29 January 2017
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
East Rochester and West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches
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, saying:
- “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
- “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
- “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
- “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
- “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
- “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
- “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Many things motivate human behavior:
Food and clothing,
These are essential because they are related to survival.
Might be considered the hard motivators.
Might be thought of as soft motivators.
Hard or soft, they are equal motivators of human behavior.
- The Beatitudes –
Are all about acceptance,
One of the soft motivators of human behavior;
In the larger context of the kingdom of God.
Who is accepted?
How are they accepted?
And what does acceptance mean
Especially when it relates to identity:
Who I am (as an individual),
Who we are (as members of a community),
And how we all fit in (to assimilate).
The Beatitudes describe what the new kingdom looks like;
Not defined by geography or boarders or length of reign,
Like old kingdoms.
Rather, the Beatitudes outline God’s plan
That his kingdom will be defined by people,
Children of God,
Accepted and blessed.
When you experience the Gospel of Matthew, think Moses.
The parallel of Jesus with Moses is intentional.
Through sign, symbol and story
Matthew makes great effort
Here and throughout his Gospel,
To identify Jesus as the Messiah for the new age.
Jesus is the new Moses, and more.
Grace becomes the new standard for judgment and punishment under the Law.
Salvation wins over death and damnation.
Jesus bring liberty to the poor, the meek, and the hungry.
Let’s look at the parallels.
Just as Moses’ birth was foretold by an angel in a dream;
So too is the birth of Jesus announced by an angel in a dream.
Just as Moses was threatened by a wicked king,
So too is Jesus.
Just as Moses is rejected by his own people,
Comes out of Egypt,
Passes through the water,
Is tested in the wilderness,
Ascends a great mountain,
And gives great commands;
So too does Jesus.
The mountain is a place of God’s revelation:
For Moses, the identify of a new people,
A new kingdom of Israel.
For Jesus, the Beatitudes proclaim
A new kingdom of God
With Christ as the center.
Today we make the developmental transition
From Moses on Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments
To Jesus on the Mount proclaiming Blessings.
Matthew reported in the fourth chapter that
Jesus had been drawing a crowd.
Not just one crowd,
Many crowds throughout Galilee,
Where he had been teaching in synagogues,
Proclaiming the good news of the kingdom,
Healing every person with disease or illness,
Inspiring loved ones of everyone he healed;
Family members and friends.
Jesus was the original traveling salvation show,
Complete with miraculous, dramatic, healing.
Nothing draws a crowd quite like a healing preacher!
Miracles drew them in.
Proclaiming the good news of the kingdom
was winning them over.
Teaching them his will and his ways
was preparing the crowds for the future.
Disease, deformity, or chronic illness meant exclusion
From family, neighbors, community, and faith.
It was associated with sin and punishment.
“You or your mother or father must have sinned
To result in your punished, unclean state.”
Unclean meant being
Socially isolated from family and friends,
Sent to beg outside of the protection of the city or village walls,
Left to twist in the wind.
Healing was the solution.
Healing allows the unclean to go before the priest
And be made clean once again.
Healing would bring reunification with family.
Healing would bring acceptance by the larger community.
This is what motivated the crowds …
… crowds composed of the excluded, the unclean, and their family members.
This is what motivated the crowds
To follow and enthusiastically gather wherever Jesus visited.
Today, Jesus leaves the crowds behind.
Jesus takes the first four chosen disciples up the mountain
Andrew and Peter, James and John.
He takes them up the mountain
For a time of instruction.
Don’t worry about the other 8 disciples who would soon follow.
Like every good preacher,
We believe Jesus recycled this most important sermon material.
Those who followed would have their opportunity for freshman orientation.
They climb a mountain,
Quite possibly Mt. Tabor,
Where they would have had an expansive view of the plane of Armageddon,
The place of final judgement,
Where battles had been fought for millennia
Resulting in winners or losers,
The quick and the dead.
Jesus stood below his disciples, as a teacher would in a lecture hall.
