Today Jesus opens up his famous sermon or teachings on the mount with a series of nine beatitudes or blessings. Beatitudes are found throughout the Old Testament in the Psalms and in prophetic books like Isaiah and Daniel. Beatitudes occur usually in two primary settings: as a means to share wisdom or a means to declare things that will come or prophecy.
An important thing to remember as we approach today’s Beatitudes or Blessings is they are statements in the indicative mood not the imperative mood. It might have been awhile since you took an English class, so another way to remember is the Beatitudes are not commands but statements of the way things are and the way things will be.
Today’s blessings being preached in the sermon on the mount are statements of the way things are and the way things will be in regards to God’s promises for God’s coming Kingdom. Throughout the Gospel of Matthew there is a sense that the world is divided into to ages; the present evil era that God will soon end, and the coming realm or Kingdom of heaven when all things will take place according to God’s purpose.
So today’s Beatitudes or Blessings are eschatological statements about God’s coming realm. They are statements that bring joy to God’s people because they lift up the good news that God’s coming Kingdom includes all, even those who are lowly, weak, grieve stricken, and on the margins. These statements by Jesus proclaim God’s faithful promises where humans fit in with God’s plan. God’s faithful promise for the coming Kingdom of Heaven let us know that we will always be included, secured, loved, and claimed by God.
HOPE OF BLESSINGS
To connect these statements of blessings with the context of Jesus’ time, they truly were radical in nature. God’s blessings stand in contrast to a world consumed by power and status. In Jesus’ day it is hard to get far in life if you were poor in spirit, peaceful, merciful, and meek. In Jesus day people used politics and social status to gain power by secluding the poor, weak, and grieving. “Happiness” and privilege came for those who were rich, abrasive, and sought power at all costs. Jesus’ statements of God’s faithful promises were literally turning the values of the world upside down.
A question to ask ourselves this morning is how does this text full of nine faithful promises intersect with the world we live in today? Is human nature and human struggles any different today than they were 2000 years ago? As we read words of faithful promises by God for those who are poor in spirit, mourning, meek, merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers, the reality is those words still stand in sharp contrast to a world in 2020 were people use status, political authority, and seclusion to gain power at the expense of others.
As we sit in worship this morning and this text intersects our lives and the world we live in and breathe in we can find hope and spiritual inspiration.
We find hope because even if some of us feel like the world around us is spinning chaotically we are reminded by Jesus’ words that God promises to never leave us and will always be there even in those moments where we feel the farthest from God or life is out of control. We have hope because God has faithfully promised to include us in God’s coming kingdom of heaven. We have hope because of God’s promise of everlasting love through Christ. As a church, the hope that God’s faithful promises bring is the core of our existence. With hope in our hearts of the assurance of God’s faithful promises we respond to God by living out Christ’s mission to love God and love God’s creation.
In the Presbyterian Church we believe that when it comes to the calling of the church to live out Christ’s mission that there are six great ends of the church. 1. The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind; 2. The shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; 3. The maintenance of divine worship; 4. The preservation of truth; 5. The promotion of social righteousness; and 6. The exhibition of the Kingdom of heaven to the world.
If today’s Gospel Reading is a statement of the way things are in regards to God’s coming kingdom of heaven, then our role as a church is demonstrate that kingdom of heaven to a broken, power hungry, and fearful world. So while these beatitudes are blessings or promises by God for God’s coming realm, they are also able to shape us in thinking what it means to live out our calling as a church to exhibit that Kingdom to the world.
These faithful promises inspire us to live a life and demonstrate to the world that the Kingdom of heaven mourns injustice and hate. They inspires us to live a life that humbly serve others, especially those who are lowly, weak, grieve stricken, and on the margins. They inspire us to hunger and thirst for righteousness for all of God’s creation. They instill a reminder that God’s purpose and our purpose is to show the created world mercy. God’s faithful promises inspires us with courage that our lives are able to be devoted to peacemaking. God’s faithful promises give us courage to stand up against the powers of the world that hurt, seclude, and hate any of God’s people.
DON’T GIVE UP
As we take a hard look at the world around us and the mess we as humans make of our own lives it could be really tempting to give up in despair. It is in those moments we lean on the hope of God’s faithful promises that God will always love us and claim us. It is in those moments we can lean on God’s promises of love and inclusion and let them shape our own love and inclusion for a sinful and broken world and respond to a broken, power hungry and fearful world with justice, humility, peace, mercy, and love.
DECLARATION OF FAITH
In 1969 the southern presbyterian church (the denomination this church was a part of before reunion) decided to write a declaration of faith in response to southern cultures struggles for racial equality and gender equality. A member of this church Neil Davis was a part of the committee that crafted this statement. While it was never approved as a confessional document in either the southern church PCUS or when reunion happened in 1983 to form the PCUSA, the Declaration of Faith was adopted by the PCUS and PCUSA as a reliable aid for christian study and inspiration to the church. Because of this church’s connection to the creation of the declaration it has been used in worship over the years. I loved how it ends and how God’s promises of God’s coming kingdom shapes the way we exhibit the coming kingdom.
“The people of God have often misused God’s promises as excuses for doing nothing about present evils. But in Christ the new world has already broken in and the old can no longer be tolerated. We know our efforts cannot bring in God’s Kingdom. But hope plunges us into the struggle for victories over evil that are possible now in the world, the church, and individual lives. Hope gives us courage and energy to contend against all opposition, however invincible it may seem, for the new world and the new humanity that are surely coming.”
There are so many issues that hope plunges us into the struggle for victories over evil. One of the evils we are going to recognize today in church is hunger. According to the organization Feeding Hunger 37 million Americans struggle with hunger, including 11 million children. That is quite a fact for world’s greatest food-producing nation. For our own community of Lee County there are almost 28,000 food insecure people or people who have limited or uncertain access to enough food to support a healthy life. That is roughly 1 out of 5 people in our county.
With this statistic in mind I am so grateful for offerings like the Souper Bowl of caring offering that brings up the awareness of hunger in our communities and has raised over $190 million dollars since 1990. A significant number for an offering and national movement that started after a youth group responded to a prayer asking God on Super Bowl Sunday “to help them be mindful for those who do not even have a bowl of soup to eat.”
Yet the amount of $190 million raised over 30 years still dwarfs in comparison to other events that occur on the same day. Just last year companies spent $336 million just for advertising during a 4 hour Super Bowl Football game. My guess is some of those same companies are faithfully committed to the struggle with hunger in our country but it raises a great question about where hunger stands in priorities on a day when 37 million people struggle to even have a bowl of soup?
As a congregation we are partners with many great organizations who make sure the issue of hunger is front and center in our minds. I am so grateful for ministries in our community like the East Alabama Food Bank, the Community Market and Presbyterian Community Ministries who are all doing their part to plunge themselves into the struggle for victories over evil. Who are letting the faithful promises of God proclaimed in the Beatitudes shape the way they humbly serve and include the lowly and those pushed to the margins.
So as this text intersects with our lives and you lean on the everlasting faithful promises proclaimed by Jesus, may the hope of the Good News plunge you into the places and issues of this world that are struggling for victories over evil, and may God’s promises shape you to live a life that tends to the poor in spirit, mourns injustice and hate. May God’s promise shape you to live a life full of humility, that hungers and thirsts for righteousness and centers you towards a life with a pure in heart. May God’s promises shape you to live a life that strives for peace and may the hope of God’s faithful promises give you “courage and energy to contend against all opposition, however invincible it may seem, for the new world and the new humanity that are surely coming.” Alleluia Amen!