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.

November 22, 2017- Forgive, Be Thankful and Praise God- Colossians 3:12-17, 2 Samuel 6:14-15

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As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:12-17 (NRSV)

One of the most important “wilderness lessons” I had to learn the hard way is that the heaviest thing to carry is a grudge.

Jesus doesn’t command us to forgive as a cruel joke. We may at times be quite justified in our anger, but holding on to anger does nothing to right the wrongs that have been done against us.  Holding onto our anger does nothing other than poison and paralyze us, while those who have wronged us go on about their merry way, blissfully unaware that we are hanging onto vitriol that is intended for them. Forgiveness allows us to surrender our anger and hurt and frustration to the One Who does have the power to make wrong things right again.  Forgiveness allows our healing and opens our hearts to the love and restoration- and peace- that only God can bring.

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Thankfulness is a close cousin to forgiveness. If we forgive others we also give up the “right” to be jealous of what others have. Rather than look at Susie-so-and-so and envy the fact that she is thinner or prettier or has a better car, why not thank God for the many blessings He has given us?  When we think about the simple gifts such as friends and family, the ability to breathe, the beauty that surrounds us, it is easy to be thankful. It is amazing what God can do through us when we have an “attitude of  gratitude,” rather than a heart that covets the things it doesn’t have.

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Praise is a natural by-product of thankfulness. It is said that King David danced before God in praise, and had no inhibitions about it.

David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod.  So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. 2 Samuel 6:14-15 (NRSV)

Admittedly, from a cultural viewpoint, Midwestern Americans of European descent are not normally prone to breaking out in dancing. Dancing is not forbidden in the Lutheran tradition, and it is a common form of worship in African congregations.  In some Puritan traditions dancing is frowned upon as being “too provocative” and/or drawing attention to the physical body.  However, we should have the freedom and the openness to praise God in our own way- with singing, instrumental music of all kinds, visual art, poetry and prose, and dancing, should the Spirit so lead us- no matter what other people might think about it.

The apostle Paul (who wrote the letter to the Colossians quoted in the verses above) was no stranger to hardship, deprivation and even experienced prison time because he kept on preaching and teaching about Jesus. Yet he forgave those who tormented him, thanked God for his blessings, and praised God constantly.

How can we forgive those who have wronged us, thank God for all He has done for us, and praise God when no one is around and even when everyone else is watching?