Almighty God, the Lord and giver of all life – be with us in this time of reflection and digging deeper in your word, that we may have a greater vision of your kingdom and live to serve on earth as it is in heaven. Amen
We begin, today, the first of several weeks in which our gospel passage will be on the Sermon on the Mount.
Chapters 5 through to 7 of Matthew include some of the most memorable instructions for living
Where so much of the Bible is narrative, story – where we learn by examples modeled and witnessed to us
We have a rare collection of teachings taught by our Lord Jesus in which the entire 3 chapters might be titled “Life, as lived under Kingdom of God” or “The Law of Christian society”
We begin with the Beatitudes, our subject for today, and The Sermon on Mount also contains the Lord's Prayer - injunctions to "resist not evil" and "turn the other cheek"
There is Jesus' version of the Golden Rule.
And many other favourite lines often quoted, such as: "salt of the Earth," "light of the world," and "judge not, lest ye be judged."
The Sermon on the Mount is divided up into five sections and scholars see a connection to the five books of Moses that begin our Bible
The Beatitudes are also liken (by scholars) to the preamble before the Ten Commandments, where the body of the rest of the Sermon on the Mount is the ethical instruction
Christ does not begin this Sermon as the Law was delivered on Mount Sinai, with commands and threatening, the trumpet sounding, the earth quaking, and the hearts of the Israelites quaking as well for fear
But our Saviour begins with promises and blessings
Consider those that our Lord promised and calls blessed - Poor in spirit, mournful, the meek, seekers of righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, sufferers of persecution – this doesn’t look like a winning list
It doesn’t sound like a list of who’s who - these people aren’t the ones that are going to make Forbes’ richest people
Where are the powerful – where are the supermodels – where are the rock stars
Jesus begins this powerful sermon by giving us the victims of the world
Our world is so connected with success defining our identity
And we’re used to paying for our mistakes, paving our own way, toeing the line and reaping the consequences when we don't,
And so it may not only be unexpected, but downright unsettling and nearly inconceivable to imagine that God behaves differently,
Showering us with blessing apart from anything we have done, earned, or deserve.
Jesus has a word for those of worldliness
"So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honoured by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. (Matthew 6:2)
Let’s begin our time digging deeper into our Lord’s declaration of Blessedness, by exploring each of the eight Beatitudes
We are presented with some ideals that might be confusing in terminology and certainly represent an understanding of the world that is in complete contrast to how the world in general understands reality
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
"Poor in spirit" – This might be the most confusing of all of eight – for many when we think of ‘poor in spirit’ we might think of someone that lacks a zest for life
However, it means to be humble. It might be easiest understood as the opposite of pride
Humility is the realization that all your gifts and blessings come from the grace of God.
To have poverty of spirit means to be completely empty and open to the Word of God.
Humility brings an openness and an inner peace, allowing one to do the will of God.
He who humbles himself is able to accept our frail nature, to repent, and to allow the grace of God to lead us to Conversion.
"Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
If we are humble and appreciate that all of our gifts and blessings come from God, we grow in love and gratitude for Jesus Christ our Saviour.
But this can only produce mourning and regret over our own sins and the sins of this world, for we have hurt the one who has been so good to us.
One also mourns for the suffering of others.
St. Gregory, one of the early fathers of the church, describes another reason to mourn: the more one ascends in understanding of Divine Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, and then realizes the poverty of human nature,
Humankind can only be left in sorrow.
When one contemplates that we were made in the image and likeness of God and consider our present state after the Fall, one can only mourn our present condition.
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
Another church father, Gregory of Nyssa taught that the Beatitudes build one upon another.
A humble person becomes meek, or becomes gentle and kind, and exhibits a docility of spirit, even in the face of adversity and hardship.
A person that is meek is one that exhibits self-control.
In meekness we place ourselves in obedience and submission to the will of God
"Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied."
A continuous desire for justice and moral rightness with God will lead one to a fulfillment of that desire - a transition and conversion to holiness.
This is true for all the virtues - if you hunger and thirst for any of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, you will head towards the goal you have in mind.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
Mercy is the loving disposition towards those who suffer distress.
Love, compassion, and forgiveness towards one's neighbor will bring peace in your relationships.
We say in the Lord's Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
As we are merciful to others, so our Heavenly Father will be merciful with us! Jesus reminds us that whatever "you did to the least of my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:31-46)
"Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God."
Moses (Exodus 33:20), John (1:18), and Paul (1Timothy 6:16) all say that no one can see God here on earth!
But Jesus says the pure of heart shall see God!
To be pure of heart means to be free of all selfish intentions and self-seeking desires.
How many times have any of us performed an act perfectly free of any personal gain?
Such an act is pure love. An act of pure and selfless giving brings happiness to all.
Such a blessing is especially appropriate for the pure in heart because, as people who are truly pleasing to God, they have offered the world a vision of what is godly.
