Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Little Help - from Wine?

A glass or two or more
of Ampelos Wine
feeling good

It's a good world
Oh yes, I know
all the junk

There's lots of sadness
and suffering
and hurt and

But I'm not giving up
I'm not turning away
I'll press on with

Does the wine help?
Perhaps it does
But who doesn't need, now and then, some

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Missing Out on the Sermon on the Mount

I grew up in a mostly evangelical environment, Dutch Reformed specifically.

It was very much about salvation, but with a clear intellectual dogmatic foundation. Folks weren't afraid of thinking, but it was clearly determined by boundaries, beyond which one didn't go, because there was no need for anything more than what was already available within the tradition. We had the answers, and we knew how to read the Bible.

One of the ways of reading the Bible was how the Beatitudes were read - primarily as something quite ideal and beyond our reach, of value for reminding us how much we're sinners, and how badly we need the atoning death of Jesus - who, having died for our sin, puts us right with the Father, so that we can have eternal life. To safeguard our eternal God, we're careful not to violate the essential and personal moral strictures that have mostly to do with alcohol and tobacco, theater attendance, card-playing, and sex. Making money, as much as you can, was just fine. If you had money, you gave to your favorite charities including the church, to maintain buildings and programs and missionaries - locally, perhaps, a rescue mission, retirement homes, colleges and seminaries.

The fact that the Sermon on the Mount is the longest discourse given by Jesus doesn't register with evangelicals - fact is, much of the Gospels fail to register, drawn to Paul as evangelicals are, and if they're reading the Old Testament at all, drawn primarily to the historical books dealing with conquest and war, temple building and priest-craft, kings and queens, power and punishment.

By sidestepping the Sermon on the Mount as an ethical discourse for daily life, evangelicals relieve themselves of a tremendous ethical burden, and if pushed, will often reply, "Well, no one's perfect."

True enough, but Jesus, who seems to understand that rather well, yet proceeds with the Sermon, even saying that one might be as "perfect" as the Father in heaven is perfect, or complete; meaning: that one can ethically love others, be fair and decent, and treat all with kindness. In other words, as the word in Greek rightly means, one can be "complete" - i.e., one can have all the components of divine benevolence - not on the same scale, but with similar intensity and broadness.

Granted, we're not perfect, not even complete, whatever that means, but lack of perfection shouldn't stop anyone from trying. I mean, is this not what we learn in school, in sports and music and painting and marriage? Just because we're imperfect is not reason to give up, but rather reason all the more to persist.

Yet in the evangelical community, the lack of perfection becomes, when it comes to the Sermon on the Mount, not an encouragement to try, but a reason to simply "flee to Jesus for mercy and salvation."

I missed out on the Sermon on the Mount when I was growing up ... I was clear that I was a sinner in need of grace

I learned that fornication and Onanism were sinful, and so was drunkenness. I heard plenty of sermons about sin and salvation and Jesus "dying for my sins." And likely these days, I would hear plenty about homosexuals and abortion. But I never heard anything about justice, poverty and war; I remember hearing a bit about Communism, but never a question raised about Capitalism.

I never learned the great ethical lessons of the Christian faith, rooted in the Prophets and given new meaning in Jesus, and, yes, even Paul, when read finally in the light of Jesus, and not the other way around, as was the custom in preaching and Bible Study.

It was only years later that I discovered how important is the Sermon on the Mount and that Jesus offers this ethical discourse with a full realization that it was not going to be easy, but that it was possible "to be perfect as our Father in heaven."