1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Read the whole passage)
When Peter and Andrew, James and John hopped out of their fishing boats to follow Jesus, to fish for people… I wonder if they thought about changing their minds when they heard Jesus preach the sermon on the mount?
Since Christmas and Epiphany, we have found ourselves on a journey of revelation with Jesus. First it was the heavens opening up with God’s voice thundering over the crowds. And then it was the John’s disciples following this Jesus fellow to see what the fuss was about this. And then it was Jesus walking down the beach calling his first disciples, fishermen of all people, to come and follow.
Three moments early in the ministry of Jesus that reveal to us just who this baby that we were singing carols about only a month ago has grown into.
Today, we hear this first sermon of Jesus’ in the Gospel of Matthew, the familiar sermon of blessings.
Yet, as familiar as these beatitudes are to us, I think there is something uncomfortable about them, at the very least for those first disciples. They had probably expected that following a Rabbi was going to be an upgrade on fishing for a living, a chance to be respected members of the community, to join the upper echelon of religious authorities. And along with this change in their lot in life, the disciples probably expected to become the ones doing the judging rather than the judged. To be the ones measuring others by the rules of Israel rather than always being the ones failing to measure up.
And yet, in Jesus’ first sermon he throws that dream of his disciples out the window. Instead of a sermon on rule following and keeping the law, Jesus dives right into the heart of the human condition.
And when we start listening to the beatitudes, they quickly become a list of things that remind us the messy brokenness of humanity:
Blessed are the poor in spirit… those who mourn… the meek… those who hunger and thrift for righteousness… the merciful who need mercy… the pure in heart… the peacemakers… the persecuted.
In fact, the deeper into the Beatitudes Jesus gets, the less and less the blessings come through. Jesus cuts through the surface stuff, right to the heart of what it means to be a human beings in a broken world. The disciples probably imagined that they would get to ease into this stuff rather than deal with it on day one. They probably wanted to stay at the easy part of religion… how following that rules will earn us salvation… how being a good person will get us into God’s good books.
We certainly get what the disciples were probably feeling. It is much easier to stay in the surface stuff, the manageable and controllable stuff. Rule following and do-gooding.
It isn’t all that enjoyable to be confronted by the hard stuff, to have to think about big questions and hard problems. Isn’t it enough that the news is bombarding with hard and scary things every day. Things like the impeachment trial of the US president and all the political partisanship that comes along with it. Things like the New Coronavirus, something new to terrify us every time we turn on the TV or Radio or open up our phones. Or the othering and demonizing of Chinese people as if they are to blame for the virus. Things like earthquakes in the Caribbean, fires still burning in Australia, Brexit and newborns being removed from their mothers simply because they are Indigenous and considered high-risk.
Isn’t it enough to have to deal with all that stuff during the week? Why does Jesus to have to get into just how broken our world is too… isn’t church supposed to make us feel better? Isn’t Jesus supposed to make that stuff just go away? Especially if we just follow the rules and are good people?
It is easy to just drop the blessing part from the Beatitudes. It is easy to hear just the list of things that remind us our broken world.
Or rather, it should be easy. Except Jesus keeps coming back to blessing.
It is like he won’t let us forget. Jesus could have just said blessed once. Blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness…
But Jesus keeps coming back to blessing.
Just in case those listening to his sermon missed it. Just in case his disciples didn’t make the connection that here on this mountain, that this crowd of people, this crowd of the unwashed masses are precisely the people that Jesus was going fishing for.
Jesus keeps coming back to blessing.
9 times he says, “Blessed are…”
And the 10th time he says, Rejoice and be glad.
Here in this midst of all these examples of the brokenness of the world… blessing.
Here, in this messy and hard struggle called life, is blessing.
We so often think of blessings as good things, so we struggle to understand the beatitudes as blessings. Blessings are health, wealth, happiness, comfort, escape, security, at least to our minds.
Yet, blessings in scripture is not those things. Blessings are not things to possess, not rewards for good behaviour or achievements for excellence.
Blessing is promise.
To bless something, or someone really, is to name the presence of God.
We know this already. We practice it every time we gather. We greet each other in the name of Triune God to begin worship, and we proclaim God’s promise to be with us as go. We bless the word we hear, we ask for God’s blessing as we pray. We bless the bread and wine, the Body and Blood of Christ by declaring that God is present in these gifts.
Blessing is the promise of God to be with us.
And so the Beatitudes are declarations of the places that God is going. The places where God is intending to do God’s work. The people to whom the Messiah is going to bring the good news of the Kingdom.
“Blessed are” Jesus says 9 times.
And it isn’t a list of all the people who are wealthy, healthy, happy, comfortable, and secure.
It is a list showing us real life, real brokenness and suffering, real struggle and hardship.
But also a promise and proclamation of all the places and people that Jesus is coming for. The people that Jesus called his first disciples to help him fish for.
And as hard as it is to be faced again with the reality of our broken world, it is God’s promise to meet us in the brokenness that truly matters. It the only thing that has something to say too all that other stuff we hear throughout the week.
Whether it is broken political systems and governments, or new viruses and a media hellbent on terrifying us, or the accompanying othering of people who we think are responsible, or earthquakes or fires or broken families.
God is with us all of that, and with us.
God is with us in as we die to sin and in new life in the waters of baptism.
God is with us as we hear again the promise of mercy and forgiveness for sinners.
God is with us making us one in the bread and wine we share transforming us into the Body of Christ.
Blessed are Jesus declares today… and yes.. this familiar sermon asks the disciples and us to again face the reality of our broken world.
But the blessings also reveals in Jesus, just where this promised Messiah is going, where this promised Messiah is calling us to go, and to whom this promised Messiah is sent.
Blessed are Jesus says.
Blessed are you for whom I have come and I will always be with.