One summer while I was vacationing at my family’s cottage, our lawn tractor broke down, and when the truck from the repair shop arrived to pick it up, I greeted the driver and we chatted for a few minutes as he loaded the tractor into his pickup. Suddenly he said to me, “I see you’re a Christian.”
I quickly reviewed our conversation in my mind trying to figure out what I had said about tractor repair that was distinctly Christian but, seeing my confusion, he pointed to my T-shirt. I realized that I was wearing my T-shirt with the Union University Church logo on it.
“Oh, yeah, that’s my church,” I said rather obviously.
“That’s great,” he continued. “I like working with Christians. You know, so many of my customers aren’t. In fact,” he shook his head sadly, “most of them are the opposite.”
I must admit that I was tongue-tied because a million questions raced through my mind. Did my wearing a church T-shirt make me a Christian? And, assuming most of his customers weren’t wearing church T-shirts, how did he know whether his other customers were Christians or not? Did he simply mean that most of his customers were not nice which of course begs the question, is being a Christian the same as being nice? But then he had also added that many of his customers were the opposite of Christian so I wondered what he considered to be the opposite of Christian: Jewish, Muslim, atheist, Satan worshiper? And if so, was that the kind of information one volunteered during discussions on lawn tractor maintenance?
“Excuse me, sir, but could you change the spark plugs on my tractor because I want the lawn to look nice for my next pagan sacrificial rite?”
One of the hazards of being a minister is that even the simplest comment can lead to a bevy of theological questions but while all of these speculations were racing through my mind, the driver took my check and left so I will never know just what he meant by ‘Christian.’
Jesus, however, tells us exactly what he means when he calls us to be Christians, or since Christianity wasn’t actually a thing yet when Jesus was still alive, Jesus tells us what it means to be part of God’s Kingdom, part of God’s realm, or what it is like to live in the kind of world where you allow God to be in charge. As we have seen over the past few weeks, Jesus mostly uses parables to try to get at the heart of that issue but here in the passage from Matthew, we find the fullest picture of what Jesus says the world looks like when seen through God’s eyes.
This passage in Matthew is called the Sermon on the Mount because Jesus has hiked up a mountain to get away from the crowds for a while and his disciples have followed him and are sitting on the grass at his feet as he teaches. It is still very early in his ministry — Jesus hasn’t even assembled the final twelve yet — and so we can assume that the disciples who are with him aren’t yet sure what they have gotten themselves into. They followed Jesus because he asked them to, and they trusted him enough to leave behind their fishing nets and tag along, but all Jesus has done so far in the gospel is to heal a number of sick people. For all the disciples know at this point, they have signed on to be first century Physician Assistants. On the mountain, however, Jesus explains to them that he is here to do more than physical healing; he is here to heal people spiritually by calling us into a new relationship with God and with one another. He is asking us to participate in a world that is entirely different from the one most of us live in. As I said when I began my series on the Kingdom of God, Jesus isn’t talking about some future world that we will only get to see after we die, but he is talking about the world it is possible for us to live in right now if we choose to live in the world as God sees it when God is in charge. Someday, Jesus promises, everyone will learn to see the world the way God sees it, and everyone will live in that place of peace and healthy relationships with one another and the earth, but until that day, he says, we can still live in God’s realm in part if we simply choose to see the world through God’s eyes and to allow our world to be structured in the way that God chooses.
When Jesus called the disciples to follow him, then, he didn’t hand out T-shirts for them to wear to declare their allegiance; he called them to a new way of living and a new way of seeing: Christianity is essentially a new way of seeing. Jesus sat his disciples down on that mountain and he said to them, “You have to stop looking at the world the way you were taught to look at it — the way you were taught to look at it on the school bus and in the office and in the pages of People magazine — and you need to train yourself instead, to see the world the way God sees it. And this is how God sees it…..”
“Blessed — honored and sacred — are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”
“God gives the highest honor,” Jesus says, “to the people in your community who are impoverished; to those who have no money to buy friends and influence, who will never appear on Forbes 400 list, and who live in constant despair and anxiety. Others walk right by them but God sees them before God notices anyone else, because they are the ones God holds in highest esteem. Honored are the poor in spirit.