Those who will see God, are those in whom something of God has been seen.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God."
Peacemakers not only live peaceful lives but also try to bring peace and friendship to others, and to preserve peace between God and man.
The peacemakers are best regarded as agents of God who are actively establishing shalom or Peace. They are "those who work for the wholeness and well-being that God will for a broken world."
People are identified as God's children when their conduct is similar to God's own, in the same way that people are identified as members of Jesus' family when they do God's will.
"Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."
Jesus said many times that those who follow Him will be persecuted.
"If they persecute me, they will persecute you" (John 15:20-21).
Stephen, Peter and Paul, nearly all of the Apostles, and many Christians in the Roman era suffered martyrdom.
But the Lord promised those that suffer for his sake will be rewarded with the Kingdom of Heaven!
This list - Poor in spirit, mournful, the meek, seekers of righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, sufferers of persecution
Where, on first glance seems all wrong, seems the reverse of worldly expectations - I’ve come to realize that Jesus is not upside down—I am.
We have all been born fallen and broken. Being twisted by sin, our first instincts are often wrong, which inevitably leaves a big mess.
Those who oppress God's people may be fortunate for a moment, they who trust the Lord will be fortunate forever.
After all, as recorded in Isaiah 55 – “His ways are not our ways” (Isa. 55:8), and I’ve come to realize that His ways are always best!
Considering just one of attributes “the pure in heart.”
I think of those persons who have welcomed me into their lives, not because I had any right to be there, but because the only faithful response they knew to the welcoming arms of God was to welcome others just as openly, just as graciously.
They lived the promise and they will see God just as surely as I have seen God in them.
What would it be like to try for a moment to view the world as God does – to consider the people of your life, maybe; hopefully, people of this the congregation – and to share that message and vision
Think of those attributes – do you know anyone that humble and open to God?
What would it be like to tell them that they are blessed?
Or what about mournful of the world, and how the world has fallen away from God’s desire?
They are blessed!
What about someone that is gentle and kind and obedient to the leadings of God – do you know anyone like that?
They too are blessed!
Do you know anyone that has a strong moral compass, and they are working towards being good and right in the eyes of God
Could you tell them that they will experience what they are striving for – that they will be satisfied and that they are blessed by God
What about merciful or pure of heart – can you think of anyone that may work in the healing ministries, a doctor or nurse – or think of a teacher and all the patience and mercy they exhibit – and what about someone that gives without thought of reward
God declares them blessed – imagine they have had a difficult day, how might their day be impacted if you told them, in God’s eyes they will receive mercy and they will see God
Consider the police, firefighters, first responders or military serving our nation, putting themselves in harm’s way to provide us with the freedom and peace that we enjoy
Or maybe it is a certain person in your family or group that is always bringing people together and smoothing over the rough edges
Blessed – each and everyone
Although, in our society where religious freedom is one of the highest ideals, there are many places in the world where persecution is unfortunately common – in the last century there have been more martyred for Christian beliefs that all the centuries before combined
Could we pray for them and if the opportunity arises be a voice for others – Could we share with the world that those that are persecuted or die in the faith are blessed
Our Gospel lesson today, which is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, is our Lord’s way of presenting a vision of the world as seen with God’s eyes
It calls us to a deeper understanding of the reality we see
It written to us not as prescriptive, but as descriptive – to declare that those that are whichever of the eight attributes are blessed by God
But I can’t help but also understand it in the simple way it was taught to me in Sunday School
That because of God’s generosity – that our natural response is to strive for these attitudes – for us, still on our journey of faith, that these are Be-Attitudes
In the middle ages when someone sneezed you said "God bless you" fearing that they may have the plague.
The mantra we repeat so regularly developed, that is, as a way to ward off fear of evil, disease, and death.
Perhaps this week we can reclaim those three powerful words to signify not fear…but joy, not disease… but delight, not death… but God's new life.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ – today and everyday – claim God’s blessing for others and even for yourself
We are "poor in spirit" or "meek" or "hunger and thirst for righteousness" - when we walk humbly with God.
We see our need for Jesus Christ and a longing to be filled with his Word.
We seek His will.
We are "merciful" or "pure in heart" when we love kindness.
We show compassion and mercy.
We put others before ourselves.
We are "peacemakers" or "mourners" or "accept persecution for righteousness' sake" - when we do justice.
We stand with the oppressed, we strengthen the weak,
We mediate for peace.
The Beatitudes invite us to be instruments of God in the world.
They represent the diversity of our response as he calls us to walk with him in justice and kindness.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, if we are truly in Christ, then He is in us… and we are in God’s eyes … Blessed
God of blessedness, it is to all creation that you share your blessedness and as we are made in your image, show us how to walk in your ways, that we may be called Blessed. Amen.