The word, Epiphany, means the appearance of light. In Christian thought, the appearance of light reached its peak in the life and teachings of Jesus.
Nowhere else in the New Testament is there a clearer picture of the radical nature of how to follow the light of Jesus than the Sermon on the Mount. This collection of Jesus’ teachings is found in the first book of the New Testament, Matthew, chapters 5-7.
During the season after Christmas, Revs. Ryan, Janet, and Sarah will explore the more challenging invitations of these teachings: What is true happiness in an upside down world? Can I really love my enemies and pray for them? What about judging and forgiveness? What did Jesus mean when he taught us to pray his prayer?
When we dig deeply into these learnings, we discover the root images, convictions, and commitments of the stories that we live and tell. What are the spiritual practices that enhance my ability to live in harmony with my deepest self? Is there a spiritual resolution for my New Year?
Week 1: January 11
Sermon: Grounding Our Story in an Upside Down World, Rev. Ryan Canaday
Scripture: Matthew 5:1-12
“That’s nice Jesus, but I’ll never really be able to live up to those ideals.” When it comes to the Sermon on the Mount, often we are left with wanting to praise Jesus for teaching wonderfully high ideals, but then say that in real life we have to live some other, more realistic ethic. The Sermon on the Mount has nothing to do with how good you can be or how morally perfect you can become; it is about what God is already doing; it is about Jesus standing in the tradition of the ancient Hebrew prophets and proclaiming a new reality--a reality of God’s presence, deliverance, and healing. The question for us then becomes: will we participate in this reality, or simply admire Jesus’ teachings from a distance? The sermon begins with the beatitudes...AND IT’S LIKE JESUS IS TURNING THE WHOLE THING UPSIDE DOWN! It’s like he’s saying: “Forget everything you thought you knew because God is doing a brand new thing.” Jesus invites us--you and me--to ground our story in a world that is completely upside down. What is that about?
Week 2: January 18
Sermon: Grounding Our Story in Love, Rev. Dr. Janet Forbes
Scripture: Matthew 5: 43-48; Romans 8: 26-27
We go to the mountaintop with Martin Luther King, Jr. What did Martin teach about loving our enemies and praying for those with whom we are out of relationship? Our words may not be good enough…to reflect the teaching of Jesus or the will of God. On occasion, I am frustrated at prayer either by the questions of why, or by a sense of futility, or by the brokenness of community. And, yet, I am compelled by my need. I echo the sentiment of Abraham Lincoln. “I have been driven to my knees many times because there is nothing else to say and nowhere else to go. Paul understands this voiceless-ness as well. He writes to the church at Rome about the seasons in which prayer dries on the lips, when hearts are frozen, or broken, or confounded, and speech…or LOVE…is impossible. Paul invites us to see under the surface, behind the silence, and into the void. These painful times are simply birth pangs. The Spirit of God is arousing us within and we’re feeling the labor. The yearning signals the building of a new future, the kingdom echoed in Jesus’ mountain sermon.
Week 3: January 25
Sermon: Grounding Our Story with Clear Eyes, Rev. Sarah Merchant
Scripture: Matthew 7:1-5
Pursuing the virtue of non-judgment requires vigilance and humility. There’s a log in our eyes for goodness sake. The gospel message, however, comes in the grace to follow God’s character, become more aware of others and our connection with them, and find harmony within our selves, in our relationships and with God. But even such pursuits can be derailed by habits and emotions. An example of habits and emotions guiding our accurate or not-so-fair judgment can be found with the Wizard of Oz and a different assessment after considering the point of view of Wicked. Jesus calls us up the mountain and reveals God’s character as the model for our choices, actions and attitudes. And with a habit as ingrained as judging can be within our hearts, practicing together to imbue God’s character is a gift and pursuit of a faithful person and community.
Week 4: February 1
Sermon: Grounding Our Story with Prayer, Rev. Ryan Canaday
Scripture: Matthew 6:7-13
A friend and mentor of mine says, “If you want to understand what this world should be like, you have to look beyond it.” That’s how the Lord’s Prayer functions. It’s smackdab in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount and it inspires us to look beyond this world. But really, how does prayer function in our lives? There’s some big questions surrounding prayer. What are we doing when we pray? Does God answer some prayers, but not all--or sometimes but not all the time. Some people say, “We prayed and God showed up and did a miracle!” Well, where was God when that other person really needed that miracle? Other people say, “You have to understand, God is going to do what God is going to do.” Well, then, why pray? When Jesus prays, he’s tapping into the divine creative energy that created everything. For Jesus, prayer was about being open to the God who is at work here and now. Prayer is more than just words, it is about our whole posture towards life. It's about being brutally honest with God. When we pray we are tapping into that same divine creative energy and we are asking, “What is God up to here and now, and how can we be a part of it?”
Week 5: February 8
Sermon: Forgiveness: The Gift We Give Ourselves, Rev. Dr. Janet Forbes
Scripture: Matthew 6:14-15 and 18: 21-22
Elizabeth O’Conner says that forgiveness is a whole lot harder than anyone makes it out to be. But there is a hunger in every human soul for forgiveness, both to be able to give it, and to receive it. Jesus added forgiveness to the daily conversation prayer with God, echoing the seventy times seven teaching. Forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves, grown in the roots of compassion and humor. It takes time and must be attempted again and again and again.
Week 6: February 15
Sermon: Fraught With Danger
Scripture: Matthew 7:24-27
Brené Brown says she returned to faith and the church when life got hard and started to unravel. She came to the church expecting it to be like an epidural, to take the pain and discomfort away. Instead, she found that the church was more like a midwife who stood with her and said, "Push. It's supposed to hurt a little bit." Seeing a God who stands with those who don't have it together. This is uncomfortable. Loving our enemies. This is difficult. Offering grace rather than judgment. This is hard. Prayer. I often don't know how to pray. Forgiveness. How am I supposed to forgive him or her or them? When we look at faith and the church as the place of comfort and easy answers, we begin building in the sand. But when we struggle together to live the deepest ethic of love, we are building on solid rock. Perhaps we've been too cautious, played it too safe. This sermon on the mount stuff is dangerous, it calls us to some scary places. When the rains fall, it can create chaos...but these same rains are also capable of creating beauty.