Matthew 5:1, 7-8
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“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 receive 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 for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
When people hear that I have taken a trip once again to the Holy Land, the first question that I am asked is always: Did you feel safe --- and my answer is an emphatic YES. The most dangerous part of the trip, statistically, was getting to the airport!
The next thing they always ask me is: WHY? Why do you keep going back?
This was my 13th trip to Israel, my 10th leading a group from the local church.
Why do I keep going back?
The answer is simple --- yet also complex and very nuanced
I go because it continues to impact my understanding of the Bible
· I learn something new every time I go
This trip we visited Magdala --- a recently discovered site on the sea of Galilee and home of Mary (of Magdala) that I had never been too before
Priest had served at Mt Comfort Indiana (even thought he was from Ireland
We celebrated the healing of those we loved --- as we remembered the story of the woman who touched Jesus robe
It was a powerful experience
· I get to experience Israel through the eyes of first-time visitors
It is hard to explain the thrill I get when a light bulb goes off for someone
Tom being blown away by the topography
Experiencing again the first sighting of the old city of Jerusalem and singing along to the song Holy City (gives me goose bumps even recalling it!)
· Getting to know a group of very special people in a whole new way
If I am honest, my favorite trips have been the ones where I am not responsible for a group
When I spent a month in Israel by myself while I was on a sabbatical
Instead of spending an hour on Masada --- I spent an entire day!
When I was invited to join The Jerusalem Center as an adjunct faculty member
I was able to visit the archeological sites with the archeologists and get in-depth insights into what they were doing and finding
When I went with a group sponsored by the Masons with pastors from all over the country
And while I have enjoyed every one of those tours --- there is nothing like seeing the Holy places with friends.
This trip was special because I have been so immersed in the ministry of Jesus lately
As I have been telling you --- my goal this year is to help change the filter that you see the world through
Instead of seeing it though the filter or lenses that most of us wear every day
Our privileged 21st Century North American worldview
The lens that our political affiliation puts over our eyes
My goal is to help you begin to see Jesus --- through the lens of the Biblical story and the biblical worldview
And that filter is a very different one from the ones that we often use to see the world through
As we have been talking about this past month --- there is no place to see this upside down filter of Jesus than in the message of the Sermon on the Mount
Blessed are the poor
Blessed are those who mourn
Blessed are the meek
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
Blessed are the merciful
Blessed are the pure in heart
Blessed are the peacemakers
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you
None of those would make the 2020 top ten list of things to aspire to in the USA
Eugene Peterson in his translation "The Message" always has a knack of cutting through some of the clutter of scripture. He translated our key verses today:
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
But still on face-value --- these are not things most of us strive for.
Verse six takes us to a cross-road: Jesus us asks us, are you really hungering and thirsting after righteousness?
Are we seeking God above all else?
Is God first priority or somewhere else on the list?
If God is truly #1, and you are really hungering and thirsting for God's righteousness then the beatitudes are a test to prove your integrity.
You tell God that God is #1 in your life, and almost immediately you find yourself tested
And how does that test happen?
It is often with a person who has hurt you, or let you down, or maybe has said unpleasant things about you and seems to want to dirty your reputation.
How do you respond?
Do you do what seems to be the way of the world and seek revenge or do you follow what Jesus is saying here go a different way --- the way of mercy?
Most of us choose to "get even" and fail to show mercy
The Greek word for mercy is eleos --- which is the opposite of ogree (which means wrath)
In the New Testament, eleos is a gracious action
It is not giving justice (what someone deserves) but rather showing mercy (what they don't deserve)
This is not a new idea --- It is the same lesson that is found in the golden rule
At the end of this Sermon on the Mount Jesus reminds us:
Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12 (CEB)
Instead of mercy --- we might use another word: empathy
Jesus constantly shows us that empathy is the better way --- and he does it by sharing stories about empathetic people
· Like the Good Samaritan who interrupts his trip to show mercy
· The story of the woman caught in sin --- when Jesus invites us who are sinless (truly righteous) to throw the first stone --- and we all must walk away
· Or as we learned in the Letter of James when he challenged the abusive treatment of the poor in the synagogue
· And maybe the most challenging one --- when, just a little later in this Sermon, Jesus says:
“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. Matthew 5:43-48 (CEB)
Who shows mercy to their enemies? --- Jesus!
And to whom are we supposed to show this mercy?
Those in need
Those suffering injustice
those who are poor
those who are oppressed
those who have failed
This is tough stuff --- and I don't see any wiggle room (even though we wiggle all the way through these)
And if we haven't had enough --- Jesus gives us the sixth beatitude:
Blessed are the pure in heart
I believe that the order the beatitudes are presented in is very intentional.
They flow from one to another seeking to help us pursue God's will for our lives
What this beatitude seems to be asking is: what are our motivations?
Do we love God for personal gain (ie. getting into heaven)
Do we love God because it enables us to love others?
Do we do good deeds to be praised and honored
Do we do good deeds because God loved us first and modeled this way of life?
I am not sure we really want that answer to that . . .
The entire Sermon on the Mount is brilliant, because Jesus constantly expands upon the themes in the Beatitudes
In chapter 6:1-18, Jesus tells us that the pure in heart are those whose religious actions are not done for the praise of others but in order to be in a relationship with God
and then a little later, Jesus reminds us that
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21 (CEB)
Where is your treasure?
Where is your heart?
There is a cost to not following the teachings of Jesus --- Eldridge Cleaver summed it up nicely when he reminds us:
"The price of hating other human beings is loving oneself less."
Kindness makes all the difference in the world.
Blessed are those who care!
Why do you keep going back to Israel?
Because each trip I encounter God in a new way.
Our very first day, Carolyn, in her devotion, asked us to share what we needed to leave behind --- to metaphorically unpack from our suitcases --- and she invited us to do this so that we would have room for something new.
I couldn't articulate what baggage I needed to unload, at that moment.
But as the time wore on, it became clear
It is what I have been searching for my whole life
How do I make room for God?
Really make room for God
What do I have to let go of?
And the answer was ME
I needed to let go of my glasses --- my filters --- my expectations for what I wanted God to do and be and instead pick up Jesus
And this because clear in Egypt
Our group of 14 in Egypt was joined by groups from Ohio, Missouri, Atlanta and Iowa
We became a group of 31 --- and while we started as five individual groups that were thrown together --- we quickly became family
And nothing demonstrated this more clearly that the example of Randy from Ohio
Egypt is hard
It requires a lot of challenging walking
And we had a couple --- Tom and Denise who were both challenged
Within a day --- Randy adopted Tom and Denise and was helping them get on and off the bus and helping them along the way
Randy didn't have to do that
He had never met them before
But Randy just had an air about him
He seemed to understand the message of the Beatitudes --- that it is in caring that one is blessed
And he modeled that message with joy and conviction
That is why I go to Israel
Sure I love the sites
I love being where Jesus was
Where Moses was
But more than anything else --- I love being with people who are beginning to change their glasses by talking off the lenses of the world and putting on the glasses of Jesus
I hope that you have noticed the paradox of the beatitudes
They way of Jesus is NOT the way of the world
The way of Jesus means putting Jesus first
Putting others second
And recognizing that we are third (at best)
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God."
May God begin to create in us clean hearts --- so that we can experience the blessing of really caring for the other in this world.