The backdrop behind Jesus was all about judgment.
Judgment was symbolically laid out before the disciples’ feet,
Lying on the valley floor down below.
On the mountain
The Beatitudes are a lesson taught in context
Of the crowds that Jesus had just been engaged with across Galilee.
When Jesus is speaking about the poor in spirit,
Those who mourn
And those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
He is speaking about the last, the least, the lost, the left behind.
He is speaking about the most vulnerable, the unclean,
Those broken by life and
Those who had been left for dead.
What was expected was a pronouncement of judgment,
As Moses might have done;
As the valley behind Jesus certainly suggested.
The disciples expected judgment.
The wretched, unclean people in the crowds must have sinned,
Must have violated Moses and the Law.
What Jesus did was something altogether different:
Instead of condemning the poor, meek, mourning, and hungry,
Jesus names them as blessed.
Can you hear the gasps?
Can you hear the word “blessed” ring,
As rightly it should?
What does blessed mean?
A few thoughts:
Blessed does not mean holy.
Flawed people are people.
By the way
All people are flawed.
By the way
None of us are holy.
Blessed does not mean happy.
There is no joy in being segregated.
There is no joy in begging.
There is no joy in being isolated.
Being blessed doesn’t make one happy.
Neither does blessed mean being successful.
Blessed means being favored by God.
The kingdom of God going forward will be filled with those God favors.
God favors those who are need of a hand;
A hand out and a hand up.
God favors those who cannot care for themselves,
Who are dependent upon others.
Today, think of the elderly.
Think of children.
Think of those who, through no fault of their own, are disabled “).
Think of those who are ill or dying.
Think of that single mom trying to raise her son or daughter
While taking care of elderly parent who may need to go in the nursing home.
These are whom God favors.
But what about the rest of us? You may ask?
Are we being left out or left behind?
Are we condemned to live by Moses and the Law
Simply because we aren’t dependent,
We aren’t in need,
We aren’t poor?
Are we accepted, too?
Ah, yes, Jesus has room for the rest of us
If we so choose.
God also favors those who lend a hand;
Those who share generously from their hands,
And those who are committed to walking hand in hand
As neighbors and friends of the kingdom.
Blessed are the merciful.
You have God’s favor when you act with mercy,
When you react with empathy,
When you behave with kindness,
And when you open your heart
To the suffering of the world.
Great suffering surrounds us.
Respond with mercy
And live in God’s favor.
Blessed are the pure in heart.
You have God’s favor when you act with pure and transparent motives.
God favors those who promote others, not themselves.
God favors those who serve others, not those who serve themselves.
God favors those who act simply as an agent of God’s love.
Service is the hallmark of Christian leadership.
As reminded by the prophet Micah
In the name of Jesus
And live in God’s favor.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
God favors those who make peace, not those who provoke war.
God favors those who strive to live in peace, not those who incite violence.
God favors those who live in peace, because they are committed to justice
For all God’s children.
So you who are merciful, and pure, and peacemakers,
You’re favored by God, too!
The Beatitudes are about being
In the kingdom of God.
I know it sounds very utopian.
Yet, it is the perfection to which Jesus is calling each of his disciples;
Every member of his fellowship.
God’s kingdom may be now,
But it is still yet to be.
The kingdom of God may sound like it’s filled with love and buttercups,
And it may very well be.
Yet, it comes with a warning.
The bookend Beatitude warns those who strive to find God’s favor,
Who strive for acceptance,
Who long to be included,
Will also face persecution.
People who love the darkness
Will revile you.
People who hate the light
Will utter all kinds of evil against you.
People who oppose God and
The plan that God has for his children
Will lie, and will do so falsely using the name of Jesus.
I have found this to be true.
Heed his warning and weigh the risks.
For me, I choose to be a part of Christ’s fellowship
And to weather the slings and arrows.
In spite of persecution
I will be one who will reach out my hand
To those who need a hand.
This is what it means to be blessed
And to be surrounded with those favored by God.
Won’t you join me?