I should start by giving credit to some resources we will be using this week. I would like to thank:
- Josh Keli Lewis for letting us us his art to help illustrate some of the things we will be talking about.
- Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC) for their gift of an Anabaptist starter library of Commentaries. Most of the quotes I’m using today come from this book by Richard B. Gardner.
The passage read today is set on a Mountaintop, and is often referred to as The Beatitudes.
What other times in the Bible do we have a Mountain as our location?
- Temptation of Jesus,
- the Transfiguration,
- Jesus goes Up to a mountain to pray,
- burning bush,
- ten commandments
Matthew is telling us this is happening on a mountain as a device to underline the importance of the words we heard read today, and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount that we will be looking at for the next few months.
The Sermon on the Mount is considered a Manifesto of the Kingdom.
- It’s what things will look like when the Kingdome is fully realized
- It’s also a call to action.
The beatitudes are a promise that no matter how small, low, punished or insignificant you feel in the here and that someday you will be part of:
- a new order,
- a new economy,
- a new kingdom.
The rebellion starts now, and it might get rough but the kingdom is coming.
Gardner writes about how this list of Beatitudes can look like a list of different people but,
“Upon closer analysis, however, we discover that the various statements are really dealing with one promise. Each of the phrases describing the blessed calls attention to some aspect of the life and conduct of Jesus’ community. And each of the descriptions of the age to come calls attention to some facet of the kingdom of heaven.” (Gardner, Richard B – “Believers Church Bible Commentary – Matthew” p.91)
Gardner goes on to say,
“Another noteworthy feature in Matthew’s Beatitudes is that most are cast in the third person: “Blessed are the so and so.” Luke’s Beatitudes, however, are all cast in the second person” “Blessed are you so and so.” …the form Matthew uses tends to underline the fact that the Beatitudes are valid for hearers in every age, not just Jesus’ immediate audience.” (Gardner, Richard B – “Believers Church Bible Commentary – Matthew” p.91)
This is why we are calling this teaching series “Mountaintop Questions for a Lower City Church.” We are claiming these words that Jesus spoke way back in the day and for this group of people today in this unique geography.
Many bible scholars say that the Sermon on the Mount isn’t a specific speech but an amalgamation of many of Jesus’ teachings. It is a litany that not only conveys the words that Jesus said but the feeling of the spirit in the words. There is a poetic quality when Matthew tells us that Jesus went up on a mountain. It’s like Jesus ran up the mountain side calling to his followers “Further Up and Further In.” just like the characters do in the Narnia book “The Last Battle.” where all the creatures are called to move “Further Up and Further In.”
There is a quote from The Last Battle (by C.S Lewis) that I think is in the same spirit as the Beatitudes. It is after the world of Narnia (that we have come to know and love through books and movies) has been destroyed and the Narnians have entered into a New Narnia that I think is a metaphor for The Kingdom of God. It seems to be a land that is all Mountain.
“It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone else was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried: ‘I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!’”
(C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle)
So Jesus (just like our Unicorn) races up a mountain and calls back to his followers “Come Further Up, Come Further In!”
Jesus is way ahead of everyone else, so he sits down and waits for everyone else to catch up.
His followers get there huffing and puffing and Jesus continues to waits for them to all sit down.
Everyone is seated…
…and there is this big dramatic pause… ….. …
“Then He opened His mouth and taught them.” (Matt 5:2) There is such a poetic quality to that statement.
It got me imagining a picture of Jesus just opening up his mouth and all these sounds, colours and words just pouring out. Now the things Jesus says are so counter intuitive that it might as well have been a some crazy surrealist painting…
These are some of Josh’s pictures that I think convey that feeling
I was thinking about this word picture and it got some creative things going for me. I created a song/video illustrating Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes.Take the time to let them soak in, watch the video if that helps, or close your eyes if that helps you focus.
There are many times in the Bible where God identifies with the Poor. The poor are the ones being oppressed, the ones without power, they are the last that will end up first in the new economy of the Kingdom. This phrase “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” reflects this same idea. but it also reflects more, it isn’t just the people without money but also the “Poor in spirit.”
Some scholars would say the Poor in Spirit “…refers to those who cultivate a humble spirit, who empty themselves and relate to others in the unpretentious way of the poor.” (Gardner, p.93)
And that is true… but I think it also needs to be more than that. If the sermon on the mount is a Manifesto for the Kingdom, it must tie in to action and justice.
I think poor in spirit could also mean those who are in solidarity with people without power, the poor. How can our lives be tied in with people who have less voice then us? It doesn’t even matter how much money we do or don’t have. Everyone can be the voice for someone else who is facing oppression.
How do we be in solidarity (or poor in spirit) to such an extent that — when God flips the tables, makes the last first, and gives the kingdom over to the poor — we will be found among them?
This is exactly what Jesus did. The Son of God, in solidarity with the human race, became a poor baby to a working class family, just getting by. He grew up and was killed as a criminal, and then God the father flipped the tables and Jesus was raised up and we get a glimpse of the Kingdom, how the poor, and the poor in spirit will come out on top.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted is not just about death. It is about all the things that we sadly realize are not part of the Kingdom plan.
Why do people mourn? Isn’t death a part of life? As much as people say that, it just doesn’t feel true to me.
