SERMON ON THE MOUNT: The Art of Flourishing     Matthew 5:1-12          (2nd Service)

We are starting a new series that we’ll be in all summer, where we’re going to be exploring one of the most impactful, significant, beautiful messages ever given.  It’s called the Sermon on the Mount, and you can open your Bibles to Matthew 5, where you’ll find it.

Over the last few weeks, throughout our nation, we’ve been in a season that we affectionately refer to as graduation season.  In graduations, you have a few pieces of pageantry, right, where it signifies that a person is moving from one season to another, from high school to beyond high school, and college to beyond college.  We had a preschooler that graduated and he’s moving into kindergarten, which is a pretty huge accomplishment for him.  But along with the pageantry, there’s also typically a speech.  There’s some words said and it’s intended to be motivational, sort of Chris Farley motivational, right?  Like, you can take the world and you can wrap it around your hand and put it in your pocket. . . . .that type of a speech.  I started to wonder, “Why can’t I remember any of the speeches from the graduations I’ve been involved in?”  They were so magical and inspirational .  I can’t remember any of the ones I’ve been involved in.

That’s not true, though, for every speech.  Some are really memorable, aren’t they?  Some of them, with just a few words, we can go, oh, so-and-so gave that speech, right?  Let’s do a little trivia this morning.  Let’s see if you can name ‘who gave that speech?’   Four score and seven years ago….  Yeah, Abraham Lincoln.  We didn’t even need to get too far in it, did we?  The Gettysburg Address.  He paints a picture of this is the groundwork that our country was founded on, and we, as a country, need to push forward to value and honor all people regardless of the color of their skin.  We have to be a country without slavery any more.  What about this one?  My firm belief is that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  Franklin D. Roosevelt gave this is 1933.   Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.   John F. Kennedy.   What about this one?  I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed:  We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all mean are created equal.  Martin Luther King, Jr.   1963. . . . .a hundred years after Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address.  That should haunt us a little bit.  They’re saying essentially the same thing, right?

Isn’t it fascinating that we can all. . . . .I can say four words, I have a dream. . . .how many of us have had a dream?  We’ve laid our head down on a pillow at night and we’ve had a dream, or a hope, or an aspiration.  Will you just raise your hand if you fit that category in some point in time?  Yeah, every human being has had a dream, and yet I can say, “I have a dream…” and you know immediately who I’m talking about.  You know immediately the picture that’s being painted.  You know immediately, at least a little bit, a piece of the dream.

Not all words are forgotten. Some words catch fire and some words continue to have an echoing reverb throughout the world we live in, long passed the time they were given.  If you look up, or just Google, speeches that have changed the world, you will find all four of those speeches that I said, but at the beginning of every list that I’ve found (or at least on there somewhere) are the words of Jesus of Nazareth, the Sermon on the Mount.  For some reason, these words, at this time, to this audience, caught fire.  They have changed the course of our world.  There’s a reason that when we say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit….” we all go, Jesus! that’s who we’re talking about.  There’s a reason that we can know this sermon and these words.

The Sermon on the Mount was a message given by Jesus of Nazareth to a group of people who were sitting in front of him.  We’ll talk about who they are in just a moment.  But you have to know that this was a teaching that Jesus gave, most likely, on multiple occasions, that as he talked about what his kingdom looked like, these were subjects that he circled back to over and over and over.  So don’t think of it as just one sermon given.  Matthew records it as a whole sermon, and it probably was, but whenever Jesus talked about the kingdom, he talked about these things.  They were in his bones and they were things that he wanted to invite humanity, as a whole, into.

