(watch here: https://youtu.be/gCG0U9o5un4)
1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
13‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
17‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
This morning we have the wonderful opportunity to reflect on what many consider to be Jesus’ greatest teachings-the Beatitudes. And not just because they came to us in Jesus’ first public teaching or sermon according to the gospel of Matthew, his so-called “Sermon on the Mount.” It was Jesus’ first public teaching but that wasn’t what made it so special. It was the extraordinarily radical nature of his teaching that makes it so special. With that one word, “blessed,” Jesus causes us to rethink the situations of so many of us who are not experiencing what we might consider the best of life. We might be depressed or grieving or without any belongings or treated unfairly or misunderstood or bullied and Jesus, with that single word, “blessed,” somehow manages to get us to feel less sorry for ourselves. Indeed, he manages to put positive perspectives on what we consider to be suffering and hardship. Jesus helps us to see that our suffering is not without purpose. He helps us to see that God is with us in our suffering and actually rewards us for our suffering. We are blessed in our suffering! This is a very radical teaching indeed!
In keeping with that very radical nature of Jesus’ teaching, I thought I’d stretch the nature of my own message this morning. By now you’re all familiar with how I like to begin my messages with a little humor. I think humor can be a great tool for illustrating the wisdom of Scripture. Now you’ll note I haven’t begun this morning’s message with humor. That’s because I want it to guide our reflection on these Beatitudes a little further. By my count, there are nine clearly defined blessings in Jesus’ message. Rather than focusing on any one or two of them, I’d like to briefly touch on all nine of them. Except I’d like to do it with nine different, yet applicable, funny stories in the hopes that the love of Jesus shines through.
Jesus first teaches us, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” In keeping with the idea of poorness, there’s the one about Mr. Smith who was brought to Mercy Hospital (a Catholic hospital), and taken quickly in for coronary surgery. The operation went well and, as the groggy man regained consciousness, he was reassured by a Sister of Mercy, who was waiting by his bed. “Mr. Smith, you’re going to be just fine,” said the nun, gently patting his hand. “We do need to know, however, how you intend to pay for your stay here. Are you covered by insurance?” “No, I’m not,” the man whispered hoarsely. “Then can you pay in cash?” persisted the nun. “I’m afraid I cannot, Sister.” “Well, do you have any close relatives?” the nun questioned sternly. “Just my sister in New Mexico,” he volunteered. “But she’s a humble, spinster nun.” “Oh, I must correct you, Mr. Smith. Nuns are not spinsters – they are married to God.” “Wonderful,” said Mr. Smith. “In that case, please send the bill to my brother-in-law.” We can all be rich with God, even those of us who are depressed and hopeless. There is great hope in God! Psalm 147 says, “The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” (v.11)
Next, Jesus teaches us, “Blessed are those who mourn.” There’s the one about a woman who was at the beach with her children when her four-year-old son ran up to her, grabbed her hand, and led her to the shore, where a sea gull lay dead in the sand. “Mommy, what happened to him?” the little boy asked. “He died and went to Heaven,” the woman replied. Her son thought a moment and then said, “And God threw him back down?” In Christ, the power of death has been destroyed. Death is not an end but a new beginning…a new life in Christ. Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” (5:17)
Jesus teaches us, “Blessed are the meek.” This one is about a state trooper who sees a vehicle on the interstate doing 33 miles an hour and pulls the car over to make sure everything is all right. When he approaches the driver he discovers that it is a nun. “Excuse me, sister, but are you alright?” he asked. She replies, “Oh, yes officer. We’re just fine. Was I doing something wrong?” The officer says, “Well sister, you were traveling way under the speed limit and I was concerned that you might be having car trouble or something.” “But, officer,” the nun interrupts, “I saw a sign there about a mile back that said 33, and I know I wasn’t going any faster than that.” Chuckling, the trooper says, “Sister, that was a state highway route marker, this is State Route 33, not the speed limit. The speed limit signs have a MPH at the bottom.” “Oh, now don’t I feel foolish!” replied the nun turning red. “That’s ok, but please try to be more careful, I would hate to see you get hurt,” finished the officer. Then as he turns to say good-bye to the nuns in the back seat, he notices for the first time that they are trembling violently and quite pale. “Sister, what is wrong with your friends? Can I escort you to a hospital?” “Oh, no, they’re all right. We just turned off of Route 150.” They say, “Ignorance is bliss.” What they should say is, “Focus on seeking the wisdom of God and you’ll forever be satisfied.” Proverbs 3:7 states, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.”
