Like a Trumpet

I came across an interesting detail in our lectionary passage today. Matthew 5:1 says that Jesus “opened his mouth and taught.” The Greek word for “opened” here is translated as more of a loud and earnest proclamation than a quiet teaching. The famous commentator William Barclay said this: “In Greek, the word for “opened” is used of a solemn, grave and dignified utterance. It was used, for instance, of the saying of an oracle. It is the natural preface to a most weighty saying.” Charles Spurgeon pushes it a little farther: “Jesus Christ spoke like a man in earnest; he enunciated clearly and spoke loudly. He lifted up his voice like a trumpet, and published salvation far and wide, like a man who had something to say which he desired his audience to hear and feel.” (Learn more here.)

I had a flashback to a time years ago when I was chaperoning my daughters’ band at a football game. The cheerleaders came out after the first quarter and threw little footballs printed with the school’s name into the stands. A few minutes later, I noticed a little boy from my church frantically waving at me as he made his way over to the band bleachers. “Pastor Betsy, they won’t throw me a football and I want a football. Make them throw me a football!” he cried.

I chuckled a little and wanted to explain to him that while I had some authority to speak in our church and be heard, I had no authority here as a band mom to do as he asked. So, I did the next best thing. I turned to the trumpet section behind me, many of whom had caught a football, and asked if anyone would share with the little boy. One immediately tossed his ball to my little friend, and all was well.

I just love band kids.

Jesus is surrounded by “the multitudes” in his outdoor, makeshift church, and he “opened His mouth” with authority and power, and proclaimed the secret to good living to all who would hear:

Matthew 5:1-12 (New King James Version)

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

If we were to internalize the Beatitudes, we might just find the key to a great life. We would find comfort, inheritance, fulfillment, mercy, peace, and the promise that we can participate in the kingdom of heaven. With these words, we are invited to see God and the kingdom on earth that he desires for us.

What is important enough in your life for you to use your voice like a trumpet to help others? Would you encourage those who are poor in spirit and who mourn? Would you demand that the arrogant shut up and be meek? Would you seek righteousness in your own walk and invite others to follow? Would you shout a word of peace over the rebellious?

May we encourage one another today with mouths wide open to be the merciful and pure in heart, for then will we see God. Rejoice and be glad!

Blessed by Michelle Robertson


Do Unto Others

I have a happy memory of visiting my mother at the paint factory where she worked as the bookkeeper when I was very young. Occasionally my babysitter would drop me off there and I had to wait until mother’s workday was finished. The men in the factory were all like old, wizened uncles to me. One in particular was quite fond of me and always asked me about my day. He called me “Ornery.” It was many years before I knew the definition of that word … but I did like that he gave me a special nickname. Now that I think about it, his choice of words was rather prophetic.

This gentleman once gave me a real treasure. It was a solid green marble ball with a gold and black band around it that read: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I cherished this gift and hid it under my bed lest my sister try to take it from me. I often thought about the words and the generosity of that craggy old fellow.

I later learned that those words come from the Bible. Listen to this discourse from the book of Luke, as he records Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. We begin with the “blessed are you” portions:

Luke 6 (New International Version)

20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

Jesus assured the hearers that the resurrection will reverse all of their current woes. Poverty, hunger, weeping, rejection, exclusion, insults … soon will come a time when earth passes away and a time of rejoicing will ensue.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

But woe to those who enjoy the affluence and wealth of this earthly existence, for that, too will pass away and their joy will be short-lived here on earth.

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 

31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

So today, as you’re driving with angry drivers around you, when you are in rush at the grocery store and the cashier is taking too long, when annoying things happen at home, remember the solid green ball’s message that fascinated a child: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

This is the way.

Birds on a Wire by Michelle Robertson

Be Perfect

A study on the Sermon on the Mount has bought me to a startling command from Jesus. Most of us are familiar with the “love your neighbor” teachings, as well as the “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” part, but I had really not noticed how this section ends. Take a look at verse 48:

Matthew 5 (NIV)

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the gentiles do the same? 

48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Do you think that is even possible? To be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect? That seems like a big ask.

Jesus relates this to the instructions to love and pray for our enemies for a reason. Imagine what the world would be like if we took that one verse to heart and truly did strive every day to love people who hate us. And we know that when we pray for people who persecute us, that prayer changes US.

In researching a sermon on this passage, I stumbled upon these wise words from Thomas Merton, an American Trappist Monk. Merton wrote over 50 books on spirituality, faith, comparative religion, and theology.

“Do not be too quick,” he wrote, “to assume that your enemy is a savage just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy because he thinks you are a savage. Or perhaps he is afraid of you because he feels you are afraid of him. And perhaps if he believed you were capable of loving him, he would no longer be your enemy.

Do not be too quick to assume that your enemy is an enemy of God just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy precisely because he can find nothing in you that gives glory to God. Perhaps he fears you because he can find nothing in you of God’s love and God’s kindness and God’s patience and mercy and understanding of the weakness of men.

Do not be too quick to condemn the man who no longer believes in God. For it is perhaps your own coldness and avarice and mediocrity and materialism and sensuality and selfishness that have killed his faith.”

There is much to ponder here. Do you have an enemy? Do you love that person? Can you pray for that person?

When we focus on this kind of accepting and grace filled agape love, we indeed move the needle a little closer to the perfection of the Heavenly Father. One thing is certain … we will surely never achieve it if we don’t even try.

