Matthew 5:1-12, February 2nd, 2020
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these words from the gospel according to Matthew, chapter five, verses one thru twelve.”
1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.
2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
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 receive 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 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.
12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
“Having listened to this lesson, which has become known as the Beatitudes from Jesus’ teachings, let’s open our hearts to their meaning.”
In our passage this morning, from the gospel according to Matthew, called the Beatitudes, Jesus offers blessings to all of God’s children who have experienced the human realities of life; especially those who have become oppressed and discouraged in so many ways. With this thought in mind, through the writings from a current commentary, a new explanation was presented by a respected theologian based on his fresh approach to the gospels. David Lose offers us this reflection which he brings to light. Rev. Lose approaches this thought with these words. “There is a trap hidden in the Beatitudes that I know I have fallen into countless times, and perhaps you have, too. The trap is as simple as it is subtle: believing that Jesus is setting up the conditions of blessing, rather than actually blessing his hearers.” When I think of the countless hours of research and reflection that have gone into searching out a deeper meaning to these words, I am in awe that this theologian is willing to say the obvious possibility: Jesus was simply offering up a blessing; telling us, his listeners, that each of those he named are blessed in the sight of God. Which would you rather be: blessed by Christ when in that human situation that you are, or have been struggling with; or bless-ed with a deeply researched and thought out theory by one of ten’s of thousands of theologians throughout the ages?
Going full circle on this discussion, what theologians and good preachers have endeavored, attempted and labored to share with us regarding these bless-ed sayings attributed to the teachings of Jesus, are useful and quite meaningful to embrace and study. They all offer us deeper knowledge and understandings of the perceived deep meanings which many believe Jesus was striving to say within these teachings. God knows I have used these thoughts in my previous attempts to find the most current and relative meaning of these sayings. Today, we are striving to glean a simple lesson that will be of comfort to all whom can identify, at any level, with these who Jesus lifts-up in these blessings. Consider the poor in spirit, the first ‘Beatitude.’ If you know this about yourself (that your spiritual life, your relationship with God is meager) then it is highly likely, that your have found a sense of humility and are now willing to begin putting your faith, your trust in God. You are putting your life in God’s hands. If this is you, for sure you have been blessed and, on the condition, that this state of mind continues, you will most certainly be welcomed into heaven. We can look to each category of those who God, through Christ have been blessed. Consider those who mourn, a condition that most certainly any person who has experienced any sense of compassion or concern for others has or shall experience. Most certainly, it is comforting to be reminded that God is with you and the person who has now joined with our Creator in that place we refer to as heaven. We whom mourn, we have been touched, blessed by the very hand of God and reminded of this through this scripture text this very day.
Pastor Alan Brehm continues our reflection on the ‘Beatitudes,’ thereby reminding us of the many ways and levels by which Jesus taught those who gathered to listen, and through his teachings continues to teach all of us today. “Part of what makes the Beatitudes so counter-intuitive is that Jesus pronounces God’s blessings on those who expose our vulnerability! From that perspective, the secret to happiness is to open yourself and accept life as it is and then to live out of the compassion and integrity of that wholeness.” The first lesson, of course, is to accept our plight as mortal beings, whether women, men, or children in life. This be true in sickness and in health, whether rich or poor. It is also true no matter your race, creed or ethnic heritage! We indeed are vulnerable to life’s realities, whether we are ready to receive them or not! Acceptance of life ‘as it truly is’ at any moment in time, is not always easy. Yet, when we continue to trust God in all areas of our lives, acceptance comes easier. For those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, this reference to being blessed by Christ is comforting as we seek reassurance that we have not been forgotten, as the powers of this world often takes on the persona of the devil personified, alive and incarnate in human flesh!
Mary Hinkle, New Testament Professor at Luther Seminary, speaks to us of: ‘That’s the way it is.’ “There is nothing wrong with being meek, or hungering and thirsting for righteousness, but Jesus is not exhorting those things in the beatitudes. These sentences are blessings, spoken in the indicative mood, like Walter Cronkite’s closing line: ‘That’s the way it is.'” Professor Hinkle adds to the richness of our discussion as she invokes the memory of Walter Cronkite for all of us old enough to remember his candor and integrity as a leading moral and civic voice in our nation as he held the lead news anchor position on the CBS evening news during the 1960’s and 70’s. Walter was seeking truth and in so doing he invoked the heart of what the American public sought after; he saw folks as they were and he saw their thirst, their hunger for the truth. Inherently, he saw that which we all seek after – virtue through honesty. What a blessing!
The teaching of Jesus, his sermon on the mount near the Sea of Galilee, as believed by modern theologians, was a setting to behold! No, I was not there! But, just imagine what it may have been like! With his charismatic personality by which it seems apparent that Jesus captivated the crowds with. Consider how you might feel sitting there listening to Jesus teach, while he is offering blessings to different groups of folks; especially if he touched on how you were feeling. Perhaps a loved one has recently died, and you are in mourning. At that moment Jesus tells you that those who mourn, like yourself, you are blessed and shall be comforted. In that moment you feel the compassion, the kindness and loving touch of God through this simple gesture. Perhaps the Spirit of Christ passes through you touching your heart with the soothing grace of our beloved God. With these thoughts in mind, as you continue to hear the voice of Jesus as he communicates with you and the others there with you from the hillside, your spirit is uplifted with new hope. It is as if Jesus has healed the ache in your heart; The ‘Teacher’ understands your need for compassion. Jesus offers his blessing upon on you and so many of those who have gathered that day. Isn’t your heart just pounding with joy? Can you feel your pulse increase, as the excitement of personally hearing the teachings of Jesus?
The Living Spirit of Christ speaks to us – teaching us of the fullness of God’s unconditional love. With hearts wide open we feel the love.
We are blessed when we follow the teachings of Christ.
We are blessed when we invite Jesus to walk with us even when the going gets tough.
We are blessed when we show compassion and kindness to others.
We are blessed when we ask for the strength and the courage to stand for the oppressed, the marginalized and those who have been left behind.
We are blessed when we volunteer and give up the opportunity to watch the Super Bowl and spend time with a sick friend or loved one.
We are blessed when we serve the hungry at the local soup kitchen on our day off.
We are blessed even when others desert us because following Christ is not always easy.
We are blessed even when others have given up hope for us.
Verse 12 of today’s reading reminds us that we need to keep the faith as we journey forward. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” We have the greatest “Teacher” in all of creation. Therefore, let us partake of “all” that is so mystically passed to us through the scriptures and opens our hearts, souls and minds to the Living Spirit of the Living God.