An X Rated Sermon
A while back I stumbled on an idea from Wilbur Reese that has stuck with me. He said that he believed all sermons should come with a rating, like the ones that come on movies. It is his belief that if the congregation knows what they are getting into they would be more receptive. No one wants to walk in a movie expecting Disney family friendly and get Credit Card Slasher part 6. He reasoned that if preachers were going to be fair they needed to let the listeners know what they are getting into before the sermon starts. And he gave a description about what that rating system would look like.
“G” sermons - These are messages that are generally acceptable to everyone one, they contain phrases such as "Go into all the world and smile" or "What the world needs is peace, love and fewer taxes." When a preacher preaches these types of sermons as the folks file out of the building, they shake his hand and say, That was a wonderful sermon. Or It did my heart good to be here today. Personally I believe that we all need to hear a good G message every now and then. We want to feel good about ourselves, and we need to feel like we are on the right track.
“PG” sermons - These are sermons that are pretty subtle but evoke some feelings that cause a little discomfort. Usually they are pretty passive aggressive and allow the preacher enough wiggle room to back pedal and change the tone of the sermon if inadvertently offends the wrong folks. When you preach a PG sermon usually people walk away either thinking about their spiritual life or with their feelings hurt. Of course most of the crowd will leave thinking that it was a shame that Brother Johnson wasn’t here to hear that sermon, because he really needed to hear it while they refuse to look at themselves.
“PG-13” Sermons - These are sermons that contain some risqué texts and parts of the Bible that we like to ignore. Talking about the sin of Judah and Tamar, or Lot’s Daughters who get their dad drunk in an effort to try and have children are a bit embarrassing. When you hear a PG-13 sermon, the point of the text is usually lost because we spend most of the sermon offended that the preacher choose to talk about sex, or incest, or murder, or one of the hundred other stories in the greater story that gives us the hebejebes. Usually after a PG-13 sermon, the elders will remind the preacher that there are children present and we need to be careful with the sermon content.
“R” rated sermons - Hold on to you hat, because these are the sermons when the Preacher tells it like it is. This is the sermon that the preacher has wanted to preach for the last 5 years, and now that there is another church lined up, and the moving truck is packed he feels the freedom to finally be honest. All of the frustration finally hits the fan. Following an R rated sermon, the preacher won’t stand in the back and shake hands because he doesn’t want to get punched.
Today we are starting a series on Matthew 5-7, a text that contains what most people believe is the greatest sermon ever preached. Since it is a Jesus sermon, I think we need to spend a considerable amount of time with it, and if you have ever taken the time to honestly read the text you will notice very quickly that Jesus is not preaching a rated G sermon. As a matter of fact Jesus by passes the PG sermons and the R rated Sermon and get’s right to the point. If you have ever honestly read what Jesus actually says in Matthew 5-7, you know that Jesus is preaching an X rated sermon.
Now some of you might be thinking, Come on Jeremy, I love the Sermon on the Mount, it is a great passage and there is no way that you could call this an X-rated sermon. If that’s your view of the text maybe you need to read it again. In these brief 111 verses, Jesus challenges every part of your human nature. Too many folks want to take the teeth out of this sermon and pretty up His words and strip them of their power.
Let me explain what I mean, as a nation we are in the middle of a conversation about same sex marriages. There was a politician who was talking around the question and stated that while he opposed gay marriages he didn’t oppose civil unions. In an effort to justify his position he turned to Scripture and said “If people find that controversial then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which I think is, in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans.”
I don’t get political, but I also refuse to dumb down this powerful sermon of Christ. Jesus was not trying to fix our social agenda; He desired to change our nature. That’s why this is an X rated sermon.
I agree with Mark Twain who famously said, “It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” Our job is not to explain away the sermon on the mount, but to take it at face value. That would not only change Park Central and the universal church, it would change the world. Don’t forget that it was His words that got Christ crucified.
