What Is #SOTM2013? And Why Does It Matter?

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but sometimes I establish goals for the year. For 2013, I made it my goal to memorize Matthew 5, 6, and 7. Even though I hate to memorize, the more I feel compelled to follow Jesus into broken places—be it the brokenness of my own soul or the brokenness of the world—the more I feel the need to have Jesus’ words inside me. Hence, my plan to memorize the Sermon on the Mount (SOTM) in 2013. Systematically, slowly, and faithfully.

It’s a wonderful goal, right? But as of last Friday, March 1, I’d completely ignored the systematically and faithfully part. Slowly? Indeed. I’d moved so slowly I hadn’t even started! I pondered my propensity to procrastinate until last Sunday morning, when, to give myself public accountability, I tweeted: “Planned 2 memorize Sermon on Mount in 2013. Got sidetracked & skipped Jan & Feb, but starting 2day, in prep 4 going 2 Holy Land soon.”

Prior to this tweet, I’d been exchanging tweets with World Vision Australia staffer, Jarrod McKenna (@jarrodmckenna) about a Congolese friend of his who had been injured in Congo’s war. When Jarrod read my SOTM tweet, he immediately declared he’d memorize it too, and invited our mutual friend Mae Cannon (@reverendmae) to join us. Jarrod, Mae, and I, all travel regularly (though independently) to Israel and Palestine, so it was natural to share this goal of having Jesus’ words planted in our minds before our next trips.

In the midst of our twitter conversation, Jarrod went “live on the air”—ABC radio in Australia—and invited others to join us in memorizing the SOTM. This generated some delightful twitter activity. Danny Paul Jones wrote, “Clearly the Spirit used the twittersphere to reinforce my reading of the Sermon this morn!” And my musician friend Gina Young wrote, “Playing at a church this am where the teaching passage is Matt 5. I’m in!” Good synergy!

Within minutes, people I knew and didn’t know were tweeting about the Sermon on the Mount. Jude, Belinda, Emma, Johnny, Courtney, Ruth, Kristin, Natalie, Laura, John, Ivan, Melanie, Aimee, Jayson, Deana, Chi Chi, Steve—to name a few—said they’d begin memorizing ASAP.

Then my friend Tyler Wigg-Stevenson (@TylerWS) jumped in with a question: “Which translation are y’all doing? I’m thinking KJV. Or Vulgate.” Crazy-smart Tyler may likely memorize the SOTM in Latin, but I’m sticking with NIV. Mae suggested Koine Greek (I have lots of smarty-pants friends), but in the end she deferred to me and to the NIV. Jarrod said he’s a NSRV snob. We concluded that variety seems fun. To each her/his own. Tyler added: “The same pericope for all.” Of course, I had to look up pericope in the dictionary.

Even if you don’t choose to memorize the SOTM, you really ought to read Courtney Laib’s lovely blog based on Matthew 5 from The Message. Courtney was one of the first to sign up for our memorization challenge. Interestingly, she’d written this blog the previous day.

As the day went on, more memorizing tweets joined in—Rebecca, John, Jason, Melissa, Jim, Ashley, Daniel—and a hashtag was born: #SOTM2013. I had never really understood that whole hashtag thing, and then suddenly we had one!

By the time Jarrod asked Tony Campolo (@tonycampolo) and Red Letter Christians (@redletterxians) to join #SOTM2013, I felt compelled to confess I’d stolen the idea from author and blogger Ann Voskamp (@AnnVoskamp), who’d memorized the SOTM in 2012. Ann, whom I’ve never met, joined the Twitter conversation and asked about details of my plan. Details? Plan? Huh? Graciously, Ann suggested ScriptureTyper here, a very good idea. And here’s Ann’s blog that first got me thinking about memorizing the SOTM.

A bit of healthy competition seems to be building. Good friend Laura Crosby (@lauracrosby_mn) accepted the challenge, but called her husband John a “wus” because he’s only memorizing the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). C’mon, John, really?

Some friends are brainstorming about a bi-monthly gathering, combining biblical teaching and liturgical worship to help us understand what it means to live out the SOTM everyday. Someone else mentioned a book to capture the stories of transformation and action that will be inspired throughout the year as we devote ourselves to Jesus’ words.

Andy Braner summarized it all when he tweeted, “Let’s make Jesus’ declaration our motto this year.” But my favorite response came from Deana Lynn Rogers: “I’d love to join you in memorizing Matthew 5-7 & I’m committed to praying for peace.” Apparently, Deana is also following #tendaysofpeace for #Congo, at www.tenforcongo.com. Thank you, Deana!

Speaking of Congo . . . It’s been my increasing engagement in war-torn areas of the world—primarily DR Congo and the Holy Land—that has driven me toward a desire to carry Jesus’ words within me—a desire I can only call desperate. Without Jesus-inspired action and advocacy—built upon a foundation of Jesus-empowered inner transformation, and bathed in Jesus-modeled prayer—what hope do I have of bringing anything good into these broken places in the world?

But if I have Jesus’ words in me—and you have Jesus’ words in you—perhaps we can begin to bring healing and transformation into the broken places of our respective worlds. Maybe we can become givers of mercy and pure-hearted peacemakers. Maybe we can become lights in the darkness. Maybe we can embrace a vision of righteousness that looks more like Jesus than the Pharisees. Maybe we can move past our own anger, critical spirits, and hostility, and become Jesus-like agents of reconciliation. Maybe we can learn to love not just our neighbor, but even our enemy. Maybe we can become lavish in our generosity and simple in our prayers. Maybe we can quit worrying about inessentials and become free enough in spirit to joyfully seek God’s kingdom. Maybe along the way we will discover what Jesus meant when he said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25). I want to become wise like that—and I think memorizing the Sermon on the Mount will help me get there.

Want to join me and a growing number of like-minded souls committed to doing that in 2013? Here’s a PDF of the NIV version of the SOTM, divided into weekly chunks (turns out that’s what a pericope is!), but feel free to use your preferred version. Since this whole effort is starting late (March instead of January), we can either memorize fast to “catch up” or accept that our memorization plan may spill into a month or two of 2014. Either way; your choice. I plan to post #SOTM2013 updates periodically, mainly as a forum for gathering memorization reports/stories/inspiration in the comments section of my blog. That way we can cheer each other on! And, feel free to signal your commitment now by sending a tweet or leaving a comment below.

Tomorrow I’m heading for the Holy Land. Next Saturday, I hope to be reciting the Beatitudes during a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. If I reach that goal, I’ll send an Instagram photo to share the moment!