Any pursuit of happiness that focuses on material possessions is bound to disappoint because these things simply don’t last.
Returning to preach at the 137th Anniversary Worship Services at Wesley Methodist Church, where he was Pastor-in-charge before becoming President of the Trinity Annual Conference, Rev Stanley Chua preached Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and what it means to be a truly happy disciple of Christ.
The Sermon on the Mount is regarded by most Bible commentators to contain the central tenets of Christian discipleship and essential principles for living a genuine Christian life. It’s intentional discipleship at its best! Setting the context, Rev Chua said, “Jesus declared and proclaimed ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ in Matthew 4:17. In the Sermon on the Mount that follows (Matthew 5 to 7), Jesus made clear how all who belong to his kingdom should live and conduct themselves as his subjects.”
Best-known of Jesus’ teachings but least obeyed
But how do subjects of a kingdom align themselves to the kingdom’s principles?
Rev Chua said he is keenly aware of the challenges and difficulties that most Christians have in understanding and obeying the teachings found in the Sermon on the Mount. He agreed with what the late Dr John Stott observed in his commentary: “The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best-known part of the teaching of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood, and certainly it is the least obeyed.”
“One common challenge that most Christians have is that they find the values and demands of the Sermon on the Mount out of the world as it completely reverses the values of what our world teaches,” said Rev Chua.
For example, in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), Jesus gives happiness a new definition. He includes within its boundaries experiences such as mourning, suffering and persecution, elements that ordinarily we would never consider as happiness but as curses in life.
How can this be? “… Jesus promises that even our mourning, suffering and persecution have power to lead us to true happiness and experience the blessed life if we believe and live out what he has taught us.”
Jesus challenges our narrow understanding of the laws and conduct and broadens their applications; it is truly confronting as we surrender our daily worries and things that we hold dear.
“The daily issues that drive us to worry become quite trivial in Jesus’ teachings.
“The excuses with which we always justify our conduct, Jesus uncovers them, and he reveals how shallow our thinking and conduct are.”
Another common challenge that many Christians have is that they perceive the Sermon on the Mount to be impractical and irrelevant as it is an impossible ideal to achieve and obey.
While we may not be able to “perfectly live out the values and ethical teachings of the Sermon on the Mount”, Rev Chua challenged us to think of its relevance and consider why Jesus would teach it in the first place.
Indeed, over the last 2,000 years of Church history, there have been men and women who have shown to us that it is not an impossible reality to live out the life and ethical demands that Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount.
Two good examples are Damien de Veuster, a Catholic Priest who served the lepers of the Hawaiian Islands in the 19th Century for 16 years; and Maximilian Kolbe, who is probably best known as the Catholic priest who gave his life for another man in Auschwitz in an act of ultimate self-sacrifice. Other well-known examples are Mother Teresa and Francis of Assisi.
So we need to be fully present and cognisant that this is meant to be applied in the here and now.
“The Sermon on the Mount is not to be discussed to death in learned assemblies nor is it to be pursued in silent retreats or in holy isolation. On the contrary, Jesus expects all his disciples to live out His Kingdom’s values and ethical teachings here on earth,” Rev Chua said.
It is only in this way, we can be the salt and light so that when others look at us, they may glorify God and believe in him.
Not poor evangelism but poor discipleship
Rev Chua said the greatest failure of the church is not our poor evangelism but our poor discipleship. “You see, when Christians fail to be true disciples of Christ, they become just like the world, behaving and living their lives that are no different from unbelievers.
“And in so doing, they become indistinguishable from unbelievers as they have lost their light and saltiness and become poor witnesses to those around them.
“And in the worst-case scenario, they stumble others and prevent them from knowing God.”
Rev Chua cited Mahatma Gandhi, the great Indian civil rights leader, to bring home this point. It was reported that Gandhi greatly prized the spiritual and ethical ideal presented in the Sermon on the Mount and he held it in great esteem. And he considered Jesus as one of the greatest among the teachers of humanity and an excellent example of the perfect man.
But in spite of his deep admiration and high regard for Christ, Gandhi never became a Christian. Why? This was what Gandhi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
“Think about the millions of people in the world who, like Gandhi, have rejected the Christian faith because they have been stumbled by Christians who bear no evidence of any Christ-likeness to those who know them. We might know some of them personally.
“So let me underscore again, if Christians were to live out their discipleship values and ethical teachings in the Sermon on the Mount more demonstrably different from our daily culture, perhaps much of evangelism would happen through the attractiveness people would find in our lives instead of just our words,” said Rev Chua.
“To put it another way, the world is not going to see Jesus unless they first see him in our lives.”
Alvin Tay is the Managing Editor of Methodist Message and a member of Wesley Methodist Church. / Photos courtesy of Goh Cheng Joo for Wesley TIDINGS, Wesley Methodist Church