Series: Sermon on the Mount
Title: Called to be Blessed
June 3, 2018
Rev. Sandy Johnson
Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen
This morning we begin a new series on Jesus’ teachings. He gathered along a hillside, overlooking the Sea of Galilee with his disciples and followers. These scriptures are known to us as the Sermon on the Mount and today’s scripture, the opening of the teaching is known as the Beatitudes.
Jesus had just called his first disciples and was traveling throughout Galilee, teaching and healing. He was becoming very popular, his fame was beginning to spread, “great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.”
Chapter 5 of the book of Matthew says that “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.” This time with his disciples has been described as “The Ordination Address to the Twelve.” These lessons are the essence of Christ’s teachings and I am stoked to go through them with you today, beginning with the Beatitudes.
Beatitude means “a state of utmost bliss,” and is used as the title for this opening section of Jesus’ sermon, those that start with “Blessed are…” Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who are meek, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are merciful, pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and are reviled and accused of all kinds of evil things.
I don’t know about you, but if that what it means to be blessed, I’m not sure I’m up to the job. There must be more to this lesson that what we see on the surface. It’s hard to understand how this list of seemingly downtrodden and pessimistic characteristics might somehow lead to our being truly blessed. I think it’s time to dig in and see what we are missing.
The very word blessed is a very special word. “It describes the joy which has its secret within itself, that joy which is serene and untouchable, and self-contained, that joy which is completely independent of all the chances and the changes of life. The English word happiness gives its own case away. It contains the root hap which means chance.
Human happiness is something which is dependent on the chances and changes of life, something which life may give, and which life may also destroy. The Christian blessedness is completely untouchable and unassailable. “No one,” says Jesus, “will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).
The beatitudes speak of that joy which seeks us and through our pain, that joy which sorrow and loss, pain and grief, are powerless to touch, that joy which shines through tears, and which nothing in life or death can take away.”
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
What does poor in spirit mean? Certainly, Jesus isn’t referring to someone who is resource challenged, someone who is on the lowest rung on the socioeconomic ladder of success. The idea Jesus is expressing is that someone described as poor, is someone who has no influence, someone who is down-trodden and oppressed by the world, and the only resource they have is to put their full trust in God.
“In Hebrew the word poor was used to describe the humble and the helpless person who has put their whole trust in God.” I would argue that with their whole trust in God, they are hardly poor in spirit. Another way to say it is, “Blessed is the person who has realized their own utter helplessness and has put their whole trust in God.” As a result they have become “completely detached from things, things that have not brought them happiness or security; in turn they become completely attached to God, for they know that God alone can bring the help, and hope, and strength. People who are poor in spirit are those who have realized that things mean nothing, and that God means everything.”
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
This seems straight forward, those who are experiencing grief can be assured that God will bring them comfort. “Sorrow can do two things for us. It can show us, as nothing else can, the essential kindness of our neighbor; and it can show us as nothing else can, the comfort and the compassion of God. Many people in the midst of grief have discovered God as they never have before. You see, when things are going well, it is possible to live for years on the surface of things; but when sorrow comes, we are driven to the deep things of life, and if we accept it, a new strength and beauty will enter our soul.” Through Christ we find comfort.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
When we hear this many may think that to be the benefactor of the whole world means becoming a doormat, someone who is spineless, subservient or pathetic. Meek in this context doesn’t mean that at all. It is meant to describe the middle ground between excessive anger and complete passivity. It’s the happy medium which describes someone who is “angry at the right time, and never angry at the wrong time.”
Meekness also means humility, “the acceptance of the necessity to learn and of the necessity to be forgiven. It describes our proper attitude toward God. Blessed is the person who has the humility to know their own ignorance, their own weakness, their own need. It is in this meekness, Jesus says, we will inherit the earth.”
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
The hunger and thirst that is suggested here “is the hunger of someone who is starving for food, and one who is thirsty and will die unless they receive drink.” An experience most of us have never had. The question then becomes “how much do you want goodness? Do you want it as much as a starving person wants food, and as much as a person who is dying of thirst wants water? How intense is our desire for goodness?”
Most of us would certainly desire goodness, but how many of us get distracted when it becomes even a little bit difficult? We have to be prepared to make real sacrifices for our faith and seek righteousness above all else.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
We have learned many times throughout the New Testament that to be forgiven, we must forgive. The Lord’s Prayer guides us to “forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Being merciful is the ability to get inside of someone else’s skin, to fully understand their point of view and see how they think and how they feel.
It is a deliberate identification with their situation, feeling sympathy, going through what they are going through. The merciful are those who can offer what the other needs and wants, rather than pushing their own needs upon others. Jesus demonstrates this for us when he became human and got literally inside the skin of his people. The first step to receiving mercy is being merciful toward others.
8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Pure in heart describes someone whose motives are pure, not those who seek credit for things they have done. “This beatitude demands from us the most exacting self-examination. Is our work done from motives of service or from motives of pay? Is our service given from selfless motives or from motives of self-display? Is the work we do in Church done for Christ or for our own prestige?” We must examine our own hearts to determine what our own motives are and work to realign them to God so that we may see God.
9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“In the Bible peace means not only freedom from all trouble; it means enjoyment of all good.” This blessing of the peacemakers is not directed to those who love peace. It is those who take action that are blessed and called children of God. We must avoid evading the difficult situations but instead face them and deal with them, ultimately conquering them. Often peace comes through struggle and it is the struggle that refines us. To say it another way, “Blessed are those who make this world a better place for everyone to live in.”
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Jesus let it be known that being his disciple may require his followers to be persecuted. Jesus came not to make life easy, but to make us great in God’s eyes. Our ancient sisters and brothers saw it as the ultimate opportunity to show their loyalty to Christ when they were called upon to suffer persecution. We must be prepared to endure false accusations, negative attitudes, name calling because we have taken a stand for Christ. We are blessed when we stand up to what we know is right and what God has called us to endure.
Through Christ’s teachings we learn what it means to be vulnerable to God and to others, becoming less focused on ourselves and more focused on Christ and on others who in need. As we are growing in grace to perfection and becoming Christ’s disciple, we are claiming our full personhood. One day at a time we choose to be blessed; following Christ and daring to be like Him. Amen