Sunday, January 29, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
The crowds wouldn’t let up. They kept chasing him down, that young radical rabbi named Jesus who breathed new life out of the ancient Hebrew Scriptures. People brought to him individuals who were sick with various kinds of illnesses, diseases, and pains. They brought to him individuals who were possessed, epileptics, and those who were paralyzed. They followed him everywhere in order to get something. Jesus healed so many. He loved them; that’s why he came. He came to save them – not just the Hebrews, not just the Israelites, he came to save everyone. He came to save the world. It sounds like the best news in all the world. Unless…….unless you don’t want everyone saved. Unless you only want your own people saved, the people you hang out with, the people you like, the people who don’t seem like a threat to you. If that’s the case, then the realization that Jesus came to save everyone is not good news; it’s a threat. And ultimately it’s what cost Jesus his life. He knew it would, yet he wasn’t going to stop telling people what they needed to hear. Jesus didn’t say what would make the crowds like him; he spoke the truth, whether they wanted to hear it or not. Jesus was always speaking for those who had no voice. He was always showing compassion, love, and mercy, to those that the society of his time felt were no good and were a threat. Those that people feared and hated, Jesus loved.
One of the most famous sermons Jesus gave is from today’s gospel according to Matthew. It’s known as the Sermon on the Mount. We’ll hear parts of this sermon over the next four Sundays. While the crowds following Jesus were getting bigger and bigger, he went up to the mountain and began to teach his disciples. With all those people needing help, the disciples needed to understand who they were if they were going to help spread his message of God’s kingdom here on earth. There’s a lot of people needing help today and as disciples we need to really understand Jesus message too.
In the first part of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us who are the blessed people of God. It’s not what the disciples or others expected to hear, and it’s not what we expect to hear. Throughout history then – and now – the idea is that the blessed people – the ones that really matter to God – are the ones who follow all the right rules and laws, yet even Jesus didn’t follow all the laws if they were laws that oppressed people. The laws said not to heal or help people on the Sabbath, but Jesus cared more about people than laws. Laws then and now are often written to help the successful even at the expense of others. The ones who matter seem to be the ones who have the most power, who can control others, who put their ideas and their values first. But Jesus tells us that we must put God first. God values life in a totally different way. God’s values are different than the world’s. Jesus says the blessed ones are those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who are meek, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers. These are the ones Jesus lifts up. He lifts up the lowly, and brings down those who think they are mighty. These beatitudes, these blessings are the characteristics of a true disciple, and the question we have to ask ourselves is are we a true disciple of Jesus or not? As Jesus’ call last week to follow him pointed out, this is not a call to simply believe, but disciples of Jesus are committed to a different way of life. If we are going to call ourselves Christians, then we need to live up to what that means. It means to follow Jesus’ way of life.
Blessed are the poor in spirit speaks not just to those who are economically poor – and our scriptures speak of caring for the poor over and over again – but also those who lack arrogance and realize their own sense of need. When a person is poor in spirit they know their lives are not in their control, and they are dependent on God. Whatever we accomplish is not our own doing, but it is a gift from God. Jesus lifts up the poor in spirit, not those who brag that everything they have is because of themselves because when a person does that, they overlook not only God but all the people who helped them along the way. When you are poor in spirit you don’t look at others and say they can pull themselves up, you put yourself in their shoes, and do what you can to lift them up with you.
Jesus said blessed are those who mourn, not only pertaining to those who experience the death of a loved one, but to those who engage in the act of lamenting with and for others as the psalmists did in the Old Testament. The psalmists – everyday people – lamented; they poured out their hearts to God over the present situation they found themselves in trusting that God would help them, and asking how God would use them to help others. There are so many who are mourning right now in our world. People who are struggling, and hurting, and suffering, and Jesus says we need to mourn with them. When anyone suffers in this world, we all suffer because we are all God’s children. That’s why Jesus said blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because it takes the focus off of ourselves and reminds us that we are all connected to each other.
Every one of us here woke up this morning with hot water to shower with, fresh water to drink, a bed to sleep in, shelter, food to eat, and warm clothes. Yet there are so many who don’t have those things. And Jesus did not say to make sure that we take care of those in our own country to the exclusion of those seeking our help from other countries. In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus drove home who our neighbor is. The Samaritan was the enemy of the Israelites, who everyone felt were terrorists, who didn’t practice the same laws, who didn’t even worship the same god, but whom Jesus pointed out was a child of God and showed God’s mercy. Over and over again in our scriptures, we are told to care for the poor, the oppressed, and the aliens. We are told to welcome the stranger over and over again. Jesus came to save the world, not just a select few. He said, “blessed are the merciful.” It may seem foolish to some, but as St. Paul said, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” Jesus came to show us who God is, and calls his disciples to do the same.
Whenever we are faced with a decision on how to live we need to ask ourselves if Jesus were standing right here in the flesh with us would he approve of our decisions? His life and his words give us the answers. Jesus’ actions were always based on love – self-sacrificing love for others – not out of any need for power. Jesus always put God’s will first. And what is it that God requires? The prophet Micah tells us, “To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Jesus never said to act justly for only certain people, but for all people. Living out of kindness means you treat others as you would want to be treated. It means treating others with respect, listening to them, doing whatever you can to help them. Kindness also means having the courage to tell them they are wrong when they are doing something that hurts someone else, even if that means they may no longer like you.
Jesus gave this Sermon on the Mount in response to the ever increasing crowds that were coming to him for help. He told the disciples that they were blessed, and in return that blessing requires us to be a blessing for others. There are crowds and crowds of people seeking God’s help today. They are poor and lamenting, they are broken and forgotten, they are being sent away, and left hopeless. Whether someone calls themselves a Christian or not, they are God’s children too. God created and love us all. A dear friend and her husband who are Muslim and have lived in this country for 38 years are now afraid and wondering if they will have to leave this country. They are two of the kindest people I know. We must be a voice for them.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount gives us a description of the marks of the church. The church is the blessed people of God, and because of that blessedness we do not remain passive when others are hurting. We do not act out of fear, but out of the confidence of the promises of God. We must be pure in heart having a single-minded devotion not to any person, or government, or even country – for that is idolatry – but a devotion to God who has been revealed to us in Jesus who showed us how to live lives of love, mercy, and compassion for all people.
In this season of Epiphany where God’s light is revealed to us through Jesus, let us remember who we are – broken people, people with faults, inadequacies, and sinfulness – in need of God’s grace. Let us truly feel God’s grace, God’s never-ending love, for only God is our salvation. Out of gratitude for God’s blessedness, let us see and lift up the blessedness of others. May the Holy Spirit move us from complacency to compassion. Amen.