January 28 & 29, 2017 Epiphany 4
Matthew 5: 1-12
Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach 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 be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons 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.”
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
Blessed are the rich, because they can buy whatever they want. Blessed are the strong, because they can take whatever they want. Blessed are the beautiful, because they are given whatever they want. Blessed are the talented and the smart, because they can do whatever they want.
Don’t those words sound strange to you, having just heard Jesus’ words to the contrary in our sermon text? But are they really all that uncommon? This is the way the world works most of the time, isn’t it? Those who have more, must be happier. Those who get what they want are those who are willing to go out and get it. They are the blessed ones, because just look at what they possess!
It’s this mindset that probably brought many people to see Jesus as he began his famous Sermon on the Mount. No doubt they had heard of the wonders that he was doing, the miracles of healing and restoration. Perhaps they had even heard that his message was different, too: good news of grace as opposed to the non-stop demands of the law. But no matter what they heard, it’s safe to assume that they came with the hope that Jesus would make them blessed. They came wanting Jesus to make them happy.
But then Jesus starts preaching: “Blessed are the poor...Blessed are those who mourn...Blessed are the meek...Blessed are those who hunger and thirst.” That doesn’t sound right. That doesn’t seem like anything that would make me happy at all! I don’t want to be the one who cries, I want to rejoice. I don’t want to have anything lacking in my life, I want to have as much as possible. I don’t want to be the person that others step on, I want to be respected and well thought of. If I am going to be all these things that Jesus says, how can I possibly be blessed? Do I really have to be a loser in order to be happy in the way that God wants?
In a word...no. Jesus isn’t telling us that we should make ourselves the doormats of the world. Rather, what he says is that even when you feel like a doormat, you are blessed. Or to put it another way: It’s not the things you possess or the things you achieve that make you happy. God makes you happy; the Lord makes you blessed through what he does for you.
Being poor in spirit doesn’t make you happy; knowing that heaven is your home does. Happiness doesn’t come from mourning the loss of loved ones; it comes from the knowledge that Jesus is the resurrection and the life for them. It’s not the hunger and thirst for righteousness that makes you happy, but the fact that God fills you with the righteousness of Christ. Jesus’ words here aren’t about us, they’re actually about him! Your Heavenly Father sent his Son to live, die and then live again so that you would know his love and be saved. Believing this makes you blessed. Trusting in this makes you happy. How? Because it means you have been shown mercy; it means you have received righteousness; it means you will have the kingdom of heaven.
Don’t believe me? Try these scenarios on for size:
Can you find yourself somewhere among these people whom Jesus calls blessed? The puddle of tears, the walking contradiction, the one who always gives but never seems to receive, the one who proclaims peace with little or no response? Look closely, and you will see that you are not just one of them; you’re all of them. At times you may feel like you’re the only one out there, that no one sees the challenges you face. But Jesus sees each and every one. All the sins, all the weakness, all the fears, all the frustrations, he sees them even more clearly than you. And he looks on you and says, “Blessed. Blessed are you. You have been given my love. You have received my forgiveness. I have died for you and saved you. You will soon know the glory of heaven. So even through all the trials and tears you may face, never forget: Blessed are you by me.”
A German Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who served during the time of the Second World War and stood up to Hitler at the cost of his life, understood the Beatitudes well. He said, “Having reached the end of the Beatitudes, we naturally ask if there is any place on this earth for the community which they describe. Clearly, there is one place, and only one, and that is where the Poorest, Meekest, and most sorely Tried of all men is to be found — on the cross at Golgotha. The community which is the subject of the Beatitudes is the community of the Crucified. With him it has lost all, and with him it has found all.”
Jesus, and Jesus alone, personified the Beatitudes. Only he was everything the law demanded we be: He was poor in spirit and humble even though he alone rightly could be proud since only his heart was perfectly pure with no sin ever committed. He was meek, humbling himself before God the Father by becoming a man, humbling himself before other men becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Jesus mourned over sin, not his own, but ours. And he took action. He hungered and thirsted for our righteousness. He was so hungry that he would willingly cast his soul into the hell of separation from the Father to bring it about.
Yes, Jesus, perfectly practiced what he preached. And so he alone deserves blessings from the Father, but he chose to be persecuted for our righteousness, insulted because of us, and to die for us so that he might be merciful to us and forgive us. He is the perfect Peacemaker, winning peace for us between God and us. And by his work, by practicing what he preached, he gave us God’s blessings. He says to us, “I have saved you. You are mine and I am yours. I will be there always to bless you.”
This is what it means to be blessed. Whether you are at the highest of highs or the lowest of lows, whether all your dreams come true or come crashing down around you, whether shouting with the greatest of joy or crying the most bitter of tears, may you always be moved to say, “Because I have Jesus, I am blessed.” Amen.