2/2/2020 Fourth Sunday after Epiphany The text is Matthew 5: 1-12.
Preachers: Thomas Houston, LLM & Amelya Bernard (Today’s sermon was preached as a dialog. Ms. Bernard’s words are highlighted; Minister Tom’s words are not.)
“We are ‘those’”
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
May the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to You, O Lord, our rock and our Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning, Jesus preaches; “Blessed are those…” Who are those? Well, it’s obvious, right? Those are the ones who are spiritually helpless, mournful, meek; or gentle, merciful, and peaceful. And they’re all blessed? Yup, Jesus says they are. This is Jesus reassuring them of the reality of the kingdom of God. We’ll talk about that a little later. First, let’s back up a bit and set the stage for this morning’s gospel reading. You and I are actually preaching a sermon about Jesus’ own very first sermon. Really?
Absolutely. After calling the disciples, this Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ first act of public ministry.
Jesus saw the large crowds that were following him, because word had spread that John the Baptist was announcing that ‘the kingdom of heaven has come near’; meaning Jesus, God’s Son was among us. So, he went up a mountain and preached this, his very first sermon, mainly to his disciples. He was giving them their first lesson in what God’s kingdom was like, and was equipping them with this vision of the kingdom so they would be able to spread the gospel message. This is also the first example in the bible of Jesus turning everything upside-down. He does this a lot! He tells the disciples that all of God’s children who are suffering; or those who act in ways that are in keeping with God’s vision for the world are ‘blessed’.
The eight proclamations that we read from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount are sometimes called ‘the beatitudes’. What’s a ‘beatitude’? It’s a fancy way of saying ‘a blessing’. Do you know the Greek word that Matthew uses for ‘blessed’? I sure do, it’s ‘makarios’. That’s right; it’s original meaning actually has more to do with being ‘privileged’, ‘fortunate’, and especially, ‘happy’. So, people are ‘happy’ or ‘fortunate’ if they are poor in their spirit, are mournful, or meek, or behave according to all these ‘beatitudes’? Here’s where it gets a bit messy. Jesus is telling the ones he is preaching to, and all of us, that everything we think about the world will be turned upside-down in the coming kingdom of heaven. And that this is a promise made by God to all who follow Jesus. That sounds very nice and something we should all look forward to. So, what’s the messy part? It’s that God’s kingdom is already here; and that those who are ‘blessed’ are to consider themselves ‘fortunate’ or ‘happy’ here and now. Wait, what? Jesus echoes John the Baptist’s declaration that the kingdom of heaven has come near. We understand that this means that Jesus is upon the earth to proclaim the message of our redemption, the salvation of the world, through Christ’s redeeming work on the Cross. Okay, please explain! A little more detail, please.
Don’t forget, we are still in the season of Epiphany. We’re still coming to grips with understanding who Jesus is and that he will come to be the Savior of the world. So, this first sermon of his really sets the stage for everything that is to come.
Jesus is giving us a new frame of reference, a different way of looking at the world around us. Remember how we talked about Jesus turning everything upside-down? Yes. Well, Jesus is telling us that our worth is no longer dictated by our worldly wealth, or status, or actions, or how others see us. We are ‘blessed’ in the eyes of God.
This is the promise of God; that we are free to enter into a righteous relationship with the Father, no matter if we are spiritually lacking, mourning, meek, or are are yearning to be filled with God’s approval. We’re ‘blessed’ if we are merciful, pure of heart and mind, striving for peace, and especially if we are derided or put down if we try to act as God wants us to. Lutherans are really big on this concept; we call it ‘grace’. Because this blessedness, this ‘happy, fortunate, privileged’ way of living can’t be earned. It’s not a reward for our suffering; or for our mercy, purity, or peacemaking efforts; it’s God’s promise of an abundant life, here now on earth, and later in heaven. And, we don’t have to do anything to be ‘blessed’? Nope! And we can’t earn it by our own efforts? Again, no. I get it; it’s God’s grace!
Exactly! But we have to remember that although we are assured that these beatitudes, these blessings from God are promises that will be kept when God’s heavenly kingdom comes, it can be difficult to live into a ‘blessed’ life here and now. This is the ultimate expression of Christ turning our world on its ear, of reversing all that we mortals hold to be true. We are called to follow Jesus into the values and priorities that we discover when we strive to live into a right relationship with God. So, I have to be happy that I am blessed when my spirit is lacking, or when I feel meek or sad? Good question. It’s like we discovered earlier; we can’t really do anything on our own to get to this point of upside-downness.
We may still be sad, or meek, or spiritually lacking. We might not have the ability or the desire to be merciful to those who have hurt us. There are times when the thoughts of our hearts are anything but ‘pure’. If we are being bullied, it can be tough to be the one to seek for peace. But the point is this; that we have to cling to the promise that we are assured of the kingdom of God to come.
We must be willing to acknowledge the truth of this coming ‘kingdom life’; and by doing so we experience a transformation in the present.
For, God’s promise of life abundant in the coming kingdom is the challenge for us to join in Christ’s invitation of the radical transformation that is possible here on earth, now. The kingdom of heaven-to-come constantly strives to break through to the present. Jesus is the Gospel, the ‘Good News’ of God; in the world to come and among those who long to be ‘blessed’ in the here and now. That brings me back to my first question; again, who are those? Quite simply, it is us; each and every one of us. It’s everyone who has ever lived, who has ever experienced any of the things that Jesus tells us we are ‘blessed’ for experiencing. And knowing this, we are free to live into the abundant life promised by God, when we enter into the coming kingdom; and right here, and right now! We are blessed. Yes, we are blessed.
I am meek. Blessed are you! I am poor in spirit. Blessed are you!
My friends, you are invited to share with someone near you one of the beatitudes in the handout you were given this morning. Share with your neighbor, saying; “I am…whichever of these speaks to your spirit. Poor in spirit, meek, mourning. Merciful, pure in heart, a peacemaker. Whichever speaks to your heart at this moment. Your neighbor may then say to you, as Jesus did, “Blessed are you”.
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, we are poor in spirit, we are meek, mournful, and we hunger for righteousness. We strive to be merciful and pure in heart. We seek peace, we pray for the strength to endure persecution for your name’s sake. Reassure us, that in our suffering and in spite of our failure to live into your will for your kingdom, that we remain your beloved children. And that Jesus reminds us that through your grace we may always hear these words, ‘blessed are you’.
And in Jesus’ name together the blessed people of God say…Amen.
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. Amen.