Jesus teaches, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” There was an atheist who complained to a friend, “Christians have their special holidays, such as Christmas and Easter; and Jews celebrate their holidays, such as Passover and Yom Kippur; Muslims have their holidays. EVERY religion has its holidays. But we atheists,” he said, “have no recognized national holidays. It’s an unfair discrimination.” His friend replied, “Well,…why don’t you celebrate April first?” There is great power and strength from faith in God. Isaiah writes, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” (40:29)
Jesus teaches us, “Blessed are the merciful.” There was a defendant who was on trial for murder. There was strong evidence indicating guilt, but there was no corpse. In the defense’s closing statement, the lawyer, knowing that his client would probably be convicted, resorted to a trick. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have a surprise for you all,” the lawyer said, as he looked at his watch. “Within one minute, the person presumed dead in this case will walk into this courtroom.” He looked toward the courtroom door. The jurors, somewhat stunned, all looked on eagerly. A minute passed. Nothing happened. Finally, the lawyer said, “Actually, I made up the previous statement. But you all looked on with anticipation. I therefore put to you that you have a reasonable doubt in this case as to whether anyone was killed and I insist that you return a verdict of not guilty.” The jury, clearly confused, retired to deliberate. A few minutes later, the jury returned and pronounced a verdict of guilty. “But how?” inquired the lawyer. “You must have had some doubt; I saw all of you stare at the door.” The jury foreman replied, “Oh, we all did look alright, but the trouble is, your client didn’t.” God’s mercy is reserved for those who seek to be righteous and live righteously and God’s judgment for those who do not. James writes, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (2:13)
Jesus teaches, “Blessed are the pure in heart.” For this one, I felt the wisdom of children often reflects the purest of heart. Here are some quick requests from children to their pastor:
Dear Pastor, I know God loves everybody but He never met my sister. Yours sincerely, Arnold.
Age 8, Nashville
Dear Pastor, Please say in your sermon that Peter Peterson has been a good boy all week. I am
Peter Peterson. Sincerely, Pete. Age 9, Phoenix
Dear Pastor, My father should be a minister. Every day he gives us a sermon about something.
Robert Anderson, age 11
Dear Pastor, I’m sorry I can’t leave more money in the plate, but my father didn’t give me a raise
in my allowance. Could you have a sermon about a raise in my allowance? Love, Patty.
Age 10, New Haven
We can only know God’s love with pure hearts. Again, James writes, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (4:8)
Jesus teaches us, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” This one is about Little Johnny who came home from the playground with a bloody nose, black eye, and torn clothing. It was obvious he’d been in a bad fight and lost. While his father was patching him up, he asked his son what happened. “Well, Dad,” said Johnny, “I challenged Larry to a duel. And, you know, I gave him his choice of weapons.” “Uh-huh,” said the father, “that seems fair.” “I know, but I never thought he’d choose his big sister!” Sometimes keeping the peace can result in unexpected consequences. But peace results in the greatest reward-oneness with God. Hebrews says, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (12:14)
Jesus teaches us, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” One bright, beautiful Sunday morning, everyone in the tiny town of Johnstown got up early and went to the local church. Before the services started, the town people were sitting in their pews and talking about their lives, their families, etc. Suddenly, Satan appeared at the front of the church. Everyone started screaming and running for the front entrance, trampling each other in a frantic effort to get away from evil incarnate. Soon everyone was evacuated from the church, except for one elderly gentleman who sat calmly in his pew, not moving — seemingly oblivious to the fact that God’s ultimate enemy was in his presence. Now this confused Satan a bit, so he walked up to the man and said, “Don’t you know who I am?” The man replied, “Yep, sure do.” Satan asked, “Aren’t you afraid of me?” “Nope, sure ain’t,” said the man. Satan was a little perturbed at this and queried, “Why aren’t you afraid of me?” The man calmly replied, “Been married to your sister for over 48 years!” Doing the right thing can be difficult but again, God rewards righteousness. Peter affirms this-“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)
Finally, Jesus teaches, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you.” There was a man smelling like a distillery who flopped on a subway seat next to a priest. The man’s tie was stained, his collar was plastered with red lipstick, and a half-empty bottle of gin was sticking out of his torn coat pocket. He opened his newspaper and began reading. After a few minutes the disheveled guy turned to the priest and asked, “Shay, Father, what caushes arthritish?” “Mister, it’s caused by loose living, being with cheap, wicked women, too much alcohol and a contempt for your fellow man.” “Well, I’ll be darned,” the drunk muttered, returning to his paper. Having second thoughts about his abrupt manner, the priest nudged the drunk and apologized. “I’m very sorry. I didn’t mean to come on so strong. How long have you had arthritis?” “Oh, I don’t have it, Father. I was jusht reading here that the Pope does.” We ought not be afraid of the judgments of others if we but fear the Lord and his almighty righteousness. Proverbs states, “Then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints.” (5:5-8)
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.