Monday, January 30, 2017

Matthew 5:1-12 Blessing the Cursed

The text tells us that Jesus saw the crowds, and then he went up on the mountain.  He sat down and his disciples gathered around him and he began to teach them, what is probably one of the most well known collections of teachings Jesus ever taught, which is commonly referred to as the Sermon on the Mount.  I don’t know when but sometime during this great “sermon” the crowd must have noticed that something was going on. 
In my imagination, I see the people, who gathered around Jesus that day, trickling in.  One notices the disciples gathered around Jesus and wants to know what is going on.  She tentatively walks a little closer, standing just on the edge of hearing range, not wanting to disturb the great teachers as he teaches his disciples. She is pulled in, step by step she gets closer until she finds her self sitting down on the outside of the circle of disciples. This type of scenario is repeated over and over again, with individuals and small groups of people; all noticing the rabbi instructing his disciples, who are then overcome with a want, a need to know what it is he is saying. By the end of Jesus’ instruction there is a great crowd gathered around Jesus, who are all astonished by his teaching and the authority with which he taught.
I don’t know how many from outside the inner circle of disciples had wandered over, when Jesus began this particular bit of instruction, but I imagine that many have not yet realized that Jesus is teaching, so the majority of the people who have gathered around Jesus are his disciples and a handful of curious persons lingering on the very outer fringes.
Jesus saw the crowds that day and, for some unmentioned reason, was compelled to go a little ways off. Then when his disciples had gathered around him, he is moved to speak these words, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit. . . Blessed are those who mourn. .  . the meek . . . those who hunger and thirst for righteousness . . . the pure in heart . . . peacemakers . . . those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”  It makes me wonder what Jesus saw in the crowd which made him need to tell his disciples that these people are blessed.  We know at another time Jesus looked at the crowd and had compassion on them and still another, while in Jerusalem was moved to tears on their behalf. 
It seems to me that Jesus’ heart broke when he looked into the faces of the crowds which followed him everywhere he went, because he saw into the heart of their very beings and knew more profoundly how deeply hurting each of them were.  When Jesus looked into the crowd he did not see a mass of people clamoring to see and hear the new teacher, he did not see a bunch of dirty, smelly, overly needy people.  Jesus saw a meek woman, being walked all over by others in her life. He saw the young man mourning the loss of his son. He saw the man who had tried so hard, and strived so long but no matter how hard he scrapped and clawed he could not find his way spiritually and all he had to show for his work and labor was emptiness, he was still poor in spirit. He saw the one who worked to make peace everywhere she went. He saw the man who had forgiven time-and-time-again, only to find his forgiveness was needed once more, who stood in the crowd that day wondering if there should ever be an end to his mercy.  When Jesus looked into that crowd that day he saw each and everyone one of these individuals.  He saw how hurt they were, he saw how broken they were.  He knew they had been let down, beaten down, used and abused time-and-time-again, so he turned away from them, waited for his disciples to gather around him and began to teach them to see as he saw.
Most people, had they seen these same people in the crowd, would see people who were hopeless, people who had nothing, and would never have anything.  They would see people who were abandoned and perhaps even cursed by God.  The common understanding of things was that if you were at the bottom, there was a reason you were where you were.  You had done something to deserve the lot in life you in which you had found yourself. If you were poor, you were poor because you did not work hard enough.  If you were broken and downtrodden, it was because you had not lived a life that would enable you to be whole and well off.  What ever happened to you was a direct result of your actions and God blessed you or cursed you to put you were you are based on what you deserved.  (To tell you the truth, I don’t think that is too far off from the way many think today.)
Jesus did not think this way.  Jesus did not see that any of these people deserved to be where they were.  Jesus did not see people who had gotten what they had coming to them.  When he looked out across the crowd that day he did not see anyone who was cursed and rejected by God.  Where most anyone else would have seen a crowd full of wretched people, cursed by God, worthy only of our scorn and distain, Jesus saw people who were blessed; blessed (not cursed) by God.  Blessed but not in worldly ways, with worldly things but blessed in ways, which can only come through God. Where the world saw the cursed, Jesus saw the blessed.
These people were not people whom those who followed Jesus should pull back from and avoid.  These people were not people to be avoided, they were people who were to be embraced, they were people who should be gathered in, and included, instead of scattered and excluded.  They were blessed!
Some of you of you are thinking, “But, Pastor they most definitely were not blessed.  Their lives were sad, their lives were fragmented, they were harassed, they were despondent, they were all the people everyone else distained.  Unless, you are going to completely redefine the meaning of blessed, Pastor, these people’s lives were anything but blessed.”
And I am with you on that.  When you are among those who are seen by the world as at the bottom of the heap; when you are pure in heart, you are lost in this debased world.  The reality too often is, when you are merciful, your mercy is abused; when you are mourning, there seems to be no comfort; when you are poor in spirit, it seems you will never be rich in what truly matters; when you are hungry for righteousness and you live in this world full of sin, there is nothing, which can fill you.  When you are among these mentioned by Jesus here, you are far too often at the bottom, being stepped on by the world and you feel nothing but blessed.  Yet, Jesus says that is when you are blessed. So how can we argue with Jesus?  If Jesus said it, it surely must be true.  But, how can it be true, when their lives are quite obviously not blessed in anyway we have ever come to think of this world?
