Thursday, January 13, 2011

Becoming Real (Matthew 5:1-16)

During “Common Time” over the next two months, we are studying Jesus’ most famous teaching, “The Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5, 6, and 7.  If you want to know what it means to follow Jesus in your common, ordinary, everyday life, this is the place to start.  Jesus is answering some basic questions.  What does it mean for the Kingdom of God to become real in our world?  What does it mean to be a real follower of Jesus?  What does it mean to be a real human?

    Before we start reading today’s text, I want to talk about someone else who explored what it means to become real.  In my opinion he was one of the greatest psychologists of the 20th century.  Abraham Maslow studied what he considered to be the top 1% of humanity.  He wanted to discover what helps people reach the highest limits of their potential.
    Maslow’s great contribution to human understanding was his Hierarchy of Needs.  The basic concept is that we need to have our most basic needs met before we can move upward to the next level of needs.

    We all start at the bottom with physical needs: food, water, air, sleep, shelter, etc.  We have to have this stuff to live.  That last one on the list is kind of funny: excretion.  That means pooping and peeing.  That may not seem like such a big deal, until you think of a time when you really, really, really had to pee but couldn’t find a bathroom.  You weren’t thinking high and lofty thoughts about how to become a better person or make our world a better place.  All you could think was, “I’ve got to PEEEEE!” 
    The next level is safety.  We all want security.  We need physical health, a safe home, safety for our possessions, income security, etc.  A year or two ago, one of our church members experienced a robbery, while she was at home, in her bed.  Safety became one of her dominant concerns. 
    When our basic needs are met, and we feel basically safe in the world, we start to focus our attention on love and belonging.  We want friendship and family.  We want to fall in love and get married.  We want to have sex, and not just any sex - good sex, intimate sex that connects us heart and soul with another person.  (And by the way, I don’t think sex actually belongs on that bottom level of most basic human needs.  Nobody ever dies from lack of sex.  We are designed to have sex.  It is good to have sex in the right kind of relationship, but we CAN live without it.)
    When we feel love and belong to a close community, we move on to the next set of aspirations, those focused on esteem or respect.  Notice here that love and belonging precede self-esteem and achievement.  We need to love and be loved before we can really feel good about ourselves or anything we accomplish.  This level of needs is all about significance. 
    Finally, we get to self-actualization.  According to Maslow, the highest aim of humanity is to become our true selves.  We have an accurate and honest understanding of ourselves and our world.  We have come to peace with ourselves and what we have to offer our world, and yet we work to solve key problems in our world.  Self-actualized people are people of integrity, joy, passion, honesty, and creative action.  They are fulfilling their potential.  They have become - or are becoming - their REAL (or actual) SELF, the person God made them to be.  This is the ultimate blessing.
    When we look at this, pyramid of needs, we intuitively connect with this.  The basic premise here is intuitively and obviously true.  We look at this and say, “Yeah, that’s about right.”  We might want to adjust this or that, but over all we say, “Yes, this is obviously true.”

    So with this hierarchy of needs in mind, let’s read the introduction to Jesus’ most important sermon.  Read Matthew 5:1-16. 

    Is anyone else confused?   ...

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