Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said:
"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 be shown 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 because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." - Matthew 5:1-12
The foolishness of God is very upsetting. You don’t want a fool for a God but that is what you have. But not the type of fool you think him to be. For the foolishness he speaks of is meant to absolutely upset your reality. It is meant to destroy any semblance of certainty you may have in your own wisdom, knowledge, or strength. The weakness God portrays is so powerful that it actually kills you. Puts your sin to death. Brings you to an end only to raise you up in newness of life, and this new life looks so weird, so misunderstood, so foolish.
I love Matthew 5. I love the Sermon on the Mount, which we begin today and we will be looking at over the course of the next month leading up to Lent. I enjoy it in part because it is one of the most favored portions of Scripture, but also because it is one of the most misinterpreted, poorly applied, bastardized portions of the entire Bible. I hear people say they love it, and they recite it, and wonder – Have they actually read it?
You see it used as a legal baton to beat people over the head. I have seen it used as a description of Jesus the Activist, as though this is his political manifesto. It is used to judge even though a few verses later Jesus says the exact opposite. It is used to paint a picture of the Kingdom in golden hues as though it is such a pretty picture of Christian virtue because we hear poor, meek, righteousness, justice, mercy, peace. But listen to the actual statements.
Those who are poor in spirit are blessed because the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
Blessed are those bankrupted spiritually, the spiritually worthless, the spiritually disadvantaged. In them you see the Kingdom of heaven. The blessing being seen when your spirit is crushed. When you may feel the farthest from God. When your soul is so burdened by sin that you cannot stand. When you are at a disadvantage of not having any spiritual worthiness. Why? Because the Kingdom of heaven is yours. The Kingdom of God being for those who have nowhere else. Not a single other kingdom of choice. And it doesn’t stand as a kingdom earned if you can be poor enough but a promise given in Christ right now to you that it exists as yours because it was for those burdens, those sins of judgement and shame, that Christ came, and always comes in His kingdom. All for you.
Those who are mourning are blessed because they shall be comforted.
Blessed aren’t the happy. Blessed aren’t the joy-filled. Christ says to you, when you are experiencing sorrow or mourning, there it is that God exists for you to be with you in the desert, in the darkness. In the places we feel less blessed is where God is showering us with the comforts of the Gospel. The joys of resurrection, life after death. It is when we feel most alone, most abandoned, most fearful that God shows us his blessing.
Those who are humble are blessed because they shall inherit the earth.
The humble, the gentle, the meek, the unassuming, the least popular, the ones whom we do not notice. Those are the blessed ones. The ones we don’t pay attention to or those whom we ignore. Those who have no desire to inherit the earth. Those ones are blessed with the inheritance of a lifetime. The ones who don’t even try to be humble. Who somehow it just happens. Those are blessed. Otherwise our humility becomes pride. Our sense of – look at me and my meekness. Then the whole cycle begins again of pride, sin, guilt, humility. Losing the truth of the Gospel of the work of the Spirit to kill our conceit.
The story is told of a Swedish pastor who was glad that he was humble, because you are supposed to be humble. (You know us Swedes) But then he was sad that he was glad that he was humble, because in his gladness he was not humble anymore. But then he was glad that he was sad that he was glad that he was humble, because he was humble again.
Humility is not the key to the subjugation of the earth, but the gift of God with a promise. A promised inheritance, which is not something we earn but something granted to us because of the death of another. Our dying to ourselves, but also Christ’s death which brings life.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed because they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the hungry and thirsty. We like that. We get hungry and thirsty. We want to take care of those who hunger and thirst. But what can we do to bring this righteousness or justice. This is one of those passages used to advocate for all sorts of different policies and reforms. But our problem is that we become the definers of righteousness and justice. We become the ones who decide, but like the addicts of the world we are, we get one little piece of justice or righteousness here and we need more. We tend to find ourselves then encroaching on one another with our impression of both righteousness and rightness and never see the world as God’s working out of these things. The blessing being seen as this desire for righteousness, righteousness before God, who shall satisfy us. God becoming our satisfaction in all the ways the world fails us.
Those who are merciful are blessed because they shall receive mercy.
We all love mercy, unless its granted to someone we hate. We all want mercy unless it means showing mercy to a criminal, or neighbor, a coworker, an estranged spouse, a politician, a billionaire, a President. We use this as some sort of call for us to go around and beat people up – You’re not merciful enough! You have to show mercy! Be merciful or I’ll sue you! But blessed are the ones who show mercy, or clemency, for they shall receive it. Maybe we should change this text around a little and say, blessed are those who show mercy, because the mercy they show is from God. Blessed are those who show mercy, because God has shown them mercy. Blessed are those who proclaim the Gospel to their enemies, because God has given Christ to them in his mercy.