Matthew 5, listen to the way Jesus starts this sermon.  It’s going to be a sermon we’re going to chew on and wrestle with for the entire summer, but that’s just a fraction of the time people, humanity, have been wrestling with these words.  Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down.  {It’s interesting, whenever Jesus sees a crowd. . . .you and I want to gather a crowd. . . .Jesus seems to want to ditch the crowd.  So he sees the crowd, they’re coming around him, he’s like, let’s go up to a mountain, maybe a few of these people will not want to hear my words enough to follow me up.}  His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

As I said, Matthew 5 follows Matthew 4, but if you’re sort of a student of the Scriptures, you’re going to go, hmmm, Jesus going up to a mountainside to teach people. . . .there’s something about that that I’m familiar with.  If you flip back over to Matthew 2, what you see is that Jesus is born in Bethlehem and then flees to Egypt, which is really interesting.  He goes to Egypt and he’s there for a time and then comes back to Nazareth, his home town.  Then in Matthew 3, he’s baptized.  Egypt then a baptism.  You have Jesus coming out of the water.  Matthew 4, Jesus is heading into the wilderness to be tempted, right?  So if you’re a Jewish reader and you’re tracking along with Matthew’s gospel, you’re going, hey, wait a second, I’ve heard this story.  Into Egypt and out of Egypt, to go through water, to go into the wilderness…..   Wait a second, what’s going on?  Moses!  Jesus is like this picture of Israel’s journey — rescued from slavery out of Egypt, through the water, the Red Sea. . . .Jesus through the waters of baptism. . . .into the wilderness, where they’re tempted. . . .then up on the mountain, which also sounds a lot like whom?  Moses.  Only Jesus doesn’t go up on the mountain to receive revelation from God, he goes up on the mountain to give it.  It’s, in a sense. . .Matthew is in no small way giving a wink and a nod going, you see what’s going on here?  The story of Israel is reaching its fulfillment.  What God has been doing throughout all time is coming to a peak and a pinnacle in the person and work of Jesus.  Quite literally, he’s sitting up on the mountain and he is, in a sense, speaking as the new mosaic Messiah delivering a new messianic Torah. . .a new way to live. . . .a new way to become the people of God.

If you read back a few verses in Matthew 4:17, 23-25, listen to what Jesus said:  From that time on Jesus began to preach, {So the question would be what is the content of Jesus’s preaching?  Here’s the birds-eye view of what Jesus talked about.  If you were to go to a sermon that Jesus was preaching, more times than not, the content of his sermon would have been, some way shape or form, repent.  Turn, change your mind, change the way that you think about the world that you live in.  Change the way that you think about God.  Change the way that you think about everything that you see.  Repent.  Turn.  Why?}  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”    Some translations will say it is at hand.  

What Jesus talks about, if you continue to read down in Matthew 4:23, it says:  Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.  News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.  Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.   Now, when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up onto the mountain.

So, who’s Jesus’s audience?  It’s the broken.  It’s the poor.  It’s the people, if you saw them walking on the street, you would probably go to the other side so that you didn’t have to get too close.  It’s the people who would have never had a good word spoken over them for most of their life.  It’s the bottom of the rung.  It’s the people who we’d look at and go, man, those people do not have a lot going for them.  You want to know why this sermon has power, you’ve got to hear what Jesus says in light of who’s sitting there.

He said:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have wrestled with these words.  You?  I’ve wrestled with Jesus, how in the world are the poor in spirit blessed?  Why do the meek inherit the earth?  Jesus, why is being persecuted seem to be a good thing?  Anybody with me?  That on the surface, these don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.  Can I nerd out on you a moment?  There’s two words that Jesus could have chosen for this word ‘blessed,’ which happens to be the theme of the way that he starts this sermon.  The first word is eulogeo.  In the Greek, it means an active blessing from God.  It’s us praying, God, would you bless this person, and God responding, absolutely, I will bless them.  God, bless this person who’s sick, let them sense your presence.  God saying I will bless them.  It’s active coming from God.  That’s not this word.  The second word he could have chosen and did is markarios.  Markarios is a little bit more nuanced and a little bit more complex.  It’s not a wish or an ask to evoke some sort of blessing from God, rather it’s a recognized reality.  These people are blessed.  They’re blessed because this is the way the world works.  They’re blessed because woven into the fiber of the universe that God has spoken into being, this is how it functions.  So you don’t necessarily need to ask for this to be a blessing from God, it just simply is.

