March 11, 2019- The Beatitudes, For Us- Matthew 5:1-12

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Seeing the crowds, he (Jesus) went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons (children) of God.

 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 “Blessed are you when others 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 so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  Matthew 5:1-12 (ESV)

The Beatitudes are difficult in the way that the Ten Commandments are difficult. They are beautiful. They are good. And there is no way that any of us can live by them perfectly.

We teach our children to be independent almost from day one. Independence and autonomy are ingrained into Western culture, but in God’s economy, we are blessed by our trust and dependence upon Him.

We can’t even believe in God and trust Jesus on our own. Faith itself is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

When we come to a place where we have no tangible reason to believe- when we are abandoned, ill or destitute, Jesus sustains us with the reality that He is with us, and that we are already citizens of the kingdom of God.

In Jesus’ resurrection we have hope that death is not the end. We will be reunited with the vast cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, and all tears will be washed away, when Jesus returns to remake heaven and earth.

When we are at the end of our strength and powerless, we are reminded that powers and principalities and governments are temporary, and that corruption in governance will eventually be overturned.

In the new heaven and earth there will be no more evil. We will have incorruptible bodies free from the curse of sin.  We will no longer endure injustice, unfairness, and mistreatment.  There will be no illness, violence, or suffering.

As Jesus has forgiven us, so we are able to be forgiven and to forgive others. We will no longer have to carry the burden of past injuries and grudges- nor will those things be held against us where others have failed to forgive us.

The veil will be removed from our eyes, so that we can love God with a purity that is not marred by our fear or desire for self-preservation.

In Christ we will have peace, not as the world gives but as only He can give. As the apostle Paul encourages us: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)

Even as Christians are persecuted and ridiculed for our faith more and more, we are in good company. No one can take away the promise and the hope that we have in Christ.  It’s not always easy or popular to do the right things (and we are by no means perfect at this) but by the power of the Holy Spirit we are blessed to stand and we are given the courage and the confidence to stand.

As we examine the Beatitudes, it is not a “to do” list for us, but a “God does through” us list. We are not the engine behind our transformation, and we cannot make ourselves holy through our own efforts.  It is only by the grace of God that He gives us the faith to believe and trust Him.  Christ alone redeems and transforms us.

This is good news.

June 20, 2017- A Closer Look at the “Beautiful Attitudes” of Poverty of Spirit, Mourning and Meekness- Matthew 5:3-5

“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.” – Matthew 5:3-5 (NRSV)

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“Poverty of spirit” can also be described as that place in which we come to the end of ourselves, where we realize how powerless we are to change events, and we are reminded that the world doesn’t revolve around us.  When we can’t make good things happen, or we aren’t able to reverse a loss, we naturally get discouraged.  It’s hard to accept that ultimately we are NOT in charge.  When we come to that place where we understand we are mortal, fallible and we can’t fix it all, we realize that God is our Source, and that our “forever home” is God’s Kingdom.  When we are put in the place of not being able to be self-reliant, we see how we are meant to be God-reliant, and that God provides for us.

Mourning is a place where everyone has been, from minor mourning, say mourning the loss of one’s youth, or mourning a small disappointment such as cancelled dinner plans, to major mourning such as losing a spouse or a parent.  There are floods of emotions and processes to be worked through that surface in mourning- as author Elizabeth Kubler-Ross discussed in her book On Death and Dying. There is denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance all wrapped up – and sometimes all going on at the same time- as one mourns.

God is especially close to the hearts of those who mourn. Mourning reveals our heart and requires us to strip away the habits and the assorted fronts we hide behind.  Mourning forces us to feel.  It acts like sandpaper cleaning off the hardness of our hearts and revealing the purity and tenderness that God desires in us.  As we surrender our mourning to God, He enters in, weeping with us as Jesus wept with Lazarus’ friends at the news of Lazarus’ death.  In mourning our hearts are opened to God’s comfort and peace. He gives us the hope and assurance that there is life beyond the heartache and trouble of this world.

Meekness is not to be confused with weakness. Jesus’ brand of meekness is not being a doormat or a milquetoast, but it is about being respectful and nurturing toward others.  Meekness requires that we put aside the desires for me, me, me and look at how we can serve the greater good of others and the community.

Meekness brings us to a place of humility and deference to others. It asks of us to be aware of our own limitations and to put the needs and desires of others above our own.

All three of these beautiful attitudes share a common thread. They bring us closer to the heart of Jesus.  They help us respond to God’s grace and mercy that has been freely given to us.