When Jesus saw the crowds of people there, he went up on a hill and sat down. His followers came and sat next to him. Then Jesus began teaching the people. – Matthew 5
In my teaching and writing I talk a lot about story: understanding the kind of story we are living, sharing our own story, and inviting others into a better story – the Greatest Story Ever Told. So I was even more excited than usual to be in church this weekend, because we had a “storytelling” emphasis during worship.
To help, Rebekah invited Jesus to church Sunday morning. And the Master preached, through the gifts of Robert Pettyjohn, a friend of Wake Forest Presbyterian who not only dresses the part, but plays Jesus pitch perfect.
We are all encouraged to “be the presence of Christ” in our day-to-day lives, so that people will see Jesus in and through each and every one of us. But it takes a special talent to don the robes and to speak the words of The Sermon on the Mount as if the Master himself had walked into the church and was teaching, speaking the scriptures into our lives, Matthew 5-8, word for word, no notes and absolutely no hesitation.
Jesus Walked Into the Sanctuary:
Rebekah set the stage by reading the last few verses of Matthew 4 while Jesus walked forward from the back of the church.
As our guest arrived at the front, by the communion table, Rebekah read, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying…”
And – immediately – Robert picked up the beginning of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth…”
Robert sat for a while – the traditional teaching posture of that time – then walked back and forth, addressing various sections of the crowd, catching the compassion in Christ’s voice, leveraging the humor often present in his observations, even peering carefully out of a window as he observed, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them…”
The congregation – always attentive listeners when Rebekah preaches – hung on every word. Then, after Robert voiced the final phrases of the message, Jesus walked out of the sanctuary and Rebekah finished Matthew 7, “Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”
The Big Picture:
If you read me often then you already know I’m a huge advocate of reading scripture. It’s always refreshing – and helpful – when we hear huge chunks at one listening.
Scripture is always best understood as a part of a passage, a chapter, or even a whole book. Listening to Jesus speak three long chapters from our vantage point (being part of the crowd), gave everyone in church yesterday new insight and a profound sense of the presence of God.
It’s pretty clear to me that Jesus (the real, actual, Jesus) is inviting us into the kind of discipleship that takes his words seriously, and that translates listening to his voice into an ongoing day-to-day story – a story where we not only love and trust him, but where we invite Jesus into our world, and invite those we love into his story.
Think about it. And, as Jesus himself said to me Sunday morning (he was looking right at me):
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” – Matthew 6:19-21
That’s where I want to be, storing up the right kind of treasure – DEREK