“And those people whose hearts are broken with grief, who weep in the dark of the night — they are so close to God,” Jesus says. “God is watching out for them and holding them through their tears. They are right at God’s elbow…. And how pleased God is with the unassuming souls who would happily fade into the background rather than call attention to themselves. Their humility is a strength,’ Jesus declares, “that is capable of changing the entire earth,”
“When God sees one of God’s children reach out to another person in mercy, God’s heart is full of mercy toward that person as well. And God honors the people whose hearts are made of gold for in the purity of their love for others, heaven and earth meet. You know those people about whom you say, ‘They have a heart of gold?’ Well, that pure love is heaven’s love streaming directly to us from God.”
“So too,God delights,” Jesus continues, “in those who are working to bring peace. God is as proud of them as a mother is for her straight A student. God’s bumper sticker reads, ‘My child is a peacemaker!’
“While the haters and trolls and bullies mock those who fight for justice and taunt those who insist on grace toward others, God admires those who are working for the rights of other people and shouts out with enthusiasm, ‘You go, girl!’ and “You’re the man! That’s what I’m looking for. That concern for others is what I hoped for from you when I created you all.”
“This is the world as God sees it,” Jesus said to his disciples. “and to be part of that world, we just have to put on God colored glasses.
Last year, the Alfred University Commencement speaker was Don McPherson, who earned his PhD in glass science from Alfred in 1988. McPherson is known today for his invention of unique eyeglasses that enable people with certain types of color blindness to see color. His invention was actually accidental. He had designed the glasses as protective eyewear for doctors doing laser surgery but when he loaned the glasses to a color blind friend while playing frisbee, the friend was startled to realize that for the first time in his life, he could see the orange color of the cones lining the field. Before, they had blended in with the background, a monochrome hue in a monochrome world, but now, the orange was vividly on display and the cones did what the cones were supposed to do — they grabbed his attention.
This is what Jesus means by living in the Kingdom of God. In our ordinary world, most people are simply part of a faceless nameless crowd that form the backdrop for the few who are revered for their wealth or their influence or sometimes are simply famous for being famous. If Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, were to walk into the Dollar Store in Alfred, it would be all over town before he could finish paying for his chewing gum because we have eyes for the rich and the famous and the powerful but God would not even notice him. God’s eyes would slip right past Zuckerberg to see the poor woman scrounging for enough nickels to buy her child milk that week because her struggle is the one God honors. When we put on God colored glasses, our view, too, entirely changes. Mark Zuckerberg fades into the background and Joe and Jill Schmoe jump into relief to capture our fullest attention.
What a blessing that is. Wouldn’t you give anything for a moment of relief from the tyranny of celebrity in our society? Aren’t you tired of hearing about the antics of Kim Kardashian as if what she decides to wear each morning is the most important thing in your day? We move through our days with our ears filled with the constant hum of Twitter wars and political grandstanding and with our eyes bombarded by ads telling us that our worth will be measured by the car we drive and the kind of phone in our pocket. Even our cherished faith has been soiled by celebrity clergy using their pulpits to bray their personal prejudices. Our spirits are tattered and worn by it all, but there is a cure for it. We don’t have to see the world the way it tells us to see. We can put on our God-colored glasses and discover the peace of a new way of seeing. God colored glasses are not rose colored glasses — it’s not that we are choosing to ignore reality; it is that we are choosing to restructure our reality to align with God’s way of understanding the world. In God’s way of seeing, ordinary people regain their dignity and value, and simple humility, mercy, care for others, and striving for the right is in the end what really matters. We really matter and what we do has the power to change the world.
The Sermon on the Mount is Christ’s manifesto for a new world order that is structured by the values God holds dear, and that new world order is possible right now in our lives should we choose to participate by insisting on seeing the world the way God sees it. And when we do, we will find freedom and honor and purpose and peace.