I think there is a part of all of us that feels deep down that death and every other kind of pain and hurt is something foreign and unnatural. Somehow we know that we were intended to be eternal creatures of life and joy back in the original design.
This blessing of those who mourn over death and every other thing that is wrong, is an acknowledgment that God mourns over those same things as well, and we find comfort in knowing that God is working to restore the kingdom plan of life and joy.
Think of people who embody this. (quiet wisdom people)
Does anyone have an example of someone who embodies this?
- A teacher?
The Opposite of this is power:
- Politicians making speeches,
- people who seek power
Blessed are those who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness, for they shall be filled:
I think this drawing really captivates this desire. I want to read to you what Gardner says about these hungry and thirsty people,
“Matthew speaks of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. This wording reflects OT themes: God as the one who satisfies our hunger and thirst (Ps. 107:9), eating and drinking as a metaphor for relationship with God (Isa. 55:1-3), and righteousness as a gift which God bestows on the people (Isa. 61:3, 10-11). The hungry and the thirsty whom Jesus pronounces blessed, therefore are those who yearn for a deeper and right relationship with God (cf. Matt 6:33). They are the same persons identified as the poor in spirit in verse 3, who have needs that they know only God can fulfill.” (Gardner, p.95)
This got me thinking about people’s desire to learn about Spiritual Disciplines and our Super Club that is starting up.
Now I am making no promises that coming to the supper club will fill all your spiritual hungers and thirsts. The Beatitudes aren’t fully realized until the kingdom is fully realized but like all kingdom things there is a partial realization in the here and now, and we live into the kingdom.
- This really ties in to the Lord’s Prayer, that we will be looking at in a couple of weeks. (forgive us as we have forgiven)
- We show mercy to others because God has shown so much mercy to us.
- Josh’s Love Drawing talks about a righteous Circle, this is a great concept for Mercy, Grace, Forgiveness, and Love.
- This is part of the kingdom economy.
God is so much more concerned with our core, then out ward masks no matter how together the masks make us seem. So much of what we focus on is always just on the surface. How do we go deeper? This Kingdom Manifesto is not a set of rules it is an attitude of the heart.
One of the reasons we will be using the Anabaptist commentary is to learn more about peace. Here is what Gardner says about peacemakers:
“…the peacemakers God blesses are not merely peaceful persons. Instead they are those who work actively to bring peace or make peace. Taking their cue from God, whose love extends to friend and enemy (Matt. 5:45), they pursue peace with all persons. Thy work to restore wholeness in their relationships with others, whethers members of the church (5:23-24; 18:10), or with hostile parties on the outside (5:38-45). Because those who make peace are acting as God acts, they show themelves to be the true children of God. Thus, Jesus says, God will claim them as his own in the age to come.” (Gardner, p.97)
Now since the Beatitudes are describing one kingdom community of Jesus followers, there is some cause and effect happening here. If we are truly:
- Acting in solidarity with the poor.
- Mourning, wailing loudly about all that is wrong and unnatural
- Conducting ourselves not as people in power but in gentle ways that are meek.
- Hungary and thirsty for what is Righteous
- Showing Mercy.
- Looking to the heart of ourselves and others and working to be pure.
- Making peace with others.
If we are truly being all these things, Jesus tells us we will be persecuted. Now the church in North America likes to claim this persecution for themselves when they get made fun of or when people complain about their backwards ways or politics. I don’t really think this is persecution, and I don’t think it has anything to do with following the beatitudes. It may have a lot more to do with the opposite. North American society often doesn’t like the church because really the church can be a bunch of jerks.
The Church of Christendom has too often been exactly the opposite of the beatitudes.
- We’ve been greedy,
- We’ve ignored injustice.
- We’ve been loud and obnoxious,
- We’ve spent too much time concerned with appearances,
- We haven’t forgiven,
- We definitely haven’t made peace with our enemies.
So for being jerks we don’t get persecuted we just get mild loathing and ignored. But if we really took this stuff to heart, we would be rocking people in power, what would happen?
- What if we were so poor in spirit that the police would treat us like street youth?
- What if we gathered those who mourned and put funeral homes out of business?
- What if we were meek instead of full of ourselves?
- What if we would really strive for righteousness, like we couldn’t live without it?
- What if we always defaulted to mercy?
- What if we ignored all the facades and really looked into people’s hearts? Would we see God in the people around us? Would people see God in us?
That is a crazy list of questions. And if Jesus followers lived like that, they would stop just being perceived as hypocritical jerks and they would start to actually really upset the people who have sought out power and control.
I feel like at The Commons we have done a good job of trying to drop some of the hypocrisy and facades, and that is one of the reasons I think we have a good relationship with our wider community, but as we seek to be better peacemakers to be people of justice and not just good people, it could get dicey. It might be perceived as a threat, and that is scary, but it is also part of the Kingdom.
We can’t settle for just “not being jerks” as a church, we need to move “further in and further up.”
We need to seek to be the people Jesus describes in the beatitudes. Take some time to really focus on these words. Read each line and let it sit with you for a couple minutes.
- “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
- Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
- Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
- Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
- Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
- Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Which beatitude resonates with you the most?
Are there any lines that you find repulsive or scary?
Is there a beatitude that you know you aren’t but long to be?