part one

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Read Matthew 5:21-48

“Making Disciples for Jesus Who Are Eager to Serve Others.” That’s our mission statement for the West-Ark family. We have decided that it is important enough to emblazon on a banner in our worship center. Do we believe it? Are we really ready to accept it? If we are going to make disciples for Jesus, then must be disciples for Jesus.

Jesus is ringing up the cost of discipleship in his sermon on the mount. His vision for his community of disciples is nothing less than salt of the earth and light of the world. Being a disciple of Jesus means following Christ; not just following the rules. But don’t think for a moment that this implies that following Jesus is a sloppy righteousness. He isn’t playing fast and loose with the law, rather he is intensifying it. Following Jesus isn’t less strict than “following the rules.” In fact, Jesus’ disciples must have a righteousness that is much better than the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees – and they were the ultimate rule-keepers.But what does this Christ-focused, Pharisee-surpassing rigtheousness look like? How do we go “beyond” the law in our discipleship? This is what Jesus fleshes out in the part of his sermon that we just heard. The righteousness of his disciples goes beyond anger and insult, it goes beyond contracted relationship, it goes beyond technicalities in truthtelling, it goes beyond rights and revenge. Jesus sums it all up by saying that we are to be perfect.

We are to be perfect just as our Father in heaven is perfect. Perfection, according to Jesus, means living out the spirit of law. It means incorporating the spirit of the law-giver into us. If we are going to be perfect we cannot afford a choice between loving God and loving other people. The cost of discipleship includes both. The kingdom righteousness Jesus preaches asks us to go beyond anger and contempt and demanding our rights ...

Quote Bonhoeffer: “Every idle word which we think so little of betrays our lack of respect for our neighbor, and shows that we place ourselves on a pinnacle above him and value our own lives higher than his. The angry word is a blow struck at our brother, a stab at his heart: it seeks to hit, to hurt, and to destroy. A deliberate insult is even worse, for we are then openly disgracing our brother in the eyes of the world, and causing others to despise him. With our hearts burning with hatred we seek to annihilate his moral and material existence. We are passing judgment on him, and that is murder. And the murderer will himself be judged.”

Our culture divides people into innocent persecuted and relentless persecuters. We are either the wronged or we are doing wrong. But the cycle of anger, hatred, and revenge is cyclical. It feeds on itself and those who were once done wrong are often corrupted themselves with anger and hatred ... [personal story about hate toward "PR"]

Whether we are victim or victimizers, no one is exempt from the cost of discipleship. Part of that cost is to give up the bitterness, the fear, the contempt, that causes us to act or feel hatefully and badly toward another. It rings up as part of what we pay for the blessedness of following Jesus. We shall not give in to anger, contempt, bitterness, or insult. We shall not demand our rights or revenge ourselves. We will love others. Not just those we like, but those who hate us. Anyone can love people they like, but to love an enemy is a kingdom characteristic.

All of this doesn’t mean we are passive. Quite the opposite – the disciple of Jesus actively persues peace and reconciliation. That’s what it means to be a disciple – that’s what it means to be perfect. Jesus instructs us on how to actively pursue righteousness and peace ...

  1. We have to go to others. After the experience with PR, I began to reflect on how I may have hurt others. That’s how I overcame much of what I felt. But whoever reconciles – victim or victimizers/accused or accuser/injured or injurer – the end result is the same: reconciliation. Jesus tells us to settle out of court. Reconcile that debt right away. Now, while we are still on the way to court. And we are all on our way to meet the judge. Settle the matter!

  2. In fact, this is so important that Jesus says just get it taken care of even if it disrupts worship. God wants reconciliation because the business of brothers and sisters reconciling is not nearly as disruptive to worship as hatred, anger, and unresolved dispute. As far back as the creation worship of God has been disrupted by the sin of hatred and all of the associated problems. Cain’s problem with Abel started where? In worship!
  3. What tends to come up in dispute however, is protection of rights. We ask, “Don’t I have my rights? What protection do we have?” We live in an age and culture of vindication. There’s always someone to be sued. In the days of Jesus people sued the poor. They really did try to get blood from a turnip. And what’s Jesus’ solution to the unfair, unjust practice? He says: “Give them what they ask for – and more!” If they want your jacket, give them the shirt of your back to and walk out of the court in your skivvies! And watch the whole system come crumbling down! But - Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

I remember driving to Houston one day with one of the elders of my congregation in Texas. He was included in a class action group suing an asbestos company and the law firm in Houston wanted his deposition. He really didn’t want any part of it, but he was made to feel obligated to go. I drove him to Houston and waited for an hour while he gave his deposition. When we left the office the law clerks gave him a ball cap with the law firm’s name on it. And he talked them into giving me one too. On the way out he smiled at me and said laughingly, “Those two hats and a check for $23 is probably the most I’ll ever get from this!” My old friend had taught me a valuable lesson. He wasn’t concerned about his rights. He didn’t let it bother him. And in his grin and the matching ball caps we wore I saw the entire culture of everyone demanding their rights come crumbling down. Sort of the same way I am sure it did everytime someone cheerfully carried another’s person’s load another mile – not because they had to, but because they chose to.

Everytime we offer to let a violent person hit us again because we are not afraid, the whole system of self-righteous protection of our own interests comes crumbling down. My dear friend Carolyn was only nine when the Civil Rights movement the 1960’s was at its peak. She and her parents were walking into a store in their Georgia town and a prim and proper white-skinned woman put her cigarette out on Carolyn’s cheek. The woman expressed her rage “uppity blacks demanding their rights.” How did you or your family, how did any decent human present not want to arrest that woman, I asked Carolyn. She said, “I remembered how our preacher told us to turn the other cheek.” And a system of violence came crumbling down – not because Carolyn fought back, but because it was exposed for all its ugliness.

Disciples of Jesus have got to be different, not just for our sake but for the sake of the world. If--and this may be a big if--we can do this, we just might be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. And if we can be this kind of alternative society, then perhaps the other society can be blessed and reconciled back to its creative design.

The good news is that we are still on the way to court. There’s still time to reconcile. There’s still time to go another mile. We can turn the other cheek. We can give away freely what has been given to us. Get right with your brother or sister! Get right with God!

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. God is calling his children to the dinner table.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 3 September 2006

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