Last week I received an email from a good friend. He forwarded it from a good friend of his. What was in the email has stuck with me this week. Hateful words that makes it impossible for me to keep on living for myself, and still call myself a Christian.
The author of the email talked about meeting a Christian man who frustrated said this: “Nobody lives the Sermon on the Mount. Show me someone living the Sermon on the Mount.”
I think the same frequently. My finger easily points to others who call themselves Christians, but who seem to think that the Sermon on the Mount was just a collection of nice thoughts and ideas of Utopia, not instructions on how to live a life according to Jesus.
I don’t know many who live the Sermon on the Mount. I would like to, but my self-centered nature comes in the way too often.
The author of the email then said that the man he had met was not the only one who had searched for true faith. Leo Tolstoy did the same in 19th century Russia. In his Confessions, we can read him say this:
Naturally I first of all turned to the orthodox of my circle, to people who were learned: to Church theologians, monks, to theologians of the newest shade, and even to Evangelicals who profess salvation by belief in the Redemption. And I seized on these believers and questioned them as to their beliefs and their understanding of the meaning of life.
But though I made all possible concessions, and avoided all disputes, I could not accept the faith of these people. I saw that what they gave out as their faith did not explain the meaning of life but obscured it…I was repelled by the fact that these people’s lives were like my own, with only this difference–that such a life did not correspond to the principles they expounded in their teachings. I clearly felt that they deceived themselves and that they, like myself found no other meaning in life than to live while life lasts, taking all one’s hands can seize. I saw this because if they had had a meaning which destroyed the fear of loss, suffering, and death, they would not have feared these things. But they, these believers of our circle…feared privations, suffering, and death, and just like myself and all of us unbelievers, lived to satisfy their desires, and lived just as badly, if not worse, than the unbelievers.
No arguments could convince me of the truth of their faith. Only deeds which showed that they saw a meaning in life making what was so dreadful to me–poverty, sickness, and death–not dreadful to them, could convince me. And such deeds I did not see among the various believers in our circle. On the contrary, I saw such deeds done by people of our circle who were the most unbelieving, but never by our so-called believers.
I want to live differently. I try to. I try to do good. But I also have to admit that I frequently meet others, non-Christians, who do just as good of a job as me, if not better, in the pursuit of righteousness and peace. The author of the email I read struggles with the same: Do we really have the power to live differently from those around us? As Tolstoy put it, without fear of loss, suffering and death? In other words, can we live out the Sermon on the Mount? Give up our possessions. Bless those who hurt us. Lay up our treasure in heaven, he says.
He then quoted Bonhoffer who said this:
We have listened to the Sermon on the Mount and perhaps have understood it. But who has heard it aright? Jesus gives the answer at the end. He does not allow his hearers to go away and make of his sayings what they will, picking and choosing from them whatever they find helpful, and testing them to see if they work….Humanly speaking, we could understand and interpret the Sermon on the Mount in a thousand different ways. Jesus knows only one possibility: simple surrender and obedience, not interpreting it or applying it, but doing and obeying it….Jesus has spoken: his is the word, ours the obedience.
(The Cost of Discipleship).
Tonight as I am sitting looking at the evening sky that never grows dark. As I am safe in my home, dressed and full, I am again reminded that everything I have is a gift given to me, and I am supposed to share. I have been given some instructions. They are not easy, but they are clear.