The Beatitudes- Matthew 5:1-11When 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: “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.
Imagine: John Lennon Imagine there's no heaven It's easy if you try No hell below us Above us only sky Imagine all the people Living for today (ah ah ah)
In our desire to learn deepen discipleship and better understand what it means to be a follower of Christ, we have begun a series looking at the Beatitudes, or blessings, from the Jesus's Sermon on the Mount. And two weeks ago when we started this series, we noted the importance of defining our mission; really focusing in on what it is we are supposed to be doing and sharing outside our church walls. We're making a transition from a year in our backyard to walking out into the neighborhood- we've worked on sharing our stories, sharing Christ's story, practiced opening ourselves up to new experiences, new opportunities, new people- and we're doing it together. Jesus tells us "Go and make disciples." (Mt 25) And so this series is designed to help us understand what message it is that we bring to the world to make disciples- what discipleship meant to the earliest disciples, and what it means to us.
We began two weeks ago as we looked at the first beatitude- blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kin-dom of heaven. We talked about the calling of the first disciples- that they were asked by Jesus to simply follow- that Jesus had a plan to change the world in which they lived and bring about shalom- peace. And we noted (as no small aside) that Jesus was Jewish- as were most of the disciples- and for them, the concept of heaven as we know it, was not a factor; that the term 'eternal life' meant a rich full life lived out in community with one another. And this is important enough to mention again, because so much of the "selling point" of our modern Christianity is based in a punishment or reward system. If you become a Christian, you get to go to heaven when you die- if you don't, well, sorry, but you're going to that other place... you know, Hell. And again I will state that I am not trying to take away the vision of heaven anyone might have- please hear this- I believe absolutely that when we pass on from this life we are joined with the creator who knew us before we were in the womb- that God's love and kindness never leave us- God's promise of everlasting love is sure.
But what I am asking us to do is to put ourselves in the place of the earliest disciples, to gain a better understanding of what their motivation was in following Jesus, and so, in the words of John Lennon, to 'imagine there's no heaven', or 'no hell below us.' To ask ourselves in our heart of hearts, 'without the punishment or reward, would you still be a Christian?' Because this is how the Christian movement started 2000 years ago- discipleship, or becoming a follower of the way, as the earliest Christians were called, meant following Jesus's saving plan for the world- how people, with God's help, could fix their broken world.
Jesus outlines his plan on the sermon on the mount. Blessed are the poor in spirit- those who are able to drop their ego, drop working endlessly to gain points for themselves, drop the self focus- for theirs is the kin-dom of heaven- realm of God- God's community. The shift from the individual heart to the communal heart becomes paramount. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted- We don't have to look far, as Pastor Jen reminded us last week, for things to grieve in our world. And yes, God comforts the grieving. As part of Jesus's saving plan for the world, there will be loss; because Jesus's plan for the world does not look a lot like what's in place right now. Jesus knew that all change means loss- all change means loss- even changing to something better there is loss- their is grief. In Jesus's plan we see enacted the breaking down of systems of oppression, dissolution of wealth, eliminating weapons of warfare- and yeah-I mean on the outset it sounds wonderful- utopian- but play each one of those things out. Really play them out. Even the systems that we know are corrupt, even ones we hate to admit we are complicit in sustaining, it's very difficult to picture life without them... the life we know and have come to count on would not exist. Change everything. Blessed are those who mourn- for they will be comforted- the Hebrew word comfort means "to bring about new life..." blessed are those who mourn- God will bring something new.'
And then the third beatitude. This, by the way, is a quote from Psalm 37. So this is not a brand new thought for Jesus, in fact, none of the beatitudes stray from God's original saving plan for humankind. Jesus was in fact, reiterating God's plan that had gone off track. He quotes: "Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth." What do you think of when you think of the word 'meek?' The greek word for meek here is used a few other times in scripture- all in the same way- and its a word that was mainly used in the training of horses. Praus means a place of restraint- where the power, force, or violence we could use, us put away for a spirit of temperance, balance, peace. The root of the word means equilibrium, meaning an even spirit. So for instance, the captain of a ship might show meekness when the ship sails into a storm but the captain remains calm and in control of the vessel. It means to have a mastery over oneself, one's temper, and also one's instincts.
