Sunday Sermie

The children's sermon today was a very heart-warming scene! I put out a note on Facebook a few days ago, inviting people to bring diapers, canned fruits, and canned veggies to church (all requests we've received at church in the past week from local families in need).

The kids brought these items forward during the children's sermon. I shared a story from the Jesus Storybook Bible about how much Jesus loved kids. He loved to help them and heal them. He wanted to make sure they were safe and loved. Then we talked about how there are kids in our town who don't have all of the things they need. I asked, "So, if there are children we know need help, what should we do?" The kids got it 100%. They said, "We should share our stuff." And, "We should help them." And, "We should invite them over to play." It was terrific. 

For the other sermon - I waited to read the Gospel text until about halfway through. Here's a look at the Sunday sermie...

Today’s Gospel text is from the Gospel of Matthew, the 5th chapter. It’s still quite early on in Jesus' ministry. It’s worth taking a moment to review what’s happened in Matthew thus far. Here’s a summary:
·        Chapters 1-2: Baby Jesus
·        Chapter 3: John the Baptist and adult Jesus being baptized
·        Chapter 4: Jesus is tempted in the wilderness & calls his disciples
·        That brings us to chapter 5. Today’s gospel. Regularly called the Sermon on the Mount. Or, as today's sermon title reflects – “Mountain Teachings with Jesus”

Three whole chapters of Matthew - Chapters 5, 6, and 7 - are devoted to these mountain teachings of Jesus. They really set the tone of Jesus’ whole ministry. And for the next several weeks, our Gospel lessons are taken from these chapters.

Take a moment to imagine the scene. Our Gospel mentions that that were big crowds gathering around Jesus, so he went up a mountain. And his disciples came, too. Then Jesus sat down. This little detail is important. 2000 years ago, when a religious teacher sat down, it was a strong signal. It meant that everyone else should sit down, too, because some major teaching was about to take place.

Before I read the Gospel, I want to say a few things about a word that Jesus uses again and again in this lesson. This preface is meant to prepare your ears. Jesus uses one word 9 times. 9 times Jesus uses the word “Blessed” – or “blessed.” Jesus spoke Aramaic, so first the word was spoken in that language. Then it was translated into Greek which was the language Matthew wrote in. In Greek – the word is: Makarios. And now we have it in English. Blessed. Blessed is a great word – but it doesn’t quite get at the heart of what Jesus meant. This sometimes happens when something is translated through multiple languages. Generally – we think of blessed as – happy, privileged, fortunate.

In this Gospel, Jesus says things like: Blessed are the poor in spirit….blessed are the meek…..blessed are those who mourn…..blessed are those who are persecuted. Persecution, poverty, and grief are not generally states of being that we associate with happiness.

Jesus is getting at something deeper in this Gospel text – in this mountain teaching. When Jesus says, “Blessed” – it’s about something that goes so much deeper than our surface level emotional state. Jesus is talking about a state of being which comes to us straight from God – a way of being that isn’t dependent on our circumstances or mood. It’s deep peace, understanding, connectedness with God, complete joy. So when your ears hear that word “blessed” remember that it’s describing something much deeper than happiness.

In our Gospel for today, Jesus takes everything we think we know about happiness and joy and success – and then pushes RESET. 

We all have to push reset on various electronic items sometimes, right? My computer is about 6 years old now, and it regularly freezes up. Maybe you have to occasionally reset your cell phone. Today’s gospel is a total reset. Jesus says that blessedness – true happiness – deep peace….come in unexpected places…through unexpected experiences. Not with tons of wealth and a perfect life – but in humility, working for justice, and even in deep grief.

This is the holy Gospel according to Matthew, the 5th chapter: 

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then 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. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

If we boiled down all of the teachings of Jesus in a giant pot….and we stirred and stirred…and boiled and boiled…..today’s Gospel would be in many ways, the thick syrup that remained. They are the Gospel of Jesus: Condensed…a summary of how Jesus invites us to look at the world and its inhabitants. 

Since today’s Gospel really is a kind of “reset” – it’s worth looking briefly at each verse through a slightly different filter. When verses become too familiar, we sometimes forget or look past their deep meaning. These words of Jesus today are almost too familiar. We need a different approach. A new filter.

 It's kind of like using Instagram or any photo editor…with editing software, you can make the photo Black and white or sepia or a million different appearances. It’s worth using different filters with Bible texts…ESPECIALLY familiar ones.  When we look at these verses in a new way - suddenly we see and understand them in a refreshed way. I'll read the first part of the verse, and then I invite you to read the second part.

5:3 - Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are the poor in spirit = spiritual humility…those who recognize that they can’t do life  on their own, who aren’t puffed up with pride but are able to put their whole trust in God

5:4 - Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are those who mourn =the grief that comes along with losing loved ones…it also describes the grief and mourning we experience when we come face to face with sin and suffering and heartbreak; Jesus promises comfort to those experiencing grief.

5:5 - Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are the meek. Meek does not mean weak or dainty. Meek in its truest sense is self-control, humility, and understanding….Jesus describes that deep joy and peace come through meekness. That’s really something worth chewing on....meekness is definitely not among the top qualities encouraged by society and culture today.

5:6 - Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. In its original form, this verse reads more like…blessed are those who yearn so deeply for a world that is fair and just…that it’s basically like they are starving and dehydrated….describing a world where all people long so completely for goodness and justice that it fills up their whole being. Wow. That would really be something.  

5:7 - Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the merciful – those who are able to see the world through other people’s eyes….to extend kindness and compassion and forgiveness even when people don’t deserve it

5:8 - Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the pure in heart – NOT describing those who are perfect and super innocent. Jesus is saying, “blessed are those who can recognize God’s presence” and don’t let their own judgments and motives get in the way

5:9 -  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are the peacemakers – one of the most familiar verses of The Beatitude. It sounds precious. But it is perhaps life’s most difficult work. Whether you’re working for peace in your own heart or peace at work or peace in your home or peace in the middle East, you know how truly challenging it is. Peacemaking means compromise, reconciliation, listening, setting aside ego…nurturing right relationships. Jesus reminds us that peacemaking is some of our most important work on this planet.

5:10, 11, and 12 – All these verses deal with persecution. Persecution takes a variety of forms…not just someone standing at your door threatening to imprison you. In today’s world…perhaps it’s more like…Blessed are you – deeply peaceful and content are you – when you are being picked on, or gossiped about, or misunderstood because you want to live a different way….blessed are you when people make fun of you for taking Jesus’ words seriously. That can happen; and it does happen. 

These mountain teachings of Jesus are meant to be living and breathing. Jesus wants us to take this and live it. To make it active not passive. To remember that WE ARE BLESSED in the deepest sense of the word.

We can experience the kind of contentment and peace that doesn’t come from stuff or money or work promotions or being popular. We are created to experience the kind of peace that comes from being a loved child of God.  The joy that comes with knowing the Holy Spirit is with us. We are invited to help other people understand what it means to be blessed, too. 

Thanks be to God for this powerful reminder of what Jesus means when he says, “Blessed are you.” May today’s verses inspire us to push “reset” and see ourselves, our church, and our world anew.


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