I grew up believing that the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount were a list of things I should do.
Blessed are the pure in heart. (OK, I need to be pure of heart.)
Blessed are the peacemakers..(OK, I need to be a peacemaker.)
And so on...
Of course, I failed miserably at following through on that huge list, and as I now know, thanks to Dallas Willard's book The Divine Conspiracy, I also failed in my interpretation of it. As it turns out, the Sermon on the Mount is not a list of things for me to do or be. It is not a bunch of "rules for living." It is a glimpse into what things are like in God's kingdom. Jesus preached this "sermon" to a crowd of ordinary townspeople who were wandering, wondering, seeking. Jesus was telling them what things are like in HIS world.
Dallas Willard puts it this way: "...in the sermon on the mount we are not looking at laws, but at a life: a life in which the genuine laws of God eventually become fulfilled...no one is actually being told that they are better off for being poor, for mourning, for being persecuted and so on...they are explanations and illustrations that show the present availability of the God's kingdom through a personal relationship with Jesus...they single out cases that provide proof that God is available in life circumstances that are beyond all human hope." This is very different than what I was taught in Sunday school and at private Christian schools. When I read this, I felt a profound sense of relief. It's as though the eyes of my soul read it. It's amazing how you know the genuine "Good News" when you hear it.
Mr. Willard goes on to share the passage that comes right after the beatitudes where Jesus says "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off...if you eye causes you to sin, gauge it out..."
Ouch. Ever notice how no one actually does this? I remember hearing this in Sunday School as a child and being afraid of Jesus. Wow - Jesus must really mean business with this whole sin thing. He would rather me cut off a hand than keep sinning with it. Guess I better stop stealing cookies out of the cookie jar or I'm going to have to lose a finger or two.
Again, I totally missed the point. And the more I read this book, the more points I realize I have missed. Let me put it this way:
I basically grew up learning how to be a Pharisee. I learned how to change the outside of me--my actions and appearance--while my heart stayed the same. I was taught how to put on a good show--to dress, speak, and act like a "Christian." I went to Christian schools, attended church several times a week, went to Bible Camp, Hume Lake Christian Camp, even had the Bible read to me at home every day, was baptized before I knew why I was wearing white and getting all wet in church, and I can't even remember my "conversion moment" because I was probably still thinking about whether or not Mighty Mouse was going to save the day when I allegedly "asked Jesus into my heart" at the breakfast table over my Captain Crunch.
There is no "before I met Jesus" moment in my life. Who can remember anything before the age of 5 anyway? So all I did was adapt a lifestyle. I copied my parents. I went along with their plan. I joined the club. I bought the music. I listened to my pastor, my teachers, my church "Prayer Partner" - Mrs. White who was as old as the hills and smelled like baby powder.
So I was primed and ready to take Jesus' words literally.
Jesus says "Blessed are these people" then I need to be "these people." Jesus says if my eye causes me to sin it should be gauged out - then I probably need to do that, but it sounds painful, so I will settle for just feeling guilty about where my gaze lands and repenting. And I will not get out the band saw to cut off my hand when it steals, but I will get out the Bible and remind myself of how much God hates sin. I will feel cut off from God because God hates sin. I sin therefore God must hate me when I act like this and until I do this, he will not forgive me. I must change. I must get back on track. I need to...I must...I will...
One of my favorite movie scenes is in Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail. A knight's who's arms and legs are cut off by "King Arthur" is hopping around as a bloody stump on the ground, still antagonizing the King who cut off his appendages. (Sounds gruesome, but the scene is so ridiculous and unrealistic you have to laugh.)
"C'mon! You pansy"!" The knight yells after King Arthur cuts off both is arms.
"Come back here! I'll bite your legs off!" The knight, now a stump shouts after he loses both his legs.
That knight with no arms and legs is me.
My arms and legs have all been cut off out in order to assure that I am and remain a "Christian." They were removed over the years by other Christians who told me they had to go if I wanted to be a part of this Jesus group. I did some cutting, too.
"Hope, you're going to have to get rid of that."
"Christians don't do that."
"Baptists don't dance or drink."
"If you're like that, then you can't possibly be a Christian."
Chop. Chop. Chop. Chop!
The last chop was the hardest to take, my final leg, but I figured I was hopping around anyway, so maybe rolling would be easier? Plus, how can you sin when you are just a bloody stump?
My heart hadn't changed. And Jesus knows it. I know it.
This bloody stump thought she was ready to roll right into heaven!
Only that is not how Jesus would have it. He wants to change my heart. He wants to change me from the inside out. He wants to restore me, heal me, rebuild me--starting with my heart, my thoughts, my desires, my attitude. He wants me to flunk out of Pharisee school.
People look on the outside, but God looks on the heart...
When I finally realized and admitted I was a Pharisee in the finest form, my first inclination was to get to work on my heart. Step up and begin working on that inner change. To read this, or do that, or say this or pray this - STOP! I realized I was headed to Pharisee grad school. So, I am doing things differently this time by not DOING ANYTHING. Instead, I am asking God to do everything--to change my heart. I've told him that I can't do it on my own. I told him that I want my heart to change, but that I CAN'T do it, and in some cases, in those very dark places - I do not WANT to change if I am truly honest with myself and Him. He knows this, but it is good for me just to admit it, to release my grip on my own life. I'm tired of holding on to it. It's heavy! It's full of people just like me, who stagger along blindly with missing limbs and gauged eyes; those who insist on wearing this and saying that and praying like this; the ones who carefully follow all the rules, roles and rituals; the stumps who roll in to church and want the bells and smells a certain way and the people around them to look, vote, dress, think and act exactly as they do. Meanwhile, our hearts are like empty tombs--so pretty on the outside, but dark and stinky on the inside.
I'm not going to roll into heaven as a bloody stump.
I'm not looking to roll into heaven anyway.
I'm looking for Jesus.
And those who seek Him, find Him. That's just how he rolls.
-Hope A. Horner, 2014
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