So people have wrestled with how to translate this word ‘blessed.’  For us, we live in a Christian subculture where we use or maybe overuse the term blessing.  How you doing?  I’m blessed.  I’m just praying for some blessings.  We use that word a lot.  They would not have back in Jesus’s day, just a side note.  This would have been coming onto the scene with fire. . . .something new, something different, bursting onto the scene.  You could translate it “happy are”.  Some translations do.  The Good News translation — Happy are the poor in spirit.  You could translate it “congratulations.”  You could translate it “surprise!”  You didn’t see that coming, did you?  It’s like Jesus said — Blessed are the poor in spirit.  Surprise!  Nobody expected that!   The word carries with it. . . .how do we translate it, what do we do with it?  Like I said, nobody in Jesus’s day would have expected this.  We live in a world, right now, where we have this perspective that happiness is our right.  Happiness is our goal.  We live with the pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  But NOBODY Jesus is talking to would have had that perspective.

There’s probably two predominant views that Jesus is talking to.  One is the Greco-Roman view.  It was: You are NOT suppose to be happy.  If you are happy, hide it.  Because happiness is the realm of the gods and you don’t want to tiptoe on their turf because they will strike you down.  Oh, you’re happy, Paulson?  BOOM! Happiness is my territory, thank you very much.  Right?  So nobody in Jesus’s day would have flaunted being happy or blessed.  The Hebrew view of this word blessing was that if you are a good Torah-observing Jew, if you obey the first five books of the Old Testament and then you throw in the prophets as well, then, then, then God will bless you.

Jesus comes and looks at this ragtag band of people who have been healed of sicknesses, people still carrying sicknesses, people who are poor, people who have never had a good word spoken over them in their life, gets them up on a hillside outside of Galilee and says markarios.  You’re blessed.  You’re blessed because I am, Jesus says.  You’re blessed because my kingdom has come, and you’ve turned, you’ve repented, you’ve walked into this kingdom.  You, in the state that you’re in, with the regrets that you have and the things that you wish that you could redo or the things that you wish you could get out of your life, you are blessed.

They are not commandments.  It’s not thou shalt be poor in spirit.  Think of how strange it would be if we read it as a commandment.  Be persecuted!   Thou shalt be persecuted.  So, we could persecute each other, find a loophole, it wouldn’t be as bad as being persecuted out there, and then we could be blessed by God.   These are hard to read, aren’t they?  But they’re not commandments, that’s not what they are.  They’re not a list of moral standards. . . .this is better than that, because of some moral standard that Jesus has set up.  Being poor is no better, morally, than being rich, what you do with your wealth.  There’s something attached to that, but Jesus is saying how much wealth you have has zero bearing on your morality.  It’s not a list of moral standards.  It’s not a list of simple formulas, where you plug in this and you automatically get that out every single time.

If you’re going, hey Paulson, you just took away everything I thought that was. . . . .welcome to the party.  Because, maybe like you, I’ve read this wrong for, I don’t know, most of my life.  They’re not commandments, they’re not moral standards, they’re not formulas, what are they?  Here’s what these Beatitudes—-that’s what they’re called; the word means blessings—are.  They are an invitation into a way of being that results in true human flourishing.  The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’s manifesto on human flourishing, as a result of the reality of the kingdom of God being at hand.  I’ve told this story before but, for me, it paints a vivid picture of what Jesus is doing.  When my wife and I lived in San Diego, we had gotten tickets to go see the Padres play in San Diego.  She got the tickets for my birthday.  We were in the nose bleed section, but we didn’t care, it was just about being together and taking in a game in a beautiful city.  We were walking in downtown San Diego and we walked right near the gates.  Somebody came up to us and said they had tickets to the game, did we want them?  We responded by saying, “We already got tickets, thank you very much,” and walked right passed him.  We walked a few paces down and I said to Kelly, “Would you care if I asked where his seats are?”  {That’s a dangerous question.}  She said, “No, I wouldn’t care at all.”  I ran back and tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Sir, do you still have those tickets?”  Yeah.  Just out of curiosity, where are your seats?  They’re a few rows up from home plate, right behind the dugout.    I said, “How much do you want for them?”  They’re free, take them!  I did and the whole time I was sitting behind home plate, watching the game, I was trying to see Kelly up in the left field bleachers….   No, he had two tickets.  The whole game, it was this moment, the whole game looking at what I’m taking in and where I should have been.  I kept replaying what if I hadn’t have gone back and tapped on that shoulder?   I would have taken in the game and it would have been fun, but it would not have been like it was! I think Jesus is doing the same thing with the Sermon on the Mount.  He’s doing with the Beatitudes.  They’re invitations.  He’s holding them out to us and his question is will you take this invitation?  It’s counter-intuitive, it might not make sense.  Will you take this invitation?

