Matthew 5 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)The Beatitudes5 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.
Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can. No need for greed or hunger. A brotherhood of man- John Lennon. Such an idealist, that John Lennon. Daring to imagine a world where things are shared, where people are so aware of our connectedness to one another that greed can not take root, where hunger does not exist. Lennon imagines a world where all humanity is united as siblings- a family united in love- as one.
We've been spending time looking at the Beatitudes and hopefully hearing them with fresh ears. We have waded through the first six verses and with each new teaching came something we had to recognize, something we had to let go of, or something we had to do. But the first six beatitudes are stair steps to the seventh, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called, Children ofGod." This is the climax of the passage, where the other beatitudes lead us. We want to be called Peacemakers. We want to be called "Children of God."
But notice; not until we have (go through them with me from the call to worship) become poor in spirit, learned meekness, hunger and thirst for righteousness, acted mercifully, and have approached God and others with pure motives, are we ready to take up the call to become peacemakers. It's as if Jesus gives us all of the attributes of Peacemakers, and what the Children of God look like in the world.
A quick aside, notice this beatitude does not say, "peace lovers" or "peace receivers" or even "peace-preachers" are called Children of God. It is the makers of peace, those who can figure out a way to actively live differently. Peacemaking is not something you turn on and off. It's a conscious choice you make every day; an intentional way of living.
And I believe Jesus put it here (and I could be over thinking, but stay with me) because he knew that this beatitude is the one that could get his followers in trouble with Rome, otherwise known as the empire. All of the first 6- they are tough changes to be sure, but one can do all of those things and still live within the framework of the Empire. But make that jump to Peacemaker... make that jump from talking about the oppression to working to stop it... well, that's the stuff that gets you noticed. Why? Because oppression doesn't end without a power shift- meaning, power has to be removed from the oppressor, and given to the oppressed. And if history has shown us anything, power is rarely given- it's taken. So yeah- peacemaking gets noticed.
In fact, the last two beatitudes give coming attractions to those who adopt peacemaking as a lifestyle- punishment and persecution. But we'll get to that next week. For today- let's talk a little about what it means to be a peacemaker in the empire. And to do that, we need to talk about the empire for a moment, and I will use the term empire interchangeably with government, or state.
The empire, runs on and by, power. Power is gained in two ways- by violence, or seduction. The first, violence, can happen quickly (as in a war) or slowly, over time. We have talked previously about the slow takeover of a free people that happens where rights are stripped away little by little, so slowly in fact that a truly oppressed people will think that their circumstances are, though unfair, normal; that changing their situation is beyond hope. An oppressed people has had no choice but to have given their allegiance to the state.
Now, for the Roman empire, those who would not give their allegiance to the state, namely, Christians, faced persecution. Profess Caesar as God, or be punished. The thing is, persecution didn't really work as a tactic, did it? Here we are 2000+ years later, and Christianity is one of the major world religions. And yes, Christians are still being persecuted in parts of the world. But why don't you hear so much about persecution in our nation, in the American Empire?
It brings me to the second way the empire gains power- through seduction-What the kings and generals could not do with violence, governments can do with the promises of pleasure, even peace. And what greater pleasure than that of power offered by the empire. Safety, security, strong borders, prosperity! Give over the lawmaking and the peacekeeping to the state, and the state does what it must; (tax, use violence, oppress) to keep everyone in line, (a small price to pay for all that security) and to keep everyone in love with the state. That's how the seduction tactic works- by continued love of country. We'r taught to love the empire from the time we're in elementary school. Governments have their own colors, their own anthems, their own call when it comes time to rally round the flag. Seduction is the more powerful of the two. Even for the church: If you just go along with us, let the church be incorporated into the empire, there will be something in it for everybody.
