|Back in the 1980’s, a Lutheran pastor,
who during World War II had been in the death camp of Dachau in Germany,
traveled throughout the United States and preached at various churches.
This was a time when both the United States and the Soviet Union were increasing
their armaments at a rapid pace.
This pastor, Martin Neumeller, was preaching
about the Beatitudes and about building peace in the world. In his
sermon, he started off by sharing something about his own life. He
told how, when he was a boy during World War I, the Sermon on the Mount
was seen as suspended for the duration of earthly existence. Theologians
spoke openly about a moratorium on it, not realizing that by doing that
they were giving Hitler and his brand of fascism a green light. They
were asking: How can you love your enemy in this world? But by doing
so, they were postponing the commands and the teachings of Jesus until
the next world.
Then he said, “It was a moment of great significant
for me when in my bunker cell in Dachau I saw a fellow prisoner being hanged
outside my window. My first thought was: ‘poor fellow.’ And then
I thought: ‘this damn gang of murderers.’ But, suddenly, a new thought
bolted thru my whole being. What if Jesus had proclaimed such a thing
when he was dying on the cross? If Jesus had wanted to reach out
in violence to those who were killing him, there would be no forgiveness,
no shalom, no peace, ever.”
He said, “From that moment on, I understood
that Jesus meant what he said.” He understood our human reality,
but in that reality he really meant what he said.”
That moment in 1944, when he was 52 years old,
that moment turned Martin Neumuller completely inside out. He came
to a whole new understanding that Jesus meant what he said:
Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, blessed are the gentle, blessed
are those who suffer, blessed are those who work for justice, hunger and
thirst for justice, blessed are the peacemakers, those who give up violence
and follow the ways of Jesus.
I think this story is very important for all
of us. I have a sense that many times we want to think that the Sermon
on the Mount, these words of Jesus that we heard proclaimed today, is for
sometime after this life. We want to put a moratorium on it and say he
couldn’t have expected ordinary people to follow that way.
But if you look carefully at Matthew’s gospel,
you will find that Matthew seems very intent on trying to make sure that
we truly understand that Jesus meant what he said. Matthew was writing
to a Jewish community and to them this would have been very significant.
He has Jesus go up on the mountainside. Remember, it was Moses who
proclaimed the law to the chosen people from the mountain. The law of God
was given on the mountain. So Matthew is saying: Here’s the
new law of God now being proclaimed by Jesus, the Son of God, from the
According to Matthew’s thinking, Jesus is the
new Moses and he proclaims this new message for us.
In Matthew’s gospel, this is the first of five
long sermons that Matthew puts into that gospel. And so it’s clear
he’s trying to show us that he’s proclaiming a teaching that comes from
God. This is similar to the first five books of the Bible, which
are the five books that the chosen people follow. Jesus is teaching
through five very important sermons and this is the first. And so
Matthew is trying to impress upon us, “Yes, Jesus meant this.”
Just as God had proclaimed on Mount Sinai with
the first set of commandments, God was speaking through Jesus. Here
is the new way, the way of Jesus.
This message of Jesus is very important for
us this week. It’s so timely that we have this message when, during
the past week, there were two events that should have challenged us to
reflect on God’s way as proclaimed by Jesus.
The first was last Tuesday night when President
Bush spoke to the nation. The whole first part of his speech was a glorification
of war. We were triumphant and we could be proud and happy of how
we destroyed those evil people in Afghanistan, although, he never mentioned
what also happened in Afghanistan.
This past week, also, there was an article
in the press about some visitors who went to Afghanistan to make a health
assessment in Mazare Sharif and Kabul, as well as other parts of the country.
They said, “We came away staggered by the enormity of the destruction,
suffering and need in this ruined land. There have been thousands and thousands
of people killed.”
We don’t hear about that. President Bush
made no mention of that. It’s as though we accomplished our purpose
over there and left everything in great order. It’s not true.
It’s a ruined land.
Around the city of Harat, there is a refugee
camp of almost 300,000 people. But aid cannot get to them.
They are freezing to death, dying of starvation. One of the reasons is
that there four thousand unexploded cluster bombs around that area.
