We are about to embark on a journey. The readings from the gospel of Matthew for the next three weeks will allow us the opportunity to look in depth at parts of the Sermon on the Mount—Jesus’ first public ministry appearance. So, let me set the scene—let’s run the “previously” montage.
Jesus has been born; a star has appeared in the heavens; wise ones have come to worship (telling King Herod about this new king); Joseph, Mary, and Jesus have had to flee to Egypt to escape an infant genocide; Jesus returns and grows up in Galilee; Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan; Jesus is tempted in the wilderness; Jesus begins his ministry by proclaiming repentance and calling Simon and Andrew and James and John; great crowds start to follow Jesus as he preaches and heals.
So, if you lived in that time and place, you have been hearing about this rock star preacher and healer. And, WOW, he’s going to be playing in your neck of the woods. You call in and are able to get tickets to this sold-out show on the grassy expanse “up the mountain.” And you arrive, put down your blanket, pull out your packed lunch, and excitedly settle in.
Maybe you are just curious about why everyone is talking about this guy, Jesus. Maybe you have a health concern you are hoping he can address (after the big talk, of course). Maybe you have already committed to being a follower, and you’ve walked away from your old life, and now you need some instructions about what comes next. Maybe you imagine that there is some special formula for getting God’s attention, or something good will rub off on you and your life. Whatever, you are ready, you think.
And Jesus’ voice rings out, “Blessed.” Yes, this is what you have come for. “Bless me, Jesus” you hear some young girls screaming at the front of the crowd. But Jesus is quiet—and that makes everyone else quiet. You shift back and forth, repeating to yourself the mantra, “Bless me, Bless me, Bless me.” You can’t wait to find out what you will be able to post on your twitter feed--#Blessed. (The top three posts when I was writing this were about a missing cat’s return; someone getting into colleges early; and buying a first home.)
“Blessed” said Jesus again. “Blessed are the poor in spirit; Blessed are those who mourn; Blessed are the meek; Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; Blessed are the merciful; Blessed are the pure in heart; Blessed are the peacemakers; Blessed are those who are persecuted; Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” Whoa, Jesus. What kind of blessings are those?
Certainly not something that is going to get a lot of retweets on #Blessed. But let’s think about this. We know that Jesus often speaks in parables which turns things upside down and inside out. The Sermon on the Mount, it seems, starts like that as well. Maybe the twisting of expectations isn’t a secret code to keep out the uninitiated, but is trying to shock us into giving up our world view and moving more towards God’s. The Apostle Paul talks about this in 1 Cor., saying
“Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Cor. 1:26-29)
So, guess what, if you are a follower of Jesus, bets are your #Blessed isn’t going to trend. Because, the world, and sometimes we, think we know what we want. We want Jesus to be preaching a prosperity gospel. We want Jesus to make our lives great, or at least better, in tangible terms. That’s what we think Blessed is all about.
As I thought about the people gathered on that mountain in the gospel of Matthew, and as I think about those of us gathered here, or gathered at any church service this morning, I bet that there are people who just don’t feel like their faith is strong; I know there are those who mourn, and those who are unsure, and those who desperately want justice, and those who, beyond all measure, have been merciful, those who don’t even know they are pure in heart, those who live out peace, maybe even those who have been persecuted.
Here’s the turn. Jesus declares, you, and you, and you, are ALREADY Blessed. Now, on the one hand, that is great—as great as discovering that someone loves you for all of you, loves you in spite of your flaws and rough edges, loves you “just the way you are” (or as the old hymn puts it “just as I am”). If getting a blessing is going to propel us into greater glory—if we think we need our rabbit’s foot, or our lucky jersey, or whatever else is going to bring us more blessings—then Jesus says—you already have it. You are already loved, already important, already “enough,” even in the midst of life that often doesn’t feel Blessed.
Ok, so, in this “God view” universe—Blessedness, the touching of our lives by God, is already occurring. But along with the shock of WHO is blessed, comes the actual blessings themselves. Again, upside down and inside out: the kingdom of heaven; being comforted; inheriting the earth; being filled; receiving mercy; seeing God; called children of God. These are not things one can go and deposit in the world bank. These are kingdom things, the proverbial “gold stars” in heaven that I often joke about.
But the second part of the “Blessing” isn’t random. It is a statement of God with us in these times. It is a glimpse of the true treasure that comes with living a life that seems foolish in “the world’s eyes.” But for those who want to be a part of this new way, it is a promise that when we are one of the Blessed (as everyone is, or can be), there is another side of the coin, there is a corresponding gift from God.
There we are, at the live show, and Jesus has asked us to reimagine ourselves and our lives. Jesus has told us that there is a different world, a kingdom of heaven, that can break through the world we live in, that has God standing with us, and grabbing our hand, and inviting us to walk deeper into this strange and holy place.
What a beginning. Can’t wait to see what comes next.
I challenge us this week to consider what Blessing we are in right now (and how God’s “reward” might be showing up in our lives). I challenge us this week to pick another Blessing that we want to work on. I pray that we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear and mind to grasp what kingdom of heaven signs appear. May we be ready to hear Jesus talking to us. “Blessed.” Blessed are you.
May it be so. Alleluia, Amen.
“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.