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The Sermon on the Mount—a plain manual for extraordinary living and loving

From the August 1995 issue of The Christian Science Journal

Never should we underestimate the power underlying the apparent simplicity of Christ Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. See Matt., chaps. 5-7. Right at the core we find what is known as the Golden Rule, which states briefly, 'All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them."  Matt. 7:12. This rule and the entire sermon are absolutely central to Christian life and to the Church of Christ, Scientist. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, refers to the Golden Rule more than once in the Manual of The Mother Church; and the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are certainly embodied in 'A Rule for Motives and Acts," which heads the chapter called "Discipline" and is read publicly in Sunday services once a month.

The importance Mrs. Eddy placed on the Sermon on the Mount can be gauged by her statement "To my sense the Sermon on the Mount, read each Sunday without comment and obeyed throughout the week, would be enough for Christian practice."  Message to The Mother Church for 1901, p . 11.

What is it about the apparently simple teachings of this sermon that warrants such devoted attention? These three Bible chapters, Matthew 5, 6, and 7, talk about everyday situations—such as borrowing and lending; relationships; how to respond to aggression; worry over finances, food, appearances, and so forth. So what's special?

Dressed in the plain clothes of ordinary events is the secret of the most extraordinary living and loving the world has ever known. It's a "secret" open to all; but it often remains hidden until the urgencies of human experience lead us to probe its depths. Then the secret begins to unfold of a love so pure, so utterly unconditional—transcending human affection and yet embracing and redeeming it—that it impelled Jesus to reach out at the very moment of his betrayal and restore an ear which had been cut off with a sword; it was the ear of his enemy's servant, cut off by the anger of his friend.

This same transcendent love enabled Jesus to move forward from that event through the experience of crucifixion without judgment or condemnation of those who had betrayed him, denied him, and committed him to that supreme trial. What was going on was for the glory of God, and Jesus' sacrifice demonstrated the saving love of God, embracing the whole world, including each one of us. The Master's gospel was of a love quite beyond the world's concept of it. It was a great, life-preserving force—the outcome of divine Love itself—which was revealing for all time the origin and destiny of man as the child of God.

As we read with awe and wonder in the four Gospels the brief accounts of Jesus' unparalleled life on earth, we could never be allowed to forget that this love was first learned, so to speak, "at his mother's knee"—that is, through humble, self-forgetful, daily communion with his heavenly Father-Mother God—and then faithfully practiced in everyday life. Hence his specific instructions to those who follow him.

Everything about the Sermon on the Mount is back-to-front from the world's accepted way of thinking. It's not surprising that some early Christians were once referred to as men who had "turned the world upside down"!  Acts 17:6. Jesus taught the disciples to turn the other cheek when attacked—which could seem a strange manner of self-defense. They were to give, and lend, and go the extra mile, beyond what reason or duty would call for. They were to bless, do good to, and pray for those who faced them with enmity.

As a mere human prescription it might not make sense. But the design of divine Love that underlay it was to enable his followers to experience the very presence of the kingdom of heaven. This wasn't, then, just something for an afterlife. Jesus was teaching, preaching, and demonstrating a kingdom—a state of thought, a realization of spiritual perfection—that was possible, and indeed present, right then as the genuine reality of being. But he knew that this wasn't attained lightly—without our walking the individual paths of spiritual growth and progress.

The Golden Rule is the most deeply demanding rule we could have been given. It demands a spiritual maturity we hardly dream of when we first hear it. It's not a kind of coverall blanket to throw over everything to keep the peace. Far from that, it holds the key to the redemption of human character.

Along with the simple instructions surrounding it in the Sermon on the Mount, the Golden Rule is designed to transform people's lives. To make good bread, the dough must be kneaded and set to rise; then kneaded again to remove air pockets before it rises a second time and is ready for baking. The sermon is all about the "kneading" of human consciousness through the saving love of Christ. It is concerned with our inner thoughts—including the passions that sometimes rise up inside and threaten to burst out into words or deeds. It's well known that these destructive elements are harmful if allowed to fester in thought; yet all too often the only solution offered nowadays is to "let them out"—to think in terms of "healthy anger" or righteous indignation.

But Jesus was showing people a way that was exactly the opposite. He was preparing his followers to receive the understanding of the Christ, and he knew that secret pockets of pride, indifference, arrogance, apathy, anger, egotism, rivalry, sensuality, judgmentalism; suspicion, resentment, self-righteousness, intolerance, impatience—every facet of personal sense, every mode of undisciplined thought—had to be kneaded out through patient daily practice of spiritual virtues until nothing was left that could block the healing light of the Christ.