Perfect Sunrise by Wende Pritchard

Jesus’ Way

We continue our exploration of Jesus’ ethics in the Sermon on the Mount. In typical Jesus fashion, he is about to flip the table on what people thought they knew on several subjects. Today we tackle adultery and divorce. (By the way, for those of you who are The Real Housewives of New Jersey fans, please don’t think that Teresa Giudice was the first table-flipper. Oh, no. That accolade belongs to our Lord. But I digress.)

Matthew 5 (New Living Translation)

27 “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 

People of a certain age will remember a very controversial comment made by presidential candidate Jimmy Carter in an interview with Playboy magazine where he talked about sex and forgiveness, stating that God had forgiven him for “committing adultery of the heart by lusting.” Suffice it to say that this clear understanding of Jesus’ ethical view on adultery nearly cost him the election. (You can read more about this here.)

Jesus is on the right track. One thing that the “Me, Too” movement exposed was the level of adultery being committed against unwilling participants who were subjected to inappropriate comments, touching, veiled threats, misogyny, and rape. Adultery in Jesus’ ethics is not confined to sexual infidelity between two married people, but rather addresses a wide range of destructive and harmful behavior that undermines society. Jesus’ ethics are more concerned with the purity of the heart than the strict adherence to the law.

29 So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

What can we say about this except Jesus ain’t playing. Many a high positioned leader … from the White House to the local school to the local pulpit … have fallen hard after committing adultery of the heart. It’s Jesus’ way.

Teaching about Divorce

31 “You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’32 But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.

To put this into perspective, the law of Moses only granted men the right to divorce. It became a freewheeling way for men to get out of a marriage. The simple written notice was all that was required to sever a marriage. Women, of course, had no say in the matter at that time.

Jesus upped the ante with this statement. He reminded the men that there is more to a marriage than a legal contract … there is a heart contract as well. He pressed the issue here by reminding the men that there must be sufficient grounds to divorce, and narrowed the conversation even farther to identify those grounds as unfaithfulness on the wife’s part. Divorce set up a chain of adultery because the heart contract can’t be broken, even though under Moses’ law, the written notice suffices. Jesus explained that adultery resulted when two people are still married in the eyes of God but the wife has been “dismissed with a notice.”

While the divorce laws have obviously drastically changed since then, don’t miss the important part here: what we do, say, feel, and believe in our hearts matters. Matters of the heart trump matters of the law every time. As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:

1 Corinthians 6 (Amplified Bible)

12 Everything is permissible (allowable and lawful) for me; but not all things are helpful (good for me to do, expedient and profitable when considered with other things). 

The application of these passages is clear. What you believe in your heart matters. Every attitude and behavior we have flows from the heart. When the heart is kept pure and in alignment with God’s word, things go well for us and we continue to be centered in God’s will. When the heart is corrupt, the body follows and we risk being “thrown into hell.”

How is your heart today, friend? It’s never too late to change.

So Goes the Heart by Kathy Schumacher

Amplified Ethics

When I was a young college student studying journalism, we were required to take an upper-level course on Journalistic Ethics. That may give you an indication as to my age, for surely it appears that recent graduates of communications degree programs are no longer required to study it. The cynic in me wonders if more emphasis is being placed on strategies of click-baiting, how to write a misleading lede, and how to pass off fake news entertainment as factual investigative reporting. Is it just me?

Today we are going to look at Jesus’ famous “Sermon on the Mount” in the fifth chapter of Matthew to explore Jesus’ ethics. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what my professors, news people, politicians, or even world leaders think about ethics. It only matters what Jesus thought. Watch for phrases like “but I say to you” and “therefore.” These are indications that Jesus is about to amplify the current understanding and application of what is ethical.

He begins with the standard Ten Commandment statement on the subject of murder:

Matthew 5 (Common English Bible)

21 “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment.

This understanding is completely in line with the sixth commandment, “thou shalt not kill.” But watch where Jesus takes it next:

22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. 

Jesus is warning about the deadly effects of anger, name-calling, and put-downs. By associating these things with murder, he is raising the bar on our understanding of killing. Can you kill someone’s self-esteem with a derogatory remark? You bet. Can you choke the life out of someone’s joy by spewing out your anger at them? You know you can, and you probably have.

Next, Jesus pivots to forgiveness and reconciliation. Here he raises the bar even higher by stating that you should not come to the altar until you make things right with everyone who has something against you. The fact that the pews are filled every Sunday may be an indication that we don’t take this literally, for surely our churches would be empty if this was a requirement of admission:

23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift. 

Then Jesus gives guidance about how to settle disputes quickly in fair and civil terms, rather than drag grievances through the court.

25 Be sure to make friends quickly with your opponents while you are with them on the way to court. Otherwise, they will haul you before the judge, the judge will turn you over to the officer of the court, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I say to you in all seriousness that you won’t get out of there until you’ve paid the very last penny.

Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4:26 to not let the sun go down on our wrath. Jesus urges us to quickly settle our disputes so that they don’t fester and grow, and so that we can move past them and get on with things. In a beautiful figure of speech, he likens a drawn-out dispute to being in prison, where you realize that you’ve become jailed because you didn’t resolve an issue before it was too late. This is also an illusion to the kind of eternity that we subject ourselves to when we refuse to deal swiftly with an adversary.

We will deal with the rest of this portion of the Sermon on the Mount in our next devotional, but for now, consider this: are you guilty of “murder” in Jesus’ definition? Are you killing someone’s joy or hope? Are you harboring a grudge as you worship and pray? Have you let a falling out go on for too long?

According Jesus’ ethics, these things have changed.

So must you.

Don’t Let the Sun Go Down by Carol Riggin