+ Matthew 5:1-3 Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount: Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…
I remember the first time I saw people praying.
At age 5, on a family vacation in Sun Valley, Idaho- I fell and fractured my arm in several places. I spent weeks in the hospital for surgery after surgery. I heard whispers of ‘amputation’ or ‘skin grafting’ because of the severity of my nerve damage and swelling.
All around me, people prayed.
During those long days in the hospital, as I realized the fragility of my little arm- I would ponder ‘the big questions.’ I would turn to my mom and ask: where do all these prayers go?
I began to imagine a mountain of prayers- filled with all the prayers of our ancestors, the generations before us, the prayer of our neighbors from communities around the world- all piling up into a huge mountain of requests, supplications, concerns, joys and laments.
I preached on the Beatitudes a few weeks ago- the first section of the Sermon on the Mount. Many lectionary-following ministers probably preached this text too.
The Sermon on the Mount is the longest moment of teaching in all of Jesus’ ministry. This sermon stretches from Matthew chapter 5 through Matthew Chapter 7. Passages from this sermon are some of the most used and quoted pieces of the New Testament.
I love this scripture for all the sacred promises: those who mourn will be comforted, those who thirst and hunger will be filled, the peacemakers will be blessed and the meek lifted up… such a triumphant and incredible image of healing and wholeness in the world, and yet, it seems so distant and unrealistic.
I imagine piles of prayers for peace and safety and understanding rose up to the Mountain of Prayers from a high school in Philadelphia and a middle school in New Mexico. These two schools already endured shootings in 2014.
The talented, inspirational Philip Seymour Hoffman died from the fatal affliction of addiction last week. Thousands of prayers of confusion, sorrow, concern, fear, and anger must have been uttered since his death.
When I hear about the ongoing brokenness around me, I like to imagine a mountain of prayers…
When I study the Sermon on the Mount, I always linger in the Beatitudes. I love the hopefulness in it- blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who thirst, blessed are the merciful and the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, and blessed are those who are persecuted…
And yet- there are so many unanswered prayers. Christ describes a reality we have not seen yet, Jesus is preaching and teaching about blessings that we have not witnessed yet- he’s using kingdom language more than relatable language.
We know that crowds of people gathered in Galilee to hear Jesus preach this Sermon on the Mount. We read that when Jesus saw people gathered, Jesus climbs up the mountainside with his Disciples to recite the beatitudes.
But… Scholars and Geologists and historians alike cannot tell us what mountain Jesus climbed. Unlike the many passages that offer elaborate descriptors and footnotes- this passage is vague.
The scripture sounds almost like a fable or a once upon a time story at the beginning: When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him
When I try to make sense of all the brokenness surrounding us, and this beautiful passage that preaches into our living, breathing lives today, I imagine that Jesus climbed to the top of the mountain of prayers and preached: Dear Philadelphia, and Roswell, New Mexico, fear not. Blessed are the peacemakers, you are the Children of God and I will not leave you alone as you grieve.
Maybe Jesus climbed to the top of the mountain of prayers and preached directly to those of us reeling because of the death of our idols, our friends, or those struggling with addiction and Jesus said: fear not, Blessed are you who mourn, or you who are crippled with sadness or grief or fear-, Yours is the Kingdom of heaven and I will not leave you alone.
Perhaps Jesus climbed to the top of the mountain of prayers and preached directly to our very community and said: fear not, the illiterate will read and the hungry will be fed and the homeless will find rest before I leave this mountaintop.
And so, I hope we all continue to lift up prayers, deep hurts, confusion, loss and worry to that mountain of prayers, trusting that peace and hope will be restored by a present, persistent God who preaches the good news even today, in 2014.