Sermon on the Mount Series, Sermon #1 - THE BEATITUDES -
Rev. April S. Blaine - Given on Sunday, July 28, 2013
I brought a couple of books from seminary with me today to get us started.
The first is a collection of sermons and letters of Dr. King. When I took the class on Dr. King, we were assigned various readings from within the book, a few here a few there for class discussions. We didn’t need to read them in any order and we didn’t need to even read all of them. Because each piece would stand on its own.
But we also read this book – “Why We Can’t Wait.” It’s a book, a cohesive, well thought out argument about the urgency of the work at hand. It has an introduction, a main body and a conclusion. And when we were assigned this - The assignment was simply to read the whole book.
It wouldn’t make sense to start reading half way through because the power of the writing is that It’s all connected and to understand the heart of his message you have to read the whole thing.
For years, the Sermon on the Mount has been read like it’s a collection of talks, thoughts, and ideas – brought together with no real order.. And people pick out sections, like the Beatitudes or the lord’s prayer, or the Do Not Worry section. And they read those sections and try to garner meaning from them.
Which is possible. You CAN get some things out of doing that.
But the more people have researched and studied,
The more people are realizing that this is a cohesive unit. A sermon that, like a story, was intended to be heard, experienced, and comprehended as a whole. It has an introduction and it has a movement and a conclusion. And they are all related.
And when we read it like this –
A whole additional picture of what Jesus has been saying begins to emerge.
So this is how we are going to read and study and dive into this Scripture…
So let’s give you some context -
What was happening in the life and ministry of Jesus when this sermon was given?
Jesus has been traveling the countryside. From village to village. He has called disciples, and he has been proclaiming the good news.
The Kingdom of Heaven is near.
God’s reign is upon you.
The way in which God intended for us to live in the world – is now available…
And as he says these words – he is healing people –
He is healing every ailment, from epilepsy to paralysis, to basic aches and pains, he is casting our demons.
As he cures every diseases, he is meeting them right where they are – showing them that the kingdom has come near to them.
Making it real.
And not surprisingly – he has developed quite a following.
And now he is ready to teach them.
To help them to really understand what living in God’s realm really entailed.
Before I was a pastor, I was a high school teacher.
And my job was to help kids to learn about biology. I wanted them to learn, to understand and have the information and knowledge about the world that they would need to be successful.
So my students would bring their books and their papers and their pencils. And I would teach. And they would write it down. And then at the end of each unit, we would have a test, to see how much they had learned.
That’s what teachers do right, they make sure that we have the information that we need? Regardless of whether we will use that information again?
But teaching in Jesus’ day was quite different.
Dallas Willard writes that,
"The teacher in Jesus' time - particularly the religious teacher - taught in such a way that he would impact the life flow of the hearer... [The goals was to leave] a lasting impression - without the benefit of notes, recorders, or even memorization."
(Taken from "The Divine Conspiracy," Chapter 4)
How many people in the room remember exactly where you were when 9/11 happened?
You have probably recounted that time many times over.
We remember the things that really change and shape us.
We don’t need to write them down. Because they change us and shape us and we don’t forget things like that.
Jesus’ intention wasn’t knowledge –
His teaching wasn’t about information.
His teaching was about transformation.
Jesus spoke of real things and real events in a way that challenged conventional thinking.
What he said was shocking.
It was radical.
It was new.
It was transformational.
It changed people’s hearts and lives when they heard it -
And so they didn’t need to write down what he said.
And the words that he used to begin this Sermon on the Mount were these kinds of words -
Blessed are the poor in the spirit
Blessed are those who mourn
Blessed are the peacemakers
Now – how many of you have heard someone say to you, “I am so blessed. I just recognize all the blessings that I have.”
What are they typically talking about?
Blessing is a concept we associate with abundance – with things going the way we want them to. With contentment.
We are blessed when those things are true in our world.
And so Jesus’ statements simply don’t make any sense.
Blessed when we are mourning? When we are persecuted? When we are poor in spirit?
These are the least likely situations that we would name ourselves blessed.
The typical concept of blessedness had to do with– the highest well being possible for human beings on Earth…
So Jesus is taking this commonly understood value and he is turning it on its head.
He is redefining Blessedness.
And He was making a very clear and intentional statement to everyone who had gathered on that mountain.
Your blessedness – is not rooted in your Earthly situation… It’s not about your earthly abundance.
Your blessedness is rooted in your inclusion in God’s kingdom.
That no human condition – no matter how hopeless – excludes you from the Kingdom of God.
In even plainer terms –
EVERYONE is BLESSED.
Now, we have typically really liked this idea when applied to us, but let’s be honest. There are some people that don’t deserve this title.
And to think of EVERYONE as blessed is actually kind of offensive.
So, for many years – people have really struggled with this passage. You can’t just be blessed for no reason, there has to be something you’ve done to be blessed.so if Jesus says that these people are blessed. It must be because there is something extra holy or extra special about what these people are doing. There must be a sacredness in being poor in spirit or mourning or meekness or peacemaking.
And so we just need to model ourselves after one of these things so that we can be blessed too.
But when we do this – we miss the teaching that Jesus is trying to make that is so powerful.
The Blessedness – is not because of what we have done.
Our Blessedness is a gift from God.
It’s a part of our identity.
And it is true of us – even when life is at its most hopeless places. Even when we are beaten down and mournful. Even when we are working for something so hard and we haven’t achieved it. Even when we are so poor in spirit that we can’t get out of bed and care for ourselves and our families. We are blessed even when we are too afraid to speak up. And we are blessed when we are showing mercy and kindness and working for peace and justice. We are blessed when our spirits are pure and we are blessed when our spirits are poor.
We are blessed. We’re just blessed.
It’s not because of us. It’s because of God.
We are blessed because the Kingdom of God is available to us all.
Jesus begins this important sermon with these words because they will be crucial to understanding EVERYTHING ELSE he is going to say.
Because the hearers on the mountain that day, first needed to believe it about themselves…
They were an oppressed people. Their power, their status, their economic opportunity, and often their dignity had been crushed by a relentless regime in the roman Empire…
They had to begin by believing it about themselves.
But they also needed to believe it about each other – about their enemies and their oppressors – to see and acknowledge the blessedness that was a crucial part of the identity of every human being.
Which is why you will hear Jesus say later, “Love your enemies.”
That the Kingdom of God was available to all people…
Dallas Willard offered some alternative beatitudes for our modern day and age…
Reminding us that God’s blessing includes those we would least expect…
"Blessed are the physically repulsive, the ones who smell bad, the twisted, misshapen, deformed,
The too big, too little, too loud, too old…
Blessed are those who drop out and those who are burned-out by life.
Blessed are the broken.
Blessed are the HIV-positive and brain-damaged and incurably ill.
Blessed are the barren and the pregnant at the wrong time.
Blessed are the overemployed, the underemployed, the unemployed, the unemployable.
The swindled, the shoved aside, the replaced. The lonely and the emotionally starved.
Blessed are the murderers. The child molesters the brutal and the bigoted. The drug lords, the pornographers. The war criminals, sadist and terrorists.
Blessed are the perverted and the filthy and the filthy rich."
(Taken from "The Divine Conspiracy," Chapter 4)
Blessed are they because - the kingdom of God is available to even them.
The Kingdom of God is available to us all.
Everything that will come next in this sermon hinges on the fact that we understand these words – for ourselves and for the world.
Everyone is blessed.