I told you I’d wrestled with these for so long.  As a high schooler, I thought Jesus was off his rocker a little bit.  I read the Beatitudes and thought, “These are the blessings nobody wants, and I don’t want to be a part of this type of a religion, if it’s going to invite us to something that doesn’t make any sense in the world.”  I was on a run Wednesday of this week.  I had gotten out early and was taking it all in.  I was talking with Jesus about the Sermon on the Mount and these Beatitudes and I just sensed him say to me…….because I was expressing, man Jesus, this was like a long season in my life where I just didn’t like these a whole lot, I didn’t get them.  What I heard him say to me was Ryan, it wasn’t that you didn’t understand these and it wasn’t that you were interpreting them wrong, it was actually that you didn’t want my kingdom.  You were so attached to your kingdom and your way that you actually didn’t want anything to do with the invitation that I was giving you.  And if—-and I say this gently and hopefully pastorally—-if we approach the Beatitudes wanting our own kingdom still, they are going to grate on us.  They’re going to rub against our humanity.  They’re going to push against our kingdom and the things that we want to hold onto and the things that we want to build our life on.  So, as we walk through these, in just a moment, will you just ask yourself the question:  Jesus, is there any invitation you’re giving that you want me to receive but I’m still holding onto my own kingdom?  Because I think the Sermon on the Mount, specifically the Beatitudes, will tease those things out in a way that, maybe, no other text in Scripture can do.

So, if the Beatitudes aren’t commands, and they’re not morality, and they’re not formulas, what are they?  Here’s the first thing they are.  The Beatitudes are an announcement of Jesus’s lavish grace.  Please notice. . . .we’re going to get into what does Jesus invite us to do, what does he call us to do as followers of his way to live free from anger, to not murder the people around us {that’s a good thing}, to keep our word, to love our enemies.  All that stuff’s good, but hear me on this {lean in a little bit}. . . .before Jesus commands us to do anything, he speaks blessing over us.  Before he says ‘do’ anything, he says ‘markarios!’  You’re blessed!  My kingdom is at hand!  It sounds a lot like what the angels said to the shepherds in that field the night the Messiah was born.  Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  (Luke 2:10)   Even those with disease, and severe pain, and demon possession, and having seizures, and the paralyzed. . . .even THOSE. Good news of great joy is coming.

He gets to this importation at the very end of the sermon in Matthew 7:24-25, and he says that the people who do these things will build their life on a rock that will not move when the storms of life come.  He gets there!  You’ve got to build your life on it, but before he talks about building a life, he talks about a blessing that’s come because the kingdom is at hand.  They are announcements of lavish grace and, friends, this is the gospel!  Before we’ve done anything to deserve it, Jesus has said over our life—over your life and mine—you’re blessed!  You’re blessed because of me, God says, not because of you.  Not because you’ve done anything to deserve it and checked off the list of to-do’s, which these people had not done, you’re blessed because our God is a God who loves, who LOVES, to lavish his blessing, to wire it into the way that the world works.  I like the way that Dallas Willard put it.  {By the way, we have a list of suggested readings for our series, and if I could reference one book to you that stands above them all, in my humble opinion, it’s The Divine Conspiracy: The Hidden Life in the Kingdom of God, by Dallas Willard.  Here’s what he says in that book.}  “The poor in spirit are called blessed by Jesus, not because they are in a meritorious condition, but because precisely in spite of and in the midst of their condition, the rule of the heavens has moved redemptively upon and through them by the grace of Jesus.”  The Beatitudes are an announcement of lavish blessing.