So aid workers cannot get through. It will take eight to ten months to
clear the area of those unexploded cluster bombs.
Cluster bombs are among the most terrible anti-personnel
weapons that you could use. When you touch them, they explode and then
many, many tiny bomblets burst forth. They strike people and tear them
in two, tear off an arm, destroying people.
It’s a ruined land and we say we’re triumphant.
We didn’t follow the way of Jesus by any means.
And what seems to me to be so striking about
what President Bush said for ourselves is that I don’t think he ever said
we have peace. He said we’re getting security. But Jesus
didn’t say: Blessed are the security makers. No, Jesus
said: Blessed are the peacemakers. It’s very different.
To try to pretend that we’re going to get security
for ourselves is an illusion. It won’t happen. Even though we are
now going to spend 450 billion dollars for armaments and weapons of destruction,
it will not bring us security. That’s not how you build peace in the world;
simply trying to get security for yourself by trying to build a wall around
yourself somehow and protect yourself from everyone else in the world.
It won’t happen. We won’t have security and, certainly, we won’t have peace.
That’s why it’s so important for us to begin
to pray deeply about this message of Jesus, a message where he tells us
we must reject violence, love your enemy, do good to the ones who hurt
you, return good for evil. We must listen to his message. It’s the
only way we will get real peace for ourselves and for the world.
The other thing that happened this week that
should give us pause as we reflect upon the message of Jesus today is the
World Economic Forum that took place in New York City. People from all
over the world come together, but these are very powerful people in the
world’s estimation of powerful people. They have wealth. They
are the leaders of nations, especially the rich nations. They gather and
exchange ideas about the world economic order, but there is nowhere in
their discussions where they talk about the four-fifths of the world’s
people who are desperately hungry and the one-fifth who are in absolute
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for
justice. The Bible’s idea of justice is that you organize the world
so that all of us have a right relationship with God and with our neighbor,
that everyone in the world has a chance to make use of the resources of
the world that are given by God for all.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for
justice’s sake. That’s not what we heard from our leaders who spoke
at the World Economic Forum. Our Secretary of the Treasury almost indicated:
It’s too bad about those nations that are suffering right now, we have
to look out for ourselves.
These two ideas really go together.
To be a peacemaker, you must hunger and thirst for justice. If we
don’t do something about the gross inequality in the world, there will
continue to be violence and tensions all over the world. We must
hear Jesus, hunger and thirst for justice, make a right order in the world
between ourselves and God and among all of our brothers and sisters throughout
Only when we begin to hear deeply what Jesus
is saying to us can we hope that the reign of God will really break forth
in our world and that we could begin to have a world where we wouldn’t
be desperately trying to have security for ourselves and never have peace.
We could have a world where there is peace, but it’s only if we follow
the way of Jesus.
Almost 2 years ago, Pope John Paul visited
the Holy Land and he preached a sermon on the Mount of the Beatitudes,
a place where Jesus first proclaimed the words that we heard today.
And part of his message is this: “Jesus’ call has always demanded
a choice between the two voices competing for your hearts. Even now,
on this hill, the choice between good and evil, between life and death,
which voice will the young people of the 21st century choose to follow?
To put your faith in Jesus means choosing to believe what Jesus says, no
matter how strange it may seem, and choosing to reject the claims of the
world, no matter how sensible and attractive they may seem.”
The choice is very clear and John Paul is saying,
“What about the young people of the 21st century? Which choice will they
That’s a very important question for us.
I think it’s highlighted today by the fact we’re going to baptize a new
member for our parish family. What choice will our newest member follow?
Well it depends an awful lot on what choice you and I make, which way we
follow. If we can follow the ways of Jesus, even if they seem strange,
almost foolish, and reject the ways of the world, which sometimes seem
so wise but are foolish, if all of us can make that choice and follow Jesus,
then we will be building our community in a way that the young people will
see that the way of Jesus is the way they must choose. They will
grow up making the choice to follow Jesus.
Perhaps, we can hope, that as they grow up
and follow the way of Jesus, that we can really build a world where the
reign of God will break forth and we can have peace and justice -- as all
of us work together to follow the way of Jesus.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.