Perhaps it would be good to look at how it is they are blessed.  Jesus tells us they are blessed, by God. But how?  How are they blessed, through what means?  This answer can be found in understanding to whom it was Jesus was addressing, when he began to teach in this manner.  It seems he said these things in response to those whom he saw amongst the crowd that day, but he spoke these words to his disciples when they gathered around him on the mountain.  He wanted his disciples to know that these people are blessed, so they, through his disciples, could be blessed. 
The blessing these people receive is not found in simply being the desperate people they are, it is not found in being blessed by those who have chosen to associate themselves with Jesus. It is found in those who listen to the words of Jesus, learn the lessons he is teaching them and live in the ways Jesus is calling for them to live.  Jesus came to bring the kingdom of Heaven, kingdom of heaven living down to earth. 
As Christians we are called to live as if God was the authority and the rule maker here.  Our goal is to bring the goodness and the greatness of the kingdom of God here to earth.  Those around us live by the rules of our world.  When we live contrary the world, when we bless where others curse, we are bringing the kingdom God to earth through our lives, we are extending the blessing of God in this world. 
We are called to live Godly lives, to live by the rules of God so that in doing so we can bring the goodness, the kindness the grace of God to the people around us.   It is in this way that the blessings of God are brought to this world.
Jesus called disciples who choose to follow him and learn as he taught.  Jesus taught his disciples what it meant to live kingdom living that is living by the way God would want them to live in this world.  Sin has destroyed our world.  Sin and the consequences of sin are innumerable.  It separates us from God.  It separates us one from another.  It tears people lives apart.  It ruins our families.  It corrodes our marriages.  It pulls us away from our children; it puts divides between us and our parents.  It causes us to fail one another.  It causes pain and hardship in.  It brings us nothing but sorrow. But Jesus came to change all that. 
Jesus came to bring the kingdom of God to our lives.  Jesus came to restore us to who we would have been had sin not stained everything.  This restoration begins by allowing our relationship with God to be restored.  But it goes beyond that.  In choosing to believe in Jesus Christ we are in essence choosing to be his disciples to sit at his feet to learn from his teaching and choosing to live those teachings in our everyday lives.  Jesus told his disciple that the kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.  And it was.  It was at hand as Jesus’ disciples learned through Jesus’ teachings to be Kingdom people, that is to be people who truly lived as if God reined here on earth.  Whenever the disciples choose to live by the rules and statutes of God they were living the kingdom of God, they were bringing the kingdom of Heaven down to earth. 
The blessing of those who are the least, those who are at the bottom is twofold.  First, of all they are blessed by God.  God has a word for these that are scrapping and clamoring just to make it by physically, emotionally or spiritually.  God sees your pain, your sorrow, the peace you make, the mercy you give.  God sees it all and pronounces blessing upon you.  God blesses you, should you choose to accept God’s blessing, first by reaching out and restoring relationship with you, but also by blessing you with strength where you are weak, healing where you are hurting, giving comfort where you sorrow.  God will stand in the gap and give to you what you truly need where you are the weakest and most venerable.
But the blessing does not end with the blessings of God but God continues to bless those most vulnerable, those most hurting, those most in need by allowing them to be blessed by those who have chosen to live the kingdom of God in their lives and therefore bless as God blesses.
Those of us who would call ourselves Christians, we are disciples; we are choosing to follow Jesus.  We too are learning to be kingdom people, learning how to live as if the kingdom of God has come to earth, because it has, in Jesus Christ, and it continues to come to earth each and every time we choose to live as Christ calls for us to live instead of living as the world around us would have us live.
Our world tells us that certain people are at the bottom. It tells us that some people it are less than worthy.  We are told that some people, for any number of reasons are in essence cursed.  Too many times we buy into it.  We come to believe that some people have chosen their lot; they deserve the pain and hardship in their lives that somehow, in someway they have brought it upon themselves.  It is their own fault.  We see the meek and wonder why they don’t stick up for themselves.  We see the poor in spirit and simply expect them to be spiritual giants.  We see those who mourn and wonder why they can’t just get over it.  We see those who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness and can’t understand why they are starving.  We see those who call for peace and think that they are looking for something unobtainable.  We look at these people and we know what they need to do to make their lives better.  We see them as weak.  We alongside of all those in the world around us see these people as less than worthy.  We are told in many spoken and unspoken ways that some deserve censure at worst and pity at best, but God tells us, that they are blessed.
On one level Jesus as he spoke that day wanted those hurting people he saw in the crowd to know that where they felt nothing but cursing, where they were despised by the society around them that this was not the way it was with God.  God saw who they were, God saw that they were hurting, broken and beat down by those around them and Jesus wanted them to know, with God there is blessing where the world would curse.  God brings strength to our weakness and fullness to our emptiness. 
But Jesus’ teaching went beyond that, he also told his disciples to live as he lived, to see the world as he saw the world and to love as he loved.  When Jesus saw the crowd his was moved to teach his disciples a different way to see the people around him.  He wanted them to see blessing where the world saw cursing.  He wanted those who followed him to see people the way he saw people.  And begin to bless where he blessed. 
This passage does two things.  It gives hope to the hurting and calls for all those who choose to follow Christ to live a life of blessing; to bless the least, the lowliest; to love the unloved, to reach out and give the hope of Christ to the hopeless, to support the falling. To be the blessing which Christ pronounces in this world.