Two weeks ago we looked at this passage together. I offered some questions but I also offered these four observations about this text – known as the beatitudes.
The beatitudes are, first of all, words of blessing.
- They speak of God’s blessing and reward to people traditionally thought of as weak, poor, marginalized, and largely forgotten.
- To all of these categories of people, the words of Jesus are powerful words of comfort.
The beatitudes are also words of description.
- Although these are Jesus’ first words of teaching in the gospel of Matthew – there are no guidelines, or rules, or “how to get into the kingdom” sort of tips here.
- But there is nothing here like that. No laws, no rules, no guidelines.
- No description of our sins, nor our need to believe or obey Christ.
- No victorious….or triumphant language here…
- Instead, he describes what God’s kingdom is like. And in that kingdom LOTS of people are blessed and specially loved by God.
The beatitudes are also words of invitation.
- Don’t get me wrong…..Jesus doesn’t invite us to be poor in spirit, or to mourn, or to be meek…..
- But he does perhaps indirectly invite us to live lives that are merciful, pure, righteous, and filled with peace-making.
- Even if you’re not sure HOW to do those things….or to live in those ways…doesn’t it at least make you want to try? Doesn’t it create a hunger and thirst for that kind of living?
Finally, the beatitudes act as a kind of protest.
- Although these are kind and gentle words… they DO describe a world which is upside down from the normal. That was true for Jesus’ disciples…..and it’s true in our day as well.
- It’s a world where God specially blesses and loves LOTS of different kinds of people – especially those that are weak, or marginalized, or discouraged, or who feel powerless.
- It is a protest against our “worldly beatitudes”: the understanding that only the rich, well-educated, healthy, and strong are truly blessed.
- Instead, Jesus’ blessings show that real happiness and the blessing of God is available to all – and especially to those who in this present world may feel un-blessed, or unloved, or unlucky: the poor and poor in spirit, the mournful, the sick, and the weak.
- And so these words, while gentle and loving, are a kind of natural protest against our “normal” way of thinking when it comes to blessings.
Sometimes I’ve read the beatitudes as “suggestions” for how to be. In other words, “IF I can become more pure of heart…..then maybe I’ll see God” or “If I can more completely hunger and thirst for righteousness….then maybe God will fill me”. Almost like “conditions for blessing”.
But again, remember, these are not rules or conditions for God blessing us. Jesus simply blesses the mourning, poverty-stricken, discouraged, and powerless. Unconditional blessing! Not earned.
God wants to bless us MORE than we even want to be blessed! Do you believe that??
Do we see God as a stern, condition-filled blessing-giver? Or do we continue to see ourselves as undeserving of this blessing and love? Do you believe that God just loves you unconditionally…..and wants to bless you? This is crucial to understand.
What encouragement can you take today….just knowing that true blessing and happiness come NOT from power, education, and wealth….. but from a right relationship with God?
I wasn’t sure today what God most wanted me to share through these beatitudes.
It seems like God would want us all to feel deeply blessed….and to bless others freely.
Our society has become very tribal, very polarized, very “us against them”. Jesus said that “they will know you are my disciples by how you love each other.” We sing “they will know we are Christians by our love.” Is that true today? What would happen if we refused to join the “us against them” game? If we refused to withhold blessings and service to anyone?
What would happen if we decided to bless others and serve others regardless of who they are?
This quote from the theologian Rachel Held Evans gives us reason to take stock of our present situation:
“I’ve been watching people with golden crosses around their necks and on their lapels shout at the TV about how serving gay and lesbian people is a violation of their “sincerely-held religious beliefs.” And I can’t help but laugh at the sad irony of it. Two-thousand years ago, Jesus hung from that cross, looked out on the people who put him there and said, “Father, forgive them.” Jesus served sinners all the way to the cross. The truth is, evangelical Christians have already “lost” the culture wars. And it’s not because the “other side” won or because evangelicals have failed to protect our own religious liberties. Evangelicals lost the culture wars the moment they committed to fighting them, the moment they decided to stop washing feet and start waging war. And I fear that we’ve lost not only the culture wars, but also our Christian identity, when the “right to refuse” service has become a more sincerely-held and widely-known Christian belief than the impulse to give it.”
We might simply replace the word “service” in the above quote with “blessing”. What would happen if we truly understood our blessings from God…..and offered blessing and service to everyone freely??
God loves you unconditionally!
God wants to bless you….unconditionally!
You can’t live perfectly – you can’t earn God’s blessing!
He just loves you and wants to bless you.
- Close your eyes…..think of one way (great or small) that God has blessed you this week.
- With your eyes closed…..think of one way that you can bless someone else today. (a comment, a compliment, a helping hand, a financial gift?)
- Think of a person that you have difficulty with…..can you offer a prayer of blessing on them….right now?
- Are you convinced that God loves you just as you are? Yes, God will help us grow….and wishes for our continuing maturity…..and yes, often our growth will come through sorrow and pain. But the question remains….do you really believe that God loves you just as you are? Right now?
Hear the words of the benediction:
“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
(the above was part 2 of the sermon on the Beatitudes, shared on Sunday, February 12, 2023.)