(My previous blog post on this lesson: https://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/02/new-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-9.html )
Traditional Christianity's Continuing Struggle with the Sermon on the Mount
This lesson continues Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. For modern scholars, as discussed somewhat in last week's lesson, the Sermon on the Mount means different things. For Luther, it was Jesus describing what is impossible for us to accomplish, and so it doesn't mean anything in regards to salvation by faith/grace without works. Michael F. Kearney noted,
Some thinkers, such as Albert Schweitzer, have placed so much emphasis on the eschatology* of the Sermon on the Mount that they have rendered it meaningless—Schweitzer’s work led him to believe that Jesus was mistaken in His anticipation of an imminent eschaton**, and if one understands the Kingdom of God to be solely expressed in an earthly rule under the absolute sovereignty of God as the King, then this places the Sermon in a sort of limbo, not having a home in this present world with its [presumably] unfulfilled arrival of the Kingdom.Such are the struggles for traditional Christianity, which does not have the blessings of the Restoration. Jesus believed and taught that his kingdom would come forth on earth, literally and completely. The purpose of spreading the gospel in the days of the original apostles and in our day, is to prepare the way for that great moment when Jesus returns a second time in power and glory.
Earth life isn't expected to go on forever as it always has, but to have an ending to the telestial world it now is. Jesus' teachings in chapters 6-7 prepare us to think, live and prepare ourselves for that day. Further, many teachings have both a spiritual and temporal fulfillment, and often times will have many partial temporal fulfillments. While the fullness of the kingdom may not yet be here, there are things that bring it partially into fulfillment.
The Lord's Prayer
Interestingly, Jesus begins with common activities, which he felt the Jewish leaders (he calls them hypocrites) are doing wrong. Two of the most common activities in religion are alms giving and prayer, which he discusses first.
In the Lord's Prayer, we read:
"After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.Breaking down the prayer, we first find Jesus establishing the proper relationship with God. He calls him Father, but not just any father. He addresses Father in Heaven. And to ensure the relationship is a respectful and reverent one, Jesus notes that even the name of God is hallowed or sacred.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen." (Matthew 6:9-13)
Next, Jesus notes his belief that God's kingdom will come upon the earth. Many Christians no longer believe in a Second Coming, but that the earth will go on forever in its current state, perhaps becoming better on its own in a Star Trek fashion, where there is no longer hunger or need (as one can whip up a nice meal using a replicator). But there is a kingdom and it will be on earth, even as it is in heaven. And the only way it can be done is by doing God's will here on earth, even as his will is done in heaven.
He asks for the basic need of life: bread. He doesn't ask for lands, gold, power, or fame - but only the basic necessities needed to maintain physical health.
More important are the spiritual needs: being forgiven and delivered from evil. These require some work on our part, as we must forgive to be forgiven, and we cannot be running towards evil while God is trying to keep us from temptation.
Finally, Jesus reiterates the importance of God's kingdom in heaven and on earth, and all things belong to God, not us. This focuses us on other important teachings we will read in the Sermon - such as seeking first the Kingdom of God, and not spending our entire lives seeking material goods that perish and are stolen. God will provide an open path for us, if we seek him first, a path that leads to all God's blessings and promises.
The Sermon on the Mount as a Temple Experience
LDS Scholar John Welch showed that the Sermon on the Mount, with the additional concepts from Jesus' Sermon at the Temple (3 Nephi 11-14) are directly connected to concepts in the temple. As the temple ceremonies take us from the basics (baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost), to higher laws, commandments and teachings, so the Sermon on the Mount begins with the beatitudes, which begin with simple actions (poor in spirit, meek), and move higher up the righteousness ladder to pure in heart, peacemaker, and being a prophet (and persecuted like a prophet).
Then Jesus discusses concepts that turn the Law of Moses and the traditions of the Jews on their head. Alms are to be done in secret. Prayer is to be done in secret. Let God reward you, don't seek the praise of men. Judge only righteous judgment, for you will be judged as you judge. Fix your own problems (beams) before you focus on others' weaknesses (motes).
In chapter 5, Jesus mentions adultery as a sin we must avoid, but adds onto it that we cannot covet another man's wife in our heart, either (the word "lust" is used in English, but Moses' law against coveting comes closer to what is meant).
In the context of the modern LDS temple, where one moves upward to higher knowledge, covenants, and blessings, the Sermon on the Mount makes great sense.
As mentioned, Jesus stated that the kingdom of God was at hand. For Latter-day Saints, we are called to build the kingdom of God today. The Restoration is all about preparing a people and the world for the Second Coming of Christ. A portion of the kingdom is already here: the Melchizedek Priesthood, which holds the key to the mysteries of godliness and of seeing God. Today, we have over 200 temples in operation, under construction, or announced. Inside the temple, we find the kingdom of God here on earth, as each Celestial Room represents the presence of God and his kingdom. With each ordinance for the living or for the dead (vicarious work), we are establishing the kingdom of God in individual's lives.
Then, as we walk out the front door of the temple, returning to this world, we seek to live the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, until the day comes when we can obey the highest commandment Jesus gave in his sermon:
"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48)
"The Sermon on the Mount: Is It Livable?" Michael F. Kearney
*Eschatology: the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.
**Eschaton: the final event in the divine plan; the end of the world.
John W. Welch. "The Sermon on the Mount in the Light of the Temple". Farnham, England: Ashgate, 2009