Ps. 15 (NIV); Mt 5:1-12 (NIV)
South & New Life Presbyterian Churches – January 29, 2017
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
Matthew 5:1-12New International Version (NIV)
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
He said: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
We’ve heard them.
We’ve read them.
Some of us grew up memorizing them.
Part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Perhaps the greatest collection of his teachings in one place.
According to Miriam Webster, the word “Beatitude” was first used in the 15th century, and is borrowed from Latin beātitūdō, from beātus “happy, fortunate”[i] or “blessed.” It developed through late Middle English and French and today is used as a TITLE for patriarchs in the Orthodox Churches.
The Beatitudes are TEACHINGS – instructions about how to live in the Way of Jesus. And when we look at them, they are TOTALLY unnerving. The UPEND the traditional way of looking at things.
In the world as most people know it, the “poor in spirit” would be those who are down … depressed … without many (or any) resources to keep them spiritually afloat. Nobody would want to be in their situation. Right?
But in JESUS’ world – the KOG – the Kingdom of God – those folks are lifted UP. They are BLESSED. THEY’re the ones who are chosen.
Blessed are those who mourn. NOBODY wants to mourn. Whether it’s a loved one who dies, or a job we lose … we don’t want to CHOOSE that. Right? It’s to be avoided at all costs.
But in JESUS’ world – the KOG – it’s those who MOURN who are comforted. So if you are seeking comfort, mourning is not to be AVOIDED. Ours is a God who COMFORTS us and doesn’t DESERT us so EMBRACE your suffering.
Blessed are the Meek.
REALLY? Most of the people in our world will do ANYTHING to avoid being meek, timid, submissive, docile. I’m not sure that we can find too many people in Hollywood OR Washington who would encourage our children to develop THOSE feelings. That’s not what our culture VALUES, is it?
But in JESUS’ world … it’s the meek who will INHERIT the earth. In other words … THEY’RE the ones who will have everything this world has to offer.
I think you can begin to see what I mean about how Jesus’ teachings turn things upside DOWN. His Way is COUNTER to the current way of looking at things.
HIS ways are not of THIS world.
And he was telling the people who gathered to see him on this hilltop that they should SHUN the values of the world in order to live in the Kingdom of GOD!
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Who are THEY today? Are they the LEADERS that we see on television? Who is hunger and thirsting for what is RIGHT in God’s eyes? Religious leaders?
Do WE? Are we so CONSUMED with an un-fill-able ache and YEARNING for what is RIGHT that we WILL NOT be deterred by ANYTHING?
Or are we comforted by slogans and easy answers when it comes to the complex problems facing our families, our community, or our nation today?
I REALLY wanted to go through a whole sermon today without any allusion to politics and what’s happening in our world. I really wanted to focus just on Scripture. But really. YESTERDAY, in response to the statement BARRING people from 7 countries from entering our nation, CANADA says what our FAITH should be saying … you want to live free in a country where you can worship any way you want? Come to Canada.
I LOVE Canada.
I want US to be CANADA right now.
Are WE thirsting for righteousness here?
Are we MERCIFUL?
Are we the PEACEMAKERS that Jesus talks about, or are we just opting for what the rest of the WORLDLY kingdoms are doing – becoming more closed off … operating with FEAR tactics …reinforcing tribal stereotypes?
Are we being led into world CONFLICT because people are RELUCTANT to rock the boat and say NO!!!! This is NOT who we are. This is not who we CHOOSE to be!!! WE choose to follow the Prince of Peace even if it means giving up our lives to do so. WE choose to stand in the long line of faith followers of Jesus!
THIS is not the way of Jesus.
These are not actions that have us LIVING the Beatitudes.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”
If I’m going to be blessed by God and not just praised by other human beings … then let it be because I have lived the values of my Christ!
It’s not like the world USED to live this way and now it doesn’t.
Truth be told, Jesus preached this sermon more than 2,000 years ago because it wasn’t being done THEN either.
But that doesn’t mean that we should give UP.
Before we can do ANYTHING, my friends … we have to get our own heart … our own minds … our own internal house right with God, and that means scrutinizing our own actions, thoughts, feelings and MOTIVES in all that we do.
And then apply those same standards to our elected OFFICIALS!
And these Beatitudes – these BLESSINGS – these are where we start.
Last week I preached about following the leader and how it’s our job to figure out which leader we are going to follow.
THIS week, I have ASSUMED that you chose to follow the man who came to earth as the Son of God and whose resurrection gives us new life.
If we are choosing to follow JESUS, then THIS week the choice is “How much?” How far are we willing to GO to follow him? Are we willing to be different from the world in which we live, and practice things that are in opposition to the mainstream culture?
We can’t do this half-way.
In the Book of Revelation that we studied last year, Jesus even says, 16 So I will spit you out of my mouth, because you are only warm and not hot or cold. 17 You say, `I am rich and have many things. I need nothing.’ You do not know that you are in trouble and need help. You are poor. You are blind. And you have no clothes to wear. (Revelation 3:16-18 Worldwide English (New Testament) (WE))
If we think that we can straddle the fence on this and be both part of the mainline culture in America today … AND in the Kingdom of God as Jesus describes it in this Sermon on the Mount … we FOOL ourselves. We are deceiving and lying to ourselves in order to make ourselves FEEL better through denial. Jesus’ Way is NOT the way of the world. It is diametrically opposed to it.
The very, very GOOD news is that Jesus forgives us for doing that.
BUT he also expects us to REPENT — which literally means to TURN AROUND and realign with God.
Friends, we are HEARING the Word of God in his sermon.
The Holy Spirit speaks to us through this Scripture.
And we MUST repent – we MUST realign ourselves with the One who is Lord of ALL … Creator of ALL … who is BIRTHER of all of us. Every single one of us!!! We ARE our brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers. We are ALL responsible to and FOR each other.
End of statement.
And to help us see some of the ways in which these Beatitudes are lived out today, I have written a responsive reading that you will find in your bulletin. Let’s split into two groups … … and please join me …
Leader: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Group 1: Someone prays every day, but always offers prays for others and not him or herself.
Group 2: A person gives up his or her free time in order to volunteer.
Leader: “”Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Group 1: Gold Star mothers and the Mothers of the Movement have all lost children but they find comfort when they work for justice.
Group 2: A person loses someone close to them, but there is comfort in knowing that all is One and we will come together again in the end.
Leader: “”Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Group 1: One individual feeds a homeless individual.
Group 2: Groups of people anonymously leave clothing for a clothes drive.
Leader: ““Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
Group 1: Volunteers peacefully march in protest to make this world and this country a better place.
Group 2: A student stands up for another who is being bullied, teased, and tormented.
Leader: “”Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
Group 1: A mother forgives her child’s molester.
Group 2: A oppressive loan is forgiven by the lender.
Leader: “”Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”
Group 1: Children play together at a park with no bias or prejudice of one another.
Group 2: Someone helps a stranger without expecting a reward in return.
Leader: “”Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”
Group 1: Two old friends decide to let go of a grudge.
Group 2: Family members who have not spoken in 35 years reunite with each other.
Leader: “”Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Group 1: Someone is mocked for standing up for an individual that others do not like.
Group 2: A person states that he or she is a Christian, stands against racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and transphobia even though they are scared of the likely consequences.
Let us pray:
Holy and ever-living God: we want to be more like Jesus and enjoy the relationship with you that HE did. We KNOW what you are asking from us, God. Give us the courage to say YES! to you. Realign us with YOUR will, and BLESS us, we ask in JESUS’ name. Amen.