The most modern example we have of meekness displayed on a large scale is the civil rights movement. When Martin Luther King instructed people in the ways of non-violent non compliance. "We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts.” Kings followers were taught to withstand abuses hurled at them, to not defend themselves with violence, to take the position always of love for enemies as a means to better understand those enemies. And King was doing more than enacting a way of being, a way of meekness- he was also naming the final outcome or the hoped for result of this way of meekness- "Our end is a community at peace with itself."
"Our end is a community at peace within itself..." Sounds a lot like the kin-dom of heaven, kin-dom of God Jesus talked about. Or in the words of John Lennon "Imagine all the people living for today. To reiterate, we are disciples of Jesus to help bring about God's saving plan for the world. If this plan, for us, is the same as for Jesus's first disciples, and we also adopt a stance of restraint, as they did...
Actually, did you know there was a movement of non violent non-compliance in Judea in the time of Jesus? Between the years 26-36 CE,"Jews demonstrated in Caesarea to try to convince Pontius Pilate not to set up Roman standards, with images of the Roman emperor and the eagle of Jupiter, in Jerusalem (both images were considered idolatrous by religious Jews). Pilate surrounded the Jewish protesters with soldiers and threatened them with death, to which they replied that they were willing to die rather than see the laws of the Torah violated."(1) So again, this concept was no new, and so when Jesus talked about meekness, and restraint, his listeners would have understood what this meant. I wonder... do we? Are we willing to be schooled in the ways of meekness, and stand together for Godly justice? If we are, then we need to redefine out modern forms of protest- with hate signs and anger and screaming names at one another. If we are, then we have to be willing to learn to not fight back with violence, ever. Play that one out. No more weapons of war- no more systems of oppression, no more individual wealth- what does life look like without the systems of safety (because you do realize thats why we have those systems, yes? We want to protect ourselves, secure ourselves, sustain ourselves... blessed are the poor in spirit...)
When we break down earthly systems and enact the ways of Christ-like discipleship... yes, we leave ourselves wide open to all kinds of things. But because of meekness, because of training and mastering our spiritual equilibrium- which is our faith in God, our connection to community, our love of Christ, when the storms come, and they will- we will be like that captain, calm and in control of our vessel.
Take a breath. I'm not asking anyone today to go out and stand surrounded by the Roman army.
Remember where we are. Remember the way Christ's movement started- it begins right here. It begins in our own neighborhood, right outside the gate of our backyard. It begins in our homes, in our schools, at our jobs, in our local government. Practicing meekness begins every morning in our first prayer of the day- in submitting ourselves to God's will for us.
I wonder, if we broke this concept of non violence down to the individual level- how different would our relationships be? If we didn't react even to our loved ones in anger. If we didn't name call, or back bite, or even something as simple as not rolling our eyes at someone behind their back? What if we didn't allow ourselves to be controlled by our own instincts to snap back with sarcasm, or shoot a look, or even raise a fist?
And I get it- its so difficult to control that temper. It's so difficult not to fly off the handle, especially with the people closest to us- my gosh we've told them 100 times!! How many times do we let it go? How many times do we show restraint- how much forgiveness-
Let me ask you- how many times does God let it go? How many times does God forgive?
Now the greatest gift in all of this, truly, besides the fact that when meekness catches on, it will change the world- that's what it means for the meek to inherit the earth. But for us, today, right here, the greatest gift is that we get to learn meekness together. We get to practice it in community. We get to train for storms as one body. Will we mess up? You betcha! Will we hurt each other because someone didn't think through something, or someone reacted with instinct instead of restraint- and when those times come we learn- we discuss- we hone our skills- we forgive. God has us here, together, for this season for a reason- on purpose. Will you work together with me to learn to be a community at peace with itself? Can we submit ourselves to the ways of Christ and be blessed in meekness?
I believe with my whole heart that we can. If I didn't I would not be sharing this level with you- there are a million ways to preach this sermon that are less risky, less threatening, and that requires much less of us. But my friends, I believe God is calling this community to be a part of the movement of Jesus Christ- to be followers of the way... the kin-dom of God is at hand- imagine all the people, living for today- ahhhh.