by David Moffett-Moore
Much has been written about the chaotic changes we are living through in the church. In The Great Emergence Phyllis Tickle writes about the massive rummage sale the church has every five hundred years. In The Next Christendom Phil Jenkins writes about changes on a millennial level. Bishop Spong writes Why the Church Must Change or Die. There is no question we live in changing times.
One point all these books make is that we have lived through changing times before. In fact, the church was born in chaos. The gospels were written in the late first century CE. Jerusalem was laid siege and destroyed in 73 CE, ending Judaism as it had been practiced for a thousand years with the destruction of the temple and therefore the collapse of the priestly class. Judaism had to reinvent itself and one of the outcomes became Christianity. In the midst of this tumult, the gospels were written. Recalling and celebrating the life of Christ, they were also faith documents written by and for that early church. In remembering who Jesus is they also described what it means to be Christian. This is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 5-7 has been called The Sermon on the Mount since St. Augustine. It is the longest monologue ascribed to Jesus in the New Testament, and has long been held as the essential core of his teaching. Leo Tolstoy based his massive The Kingdom of God is Within You on it, John Adams declared “The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount are my entire religion.” Harry Truman proposed, “There is not a problem in this country or the world that could not be solved by the principles of the Sermon on the Mount.” Mahatma Gandhi confessed “The Sermon on the Mount went straight to my heart.” Martin Luther King Jr. found it a source for many of his great sermons. Dorothy Day declared “Our entire manifesto is the Sermon on the Mount.”
“Manifesto” is the right word. A manifesto is a public declaration of motive or intention, policy or goals. We think of a manifesto as a bold statement of purpose or vision, “this is what we are about,” a defining statement. This is exactly what the Sermon on the Mount is, a decisive directive from our commander in chief on what we are about and how we are to live. It is not “‘pie in the sky by and by” hopes or dreams; it is very much in the here and now. It is exactly the focus we need for the changing times within which we live.
This is why I was pleased to write The Jesus Manifesto, a participatory study guide to the Sermon on the Mount. I hope it may have a practical impact on our life today. Dr. Chris Suber describes it, “in changing tumultuous times, Dr. Moffett-Moore reminds us that we need a reflective return to the basic manifesto of a 1st century rebel to find a renewed vision for following Jesus today.” Rev. Shauna Hyde describes her response, “David crawled into my soul and put on paper the truth I claim as my faith.”
I invite you to consider The Jesus Manifesto for your next Bible study.
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