Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others 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 so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
One of the most difficult things in preaching is to use a very familiar text. First of all, a familiar text is likely to float right by your ears without being heard. “Oh, I know this one. I’ve heard it before.” We say. Our brains turn off, “there is nothing new here, nothing I need to know about this text, and I’ve heard it all before.” It can be a real problem, as far a preaching is concerned. Secondly, since we’ve heard the text so much, since we’ve heard it preached so many times we “know” what it’s all about. We’ve already heard what this one means. I remember what Pastor so-and-so said about it. But, in spite of these ‘difficulties’ I’ve decided to preach on this text anyway. So let’s all put away our preconceived notions about these Beatitudes. Let’s forget that we’ve heard lots of sermons on what Jesus said here. Try to find something new, together…
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them
Let’s picture this crowd, that Matthew describes to us. A few verses earlier he said,
So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. (Matthew 4:24, ESV)
These are the people that are all around in the crowd. Some have traveled days to reach this very spot, just to catch a glimpse of the man who might heal them. Over there is a crippled man. He walks with a stick because each step causes him great pain. Over there is a woman with sores on her skin. The kind that never stop itching, never stop getting infected. Gathered together on the outskirts of the group, avoided by everyone are the Lepers, close enough to hear and see, and not far enough for the crowd. And there are the poor; children whose daily meal consists of a dry crusty piece of bread and a small portion of water. It is a very great crowd… they’re noisy, calling out to Jesus for help, pleading with those around them to take them to him. You can’t escape the smell of sweat, dirt, and sickness. But, they have all come; they have come because they have no where else to turn. They are in desperate need, alone and outcast, looking to Jesus for hope.
And what if you had come, too. What if you and made a day’s journey… or was it two. The time has all blended together, and you can’t rightly remember. The crowds have pressed in on you, and carried you along. So you couldn’t have gotten away, even if you wanted to. But you didn’t want to leave, because you too, have a need. It could be an illness that is bearing down on you, making life unbearable? … Taking away your freedom, your independence? … Causing you pain that you don’t understand? Maybe it’s wondering if you are really going to survive the economy. Will there be enough money to make a living? Will my family survive? Doubts and fears of what will happen to them, if you can’t provide. Or you are suffering over death. Pain that sears up inside you as you remember how it felt to be next to that loved one who is now gone… angry that you have to go on alone. Or you may be haunted by a sickening, painful feeling that won’t leave you alone. A remembrance of something dreadful, pain that you caused someone else or actions that shattered a friendship.
What ever you need, the feelings eat away at your sleep and they interrupt your daylight. You try to forget, but you can’t. And that is why you are here standing before Jesus, one of many in the midst of the crowd, looking to him in the hope, that He can do something about your pain.
Every eye is on Jesus, who has positioned himself to be seen. Every ear is open as silence falls over the crowd, waiting for his words to come. You watch him as his eyes drift from person to person, as he lovingly inspects them. The silence is deafening, and the anticipation grows… finally Jesus speaks:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, ESV)
There is a long pause, as the words float through the crowd, placing themselves in each ear, and making their home in every mind. “Blessed… happy…. fortunate are those who know that they have no where to turn.” The words couldn’t have been better chosen. The crowd, and you, know instantly that Jesus is talking about you… and he has said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to you. You look around you, especially at the man who is leaning on his stick. His illness makes you feel like moving away, and yet Jesus words echo in your mind. “The kingdom of heaven is yours.” You wonder how it can possibly be… and Jesus continues.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, ESV)
Mourning you understand. The emptiness left by death… the alone-ness… the isolation. You have felt it many times as you gathered around the body of a loved one who has died. You know exactly how it feels. Death separates. And that’s what mourning is, separation. And yet Jesus says, you are blessed even though you mourn, because you will be comforted. As Jesus continues you realize that he is speaking as if something is now different than it has been before. … The meek inherit… righteousness is honored… people receive mercy…. and people who are pure in heart see God. These words don’t describe the world as you have known it. You have seen meek people, and they don’t inherit anything but dirt, righteousness is not honored, and mercy is seldom seen. Jesus must be speaking of a new kind of Kingdom. He is talking about a Kingdom of God. And, even more than that, he is speaking as if it is already here, right now... As if he is bringing it.
As the crowd dissipates, as everyone trails home, you wonder about all that you have heard. Especially how the Kingdom of God can be here, how all the things that Jesus said could be true, and yet, there is still insult, and evil, even against the people of God. Jesus had even backed up his words with actions. He went through the crowd and they had seen him heal; and heard him speak. And yet even as Jesus brought comfort, mercy and peace, there still had to be more. The suffering remains, but “great is your reward.”
Still, today we ponder the same realities as the crowd that stood before Jesus that day. We come to him, poor in spirit, with no where to turn. Our sins always before us, ever causing division between us, ever causing unintended pain. We plead to him, “Create in me a clean heart!” And we mourn. Look at the list of those who have gone before us… three pages long and growing. The separation, the loneliness, and the pain, caused by our sins and theirs. And the persecutions… we also see them. Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Our hearts and prayers go out on behalf of those who are suffering directly for their faith. More Christians have died for their faith in the last decade than the first 19 centuries of the church. Still, two thousand years later, and all that Jesus spoke about is still true, and yet he calls us blessed. At times it seems as if his death meant nothing at all.
But it is his death and resurrection that mean everything. Especially for us. Jesus did in fact bring with him the kingdom of God. He rules over it completely. And he rules over it for us. Especially for us, who are poor in spirit, especially when we realize that we have no where else to turn.
Because of his death, when we turn to him with our sins. And then he says, “I forgive you. I will cast your sins into the sea of forgetfulness, and remember them no more. If I have forgotten them they need not trouble you any more!” When we turn to him in our sickness, he says, “I love you. My death and resurrection mean that even as your illness drags you toward your death, I have taken away its victory. I have claimed you. You will not be given more than you can bear.” And when we turn to him in grief, he says, “Why do you seek the living among the dead! I’m alive. These my children will live again. Their separation from you will not last much longer. I am coming again soon. We will all be together again.” And when we cry out to him for those who suffer because they will not deny him, he says, “This evil will not stand long. I am coming soon!”
“Blessed are you.” Jesus says. “Because the Kingdom of God is yours. I have assured it, with my life. I have shown it to you by healing the sick, freeing the captives, and raising the dead. I have promised all this to you, and I seal my promise in my very own blood, given and shed for your forgiveness.”
It was on that hillside, in those words so familiar to us, that Jesus tells us what the kingdom of God is like. It was there that he told us that it had indeed come to us. And it was there that he pointed ahead to the time when he would come again and bring it in its fullest sense, forever. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.