I have ti admit that for my first message on the beattitudes I found myself very dependant on Mark Woodley and his great commentary on Matthew's Gospel "God with us" in the Resonate Series.
After Jesus calls his disciples we have a summary of his preaching tour of Galilee and then a record of Jesus teaching his new disciples in what we call the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:1 tells us that Jesus saw the crowd and he sat down and called his disciples and began to teach them. He calls those who have chosen to follow him together to instruct them about what it means to be a follower, what it means to be in the kingdom of Heaven. The Sermon on the Mount has been called by some the manifesto of the Kingdom, out lining what the reign of God breaking into the realms of human beings will mean, and look like. Others have called it the job description of a follower of Jesus. Not only did Jesus teach his disciples but we note the crowd was present as well, almost as if they were eavesdropping and had the chance to see what it meant to follow Jesus and see if they wanted to apply to be a follower.
We’re not doing this simply to follow on through Matthew’s Gospel; it’s not just an academic exercise. As a congregation we have a great challenge before us. Like many congregations in the western world we are wrestling with decline and the shadow of closure and the response to that of rediscovering God’s call to mission to our community and world; to change and to reach out and grow. This is where I believe the Sermon on the Mount is specifically important for this time, this place, this context. Dietrich Bonheoffer, imprisoned and executed in Nazi Germany, says that
“The restoration of the church will surely come from a new kind of community, which will have nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising adherence to the Sermon on the Mount in imitation of Christ. I believe the time has come to rally people together for this.”
Over the next eight weeks, with a break for Easter, we are going to start looking at the Sermon on the Mount by exploring the beatitudes that Jesus starts his sermon with: The Blessed ares, and you have to be careful how you say that. And if the Sermon on the Mount is a job description for a follower of Jesus, then the beatitudes are the character traits for a follower. And today we are going to explore the first beatitude… Blessed are those who are poor of spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Mark Woodley sees the beatitudes, and the whole Sermon on the Mount like this. He says “In a practical sense, we must sit at Jesus feet and say, “lord, we’ve tried to be good and happy and loving but we need help-lot’s of help! We need to learn life from you. So we’re going to sit and listen. How would you have us live?” It would be easy to think that Jesus would simply give us a list of things we need to do, maybe a series of tips and “how toos” , that Jesus might simply be a new Moses and give a new set of laws but as Woolley says “Jesus description of life in the Kingdom isn’t about trying harder, gaining power and control and then mastering the spiritual life. It begins with an act of powerless and surrender.” It begins with acknowledging our need for God.
We see people who are happy and blessed as those who have found purpose and meaning, who have it all sorted. They’ve got a good marriage, nice kids, the right job. We use words life self-fulfilment and self-actualisation, to express what humans need to be happy. We don’t see it by acknowledging that we don’t have what it takes, that we are impoverished.
Jesus staring point also goes counter intuitive to how we often view and practise our religion and faith. We can see even Christianity as doing things that will make God like us. That will put us right with God that will merit and earn God’s favour. Henri Nouwen, says to do this is spiritual death.
“without Jesus words of blessing you will go on running helter skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burn-out.”
Jesus says those who are blessed are those who know they are spiritual poor that they are dependent on God’s goodness and grace for life, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. They know their inadequacy and so trust God. It is about the grace of God.
The kingdom of heaven says Jesus is not earned or merited it is not a reward, rather it is a gift given. It is all about the grace of God. And when we are aware of our spiritual poverty and our need for God and surrender ourselves to Jesus it opens the door to all the others things of the Kingdom.
Once again Mark Woodly puts it like this.
When we see God’s offer of grace in the midst of our spiritual poverty, it’s easy to mourn for our sins. We are able to face what we have done wrong and how we have wronged God and others and to seek to change.
When we believe that God is sovereign and in charge of the world and our lives and times are in his hands , it is easy to be meek, to patiently trust God for his way and his timing to set the world right.
When we experience the goodness and grace of God, we find that we wanting to know more of God’s character and long for God’s justice and righteousness in our lives and our world
When we experience God’s grace and mercy that we in no way earn or deserve, it seems inconsistent to not treat fellow sinners in the merciful way we have been shown.
In this broken disjointed world of ours where people are separated and isolated by hatred and prejudice, we feel constrained to step into the conflict, becoming agents of reconciliation and peace.
When we realise that Jesus gave his life to save us out of love we’ll follow him even if it puts us at conflict in the world and means enduring being ostracised and even persecuted.
For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
For they will be comforted
For they will inherit the earth
For they will be filled (or satisfied)
For they will be shown mercy
For they will see God
For they will be called the Children of God