This past Sunday, we began our look at the teachings of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount. We are calling this new series Synchronize. In the weeks to come, we invite you to read and ponder Jesus’ words as they are recorded in Matthew 5-7. The famous Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy was one ardent proponent for living out the high ethical idealism of what we affectionately call “the sermon”, but if you read his story you will see just how much of a miserable failure he was. What was missing? His wife Sonya wrote in her diary: “There is so little genuine warmth about him; his kindness does not come from his heart, but from his principles”. In other words, Tolstoy’s embrace of the sermon missed the joy of Christ; it had nothing of the blessing which we need to begin with Jesus (the beatitudes, Matt. 5:1-12). It is doubtful whether the teaching of Jesus can be lived without his company and help.
As a counterpoint to Tolstoy’s sour, and failed, attempt to live the sermon, one of my favorite anecdotes comes from Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian Lutheran pastor who spent 14 years in communist prisons. Perhaps he provides the best insight into how living the sermon is possible. We can only live Christ’s way by being immersed in his life. Wurmbrand once wrote:
The communists believe that happiness comes from material satisfaction; but alone in my cell, cold, hungry and in rags, I danced for joy every night. Words alone have never been able to say what a man feels in the nearness of divinity… Sometimes I was so filled with joy that I felt I would burst if I did not give it expression. I remembered the words of Jesus, ‘Blessed are you when men come to hate you... on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy!’ I told myself, ‘I’ve carried out only half the command. I’ve rejoiced, but that is not enough. Jesus clearly says that we must also leap.’ When next the guard peered through the spy-hole, he saw me springing about my cell. His orders must have been to distract anyone who showed signs of breakdown, for he padded off and returned with some food from the staff room: a hunk of bread, some cheese and sugar. As I took them I remembered how the verse in St. Luke went on: ‘Rejoice in that day and leap for joy – for behold your reward is great.’ It was a very large piece of bread: more than a week’s ration. [In God’s Underground, p. 54]
I have always loved this anecdote, the sheer joy and wonderful humor in it. Wurmbrand was somehow thumbing his nose at where he was, celebrating instead the upside down life -- this reversal of experience and expectation, where joy can be found in the place you least expect it. It is the best comment on the beatitudes I know of. And if the way of Jesus still seems upside down to us, we should remember the words of G.K. Chesterton: “it is because we are standing on our heads that Christ’s philosophy seems upside down”. This series will be about flipping ourselves around so we can see eye to eye with Jesus.
A reminder: The Westside community has made it an annual tradition to hold days of prayer early in the new year. This will take place next week, January 11-13, Monday through Wednesday. Every year we construct a prayer walk to help focus our thoughts. This year our focus is on how our prayers must be deeply immersed in our worship of God. Prayer is not the presentation of a laundry list of wants, as though God were our genie, waiting to grant us three wishes. Prayer is much deeper than that, more transformative and wondrous. In prayer as worship, we learn to see the beauty of God, find our joy in him, and yield ourselves to overwhelming love.
We invite you to come and walk through the stations anytime between the hours of 9 to 9 daily, Monday through Wesdnesday. We have prepared a booklet to guide you. As well, we invite you to join in a brief 30 minute teaching each of these evenings at 7:07 pm, after which you will be able to experience the stations. It is our hope that these days of prayer will strengthen your life as a follower, and worshipper, of Jesus.
See you Sunday at 9:29 or 11:11.