Pastor's Note

The Beatitudes

The Kingdom has Come Near

The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) form the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ first sermon. And what a sermon it is! Remember how Matthew has structured his telling of the Gospel… He is basically rehearsing the entire story of Israel from the escape to Egypt to the coming through the waters of Jesus’ baptism then out into the wilderness for 40 days instead of years this time and now up a mountain. One can imagine the reaction to this sequence of events as Matthew portrayed them. Jesus went up the mountain, just as Moses did, and as Moses descended the mountain with the Ten Commandments, here, in three chapters, Jesus revisits the law and teaches the disciples, and the crowds, just what it means that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.

So, if Jesus was preaching and teaching, what kind of a sermon is it? And would any call committee out to hear just what kind of preacher he was invite him back for a second interview?

I mean look at it, he just jumps right on in doesn’t he?
Jesus sat down and began to teach his disciples:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit.
  • Blessed are those who mourn.
  • Blessed are the meek.
  • Blessed are those who thirst and hunger for righteousness sake.

No wind up, no joke or story about himself, he just starts to teach.

And what a teaching.

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit.
  • Blessed are those who mourn.
  • Blessed are the meek.
  • Blessed are those who thirst and hunger for righteousness sake.

Wait, you’re blessing who?

Imagine yourselves sitting at Jesus’ feet hearing these words for the first time. Imagine you are a disciple. Imagine you have dropped everything to follow Jesus and this is the introductory session?

Blessed are the poor in spirit? No no. Blessed are the rock-solid believers who are filled to the top with spiritual goodness every moment of their lives. We can’t have the poor in spirit around here, it won’t be good for business.

Blessed are those who mourn? No no… Blessed are the happy!

Blessed are the meek or the humble? What kind of movement is this anyways, sounds kinda wimpy to me!

Blessed are those who thirst and hunger for righteousness’ sake. No, no, blessed are they who win the game and go to bed plump and satisfied every night because they got theirs no matter if it came at a cost to their neighbor.

This doesn’t make any sense. It is no method that I can live my life by- what did we just leave behind?

And those next four sentences:

  • Blessed are the merciful
  • Blessed are the pure in heart
  • Blessed are the peacemakers
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake

Where the Rubber meets the Road

This is where the real work comes in doesn’t it? We don’t live in a world where a lot of mercy is shown between people, or politicians, or countries, even in our own family’s, why does it still remain a surprise when someone shows mercy to another person. And don’t even get me started on the pure in heart. But that statement on peacemaking is the real doozy for me. This is where the rubber really hits the road. Jesus is not saying blessed are the peace likers. Blessed are the peacemakers, those who are called to wage peace in a warring world. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake… because when one sets out to do right in the world they are going to find themselves on the wrong side of public opinion because of their devotion to God. This is world changing stuff.

But look, all through this sermon Jesus has been talking about those people… Blessed are the meek, blessed are those who mourn, so even if some of this stuff coming out of Jesus’ mouth doesn’t make sense at least he isn’t really talking about us. But then that last sentence: Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you. You’re going to get into the same kind of trouble that all of God’s prophets got into before you. You are a part of this story and your life, that life that God claimed and has already put his stamp of approval on, has been changed. So these Beatitudes do not make up your marching orders, however, although many like to read them that way.

We Need to be Reminded

No, my friends, Jesus is preaching to your new selves, the one that God drew from the baptismal waters as he proclaimed to the world that you are His. He is preaching to his brothers and sisters. And so now, he proclaims, this is how your new life looks. You can now catch glimpses of God’s blessings each and every day. For although the world does not know mercy, we do, we just forget every once in awhile that there is no reason to withhold mercy even from our worst enemy since none was withheld from us. We who have grieved the loss of someone we love have also felt those twinges of hope those glimmers of God’s promises when we were reminded by the words of a Pastor or the shoulder of a friend.

We who live in a world where supposed adults have to be reminded how to talk to one another, we know what it means to wage peace and to work for justice, we just need to be reminded every now and then how to be more fully who we already are. God’s chosen, God’s children, the inheritors of a promise greater than any other gift in the entire world. And so blessings to each and every one of you and may you go forth to share that mercy, that peace, our hearts with our friends, our families, our neighbors, our world. It’s a blessed life and you’re already in it.