Here’s the second thing they are.  They’re a radical reenvisioning of the people of God.  Remember who Jesus gathers around him. . . .the people who are following, the people who are hanging on his every word, the people described in Matthew 4—the down and out, the “losers,” the people who have never had a blessing in their life.  Jesus is going if you’re in the kingdom, you’re my people.  These are the people of God.  They are NOT the Torah observant, dutiful Jewish people following every jot and tittle of the law.  There were those people around there, but they weren’t the people following Jesus.  Jesus says you are now my people.  The presence of Jesus’s kingdom changes everything.  It uniquely changes his followers.  It’s like Lucy, Susan, and Peter, and Edmond opening up that closet door and dipping their toes into a whole new world in Narnia, where they weren’t just kids.  They were Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve.  They were warriors fighting for good to overtake evil.  They were fighting for right to overtake wrong.  They were fighting for joy to overtake sorrow.  And Jesus looks at this ragtag band of people and says, “You are now my people, and you’ll carry my blessing into the world.”  A blessing no one expected.  A blessing no one anticipated and one the people didn’t want.  That’s his kingdom people.

Finally, it’s counter-intuitive wisdom of the kingdom.  The Beatitudes are not commands, but they’re portals to a new way of thinking.  They’re not platitudes, they’re paradoxes.  A paradox is something that doesn’t make sense until you live it.  On the surface, you go, there’s no way that can be true, and then you do it and you’re like, that’s true!  Jonathan Pennington says this: “As a prophet and sage, Jesus is offering and inviting his hearers into the way of being in the world that will result in their true flourishing now and in the age to come.”  They’re not requirements, they’re statements of reality.  This is how Jesus’s kingdom works.

So before we jump into a cursory read of each of them, let me just point out how we should read each of these blessings.  For a long time, I read it ‘blessed are the poor in spirit because they’re poor in spirit.’  Anybody else?  Like the poor in spirit was the blessing.  That word ‘for’ in the Greek is called a hóti clause and it means that whatever follows hinges on what’s first.  So being poor in spirit isn’t the blessing; we should read that ‘for’ as because.  Blessed are the poor in spirit because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  There’s something about being poor in spirit that opens us up to the reality of the kingdom of the heavens.  It’s a radical inversion of the wisdom of the world.

You just have to know, friends, all of us are chasing blessing.  All of us believe that there’s a way to live blessed in this world.  We always think of blessing as material, right?  A new house.  A new car.  The brighter.  The shinier.  All of that.  But, if we were to be honest, the blessings that we cherish most dearly, every single person in this room, are not possessions.  They’re not things that we go, oh, I bought that with this raise, and I got that house….   That’s not what fills our soul.  Jesus is going to talk about a markarios, a blessing, that actually does light up the human soul, where we go, oh, that’s what I was designed to do.  But so many of us are chasing the wrong kinds of blessings that maybe we’re unable to see the blessing that Jesus is holding out.

I saw this insane. . . .it’s called a Cheese Wheel Chase, on ESPN, this week.  I thought, yeah, this is how most of humanity looks as they chase after the blessings that we often go after.  It’s a real thing.  They’re chasing a wheel of cheese down a hill.  I thought that that’s what it looks like, that’s what going after the bigger, the better, the brighter, the shinier, the more, feels like some days, isn’t it?  It’s what so many of us build our lives upon.

In contrast to that, Jesus looks at people who, from the world’s point of view, have nothing and says, markarios, you’re blessed.  So I would love to just give you a picture. . . .if Jesus were to give these blessings today, how might they read?  What might this kingdom wisdom sound like?  This life appears to work this way, but it actually doesn’t work that way, it works this way instead.  So we’ll start it off with what the world says, then we’ll combat that with what Jesus says, and then what I want to do is reframe the blessing that he gives.

Blessed are the poor in spirit…   The world says the strong and the wealthy are the blessed ones.  Jesus says:  blessed are the down and out, the unemployed and the underemployed, those on the wrong end of the globalized economy.  People without a college degree or health insurance, those spiritually simple and a little bit of a mess. . . .blessed are the people who don’t have it all together.  Why are they blessed?  Because theirs is the kingdom.  They have an openness to receiving what God is handing out because their hands are empty.  This is the Jesus kingdom wisdom.