Those who are pure in heart are blessed because they shall see God.
A pure heart is not what you think. Not some sort of cleanliness that causes you to be selected by God over another, or to make you different from someone else. The idea is one of being free from guilt. A heart not holding onto a past that we think disqualifies us. Hearts that have been washed, unstained, given the oxy-clean that is Jesus. Having been reborn, not living in the death that is what we think to be life. Instead living in the light Christ offers to us in mercy and victory over all that might entangle us or dirty our hearts.
Those who are peacemakers are blessed because they shall be called sons of God.
How much we love this one, especially in today’s world is amazing. We use this as a rallying cry against all those we think who are not for peace. It becomes our dividing line against all enemies of peace to say – make peace dammit, or else! But it says, blessed are the ones who make peace. Not because the non-peacemakers to do so, but make peace with the non-peacemakers. Make peace with those who don’t want it. Make peace with those whom we don’t want to have peace with. With those we want to fight against. Those whom we declare war upon. I’ll give you a second to think of what is happening in our country right now.
Blessed are those who make peace with (fill in the blank). Donald Trump. Mike Pence. The Police. Men. Women. People of color. We do our own work of alternative facts when we use our own declared war upon the less-than-peaceful in order to demand peace. That’s not peace-making.
Instead God says, you are blessed when you make peace with the one’s you are warring against, or are warring against you, because that is the work of God. That’s how God makes his children. Bringing peace. Peace through a death. Peace through baptism. Peace through the breaking of a body and the bleeding of blood for you. And he has done it whether you are at peace with everyone or not. This is not a rallying cry for kingdom building, but a place to die in order to be birthed again as children of God.
Those who have been persecuted because of righteousness are blessed because The Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. You are the blessed ones when they might heap insults upon you, and persecute you, and in lying say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because your reward in heaven is great; for thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
This is where the political Jesus that we picture begins to die. Blessed when you are persecuted. What a completely abandoned idea. This is one of those - Whoa there, Jesus. I think you had a few too many barley pops at the wedding in Cana. Blessed are the persecuted. Blessed are you when they mock you, insult you, speak evil of you, lie about you. That is no way to picture blessings. We want wealth, and health, and power. We want things our way. We don’t want to think that the Kingdom of God is seen in the one who is despised.
Think of the world we live in now in which not only do we have a discussion taking place about alternative facts, but we are surrounded by nothing but bad words spoken about each other. Nothing good is said of opposing sides. Take the time to find anything good said of an opponent by anyone. It’s nowhere to be seen.
Blessed are you when they heap insults upon you, persecute you, and spread falsehoods about you. Luther tells us in the Small Catechism – We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.
That changes everything. Discovering the Kingdom of God at work in persecution opens us up to understanding why the cross. The cross being the way criminals were executed. The way we did everything to demean and shame someone while they died. Seeing that weakness and foolishness is God’s game plan we can realize how absurd we are as followers of Jesus. How often we can’t imagine such a king as one who plans his kingdom out as one that uses the spiritually undeserving, the sorrowful, the meek, those lacking righteousness and wanting it more than food. A kingdom built on mercy rather than vengeance. On making peace with the enemy and giving his inheritance to those who are persecuted and not celebrated.
All because that is this picture of Jesus. One who humbled himself, becoming a slave for your sake, because he hungers to give you his righteousness, to give you his assurance that all is right between you and God before you ever think to use the Beatitudes as the new 10 commandments. These are not prescriptive measures of who is in and who is out. These are not even descriptive measures of who is good to go and who is not. These are disclosures of God’s promises to you from his upside-down kingdom. That the Kingdom is yours even when you don’t deserve it. That the inheritance is yours even when you think you deserve more. That the peace is yours even when you are at war. And the righteousness of God is yours because Christ has made it so.
When we fail, and we do, often before we get to the parking lot, Christ still stands as this same one speaking to you of these gifts. Of this life that is made up of such foolishness. That when we pick our sides and try and decide where we stand, Christ has an even better thing for us. We come to him and say – Jesus, at least I am better than that guy. And Christ throws that in the trash and says what else you got. Then we realize we have nothing. Nothing to give or bring but our sin. Christ says – that’s all I need. Amen