As we take a fresh look at the Sermon on the Mount we need to enter this study with a clear understanding that Jesus meant exactly what He said; every word, every comma, every period. These words were spoken to be obeyed. I wonder what would happen if instead of looking at the Sermon on the Mount as a set of old, quaint teachings we put the words of Christ into action and practice on an everyday basis. What would happen if we accepted His ideas as the rule and not the exception? I wonder what would happen if we sought to make the words of Christ come to life in our personal relationships? Actually I know what would happen; once again the church would reach out and change the world.
Let’s re-read our text from this morning Matthew 5:1-2 and get a look at the setting behind the sermon. Now when He saw the crowds, He went up on a mountain (as Moses had done before Him) and He sat down (as Jewish teachers of His day usually did). His disciples gathered around Him. And He began to teach them
The first thing I want you to notice is that the audience gathered on this mountain consists of a group very much like the one that is gathered in our building this morning. There is a group of folks that are the inner circle of the disciples, and the outer circle of the crowds. There is a group that is comfortable and a group that is seeking. Even though it says in verse 1 that He taught His disciples, at the end of Chapter 7 we see that the crowds were astonished at his teaching. So it is clear that the crowds were listening and that Jesus wanted them to listen even though the sermon is primarily addressed to disciples.
I try to start every sermon with a story that serves as the hook. I want to try to get your attention quick so we can look at the text. The Sermon on the Mount starts with a hook when Jesus addresses a need that has not changed since the beginning of time, Happiness.
How can I be happy, truly happy is the question that started in the Garden of Eden and we are still trying to answer it today. We live in a culture that struggles with the when and then blues. We believe that when I finally get a job then I’ll be happy. When I get a new car then I’ll be happy. When I finally get this then I’ll finally be this.
King Solomon, who was blessed by God with incredible wisdom, wealth, and power, was not immune to this search. In the book of Ecclesiastes he relates his attempts to find happiness in the things of this world. In chapter 2 He says: I decided to enjoy myself and find out what happiness is. But I found that this is useless, too. I discovered that laughter is foolish, that pleasure does you no good. Driven on by my desire for wisdom, I decided to cheer myself up with wine and have a good time. I thought that this might be the best way people can spend their short lives on earth. I accomplished great things. I built myself houses and planted vineyards. I planted gardens and orchards, with all kinds of fruit trees in them; I dug ponds to irrigate them. I bought many slaves, and there were slaves born in my household. I owned more livestock than anyone else who had ever lived in Jerusalem. I also piled up silver and gold from the royal treasuries of the lands I ruled. Men and women sang to entertain me, and I had all the women a man could want.
It’s amazing that here we are over 3,000 years later and we are still trying to find happiness in these same places. Success, fame, wealth, entertainment, alcohol, and drugs. Everyone that is looking for happiness in things eventually comes to the same conclusion as Solomon: I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Ecclesiastes 1:14
It’s not a sin to want to be happy, it’s not even wrong to pursue happiness; God wants His children to be happy. But God wants us to have true, lasting happiness, not the fleeting happiness that this world has to offer. True happiness comes from God, not a bigger house, or a faster car, or more friends. Psalm 144:15 says happy is the people whose God is Jehovah. Psalm 146:5-6 says: Happy is the man who has the God of Jacob to help him and who depends on the LORD his God, the Creator of heaven, earth, and sea, and all that is in them. He always keeps his promises. God wants His children to find happiness, but true and lasting happiness can only be found in God.
One of the greatest tragedies in our world is that we sold a relationship with God for the cheep garbage this world has to offer. Christians exchanged a relationship with God for a religion that is just one more option among 100 different options. We struggle to allow the story to make any difference and prayer has become a last resort instead of the goal of our lives. There are thousands of folks sitting in buildings today that are only concerned with their needs being met, a place that offers the most programs for their families, and they still wonder why they can’t find true and lasting happiness.
The sad truth is that adultery is rampant inside the church as well as outside the church.
The sad truth is that addictions to pornography, alcohol, and drugs are just as prevalent inside the church as it is outside the church.
The sad truth is that we have traded our joy for worry and strife.