Blessed are those who mourn…   The world says be strong, stuff it down, hide your sadness and your failures.  Put on a happy face, right?  Turn the frown around.  What Jesus is talking about mourning, it’s not just over the things that have happened to us, but sometimes it’s who we’re becoming that we mourn over.  Jesus says blessed are those who let themselves go and grieve honestly.  They grieve the failed marriage, the death of the loved one, another miscarriage, the racism, the addiction.  They’re blessed because they will find the arms of God and others around them to meet them in their need.  What we hide, God won’t heal.  The wisdom is you don’t have to pretend like things are all right if they’re not, you can be honest and actually there’s a blessing in that honesty.  It’s not try to mourn; it’s when things don’t go right you can mourn knowing that God wants to meet you in that place.

Blessed are the meek….  The world says gather a fan base, build your audience, get out front and make your mark.  Jesus says blessed are the timid, the quiet, the shy, the people in the background, the wallflowers, those with two likes on Instagram.  Because in the end, they will be the ones who reign with God, the tables will be turned and they will be out front.  To quote Jesus of Nazareth:  The first shall last and the last shall be first. (Matthew 20:16)

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness….    Just a quick aside before we go into this.  We typically think of righteousness as only between us and God, but all of Jesus’s audience would have understood righteousness not only right standing with God, but right relationship with everybody around them.  It was a relational term.  The world says if somebody wrongs you, write them off.  Don’t give them a second thought.  Move on.  If you fail yourself, or God, just forget it!  To err is human.  But Jesus says blessed are those who continually long for things to be right, between others and between God.  Because, here’s the blessing. . . . .eventually. . . .so don’t give up on longing for right relationship, because eventually, their insatiable longing for rightness will be fulfilled by the very life of God and deep relationships with others.

Blessed are the merciful….   The world says give people what they deserve.  An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  If someone wrongs you, you have the right to get them back.  Jesus says blessed are those who continue to live with compassion and offer forgiveness.  Who refuse to react to troubles and wrongs by condemning and blaming others.  Because they are the ones who truly taste the mercy of God, and there’s nothing we need more.  So think about what Jesus is saying:  as you offer mercy to others, as you offer compassion, as you offer forgiveness, you open your life up to receive the very thing that you’re offering.  But if everybody has to pay you back, and that’s the system that you set up, Jesus goes, you’re going to have no palate to taste my mercy for you.

Blessed are the pure in heart…   The world says be who people want you to be, play the part.  Do whatever it takes to get ahead.  But Jesus says blessed are those who embrace a posture of integrity, where what you see is what you get.  Who allow their inward life and outward life to work in unison with each other.  Because when you live with integrity, you see God.  Think about that.  When you live with integrity, you see God.  You see him both in your shortcomings and in your successes.  You see him in your failures and in your joys.  But if you hide it, you very rarely see him.

Blessed are the peacemakers….    The world says choose your side, defend your turf.  Those on your side are your friends, those against you are your enemies.  Anybody heard that?  That’s the narrative of the world we live in.  But Jesus says blessed are those who stand in the middle and call both sides towards each other, believing that a bigger army or a more powerful weapon is not the true source of peace.  They see people not as rivals to beat out, but as brothers and sisters to love into wholeness.  Jesus says those kinds of people are blessed.  Why are they blessed?  Because one day the world will look at them and go, oh, you look a lot like God.  Before we think, though, that being a peacemaker is fun, we should probably pause and realize what it is to be a peacemaker.  I think this picture of a friend of mine—her name is Courtney Christianson—right after Charlottesville, there were protests and marches in cities all across America.  She lives near Portland and she’s a peacemaker.  She took a sign that said “Us vs. Them is a False Choice,” and she stood in the middle.  She wrote a blog—it’s posted on Preemptive Love Coalition’s website—about how lonely it was to stand in the middle.  To be hated by both sides.  To be a peacemaker is to be an equal opportunity offender inviting people towards the middle, inviting people towards love, inviting people to a better way.  Us vs. them is a false choice.  Somebody say amen.  Blessed are the peacemakers.

