(This post might otherwise be known as: ‘Help me think through a sermon on a Sermon!’)
I am currently preparing for the 2012 National Festival of Young Preachers in Louisville, Kentucky this January. The topic for the sermons preached is the Sermon on the Mount. If any of you have read the content here regularly, you know that I have a bit of a penchant for this topic.
Contrary to what you might think, that situation makes me wary of preaching about it.
It is difficult to craft a sermon, to develop a homiletical plot, that is non-manipulative when you have certain strong points of view regarding the subject matter of a particular part of the Bible. To compound my difficulties, there is no specific passage for me, so options are open.
You might think that would make things easier, but I would sooner be assigned a passage any Sunday (or any other day of the week) out of the year than pick one. That is why I preach from the lectionary, to avoid asserting my own vision over the matter of the text.
Why do I say this to you? There is an interesting discourse about the value of lectionaries and assignments in there somewhere, but that is not the point. As it stands, I want to voice my opinions about the general nature of the Sermon and an application of the text apart from whatever my sermon for the Festival ends up being. That way, I can approach the text with a greater degree of honesty than I could before. So, read on, and engage me in dialog if you please. It will help me consider the text.
Fundamentally, I think one of the central questions answered by the Sermon on the Mount is one faced by Christians since the beginning. St. Augustine was one of the first to attempt to deal with it systematically (and he has a lengthy tome to prove it). St. Thomas wrestled with the concepts and divisions necessary for such a theory. The Reformers held a wide variety of views on the subject from the isolationist Anabaptists to the Christian Commonwealth of Calvin. Today, we have everyone from Richard Land to Jim Wallis attempting to answer this question. How is faith in public life? In other words, how is faith made external?
It is 1527. The Protestant Reformation has begun and Europe is embroiled in a period of social upheaval. In the midst of all of it, you hear stories about popes, princes, priests, and reformers — stories about people like Martin Luther and Leo X. However, you do not often hear about a small group of more radical reformers, neither Catholic nor Protestant. In 1527, I imagine a group of Christians scared out of their minds but determined to do something about the current state of the Church. They have been listening, listening to the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and have become malcontent with both sides’ dealing with these teachings. So, they draft their own statement, their own way of living faithfully. In 1527, a group now known as Anabaptists gathered, perhaps led in this drafting by former Catholic Michael Sattler, to draft the Schleitheim Confession. A document outlining a statement of their beliefs about the Church and the life they thought they should live together, it remains one of the most curious documents of the period. Read the rest of this entry