There are far to many of us that claim to have faith, but it’s not a life altering, verb, type of faith. Our faith in God is much like our faith in Alabama. Okay, let me unwrap that a bit. You have been told that there is a place called Alabama and even though a lot of you have never visited The Great State, you know folks who have and have seen a map that shows where it is located in comparison to Texas. SO you have an intellectual faith that Alabama exists. But when you got up this morning you didn't choose what clothes you were going to wear, or where you were going to spend your day, or how you talk or love or forgive based on your faith that Alabama exists. Basically you believe, but that faith has done nothing to change who you are.
A lot of folks believe that there is a God, and that there is a heaven, and even that Jesus came to the earth, but their faith has nothing to cause them to be more loving or compassionate. Their faith has not adjusted their attitude to where they look out for the well being of others and take their eyes off their own desires. Nadia Webber Boltz said that God gave the Ten Commandments not to protect us from our neighbor, but rather to protect our neighbor from us. She is right, and the same could be said for this X rated sermon.
God calls us into a deeper relationship with Him while the world tries to tell us that true happiness can only be found in a big bank account, a home in an exclusive neighborhood, a secure job with lots of paid vacation time, or the newest gadget. Unless we move deeper in our relationship with God we are doomed to living an empty existence on this earth chasing after the next new gadget to make us happy.
The theme of Jesus’ X rated sermon is that we can only find true happiness when we get our heart right. True happiness is found in Christ and in Christ alone. This sermon on the mountainside is not just a cute collection of proverbs that will make the journey more pleasant. This is a sermon that cuts to the heart of every disciple.
Enduring happiness comes from standing in a right relationship with God, and a right relationship with our neighbor. Jesus is determined that by faith we will move against human nature and find the truly happy life. In a world filled with sin, suffering, and sorrows, God wants to demonstrate, through His children, that these traits of spiritual life can be developed and maintained. God wants you to experience true happiness and to be immersed in that experience.
Let’s think about it this way. On the screen behind me is a picture from the top of Pikes Peak. You can see that picture and on the screen the picture is pretty massive, but would any of you say that you have experienced that view? No one here would say that seeing a picture is the same as experiencing the view for yourself. I had seen pictures of this view for years, but it wasn’t until 1999 when Trista and I got to climb to the top of Pikes Peak that I had the chance to experience this view. It’s only at the top of that mountain that you can see, smell, feel everything that this view has to offer. After standing on that peak I know that a picture cannot match the actual experience. The same can be said for our relationship with Christ. Far too many of us have seen pictures and think that’s the same thing as experiencing a deep, abiding relationship with God. The truth is that we have no idea what we are missing.
Someone once compared the Sermon on the Mount to climbing a real mountain. The higher you get up the Mountain the more difficult the climb becomes. If you have ever climbed a mountain you know that the climb is worth it because from the mountain peak everything looks different. We start with the Beatitudes that express this unusual idea of fun: Blessed are the poor, the mourners, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. Once we get our minds wrapped around the fact that God is calling us to a deep life giving relationship with Him that is everything the world is not, then we can move on to the steeper part of the course.
Every culture believes that murder is wrong, but deep and abiding happiness comes from the But I say to you. If you merely avoid the act, you never learn how murder is the opposite of loving.
You brag because you didn’t have an affair, that’s awesome. But let me ask you did you not have an affair because you really loved and poured love into your spouse or because you didn’t have the opportunity?
At the heart of this X rated sermon is the fact that we have failed to take the relationship God has offered us. We have settled for religious talk, seen a picture of what God has to offer and believed that’s all there was. Someone lied to us and said just keep the rules and everything will be okay. The result is that we have broken the first commandment and forfeited the community God offers us because we have reduced the relationship to something we think we can manipulate and manage.
This morning we can still hear Jesus say, But I say to you come and experience a deep and abiding relationship with the Creator, Sustainer, and Savior of all creation. God wants you close, God wants you to know Him and find the true happiness here on earth that will carry you on to eternity.