Blessed are the persecuted….   The world says avoid pain.  Do whatever you need to do to stay comfortable, happy and well respected.  But Jesus says blessed are the ones who reject the comfortable conformism of fitting into whatever the majority is doing, and instead, take the nonconforming, narrow way of living out the difficult truths requiring love and grace.  Why are they blessed?  Because theirs is the kingdom.  They’re not blessed because they’re persecuted, they’re blessed because they recognize all the kingdom of God is at hand.  Even in the midst of the mess, it’s here.

Jesus’s blessings are grace-based, wisdom invitations that invite us to flourishing as we live life in his kingdom.

So three quick things in light of Jesus’s teaching for us to take home.  I think we have to recognize that blessing doesn’t always change our circumstances, but it does always infiltrate them.  But the poor who came to Jesus, many of them left poor, but changed.  The meek, the ones getting run over by their society, were still getting run over, but they were changed.  I think a lot of times we tell Jesus, hey, if you’re in this, if you’re blessing, it’s got to look like this.  He goes, you’re just chasing after the wrong blessing.  Would you open your heart to receive what I actually want to give?  It won’t always change your circumstance, but it will infiltrate them.

Secondly, blessing comes as we are where we are, not where we wish we were.  So wherever you’re at this morning, WHEREVER you’re at this morning, in your pain, in your failures, in your regrets, in your wish I would have but I didn’t, in your I wish that would change but it won’t, wherever you’re at this morning, because the kingdom is present, you’re in the perfect position to be blessed by God.

Finally, blessing is dependent on his kingdom not on my competency.  And that is great news, is it not?  I love the way John Ortberg put it:  “You know who’s blessed?  You’re blessed.  Not because you live a well-managed life, and not because you have a lot of resources.  Not because you’re well-off, well-fed, well-dressed, well-educated.  But because you’re in a messed up, goofed up, junked up, knee-deep, desperate, choking condition. Good news, good news! {Markarios!}  Blessed are you.  Blessed are you.  The kingdom is coming and if you’ll just receive it as a broken needy person, then out of that broken needy blessedness, then you become a blessing to other people.”    Who’s blessed?  You are!  Because the kingdom is here.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream.  It was a good dream, and we’re still hopefully moving towards that dream.  Jesus of Nazareth had an announcement and he had an invitation.  His question is:  Will you receive it?  We live in a world, I believe, that desperately needs us to say ‘Yes.’  I saw this post on Twitter this week that somebody asked a pastor in our nation — I’m an atheist looking for common ground.  What would you like to see Christianity become in the U.S.?  I was raised by fundamentalist families and it wasn’t pleasant for me.  My question is sincere.  I could use some hope right about now.   Brian Zhand’s response was:  I would like to see Christianity in the United States become an embodiment, or at least an approximation, of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.  I realize it’s a long way from that right now.  My prayer, friends, is that because of our time together throughout this summer is that we might become a little bit closer to embodying the kingdom that Jesus says is present.

Would you stand with me as we get ready to move towards the table this morning?  I want us to do an exercise that I’d invite you to practice, maybe a few times, during this week.  Close your eyes and ready your heart. I’m inviting you to open your hands and putting them palms down.  It’s a way for us to posture our bodies and to say to Jesus, “Jesus, we’re just letting go.”  We’re letting go of some of the ideas we have about the way we think life should work.  We’re letting go of some of the ways we think you have to get blessing.  We’re letting go of our kingdoms.  Then face your palms towards the sky.  Jesus, we want to say to you this morning that we want to receive your life, your kingdom, your way, your wisdom, that often grates on our humanity, our desire, but Jesus, this morning, we want to say to you that we’re open, we’re open.  We want your way.  We want your life.  We want your words.  We want your teaching.  We want your grace.  We want your love and we’re open to receiving it this morning.

SPECIAL NOTE: We have a special resource to offer you from this Sundays sermon. We had a lot of requests for a PDF version of the Beatitudes. Click this link to download the PDF.