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For the next few weeks our gospel readings come from the Sermon on the Mount.  This is holy ground which some call the constitution of the Christian faith.  The title of Fr. Richard Rohr’s book on the Sermon captures its scope – “Jesus’ Plan For A New World.”

The problem with entering a new world is getting away from the old one.  The need to deconstruct the world we create for ourselves is seen in the rhythm of the Sermon.  Six time Jesus says “You have heard…….., but I say…..”   Sometimes it is not enough to say what is true.  Sometimes we need to identify and deconstruct what is in the way of what is true.  If Jesus was talking to us today what would be in the way of what is true?  What is in the way of what needs to be built in us?

Deconstructing False Systems

What makes the world we construct so resilient?  Once we adopt a system of thought it is very difficult to change.  Political consultants call this “framing.”  Once we frame an issue in our minds, such as a political or religious issue today, we then filter new information to be consistent with our frame.  You may think the Obama administration is a “socialist disaster” or “change we can believe in,” but regardless you will interpret new information consistent with your chosen narrative.  In my business, jury selection can take a long time because lawyers are trying to discern how potential jurors frame the issues in the case so they can select the jurors with the right framing.

So it makes sense for Jesus to get out the sledge hammer in the Sermon.  None of the dominant narratives of his time were spared.  To the tribal narrative Jesus says forget your silly boundaries and love your enemies.  To those seeking feudal lords to protect them he says make no oaths at all, never give away your loyalty or your integrity whether to a castle on the hill or a factory down the road.  To the patriarchy Jesus calls for more a new morality and more equality in matters such as divorce.  To the system where the tribe or family competes for honor and seeks to elevate itself by shaming others and must retaliate to maintain honor, Jesus says nobody can touch you, nobody can shame your true self, so turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile.  Be free.

A More Personal Sermon

Now let’s imagine Jesus sat down with each of us for our own personal sermon on the mount.  What would Jesus deconstruct of the religious/cultural identity we have built?  What narrative do we have about God and ourselves that needs to be reframed?

Perhaps Jesus would start big and say “you have heard it said that your faith tradition surpasses all others and that your country is exceptional in God’s plan, but I say to you my Father shows no partiality, that my life resides in all humanity equally.”  Perhaps he would look at what we have been taught about our salvation, that we have heard it said that we have been born in sin, cut off from God, helpless without a rescue, but Jesus says to us that we were made in the image of God and the immortal diamond of God’s light is and always has been in us.  Perhaps He would say “you have heard it said over and over that you are what you produce, that getting attention is what matters, but I say to you look for the truth in the eyes of those at the margins of life who cannot produce.”  I can imagine Jesus continuing in this rhythm about “what we have heard” vs. “what He would say” about gender, orientation, race, the Bible etc.

But what if Jesus then looked even deeper at us like a friend who knows us inside out, who knows the narratives we carry around?  Maybe His voice would grow gentle and say you have heard it said over and over that nothing you do is ever good enough, but I say to you I love you just the way you are.  You have said to yourself over and over that you are guilty of something shameful, but I say to you I do not see you that way, I cannot even remember such things.  You have come to believe that you get your value from such things as helping others, from needing to be right, from being creative or from being successful, but I say to you these things are all well and good, but these things can be gone in an instant, your value cannot be measured by these things.

I hope and pray for you and for me that exposure to the Sermon these weeks will help us see the narratives about God and about ourselves that need some deconstruction.  I am sure we all have places within where we need to make room for what is true.  May this Eucharist help us feel the grip of a spiritual hammer and get to work.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Communion
Liturgy for the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Saturday Evening, February 15, 2014
Focus Text – Matthew 5: 20-34 (portions of the Sermon on the Mount)

Photo by DarrelBirkett on flickr.com

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