Inspired by Matthew 5:1-12
Our Bible story for today comes from the beginning of what has come to be known as the Sermon on the Mount. It’s three chapters long and over the next three Sundays we will read the first of those three chapters, saving portions of the rest for later in the year. This comes very early in the Gospel of Matthew and it’s actually the first public act of Jesus in this Gospel, which tells us something about the kind of role that Matthew saw Jesus playing in the lives of his disciples. The passage begins with, Jesus “went up a mountain…sat down” and “he taught them.” So, one of the major roles that Matthew saw Jesus playing in the life of his disciples was that of teacher.
I really like that. As someone who loves to learn, in spite of how scary that can be at times, I really like seeing Jesus as our teacher. Especially because I have had some wonderful people in my life who have taken on that role for me—whether they be actual teachers from grade school, college or grad school, or the many people in my life like my parents, wife, children, and even our dog, who have taught me valuable lessons and have made me into the person I am today. No matter how you slice it, the role of teacher in someone’s life is a holy endeavor, whether you’re teaching math or how to wake up and face tomorrow, in spite of how today turned out.
So keep this role in mind as we explore the Gospel of Matthew this year, and especially over these four weeks as we dive into the sermon on the mount. Those of you who know this passage well will have certainly noticed a major change that this translation provides us. Usually each of these phrases of Jesus in this passage, which have come to be known as the Beatitudes, begin with the word blessed. “Blessed are the poor…blessed are the meek” etc. But this translation uses the word happy. Well, as much as we may not like it, happy is a better translation of the Greek word makarios. In fact, that’s why they’re known as the Beatitudes. The word beatitude comes from the Latin word meaning happiness.
So, why is that important? Well, because in biblical usage, to be blessed implied that you earned it. In other words, you were blessed by God because of your good behavior, because you made good decisions, because you followed God’s laws. And that is not the idea that Jesus is trying to get across here in the beatitudes, these are not nine ways to earn God’s blessings. In fact, I’m going to argue that the Beatitudes may not even be for us! I know, scandalous right? But you know as well as I do that we are human and tend to make everything about us. But take a look at the simple grammar in this passage and you soon realize that Jesus is not talking about disciples in most of these, he’s not talking about us.
Matthew writes, “He sat down and his disciples came to him. He taught them saying, ‘Happy are people who are hopeless, humble, hungry’” etc. He doesn’t say to his disciples, “happy are you” until the very end. He says “happy are people.” What if Jesus, with these Beatitudes, is not only describing his own ministry, but also the ministry that his followers are called to as well. So if that’s the case, what if we heard them this way, “Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs” and we are going to bring them that kingdom! “Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad” and we are going to make them glad! “Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth” and we will deliver it!
“Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full” and we are going to feed them! “Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy” and we will be merciful to them! “Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God” and we will show them God! “Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children” and we will be the ones calling them God’s children! “Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs” and we will show them that kingdom!
And we have the honor and privilege and responsibility to be coworkers with Christ in these holy promises that Christ has made:
As we seek out the hopeless and bring them the kingdom!
As we seek out the grieving and bring them gladness!
As we seek out the humble and deliver their inheritance!
As we seek out those hungry and thirsty for righteousness and feed them til their bellies are full!
As we seek out the merciful and give them a much needed dose of mercy.
As we seek out those with pure hearts and show them what God looks like!
As we seek out the peacemakers and give them the holy title Children of God!
As we seek out the harassed and show them the kingdom!
Can I get an amen?
Sometimes my friends, the good news of the gospel is not for us, but for us to deliver. In my annual report, which I know you all poured over every word, I shared with you a few guiding scripture passages. I could have just as easily shared this one. This is the vision that Christ had for this holy work we call ministry, that each and every one of us are called to. It is the vision that we have been called to make clear to the world.
So that when the world hears the name Jesus, hears the word church, hears the name Bethlehem Lutheran Church, this is what we are known for. As we plan for this coming year, as we pray over our budget, as we dream of the possibilities, think about how we can answer this call to bring these beatitudes to life. And my advice would be to identify who in our world is hopeless, grieving, humble, hungry, thirsty; who in our world is merciful, pure in heart, making peace, or is harassed, and after saying thank you, tell them that we have some good news for them directly from heaven!
But know this. There will be opposition. At the end of the beatitudes Jesus looks the disciples dead in the eye and speaks about them saying, “Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me. Be full of joy and be glad. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before you.” Yes, Jesus compared you to prophets in this world. The ones called to speak for God in this world; to bring justice and hope into the world; to proclaim, in words and deeds, the kingdom of heaven to a world that is watching and listening, and already making these beatitudes a reality. God bless you in this holy work, and God bless the universe. Amen.