The thing is, As Children of God, our first allegiance, is to Jesus and the kin-dom of God. God's law comes first; God's commandments to love, to forgive, to not judge one another, to not resist evil, not swear to or by anything... This is the problem that Christians face living in the empire. The commandments of Christ rival the laws of the state. 'The state does not like having rivals. It's why we can never have a Christian nation. There can be Christians IN nations, but what God requires of us, and what the state requires of us, can not be reconciled.' (1)
The passage Bev read to us this morning illustrates just how far back the struggle about being the people of God in the empire goes. The people came to Samuel and demanded that they have a king, just like the other nations. Samuel prayed to God begging God to change the hearts of the people. But God’s response was “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me.” But God also tells Samuel to warn the people of the consequences of their request. [responsive reading]So Samuel told them, delivered God’s warning to the people who were asking God to give them a king telling them what God said, “This is the way the kind of king you’re talking about operates. He’ll take your sons and make soldiers of them—chariotry, cavalry, infantry, regimented in battalions and squadrons. He’ll put some to forced labor on his farms, plowing and harvesting, and others to making either weapons of war or chariots in which he can ride in luxury. He’ll put your daughters to work as beauticians and waitresses and cooks. He’ll conscript your best fields, vineyards, and orchards and hand them over to his special friends. He’ll tax your harvests and vintage to support his extensive bureaucracy. Your prize workers and best animals he’ll take for his own use. He’ll lay a tax on your flocks and you’ll end up no better than slaves. The day will come when you will cry in desperation because of this king you so much want for yourselves. But don’t expect God to answer.” 19-20 But the people wouldn’t listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We will have a king to rule us! Then we’ll be just like all the other nations. Our king will rule us and lead us and fight our battles.”
God was right about rulers and nations, especially their violence and corruption. (Not just the gospels, but) The entire New Testament was written in the context of the Roman empire. The most dangerous words out of the mouths of Christians was Jesus is Lord when everyone was required, under penalty of death, to proclaim Caesar as Lord. The religious leadership of Israel had come to an uneasy truce with Rome. Rome was good at both using violence to control the people and the seduction of power for the religious leaders. (2)
The thing is, we're not so different that our Christian ancestors who had to choose whether to live within the seductive tactics of the empire, or risk being persecuted for proclaiming allegiance to God, rather than government. No one can serve two masters, Jesus tells us. And so my friends, the choice is up to us- as individuals and as a church. Will we live within the framework of the empire, or live within the framework of what God requires? Will we risk moving from talking about oppression to trying to stop it?
The intentional way in which we will live as Children of God means more giving over, & more giving up, but not giving in. We must stand where God has placed us, notice the things around us that need healing, the people who need help, the world that needs hope- and bring peace in every step. Following the example of Jesus will not be easy; it will surely mean risk. However,
"Jesus told us the Realm of God is in our midst and we can discover it with each other, and it has way more to offer than any kingdom or nation we have experienced. All the promises our nations offer are empty ones. The only life that will truly satisfy is the life Christ exemplified for us. Jesus came to show is that the world as we know it, needs peacemakers- needs the children of God to rise up and live according to the teachings of Christ, to enact God's saving plan for the world.
Such an idealist, that Jesus. Daring to imagine a world where things are shared, where people are so aware of our connectedness to one another that greed can not take root, where hunger does not exist. The beatitudes imagine a world where all humanity is united as siblings- a family united in love- as one.
And I know that this sounds like Jesus is asking us to go out and change the world- he is. And Jesus was quite aware of the enormity of the "ask." But he also knew the process for us to get there. It's why he asks us to count the cost. It's why he asks us to begin this process in the deepest depths of our heart- the center of our being. It's why we begin with ourselves- being peacemakers within ourselves- delving into who we are, what we really believe, what we fear, who we need to forgive, (even if that someone is us) find out what were passionate about- what and who comes first in our lives. That's how we make peace with ourselves- we set our own priorities. And then we move out to family, friends, community and beyond. Peace, as the song says, truly does begin with me. It's why Jesus took time with individuals- we need one on on time with Jesus Amen?
And I know that its easy to look at the examples of peacemakers in the world and make those people into larger than life figures, so much so that we can't see ourselves as coming close to walking in their footsteps. That's ok. You dont have to walk in their footsteps- that was their path. You have your own. (Transition in to song)