A man was confronted by one of those aggressive Christians who buttonholed him and asked, “Are you a Christian?” The man stopped and thought for a moment. He said, “I really don’t know.” Then he took a piece of paper and a pencil and wrote some names on it. He gave the paper to the questioner, and said, “Here. These are the names of people. This name here, the first one, that’s a member of my family. This next name, he’s a business associate. The last name, she’s my neighbor. Ask them if I’m a Christian.”
While many tend to emphasize a set of beliefs, my shorthand for a Christian is one who seeks to follow Jesus and live according to his teachings. Indeed, that’s one of our membership vows at Dayspring. What might that mean for you? And where do we turn in the Bible to find out more? I like to point people to The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew, chapters 5 – 7. It’s sort of a “beginner’s guide” to what it means to follow Jesus. When reading this primer on the Christian life we discover it’s more about practice than beliefs. As Dallas Wilard says, “The gospel is less about how to get into the Kingdom of Heaven after you die, and more about how to live in the Kingdom of Heaven before you die.”
New Testament and Jewish Studies scholar Amy-Jill Levine wonders if the title, “Sermon on the Mount,” can be off-putting. “Who wants to read a sermon, anyway – even if it is by Jesus?” Plus, she adds, it’s a bit of a misnomer, because there’s no way he would have packed all those teachings into one talk. Prof. Levine suggests a better title might be “A Sampling of Jesus’s Greatest Teachings.” These three chapters in Matthew contain some of Jesus’ most profound and most memorable teachings. What might these teachings have meant to his disciples and to the others who first heard them? How do they speak across the centuries to listeners today? How, if we pay careful attention to his words, does Jesus provide us a road map to living as God would have us live?
This year during Lent we will be offering five opportunities each week for adults to carefully consider “Jesus’s Greatest Teachings” with Dr. Amy-Jill Levine as our guide. In Sermon on the Mount: A Beginner’s Guide to the Kingdom of Heaven*, Prof. Levine introduces its major topics and explains historical and theological contexts, and shows how the words of Jesus echo his Jewish tradition and speak forward to reach hearts and minds today. I invite you to join Amy, Joel, Shirley and me on this Lenten journey beginning Feb. 18 (Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, is Feb. 17). The study will meet virtually on Tuesdays with me at 11:00am and 5:30pm, Wednesdays with Amy at 10:30am, Thursdays with Shirley at 7:00pm, and Sundays with Joel at 8:00am. For more information or to register for a session and receive the Zoom invite, email the Church Office.
*Please order your own digital or paperback of the book Sermon on the Mount: A Beginner’s Guide to the Kingdom of Heaven by Amy-Jill Levine at cokesbury.com.