“Kingdom Blessings” by Interim Pastor Tim Morphew
(What)Something about that Jesus of Nazareth. When he was baptized by John in the river Jordan, he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit of God came and rested on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” And when he returned from the wilderness of his temptations, after the Baptist was arrested Jesus launched his itinerant ministry with John’s cry: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!”
And (Matt. 4:23-25) he “…went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.”
(What) Something about that Jesus of Nazareth. Where he goes, the sick are healed and he declares that the King-dom of God has come near. And when you’re with him you can feel that it’s true. Could that Jesus be the promised one?
And people are so, so ready. We are also, all so, so ready. Weeks like this make us yearn for a new order. A new way of living. Because life is hard and it’s not fair. There’s so much anger, so much rage. So much violence. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. The weakest, the most vulnerable get trampled… God help us… But that Jesus of Nazareth.. He says the Kingdom of God is at hand. And wherever he goes, God’s love and mercy and grace and healing power seems more real… And that’s what we’re looking for, yearning for. It is our truest, deepest need.
So they come, people come, so many people – crowds of people! And when Jesus sees the crowd he goes up the mountain and sits down. And his disciples draw near because everybody knows that when the rabbi sits down, he’s getting ready to teach. Jesus sits down to teach. His disciples are there. And I think that any who could climb were there too. [7:28 “Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching”]
Note that the first thing that Matthew tells us about Jesus’ public ministry is his declaration that, “The kingdom of heaven [GOD] has come near.” Before the healing or any other miracles is Jesus’ announcement of the Kingdom of God! And when he sees the crowd, Jesus sits down to tell them – teach about the Kingdom of God.
And that is basic content of his whole “Sermon on the Mount.” That is why the sign at the road says “Living the Kingdom of God: Here & Now.” Because that’s how most students of scripture understand Matthew 5-7. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is a tightly packed overview/summary of the fundamentals of the Kingdom of God as God means for it to be.. As it is promised. As it will be when God’s Kingdom comes and God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven!
The Kingdom of God. What is the Kingdom of God all about? What it supposed to mean to us that the Kingdom of God is near?
It reminds me of the story about Frederick William IV (King) of Prussia (from 1840 -1861). He visited a school and quizzed the students. He held up a stone and asked the children: to what kingdom does this belong? They responded: mineral. He then, pointed to a flower and asked: to what kingdom does this belong? They answered: plant. He then pointed to a bird flying by outside the window and asked: to what Kingdom does that belong? They replied: animal. Then he asked: “now, to what kingdom do I belong?” (multiple sources: deacon sil, sermons.com, etc.)
Now that is a deeper question, isn’t it? How do you suppose the children answered the King?? And how might you and I answer the question??
For followers of Jesus it is a fundamental theological question. To what kingdom do I belong? To what king-dom do you belong? Who or what is the highest authority in your life, or mine? To whom or to what do I give my highest allegiance? Who or what is most important to me?
Are we no more than members of the Animal kingdom, driven by the same instincts that motivate birds and bears and other wild beasts? … Or is there a greater meaning, a higher purpose that moves and motivates us??
What moves and motivates us? Consider how we spend our time and money. What we pay attention to.
According to data from DataReportal, the average American spends 7 hours & 4 minutes looking at a screen every day. [Have you ever actually logged how many hours a day you spend looking at a screen?] 49 hours a week amounts to 108 days of “screen time” every year. It is estimated that the average American sees from 4000 – 10,000 advertisements a day. And every one of those commercials has been created by well-paid, smart people who pack their ads with powerful images, catchy music and humor, and memorable slogans. Most of the commercials have a primary theme: this product will give you true happiness & deep satisfaction.
Based on the worldview presented by the ever-present advertising that we see on the screens we watch, here’s how an observer might rewrite the Beatitudes for 21st century viewers:
Blessed are those who fly to (5) luxury vacation spots on tropical islands, where they lie in chaise lounge chairs, the only two people on an enormous white beach; for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are those who drink the right beverage, for they shall be surrounded by carefree, football-watching buddies and highly attractive, socially-gifted women in the first half of life; and they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are those who have the latest smartphone, for they shall gaze on screens swirling with color and shall get all the information they need just when they need it; and they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are those who have outstanding kids. (8) Verily I say to you, highly blessed are those who have a loyal dog, bounding along on that slow-motion-videoed day of playing with the kids in the park, for they shall be the envy of real families everywhere; and they shall be satisfied. – Catholic Education Resource Center, “Television Statistics & Sources“
Just think about the images that catch our eyes and capture our imaginations.. Tell the truth – at least to yourself – about the things in this world that attract you, that tempt you… the things for which you find yourself wishing… Think about the things that our culture prizes and praises… Think about the things (that we don’t really need) for which we go browsing or shopping, either on-line or in actual stores… And listen again to what Jesus says to us in the first 12 verses of Matthew 5:
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 & 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.
Woah! Really Jesus?? That doesn’t really sound like the life I’ve been striving for… How far – How very, very far is my life – How far distant is my day-to-day reality from what Jesus calls blessed!!! Is that how following Jesus is supposed to be? Is that how Christians are supposed to be? Are the beatitudes some sort of “law” or standard by which Christians should measure how well we are following Jesus??
