Heritage Presbyterian Church

February 2, 2020
Fourth Sunday of Epiphany
Scripture reading – Matthew 5: 1-12

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew is commonly known as “The Sermon on the Mount.”  It is also called “The Beatitudes.”  Either title indicates that it is a significant message from Jesus Christ to the people.  What makes it so significant is not necessarily the fact that this was the first sermon preached by Jesus.  (They’re may have been others that were first.)  What makes it significant is not necessarily the fact that this was the model that Jesus followed throughout the four Gospel accounts.  What makes it significant is not necessarily the deep theology that is stated so clearly in his message.

What makes this message significant is the fact that it worked for the audience Jesus was addressing at the time…and it still works for believers in today’s world too.  Not all of Jesus’ messages, sermon, and parables translate so easily to our ears today.

For example:

  • When you hear the parable of the foolish bridesmaids who are not ready when the bridegroom finally appears, that might not work for you…especially if you have never hosted a wedding.
  • If you have never farmed, or planted seeds, or harvested a crop (even a small one), then the parable of “you reap what you sow” might not work for you.
  • If you are a sound sleeper, then the parable of the friend who pounds on your door at midnight and needs help because surprised guests just showed up, then the “Friend at Midnight” is a message that is lost on you.

And folks…those are just three easy ones.  Jesus taught messages that experts are still debating today.

So, this is a significant message from Jesus, and it’s early in Matthew’s Gospel.  Let’s hear a quick review of the blessings we heard today:

“Blessed are:

  • The poor in spirit
  • Those who mourn
  • The meek
  • The merciful
  • The pure in heart
  • The peacemakers
  • Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • You, when others revile you or persecute you or utter vile things against you on Jesus’ account.”

That’s a pretty unusual list.  It doesn’t include the powerful, the rich, the well-connected, the beautiful people, the winners.  In other words, it doesn’t seem to include those who appear to be blessed by life in this world.  Yet it reminds us all that blessings often appear in the next life as a result of the work done in this one.  I’ll bet that message resonated with the crowd who heard it; most of them led difficult lives filled with daily struggles just to survive.  That still describes millions of people who live in our world today.

And again…I am talking to anyone – and I mean anyone – who has ever thought any of the following thoughts:

  • “I know others are good and they’ll be saved.  But not me.”
  • “I don’t think God loves me.  If God did, I wouldn’t have such a rotten life.”
  • “Jesus came to save everyone, but there are some sins that just can’t be forgiven.”

Don’t you suppose that at least some of the people who were in attendance on the side of that hill, or any of the billions of people who have heard that message throughout the years, thought similar things?  Jesus was talking to the people who needed his message.  He was talking to all people everywhere who wonder if God is there.  His answer, “Yes, God is there!”

What exactly did Jesus say?  Let’s take them one at a time:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  Those who have either given up or are on the verge of doing so, God sees you.  God knows you.  God hears you.  Even if you don’t know it, even if you don’t FEEL it, God is there …you are never alone.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  When do we mourn?  When we experience a great loss.  It might be a spouse, a friend, a child, a beloved pet.  It might be the loss of your home, your job, your independence.  It might be your health, your senses, your ability to walk.  We each experience loss, so each of us mourns.  God hears you, and you’re not alone.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”  Think of the meekest person you have ever known.  Chances are they were also the gentlest, kindest, sweetest person you have ever known.  I know someone like that, and it describes her perfectly.  If there was ever someone who had life throw everything it had at her, it was this fine lady.  She was the school secretary of a school where I taught for five years.  I can honestly say the administration loved her, the teachers loved her, the students – and I mean all the students – loved her, and the parents loved her.  That is quite a feat.  Yet I never heard her raise her voice.  I never saw anyone be rude to her.  I never saw her with anything but a sweet smile on her lovely face.  If the meek inherit the earth, then we are in wonderful hands with that woman.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  This tells me that Jesus recognized and praised those who just get fed up with the world’s indifference to unfairness and decide to do something about it.  The cranky people, in other words.  Sometimes they are tired of being cranky because that is a lonely position to be in.  Sometimes those in control don’t want to listen, and they certainly don’t want to change anything.  That’s why on occasion those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are needed in God’s plan.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”  This one sounds so pretty the way we read and see it.  Now change it slightly to “Blessed are those who forgive, for they will receive forgiveness.”  This is what Jesus is saying.  The two concepts of mercy and forgiveness are intertwined and cannot be easily separated.  So those who can let go will themselves receive the same gift.  And make no mistake: mercy and forgiveness are both gifts.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  To look upon the face of God is to die…at least, that is what we used to believe back in the Old Testament days.  Yet Moses did it.  Whenever he did, the people knew it from the way his face appeared.  Later, Moses spoke with God as a friend.  If we are pure in heart, which does NOT mean we are perfect, that means we can see God as Moses did.  I think that would be wonderful.

Or perhaps “pure in heart” means that you respect God so much that you wouldn’t even consider acting against God’s wishes…such as the Hebrew midwives from Exodus, chapter one (read Exodus 1: 15-17).

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  Wait a minute…I thought we were all God’s children.  That’s true, we are, but in this case, Jesus is telling us something a little different.  In the recorded history of humankind, we have only had a handful of years in which someone was not at war with someone else.  We are at times a violent species.  Yet Jesus said that those who can work and achieve peace, not just an absence of war and violence, but truly achieve peace, they will be seen as someone so special that God will call them his most beloved…like any good parents do for their children.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”  I thought this was covered by those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Not exactly.  This one is for those who are cranky and agitate for change, and then have to pay a heavy price for doing it.  If people make fun of you, if you are heckled, if your reputation is ruined, if you are assaulted on behalf of righteousness, this is what Jesus is talking about.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”  Stand with Jesus and what he says, and you will be rewarded in the end.  Perhaps it won’t happen in this world, but this life only lasts on average about 80 years.  The Kingdom of Heaven will last forever.  That is a statement we can all bank on.

Before we wind this up, let’s remember something else.  In Matthew’s version of this sermon, we get all the good news. 

However, in Luke’s version, we get this…plus what are called “The Woes” which we will hear now.  (Read Luke 6:20-26

Jesus does not forget that there are always going to be some who do not hear what He says, do not follow his instructions and his guidance, reject his words altogether and refuse to either believe or obey.  To those, Jesus also has a message, and it is one that he probably witnessed personally.  Remember that when Jesus walked the earth, he didn’t do so as a rich, powerful person.  Instead, he came to earth in the lowliest of ways, born to poor, common parents, raised in a tiny village that was scorned by one of his own Apostles, who said, “Nazareth?  Does anything good ever come from there?”  So, perhaps Jesus knew what it was like to be one of the people who heard his message that amazing day.  This means that Jesus still knows what it’s like to be one of us in our time too.

If we remember the loving and tender verses in the Bible, those that remain in our hearts, they we know that we will end up walking with those Jesus clearly described in his blessings.  Verses such as:

  • “What does the Lord require of us but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”  (Micah 6:8)
  • “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me.”  (Psalm 23:4)
  • “Have we not all one Father?  Has not one God created us?”  (Malachi 2:10)
  • “Suffer the little children to come unto me.”  (Matthew 19:14)

In the end, the basic message of the Beatitudes does not teach earthly rewards.  But it does remind us of an important point: “How do I qualify for the Kingdom of God?”  That is a question I will leave with you, Christians.