Summary: The introduction to a series on the Sermon on the Mount
The "X-Rated Sermon"
A preacher by the name of Wilbur Reese once preached a message in which he presented a listeners guide to sermons. Reese stated that sermons ought to be rated in much the same way that movies were rated. Which would of coursed seem particularly relevant for our situation.
"G" sermons are messages that are generally acceptable to everyone one, they contain phrases such as "Go ye into all the world and smile" or "What the world needs is peace, motherhood and fewer taxes." Sermons such as these are often greeted with the response "Oh wasn’t marvellous, or that was simply wonderful." every one loves a good "G" message and they will never offend anyone. There are some people who would refuse to listen to a message that wasn’t rated "G"
"PG" sermons are for more mature congregations, and they have mild suggestions for change but they’re subtle enough to allow the preacher to back peddle and change his meaning if he finds that he has inadvertently offended someone. An example of a brilliant "PG" statement would be "The either/or of the existential situation provides a plethora of alternatives, both specific and non-specific. When one grasps the eschatological aspect of incarnationial Christology." You know that someone has preached a message like this when people walk away in wonderment shaking their heads and saying things like, "That was deep, most thought provoking" Of course if you’ve done a "PG" sermon really really well nobody actually knows what you said, but nobody is willing to admit it.
The there are the "R" rated sermons this is when the Preacher tells it like it is. These usually indicate that the pastor has an outside source of income and a fairly healthy self image. Sermons like these are usually followed by comments such as "disturbing or controversial" These sermons definitely aren’t intended for everyone only for those who wish to be challenged in their spiritual walk.
And then there are the "X-rated" sermons. These are the explosive ideas of the kind that got the prophet Amos run out of town and Jeremiah thrown into the well, that is Jeremiah the prophet not Jeremiah the Bullfrog. When you preach a "X-rated" sermon" you preach them with your suitcase packed and the moving van ready. Comments range from "Shocking and disgraceful" to "Being in poor taste".
Jesus was the master of "X-rated" sermons" and the sermon on the mount is the mother of all "X-rated" sermons" "Oh no Pastor" you object, "That just isn’t true, why the sermon on the mount is one of my favourite scriptures and I don’t find it in the least bit shocking or offensive" That my friend is because you’re not reading it the way that Jesus preached it.
Mark Twain was asked once if he found the Bible hard to understand Twain responded by saying he wasn’t bothered by the parts of the Bible he couldn’t understand as much as he was bothered by the parts he could understand. We try to rationalize the Sermon on the Mount, or we try to explain it but if we got right down to brass tacks, right down to where the rubber meets the road and took the Sermon on the Mount at face value it would not only change the church it would change the world. After all it was preaching like this that got Christ crucified. But we try to soften the blows and turn the Sermon on the Mount into a G, PG, or even a R rated sermon.
The early church tried to take the Sermon on the Mount Sermon on the Mount as a literal code as an alternative to Jewish legalism. Eventually this was relaxed to include only those who had separated themselves from the world, for example those in Monastic orders. The early reformers rejected the double standard saying that if the Sermon on the Mount applied to some Christians they it should apply to all Christians. Makes sense. Of course they reasoned if you couldn’t keep the commands in the Sermon on the Mount they you could always rely on grace to save you. Of course the indication of whether or not you were under grace was whether or not you could follow the rules. If you followed the rules you were under grace if you didn’t follow the rules then you weren’t under grace. What the reformers had done was to resurrect the Jewish legalism which Jesus had spent the entire Sermon on the Mount denouncing.
The orthodox Protestants viewed the rules of the Sermon on the Mount as simply gimmicks to drive men to despair. Christ never intended for us to keep the commands they were just meant to show us our utter dependence on God. It was a set up pure and simple.