I confess to being afraid of heights. An early memory involves standing on top of BP House in South Melbourne, peering over the edge, my heart racing and my stomach churning. This experience has echoed repeatedly through my life: standing at the window on the 35th floor of the Wentworth Hotel, only a pane of glass standing in the way of a long fall; the elevator ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower, which tilts alarmingly as it reaches the top, once again a glass door standing in the way of free fall. To look out of an aircraft at 10000 metres above the ocean occasionally sets the nerves tingling. To scale and confront heights is to move to the edge of my comfort zone.
There is a surge of adrenaline which comes when we reach the edge of our comfort: our safety barriers have reached their limit, questions are raised about our ability to control the situation, or cope with outcomes, and our bodily functions are heightened. To contemplate the edge is to ask questions about our abilities: to wonder who we are and how we will manage, and to consider options which might otherwise be ignored.
We live much of our lives in the comfort zone, a place where we control outcomes, avoid questions, and live easily. Contrary to popular belief, this life is in a constant state of change, ever being shaped by our surroundings, the people we share with, and the media we expose ourselves to. Our worldview in the comfort zone becomes ever narrower, dulled to questions which might challenge our perspective.
There is no doubt that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus invites us back to the edge. Dramatic statements and challenges to our presuppositions reverberate through its sentences. “Be perfect… you cannot serve God and money… do not store up treasures for yourself on earth… turn the other cheek…” These statements push us back to the edge, inviting questions about how we live, what we are prepared to suffer, and where our primary focus lies. These are uncomfortable questions which heighten our anxieties and bring significant questions back into focus.
Few have taken the Sermon on the Mount seriously as a call to a radically different lifestyle. It has easily been dismissed as idealistic, and underlining our need for grace. Yet consider how Jesus lived this calling, and reflect on what it means for us to follow in His steps. Our hearts will race together in this reflection, in the hope that we are somehow transformed by this gospel.
January 28, 2007