on the Mount, it's important to get clear on the lens through which we are to view Jesus' teaching. Is this a text to show us — on continuous loop — that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God?" Are we looking at overturning systems, cultures, or societies with a "Jesus ethic"? Or is this about the personal habits of discipleship for all Christians? Or is this a text for "elite Christians" only? Is this wisdom literature? Or is it an ethic achievable for Christians through the Spirit's power? The preacher must be clear on theological assumptions going in because the text will generate quite a variety of sermons depending on the preacher's starting point.

Not What or How, but Who. In Stanley Hauerwas' commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, he begins: "What cannot be forgotten is that the one who preaches the sermon is the Son of God, that is, he is the Messiah, making all things new." Even as we prepare to tell our congregations what Jesus said, even the manner in which Jesus said it, we must never forget that it is Jesus saying these things. Any interpretation that does not keep in mind the larger story of the storyteller will be less than the good news we are bound to proclaim.

Telling the Truth when taken seriously, the Sermon on the Mount is difficult to preach because it is difficult to live. Pinchas Lapide writes, "The history of the impact of the Sermon on the Mount can largely be described in terms of an attempt to domesticate everything in it that is shocking, demanding and uncompromising and to render it harmless." As we preach, let's be honest in our wrestling, authentic in our failures, leading us to the only One who has ever succeeded in preaching and living this text thoroughly. Only with a realization of Jesus Christ's grace and the power of the Spirit can these texts shape, rather than misshape, our lives.

Fear Is Rooted Out in Abundance. As Jesus grapples with worry, earthly need, and heavenly perspective, he contrasts "if your eyes are healthy" with "if your eyes are unhealthy." Frederick Dale Bruner helpfully points out that these words "healthy" and "unhealthy" might also be translated "generous" and stingy." (The Churchbook: A Commentary on Matthew, pp. 323-324). How might our tendency to worry change if we saw the world with generous eyes? How might it impact our ability to discern earthly and heavenly treasures if our eyes were stingy instead of generous?

Imagine Another Kingdom. No society, no matter how ostensibly Christian it may be, checks all the boxes laid out by the Sermon on the Mount. No person, no matter how sanctified she may be, lives up to all the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount. But a Christian community or individual can read the Sermon on the Mount in such a way that it shapes the imagination and longing for the day when Christ will return and this very kingdom will be with us and in us and through us, fully and at last. In the meantime, it challenges us to live in ordinary faithfulness, according to a Sermon on the Mount-inspired imagination. Joachim Jeremias writes, "What is taught here is symptoms, signs, examples, of what it means when the kingdom of God breaks into the world which is still under sin, death, and the devil. You yourselves should be signs of the coming kingdom of God, signs that something has already happened."

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.