Sermon 4th Epiphany
Matthew 5: 1-12
Rev. Robert W. Landry; Dcn.
The gospel for today is known to many as Jesus’ teaching of the beatitudes and other places it is also known as the Sermon on the Mount as it is referred to in Luke’s Gospel. But for a moment let us imagine if we could put all of those Beatitudes into a person man or women. What do you think Mr. or Mrs. Beatitude would look like? I think they would probably be consistently kind and yet also a bit shy, shunning the limelight. They would always down play their own actions by claiming they were never enough to achieve what they really wanted to and therefore we might conclude they might have a bad self image.
This person might also be a person who would lend a hand to anyone in need but also quick to get upset every time they hear a news story about an oil spill off the coast or after seeing pictures of children starving in the Sudan. This person may even appear as being distressed and often on the verge of tears; someone who could never shrug off anything. For a moment think of the newscaster who might always end there news with a smile after telling all the day’s news and says; I’ll see you all back here tomorrow and good night. But this Mr. or Mrs. Beatitude generally finds much of the news to be disturbing, just watching such broadcasts yields anything but a smiling “good night” for them.
This person would be transparently religious. Someone whose heart seems so centered on the God of their faith that most everything they do would come off looking like an offering. This would be a person who would seem perpetually restless and is satisfied with lots of life’s facets. They would be a person who volunteered to clean up highways, or pitched in on programs to aid the homeless, who talked to people wherever they were about the need to do something to help those who live in poverty and those who are gripped by addictions to drugs. Obviously a caring follower of Christ who is totally aware of the care needed to help others in need.
There seems to be a curious theme running through the Beatitudes. On the one hand it is clear that graced followers of Jesus don’t really fit in this world. In this sense Matthew 5 seems to validate the saying, “This world is not my home, “I’m just passing’ through.”If, as Jesus predicts, we get ridiculed and persecuted, part of the reason will be because we’re not adhering to the world’s agenda. We’re going to challenge a lot of conventional wisdom and shake up the powers that be. On the other hand, though, the Beatitudes do not call us to be world-shunning people. We are not to pretend that society and culture don’t matter, that politics is beneath our notice, and that our environment can slide into pollution because this world isn’t our home anyway seeing as we’re headed for heaven.
No, instead the Beatitudes make it clear that we are to hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness not in the next life in eternity, but right here and right now. We are to make for peace here. We are to be meek right here and if we are. We are promised to inherit the earth, the earth, you may notice, is what Jesus promises. Jesus mixes his talk about the kingdom of heaven with his talk about this earth. Apparently in Jesus’ mind there is no dichotomy. You don’t have to choose between heaven and earth because down the line, the two are going to merge and be one. In sum, blessed are you if you can see the world the way Jesus sees it. And it is great if you already feel and act and live in these ways because it shows that when it comes to God’s kingdom, you get It!
There are several ways to approach the Beatitudes of Jesus. You could fruitfully consider them one at a time or you could look at the overall sweep and direction of these blessings. Seen in context and taken all together, so what is it that Jesus is telling us about life?
First of all, it is curious to notice the way in which Matthew launches the Sermon on the Mount. According to Matthew 4:25 which we heard read last week, Jesus’ ministry has just recently taken off dramatically with his reputation as a healer spreading all over. Within days he had great crowds of people following him in the hopes that they could get something from him. Then in our reading today Jesus interrupts his healing ministry. Make no mistake, the miracles Jesus did were important signs of his power and of God’s kingdom, but over and over again Jesus makes it clear that the main intent of his ministry is teaching. So Jesus was not against the idea of stopping the obvious enthusiasm that was building around him in order to do the far less impressive-looking act of sitting down and just talking.
He began teaching; Matthew says in verse 2 because teaching was one of the main reasons why Jesus had come to this earth. In fact, it is even possible that one of the reasons Jesus applies the brakes to his successful healing tour was precisely because he knew that this was the kind of phenomenon that would cause people to turn Jesus into yet one more icon of political power. They wanted his help to overcome the Roman occupation.
What Jesus wants them to know is that he did not come to establish just one more political kingdom in which the powerful win, the confident and the rich pull all the strings, Jesus has come to usher in a new order where the last are first and where the truly excellent are the ones who get sneered at by the rest of the world. The Beatitudes show Jesus reminding us not to get stuck on power or drama. Jesus is here to give us new hearts first and foremost.
Is Jesus telling us that we have to be depressed, poor, and mournful? Is he saying that if our life is a wreck and that we are unhappy we are automatically saved? I don’t think this is so, I think it goes something like this: There’s something about being touched by grace that makes the attitudes and actions that Jesus blesses inevitable. The presence of God’s own Son in your heart is going to make you look at the whole world in a new way. This is demonstrated for us here in the beatitudes.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. “Why and how is that a blessing? “It is because when you see just what God himself had to go through to salvage this wrecked world, when you see the incarnation and death of God’s own son, then you will be poor in spirit” in this sense you will know that you could never save this world yourself. When it comes to salvation, you will be properly humbled. The world’s problems are too deep rooted in evil for us to get rid of them on our own. The poor in spirit are those who are humble enough to acknowledge that they need the kind of help only God can give.” The Poor in Spirit know they need grace and so are only too happy to receive it.
Consider the beatitude: Blessed are those who mourn.” Once you’ve been given a vision for God’s kingdom, then you will find more reasons to weep and be depressed than others will. You won’t need to wait for tragedy to strike your own life to find reasons to cry. You really will mourn for the destruction of God’s beautiful creation, and weep over wars that take the lives of the innocent, shed tears over the poverty that afflicts so many. The more you know how things ought to be, the more distressed you’ll be to see these injustices everywhere you look. But that‘s also why grace will make you restless as you hunger and thirst for the order God established in the beginning. That’s why you’ll become a peacemaker. This beatitude typically gets quoted whenever someone intervenes to stop a war, and while that is a legitimate instance of the Beatitude about peacemakers, that’s only a small part of what Jesus was getting at. Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.” They’ll be God’s children because they’ll be doing exactly what God and his Son Jesus do: namely, restore the creation back to the honored integrity for which it was made. That’s a monumental task that touches on every conceivable part of life. There’s no end to making peace, peace in marriages, in families, in churches, in society, in nature, in government, among all people, and nations.
There is a debate as to who Jesus was teaching here: were these words addressed to everybody or to just Jesus’ inner circle of disciples? Many scholars believe that although some in the crowd may have overheard Jesus, it does appear that Jesus is forming a circle around him of only the disciples and that he is now teaching them. Recognizing this helps us to remember two things: first of all, the fact that these words were for the disciples reminds us that the Beatitudes aren’t requirements for kingdom membership but instead are a description of what kingdom living is like after you have been saved by grace.
In other words, the Beatitudes show how you live after grace not how you earn grace, which we all know we can not earn grace because it has been freely given to all those who will believe. Don’t look for your pleasures in this world, but look for your pleasures in the Lord. For blessed are you if you know the joy that is our God in Christ for it changes everything, it changes us.