201125WOLF_DAN

The Rev. Dan Wolf

This month, I gave two talks as part of an online international conference called Bridge Builders. We had people in attendance from Japan, mainland China, Malaysia, Australia, Nigeria, across the U.S. and elsewhere. It was a wonderful time of mutual encouragement. One of the passages of Scripture I shared from was Christ’s famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

Jesus begins by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Blessed is the person who understands they are spiritually bankrupt. Christ starts his sermon by saying that everyone is broken on the inside. We need to stop pretending, stop trying to act “holier than thou” and stop with the self-righteousness. We aren’t righteous, and we are blessed if we get that.

He goes on to say “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

If we connect these ideas to his first point about our spiritual brokenness, we see Christ telling us that those who mourn their own spiritual destitution—and are humble about it, not riding high horses and fixating on other people’s sins—such folks win in God’s eyes. They “inherit the earth.”

I won’t break down each point, but I suggest that we think about how each of Christ’s teachings connect to the rest.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I encourage you to read all three chapters of the Sermon on the Mount, but I want to highlight one more portion for us. Christ gets countercultural and declares something that would revolutionize our personal lives and our society, if we were ever bold enough to try it out.

He tells us, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you …”

I think that something inside of us recoils at these words. We might even wonder whether this advice is practical.

If you are thinking Christ’s teaching here is ridiculous, there is a part of me in agreement with you. We might take comfort in the fact that we are part of the majority culture in this respect. Rejecting this teaching has never been our problem. But I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we didn’t reject it.

During the breakout session after my message, people were divided into groups and encouraged to participate in a dialogue about Christ’s words. People were asked how would it change them and their culture if we were all to follow Christ’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.

This year the news is telling us that the global supply chain is strained and we might not have access to the things we normally do. COVID-19 remains a nasty disease that refuses to let us go, and far too many people will be missing loved ones during the holidays because of it.

For the first time in a long time, there is concern about the U.S. energy grid and our ability to supply affordable energy to keep us all warm this winter. When we check the internet or turn on our TVs, we see intense political and cultural division in our nation, and tensions with China over Taiwan and Russia over Ukraine.

It is very possible we are living in “interesting times,” the kind of times that future history books won’t skip. When life is easy, it is also easier to be gracious and kind. If life becomes less easy, the thin veneer of civilization could become thinner. My hope is that everyone will consider what it would mean to live out the Sermon on the Mount and love everyone, including those who are unkind.

If one person does this and shines their light in the darkness, there is hope. If a multitude of people do this, the darkness is pushed back.

This winter I wish you the warmth of love, joy and peace.

May God Bless us, everyone.

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The Rev. Dan Wolf is a pastor at Foundation Bible Church, 1805 Foster Ave., Janesville. “Soul Food” is a column written by local ministers for The Gazette. It offers commentary on community issues or concerns.

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