Autumn starts when night overtakes day in length—September 22 this year. Weather wise, however, it still feels likes summer. Perhaps by October summer will have given way to fall climate—cool, wet, and damp.
Along with falling leaves and longer nights, it’s the best time of the year—warm, cozy evenings sitting at the fireside sipping warm cider and hot chocolate; afternoon walks in the rain down muddy trails serenaded by rushing streams.
At Auburn Church, we will greet autumn’s arrival with a new sermon series titled, “Where Character Is King: Life in the Kingdom of Grace.” We will zero in on Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7 through expository sermons.
The Sermon on the Mount is alluring. Its allure comes from its soaring spirit, sweet promises, and noble values which appeal to believers and secular society alike. Its magnetism comes from the fact that it is as daunting as it is appealing, demoralizing as it is exciting. It challenges one to respond to its lofty ideals in some way. It begs to be understood, tested, and tried.
As I prepare for this series, a new sense of awe and admiration has swept over my soul. Jesus’ precepts seem more realistic; more tenable; more beautiful. There is hope for one like me! And I want to infect you with this excitement. For me, it took putting on a new interpretive lens and putting down an old one. The series title contains this new lens which revolves around two hints.
The first hint revolves around the word character. Confronted with the rigors of Jesus’ ethic, how do we respond—and for what reason? Should we treat these teachings as expedient but optional pieces of advice, or as objective and mandatory laws to be obeyed whatever the cost? The interpretive lens I have chosen hints at something far better than either one, or both. I’ll let you figure it out in the mean time—lest I give away the first sermon. (See picture-schema below, which frames character within a larger context. Make sure to study and reflect on this picture often. You will remember that I used this schema in a previous series.)
The second hint revolves around the word grace. Where is grace found in the Sermon on the Mount? The preponderance of commands—fifty in all, five times more than the Ten Commandments!—might have unwittingly eclipsed grace. Legalism has several forms. One form is exceptional focus on law and obedience, suppressing other areas of faith life in the process. I will let you ruminate about this essential question in the meantime so I don't give away the second sermon.
The series sub-title clues you in on who Jesus' intended audience are, and where he sees his precepts applied. I won’t leave you hanging three times in a row. Quite simply, the Sermon on the Mount is for you and me who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior, who are citizens of God’s kingdom of grace. With this, however, comes a vital concern: Where do non-believers fit in? What’s in it for them? Will we be spending umpteen Sabbaths talking among ourselves in a “holy huddle”? Well, no, but I’ll tell you in the third sermon.
Sisters and brothers, I need you to pray for me as I study, reflect, prepare, and deliver these sermons. Be my Aaron and Hur. Pray that the Spirit will come in our midst in mighty ways, changing lives and creating renewed passion to live for God and for others.