June 23, 2019 | Sermon on the Mount: Blessed Are … • Matthew 5.1-12

Matthew 5.1-12 (NIV)

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

“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 be shown 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 because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

 

I always have this sense of expectation … this feeling of anticipation before sermons. 

I feel it as I walk up those stairs to stand behind the pulpit … how is this going to work out … is what I have to offer faithful and helpful …can I say preach out of love and trust … can this sermon be good news that makes a difference?

Last week, I noticed anticipation before I listened sermons too. 

At the preaching conference they had worship services in the evenings. The seminary chapel has one of those old-school types of pulpits … the kind that towers over the church … after the scripture reading, the preacher had to climb up a bunch of stairs … it was quiet … as she looked out over us, sipped some water, cleared her throat …  

Questions raced through my head – is this preacher a trustworthy guide to the life of discipleship? How are they going to handle the passage that was just read … will it shape the sermon … is it just an ornament that has been tacked on to a bunch of stories and opinions? Is this going to be one of those sermons I walk away from feeling beat up … one that shrinks the world and makes me feel stuck, confused and little … or worse than that, will it make me guilty? 

Could this be a moment that invites me to encounter God in all of God’s fullness … in all of God’s goodness … to be stretched out and invited to bigger, more faithful, more wonder-filled living? Is it good news that invites me to see life from a different angle … an meeting with God that offers release and freedom … encouragement and hope … will it challenge me to grow in loving God and neighbors? 

I imagine there was a lot of anticipation before Jesus started this sermon. 

Jesus was starting to gain attention. 

Andrew and Peter, James and John, (just four disciples so far) had set down their fishing nets after Jesus invited them to “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” These two pairs of brothers tagged along with Jesus as he made his way through Galilee teaching at religious gatherings, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God … curing diseases and sicknesses. 

Matthew tells us, “News about [Jesus] spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.”

When Jesus saw all these crowds, he went up the mountain. 

As they walked up the mountain there must have been a lot of time for Jesus to think about what he was going to say … how he was going to say it … time to wonder how people would respond. 

There was time for those four disciples to wonder how Jesus would put what they had been seeing of the kingdom of God drawing near and working all around them into words. 

There was time for the people in the crowd to guess what Jesus might say … was he going to rile up the crowd and send them down the mountain in a frenzy, ready to take their country back from the Romans … Maybe they wondered if Jesus words would have substance … would his words be coherent and clear … would he be a self-promoting babbler? Or could Jesus be a trustworthy spokesman who would reveal God’s desires and ways?

After they made their way up the mountain Jesus sat down … back then teachers would sit in front of their students … sitting was the authoritative posture of the day. Right away, in this detail Matthew points out that Jesus teaches with authority. 

Jesus began to speak … he began to teach them –

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven … Blessed are 

How do you think Jesus sounded as he spoke? 

What was his body language? 

Was Jesus smiling? Was he dead serious and stern? Was he like one of those stuffy professors who wants to intimidate his class? We can’t know for sure, but I bet Jesus was smiling, I picture Jesus looking at that crowd with one of those glimmers in his eye that makes it seem like he is up to something no one expects, like he is going to let everyone in on a big amazing, life changing, joy filled surprise. 

I say this because, Matthew has told us that Jesus has been preaching good news. The news Jesus has to offer goes against and challenges so much of what these people must have always been told, always seen, and always experienced, it challenges so much of what they had experienced from life and religious people. 

Jesus’ sermon flips their world upside down. 

Jesus invites them into a world that is shaped by God’s abundant and life shaking grace. It must have been freeing … it must have sounded so good.

They lived in a culture shaped by honor and shame. It was like honor and shame were currency … people would go to great lengths to gain honor. They would invite honorable people to their parties … hoping maybe honor might rub off on them … having honorable people around might build up their own honor. (If any of you have watched that British comedy, “Keeping up Appearances,” think of Hyacinth “Bouquet” and the way she calculates and plans everything she does to look classy and build up her reputation.) They would avoid people who they believed weren’t good enough, or who they wouldn’t benefit from having around, like they were contagious. Often people back then thought people who were poor, or who were sick, or who had one piece of bad luck after another were cursed … maybe they had done something that made God mad and now they were paying the price? 

Jesus tells them that is not how God operates. 

Blessed, not cursed, are the poor in spirit. Blessed, not cursed are those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (the people who take stock of the world and have this aching feeling that this isn’t how it is supposed to be) … Blessed … not cursed. 

God is not avoiding or shunning these people. 

God is near to these people. 

This is good news! 

This is what the kingdom of God is all about … people who have been excluded and looked down on … people who can’t catch a break … people wearing themselves out working day and night for justice … the ones who seek God with their whole hearts, even when it means they won’t make compromises that could get them ahead … those who make peace at the expense of winning … those who experience pain and ridicule for standing up for right relationships with God and neighbors … they are blessed … God is near to them … they are encountering the kingdom of God in their midst. 

The Beatitudes aren’t really a to do list of Christian behavior. 

They say, “this is how it is – Blessed are the merciful, Blessed are the poor in Spirit (the ones who know there is a God bigger than they are, and who know they have to depend on God if they are going to have any hope of making it … the ones who have space for God in their lives), Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. 

Jesus’ sermon didn’t start with a list of rules … do this so this will happen …

Jesus’ sermon was, and is, good news … this is how it is …

“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 be shown 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 because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

06.23.2019SPCCBulletin