The Christ was to be the means and the end. Destroying festering impatience, for example, was to be accomplished through the infinite patience of the Christ expressing the love of God, which never changes, never runs out, never has a time limit on it. The way to penetrate and dissolve the gnawing cankers of resentment, jealousy, hatred, grievance, was to be through the laser light of the Christ-love, illuminating thought with the very presence of divine Love itself.

This applied equally and impartially to all Jesus' followers. From the rough fabric of very different human lives came Christians of extraordinary greatness, constantly growing in grace and in their ability to bear witness to the glory of God. And all were being schooled throughout their lives in the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount, whether young in Christ or seasoned apostles.

Everything about the Sermon on
the Mount is back-to-front from the
world's accepted way of thinking. It's
not surprising that some early Christians
were once referred to as men who had
"turned the world upside down"!

The sermon is a timeless lesson in the true meaning of brotherly love—a subject that is as old as mankind. A few questions help to highlight the radical, unexpected nature of these teachings.

Where do we learn this love? An obvious answer might be: where everyone around us is loving. It would seem logical that we learn to love in a loving environment, and of course this is true in large measure.

But an equally appropriate, though perhaps surprising, answer is: Where it seems downright difficult to love! Then our love is tested, and we see more vividly the unconditional dimension of genuine, spiritual love. Often we learn the deeper meaning of love right where it seems hardest to love, because only then do we truly touch the hem of what Christ Jesus was teaching.

The Christ-love is born of God, divine Love itself. It is beyond personality, circumstance, or condition, and often the severest challenges bring it forth. As Mrs. Eddy observes in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, "The very circumstance, which your suffering sense deems wrathful and afflictive, Love can make an angel entertained unawares."  Science and Health, p. 574.

These words of Jesus' from the sermon state clearly the demand on us all: "I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven....For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?"  Matt. 5:44-46.

With whom do we learn this love? An obvious answer is: with our fellow beings. A surprising and perhaps more significant answer is: We learn it when we're with God in prayer, when we're listening to our heavenly Father-Mother. When the love of God, the Christ-love, inspires, activates, and animates our thought, we become incapable of seeing our fellowman as anything less than the child of God. In this light there can be no one unlovable, unloving, unlovely, or unloved. This is brotherly love—the love that emanates from God, the love that man, God's spiritual image, expresses. In the light of this love we can love ourselves rightly as His children, and can then love our neighbor as ourselves.

Jesus comments on this unconditional love that springs from divine Love: "[God] maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."  Matt. 5:45. The sun rises for all, and the rain rains on all, pointing to a God who is Love itself, and who just loves.

When can we learn this love? An obvious answer is: when the other person has decided to be loving. The surprising but correct answer is: now! This love does not wait on any person or circumstance. It cannot be generated by another, or sapped by another. There is no genuine power or presence that can postpone our experiencing this living love. And there is no point at which we outgrow the need for the tender expression of its graces.

In his sermon, Jesus seals his teachings about our complete relationship with God with the words "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."  Matt. 5:48. There is no one outside this compact. All must ultimately demonstrate their likeness to God, the spiritual fact of man's perfection as His image.

The Christ-love is not new or old; it is timeless. Jesus astonished his listeners by saying, "Before Abraham was, I am."  John 8:58. The eternal Christ, which had its full appearing in his life, had been enlightening receptive human consciousness to some degree throughout the preceding centuries, and has continued to do so since. Its appearing through the advent of Christian Science reestablished Christian healing, and lifted thought to an awareness of the nature of God as infinite, divine Love itself, and of His creation as reflecting His nature.

In her article entitled "Love" in Miscellaneous Writings, Mrs. Eddy brings out what genuine love is, capturing the very essence of the Sermon on the Mount. She begins: "What a word! I am in awe before it. Over what worlds on worlds it hath range and is sovereign! the underived, the incomparable, the infinite All of good, the alone God, is Love."

She continues: "Mortals misrepresent and miscall affection; they make it what it is not, and doubt what it is....The divine significance of Love is distorted into human qualities, which in their human abandon become jealousy and hate.

"Love is not something put upon a shelf, to be taken down on rare occasions with sugar-tongs and laid on a rose-leaf. I make strong demands on love, call for active witnesses to prove it, and noble sacrifices and grand achievements as its results....Love cannot be a mere abstraction, or goodness without activity and power. As a human quality, the glorious significance of affection is more than words: it is the tender, unselfish deed done in secret; the silent, ceaseless prayer; the self-forgetful heart that overflows; the veiled form stealing on an errand of mercy, out of a side door; ...the gentle hand opening the door that turns toward want and woe, sickness and sorrow, and thus lighting the dark places of earth."  Mis., pp. 249-250.

This captures the simplicity and power of the love Jesus taught. And everything that his Sermon on the Mount teaches keeps us thoughtful and humble as we ponder its demands and then set out on our daily adventure of living to love and loving to live!

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