Probably not. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say “If you want to follow me, you must be poor in spirit, mournful, meek, merciful, pure in heart or a peacemaker. What Jesus says is “blessed are…”
Yes indeed, in his example and in teachings like the Beatitudes, Jesus is inviting people like us to “Another Way of Living,” a way of living that makes following Jesus, his example and his teachings our highest priority.
(And) In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers these Beatitudes as lessons or observations on life as a follower of Christ and a child of GOD.
But some of the conditions Jesus described as “blessed” or divinely favored are not really conditions that anyone would seek (on purpose)! Taking them seriously & learning their lessons does not mean “changing ourselves to fit them..”
Consider that: as the Gospels present the Good News about Jesus, he was not always mournful, was he? No. Jesus wasn’t always meek, nor was he always a peace-maker… The Beatitudes are not a new set of command-ments.. Commandments say, (p.6) “Thou shalt…” or, “Thou shalt not…”
– But in the Beatitudes, Jesus says, “BLESSED are…” Beatitudes are statements of blessing, not commandments.. Beatitudes are not so much moral laws as Reign of God promises – promises that when GOD’s Kingdom comes and when GOD’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, the poor in spirit, and those who mourn, and the meek, and the merciful, and the pure in heart, and the peacemakers, and those who hunger & thirst for righteousness, and those who suffer for their faith and for righteousness will be blessed!
Beatitudes are statements of Divine favor, blessings, promises, words of hope for the poor in spirit, for those who mourn, for the meek & for the merciful & for those who care more for righteousness than for their own comfort or safety..
The way I understand it, in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is offering not so much prescriptions for his followers, but more promises, words of comfort and hope for people who are keenly aware of their spiritual needs, for people who are spiritually weak – or poor; and for those who really suffer for The Faith..
Is Jesus calling (Mt. 5:11) for his followers to go and get themselves in trouble?? – to go & get themselves insulted & persecuted falsely?? Probably not.. No I don’t think so..
But, on the other hand, if our faith convictions never put us at odds with our culture, with what is popular, with what is admired, with what is “hot,” then let us wonder why we never have trouble with popular culture?! – Because Jesus clearly expected those who followed him sooner or later to get into trouble, insults, even persecution..
It may be that some of us have never been mocked, ridiculed, or persecuted for our faith or for trying always to do the right thing.. Yet the truth is that most of us could strive more earnestly to act and live righteously…
– But we all get knocked down, knocked “off track” by one thing or another..
I remember how a respected church leader in another congregation that I once served shared a very personal devotion on the theme of being “chastened.” He talked about a very difficult experience in his life, which he understood as divine discipline..
– And I knew – and I know – just the kind of experience he was talking about! I know how I can become so proud – and then fall on my face! – often-times with plenty of witnesses around to see it! Thus I am confronted with the undeniable evidence of my human fallibilities, my personal shortcomings, my own spiritual poverty..
Few, if any, of us is poor in spirit, or mournful, or meek all of the time, but maybe each of us been “there” some times?? Haven’t most of us suffered agonizing losses? – times of deep grief and mourning? – of suffering because of what we believe? – of that painful awareness of our spiritual anemia?
The Beatitudes are blessings – statements of GOD’s favor – BLESSINGS for people who suffer their own spiritual poverty, for people who mourn, and for the meek, and for the people who yearn for righteousness, and for the merciful, and for the pure in heart, and for peacemakers, and for those who suffer for their righteousness or for their faith..
So, my Sisters and Brothers, if your life is not all perfection according to popular cultural measures.. – If you seem to “come up short” on popular measures of beauty, success, fame or fortune, that is OK – in fact, according to Jesus, it is better than OK! – if it is because you care more about your relationship with Jesus than with the world, if it is because you would rather belong to the Kingdom of GOD than the powers and principalities of this world.
“Blessed,” says Jesus, “are those who find themselves at odds with – or even get themselves in trouble with the powers & principalities of the world, the powers that operate according to a kind of materialistic, success-oriented, “look-out-for-number-one” attitude so common in our culture.
‘ Remember the king’s poignant question? “To what kingdom do I belong??” To what kingdom do I belong? To what kingdom do you belong?? In his Beatitudes, Christ calls/ invites us to live as citizens of an eternal empire that outlasted the Kingdom of Prussia and the king who asked the school children that big question! Christ invites us to live as citizens of an eternal empire that will outlast even the nation and the society that has meant so much to us!
The Beatitudes offer a perspective that is contrary to so many popular attitudes alive in our culture, contrary to the belligerent, materialistic, “we’re number one” attitude that so many people admire and imitate..
The Beatitudes invite us to faith-based attitudes toward life and people – attitudes that promise to bless believers with serenity and a confidence in GOD that no outward circumstance can take away. To what kingdom do you belong?? Dear S & B, let all of us give ourselves, heart and soul to the king and the Kingdom, whose citizens enjoy the blessedness that Jesus announces in the Beatitudes for citizens of GOD’s everlasting and eternal empire! AMEN!