My sinful nature needs little nourishment to feed smug self-satisfaction, but an unbelieving world provides a smorgasbord.
If it’s not another mass murderer semi-automatically butchering people, then it’s the drug deal gone bad with bullets flying and blood spattered. There I sit before my TV screen or digital newspaper rarely having harmed a fly.
Or it’s paparazzi trailing the red-carpet wake of stars arriving at the Academy Awards as the world worships its idols. Yet left in their wake is often not just a tangled mess of press but a tangled mess of life in home and family, often many times over. And there’s my three-generation family picture on the wall with my wife (one so far), children, and grandchildren.
“God, I thank….”
And then it’s the sideshow of politics as I hear curses both sides call down on one another as they massage the truth (even in sworn testimony) to please their blindly rabid base. And there I am with no impeachable offenses or public-speech-rippings on my record.
“God, I thank you.…”
And public ministry can provide additional fodder for smug self-satisfaction as I gaze down from my preacherly perch on the often-messy lives of those I serve. They give evidence of spiritual immaturity in bickering and backbiting, while I, of course, speak peace. The tangled web of unfaithfulness in family that they expect me to help untie (at times wound up even tighter after ignoring my previous counsel) leaves me shaking my head as my family remains outwardly functional. Their vows before God’s altar are often quickly broken while I continue to minister at that altar (faithful to my ordination vows, I might add).
“God, I thank you that…”
“…your dear Son eviscerates my smug self-righteousness in his Sermon on the Mount!”
If we pay attention in Sunday’s gospel (Matthew 5:21-37), things get a bit uncomfortable. Jesus lays before me what it means to live out what he declared me to be last week (light and salt). He shows me what a righteousness far beyond the outward formalism of Pharisees and teachers of the law looks like. Suddenly, there’s no room for smugness.
Instead of shaking my head again at a brutal world, there I stand with blood-stained hands from multiple mass murders. Jesus pierces to my hidden hatred artfully disguised behind a smile and formulaic kind words – yet all the while my heart is cooking those who hurt me in a bitter broth simmering to a boil.
Instead of running to join those squawking online about Shakira and J. Lo’s shamelessness at the Super Bowl, Jesus’ words ask me to ponder why I watched it with both eyes rather than plucking one out and using my remaining hand to find the TV remote. Why is my sin so easy to excuse as I endanger my soul – not just my hand and eye – with what I gaze at or grasp?
And granting all the world’s empty promises combined with full invective, and the broken promises and vows before God within the church, Jesus suddenly asks me to ponder how far beyond “yes” and “no” I must often go because those I know and love have too often not found me to be a man of my word. Too many words originate with the father of lies, not my heavenly Father.
So why do I thank God for Jesus’ systematic evisceration of my prized self-righteousness?
Why? Because it sends me back two Sundays – just a few verses in Matthew 5 – to Jesus’ promise when his words leave me hungering and thirsting for righteousness my heart doesn’t naturally possess. He fills me with the righteousness that blows out of the water the righteousness of Pharisees and teachers of the law: it’s his own lived for me!
Why? Because as he reduces my heart to the meekness that comes from being emptied of self, there I find that Jesus makes me an heir of everything lasting on earth and heaven.
Why? Because though he leads me to confess that I’m poor in spirit, yet, to all such poor ones, the kingdom that should forever be beyond our reach is given us as our possession.
All of which prepares me to go back to last Sunday and marvel that, despite deep darkness and tasteless unsaltiness lurking in my natural heart, he declares again that I am the world’s light and salt! And so, washed by daily repentance in baptismal waters, he sends me back out to live in his kingdom different from the inside out. And glory comes to my heavenly Father!
And what will that look like?
It looks like finding the strength of Jesus’ grace to bury beginning embers of resentment over my brother or sister’s sins (1 Peter 4:8) and running to them – quickly! – whenever my unloving words and actions are tempting them to resent me.
It looks like a ruthless cutting off my heart’s wickedness (the real cause of sin that needs daily crucifying!) when lust comes whispering to engage eyes or hands. Such ruthless heart gauging and chopping halts the inevitable process of my heart’s hidden sin from becoming words and actions that cause my neighbor to stumble. By such guarding of the wellspring of life, what flows out instead is to my neighbor’s good (Proverbs 4:23).
It looks like a salty soft water filter God’s grace affixes to my mouth so that my “Yes!” and my “No!” are trustworthy for those I serve in home and church and community. What a beautiful glimpse of my faithful Father who does not lie or change his mind (Numbers 23:19)
That is kingdom-life lived as salt and light by God’s gracious strength But, strange as it sounds, such life begins with the chopping and gauging that crucifies my heart.
“God, I thank you that your dear Son eviscerates my smug self-righteousness in his Sermon on the Mount!”