(Author’s Note: I went significantly off script, so the message written is similar to but not as good as the message delivered.)
Today we start a new sermon series called the Teachings of Jesus. We will begin in the gospel of Matthew’s Jewish perspective, in which Jesus is shown to emulate Moses and the prophets, and the fulfillment of the prophetic writings is demonstrated. Matthew picks up on the long standing argument on how God works that fills the Old Testament. On the side of a just world in which bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people we read Deuteronomy, Joshua, and the Proverbs. On the side of a world in which bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people, but God is at work bringing redemption we hear the question “Have you considered my servant Job?”, read some of the psalms of lament, and read the fumbling and bumbling of Israel in the Exodus, the book of Judges, The Davidic histories, and the story of Jonah. It is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we can somehow control our lives if we do all the right things in the right ways, and Jesus bypasses the whole argument in the Sermon on the Mount.
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.
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. Matt 5:1-12
Jesus, looking out at the multitudes crying for hope sat down and prepared his disciples for ministry. He chose to start with the be-attitudes literally the good attitudes. These good attitudes are not tools to control God or get spiritual brownie points, but are tools to control ourselves and align our hearts with the goodness of God. The root word behind what we translate as blessed is happy with a suffix that implies extension, enlargement, and can even be translated as enviable. All of that we summarize with the word blessed. Following Jesus in these ways will lead us to a place beyond happy in which our joy is not controlled by circumstances, and even exists despite circumstances.
It is our heart’s desires that form us, and Jesus begins with giving his disciples a set of desires that is not dependent on circumstance for fulfillment. Instead the desires Jesus gives change our attitudes to better reflect the design for fulfillment that God created in humanity. Enviable are those who know just how much they need God and pursue him. If we would experience happiness or fulfillment our first step is recognizing that we cannot find that source in anything other than God. When that emptiness creeps up on us and we see the depth of our spiritual poverty we can choose to acknowledge that void and invite God to fill it. We live in a culture that teaches us absolute self-sufficiency. We are taught that happiness can only come from within or by the fruits of our labors. This myth has been around for a very long time, and Jesus knew that it needed to be the first bad attitude to be countered. Blessed are those who freely acknowledge that they don’t have it all together and need the grace of God, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
None of these attitudes stands alone; they each build up on each other in progression. We can mourn when we acknowledge our poverty of spirit because we can admit to needing comfort. When we admit to needing comfort we can receive what we need. Acknowledging that we have needs opens us up to see how we can receive from others and know that there are strengths where we are weak and that we can offer our strength in another’s weakness. This humble recognition of reality puts in a position to inherit the earth as a trust from God. Seeing our poverty, mourning our brokenness and humbly accepting the help we need opens our heart to desire to be and do what is right. All of these acknowledgments create a space in which, through recognition of brokenness, we can extend mercy to others who are broken like we are. It is impossible for us to give mercy if we are in denial about our own need to receive mercy. When we acknowledge our own need for mercy and extend it to others it is our hearts that are purified, and as we are purified we begin to recognize God and his handiwork. We actually get to see God at work.
This next part requires a bit of explanation since peace from the bible’s perspective is more than the mere absence of conflict. Peace implies wholeness and well-being leading to the absence of the desire for violence. To make peace then requires restoring brokenness. When we see God and what he is doing and join Him in the work of restoring this broken world, we are called by his name into his family. We, like Jesus, take up our Father’s business. Restoring the broken and promoting wholeness puts us at odds with the systems of this world that profit from brokenness and strife. When we make peace and question the systems that lead to brokenness and pain the principalities and powers tend to take negative notice. Our Father’s business doesn’t make a lot of sense in a “Go for the gusto. Get as much for me at whatever cost.” world. Self-sacrifice and acknowledging our weakness seems foolish and an easy way to get taken advantage of or run roughshod over. Jesus tells us though that we are to be envied, that God gives us happiness beyond the circumstances and things around us.
Jesus doesn’t gloss over what being a square peg in a round world is going to feel like. He lets us know that we can expect painful opposition to his way of merciful restoration. When we experience that pain we can welcome it as a sign that we are restoring the broken, that we are truly about our Father’s business. We can rejoice and be glad because what seems so weak and ineffectual to others actually brings the kingdom, actually shows God’s presence, actually changes us and restores us and makes us whole. When we look at Jesus ministry of restoration, and the results of his living out these priorities, we see that his greatest opposition came from a religious system focused on sin management. When we focus on brokenness rather than restoration we miss the point. The point of the law was not to appease an angry God, but to establish a relationship between God and his people, to restore broken fellowship rather than enact punishment. God’s desire was to show mercy, and through the redeeming work of Jesus we can receive that mercy.
The good attitudes Jesus teaches his disciples are an invitation to take on the priorities of the one who made us and calls each of us by name. We can find restoration, wholeness and wellbeing, not within ourselves or from following the rules, but by recognizing our own frailty and inviting God to be our strength. As we enter into our time of open worship it is important to recognize that the purpose of this time is to recognize our poverty of spirit and to invite the Holy Spirit to minister to and through each of us as we listen, pray, or speak. Open Worship reminds me that I require the ministry of others to see and hear from God. Let us pray.