Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mike: Response to Rami's 6-11 Post

Before launching into the first Beatitude, I want to unpack my position on the Sermon on the Mount, mostly in response to your previous post.

I do not think God sets us up for failure via the Sermon on the Mount (or the Ten Commandments, for that matter). Instead, God uses the Sermon to call us to our senses, to open our eyes to the truth about ourselves. Only when we more nearly see our genuine condition may we start to live an authentic human life.

What might we come to see about ourselves? When we attempt to embody the Sermon, we quickly confront our finitude, the hard fact that we have limits. We get in touch with the complexity of our motivations. The more attention we pay to our external and internal selves, the more we discern how deeply self-centered or (at best) tribe-centered we are.

Strangely enough, though, we also discover how much we yearn to become the kind of person envisoned in the Sermon. It's as if something within us says, "Yes, now that you put it into words, that's what I've been searching for all my life. That's the 'me' I want to fashion." To put it another way, the Sermon on the Mountain may trigger a deep longing for an alternative life and an alternative community.

We find ourselves caught between a new and realistic self-assessment and an awakened longing. It seems to me we may react in one of three ways: despair, deceit, or realignment. By despair, I mean we may decide the entire agenda is hopeless or impractical. If so, we'll usually retreat into some form of self-defensiveness. Deceit is a bit more complicated. Knowing we cannot achieve perfection, we choose to try to fool others (and perhaps even God)into thinking we do so. We may even fool ourselves part of the time.

Realignment involves embracing our limits, which is to say accepting our finiteness. Within our limits we are called to pursue the way of God, which in my case involves the way of Jesus. Both pride and despair, though, are discarded. God expects us to walk the way of Jesus, but he does not expect us to do it perfectly. He loves it that we choose to walk with him, even as he loves us. To totter along the path turns out to be enough. If we learn to walk with more assurance, the experience may be enhanced, but to walk at all is sufficient.

Analogies cannot be pressed too hard, but I'll risk one. I have a friend who is a top-notch golfer. I play the game, but bogey golf is about all I can manage. Don't get me wrong, I work at the game. I try to refine my swing, hone my putting, improve my course management, and strengthen my ability to concentrate for the entire eighteen holes. Still, I'm limited. Some days I play better than usual, some days worse.

Now here's the funny thing. My friend wants to play golf with me, though I slow him down and will never come near his level of play. We enjoy one another's company. When I hit a bad shot, we may analyze it a little. More often, though, we simply move on to the next shot. I learn what I can from him, and I'm a better golfer for it. Mostly, though, we enjoy one another's company. Fellowship is the main thing. Any other benefit is a bonus.

I think the Sermon on the Mount is a means by which God invites us to try to walk with him. The journey builds fellowship, along the way we may learn some things and hone our skills at living more nearly in accord with God's intentions, yet fellowship remains the main thing.

This is a long post, so I'll stop. My next post will take us into the Beatitudes.

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