This week I begin teaching a 12 week class at West Side Presbyterian Church entitled Following Jesus Christ in the Real World: Reflections on the Sermon On the Mount. We will be taking an in-depth look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), how it has been interpreted in the history of the Christian Church and how we are called to live it out in the real world of the 21st century. We will explore what it means to be “blessed” by God, what it means to be the salt and light of the world, and what it means to live out and embody the Gospel of Jesus Christ in light of everyday life in the real world. All who are invited to explore the true meaning of what it means to be a disciple/follower/learner of Jesus Christ and who take that exploration seriously.
To understand the text of the Sermon on the Mount one must know the context of the text. In Matthew's Gospel account of the Sermon on the Mount, it is placed immediately after the calling of the first disciples (followers/learners/apprentices) to follow. Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was at hand and invited people to pay attention, to repent (turn around and walk in a new way), to believe (to put one's trust in someone or something), to follow and to be agents of transformation in the world. What would that look like lived out? The Sermon on the Mount!
How does it begin? Jesus speaks of the ones who are blessed...those upon whom God's grace and favor and loving-kindness rests. And what an odd teaching that runs so contrary to everything we have been usually taught concerning God's blessing... The word blessed (in Hebrew ashr/Greek makarioi) fundamentally means God bless (Dale Bruner and Robert Guelich) or more plainly "I, your God, am on your side and am with you. It is the communication/pronouncement that conveys a blessing to the recipient; An exhortation to live a certain way; A congratulation to certain persons living in certain situations.
But what are the Beatitudes and what do they mean?
1. Blessed are the poor/humble for theirs is the
2. Blessed are those who mourn/grieve/sad, for they shall be comforted...we do not tend to think of those who mourn/grieve as being blessed, yet we can because of the promise of God's comfort and healing to all who mourn/grieve for any reason...not just when people die or become ill or for victims of great tragedy, but also for those who mourn over the state of the world and its dissonance with the reality of the kingdom of God and its coming. [To feel a deep sense of loss and that the pain that accompanies it]
3. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth...this one is almost laughable in today's culture as the one's we believe are blessed are the self-assertive, the powerful, the self-realized, the one's with good self-image, the self-made, etc. because they get what they want. [To have a proper sense of self-evaluation…to not think too highly of oneself…humility]
4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied...where or where is the hunger and thirst for God's righteousness or may I dare say holiness and then we wonder why we are so dissatisfied with our lives...My friend and colleague Dave Rohrer from University Presbyterian Church here in Seattle just preached a great 3 sermon series on Satisfaction (www.upc.org) and his comment that has stayed with me was "the reason most people are dissatisfied is that they focus on what they do not have, rather than what they have or should hope for." (rough paraphrase)
5. Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy…this is the one which we probably most identify with in our own lives. We love people who extend and minister mercy to us and others, but the question is are we willing to be a people who show mercy to others?
6. Blessed are the pure in heart/whose wills are surrendered totally to God, for they shall see God...purity of heart now there is one you don't hear much about in today's culture or church. “purity of heart is to will one thing” (read Soren Kierkegaard)
7. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God...if being a peacemaker is about building bridges over relational chasms whether they be personal, societal or global, you had better plan on being walked on by both sides. And yet peacemaking and reconciliation is the heart of the Gospel (see the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4-5). I never sensed that more than during my years in
8. Blessed are the persecuted...we have no idea in this country what this means! There are so many around the world, who because they seek to follow Jesus faithfully and with conviction, find themselves on the outs in their culture, put in prison/workcamps and even put to death...all for following Jesus. If it were to come to us, would we be willing to stand in a long line of Christian history willing to be persecuted or put to death? Jesus says that if we are persecuted we stand in a long tradition going back to the Old Testament prophets. Dietrich Bonhoeffer went so far as to suggest that if we are not being persecuted for our faith, we should check the status of our discipleship...ie. to be a disciple means to be persecuted or to suffer for the sake of the Gospel.
Well what do we do and what are we called to be and become in light of hese Beatitudes/Blessings? How would our description of the blessed life compare with the description Jesus gives?
Doug Webster says that "This is the way of life we have receive, not the life we have to achieve. This speaks to God’s providence in our lives, not our human performance."
In the end the Beatitudes describe Jesus Christ as the Blessed One (see Psalm 1) who in turn invites us into the blessed way, truth and life of the triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Only in this way will we be able to know and experience the true blessing of God and in turn be the salt and light of Christ in the world.