Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Sermon "Bless Your Hearts"
Series - Sermon on the Mount, Week 1 of 3 Preached February 2, 2020, at the 9:30 am Worship of the Presbyterian Church of Chestertown (presbyterianchestertown.org)
Context Today’s Gospel reading is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5, verses 1 to 12, a section often called “The Beatitudes.” Caitlan and I will be preaching from this earliest section of the Sermon on the Mount for three Sundays, today and two more.
Most of Matthew, up to this point, has been ABOUT Jesus. We have heard ABOUT the family tree behind Jesus, the angel foretelling Jesus, Joseph and Mary preparing for Jesus, Herod and the Wise Ones hunting for Jesus. We have heard ABOUT John the Baptist, and John’s encounter and baptism of Jesus, and ABOUT Jesus’ survival of the tests and temptations in the wilderness. Just before today’s reading, we hear ABOUT Jesus beginning to preach the coming Kingdom of God in some synagogues, ABOUT Jesus gathering his first few disciples, and ABOUT some of the decent crowds coming to Jesus for healing and hope.
But here, in Matthew 5, we finally get to hear FROM Jesus, directly. Of all the things Matthew could put first from Jesus’ mouth at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, it was these words, these beatitudes where Matthew has Jesus begin. And I thought, if it was good enough for Jesus to begin here, then it's good enough for me to begin here as a new Pastor with you.
Scripture - Matthew 5:1-12 5 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them. He said: 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 justice, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peace-makers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you or falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God) Sermon - Bless Your Hearts There’s a real danger in preaching The Beatitudes. If I am not careful, I might give us the impression Jesus is dangling carrots out in front of us, cajoling us to be certain ways or do certain things in order to earn Godly rewards.
“Come on people, let’s be meek and humble. Let’s be merciful and forgiving. Let’s be peacemakers. I’ll make it worth your while!”
If we peek down that road, we might falsely hear Jesus’ words as a quid pro quo… (fingers crossed for a chuckle?) For those who choose to be humble and forgiving and make peace, they become called children of God, are shown mercy themselves, and will even inherit the earth.
I’d best be careful. The Beatitudes are not about that. The God we know and worship in Jesus the Christ doesn’t cut deals with us and isn’t paying us off with rewards if and only if we perform to some unattainable standard, like pure in heart.
We can become even more confident the beatitudes are not about Jesus offering rewards for the right behaviors when we look at the rest of Jesus’ list. Jesus is not suggesting we become poor in spirit just so we can earn the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is not suggesting we walk around mourning in order to get God’s attention and finally feel comforted. Jesus is not promoting intentionally seeking ways to be insulted, lied about, or persecuted, just so we can achieve Kingdom of Heaven status. No, these beatitudes are not like that. They are not Jesus pushing us, threatening us to certain behaviors and attitudes so we can earn some promised rewards.
Instead, Beatitudes are statements of how things really are.
Are there any English majors here, or any students of a foreign language where the verbs have to be conjugated, and the nouns are declined? Then if this next part confuses anyone, ask them about it. (wink)
The beatitudes are not in the imperative case. The imperative case is used for commands, direction… Do this, don’t do that. The beatitudes are in the indicative case. They simply indicate how things really are. They are confessions of how life really is, descriptions of how God really is, God’s real nature and character, and statements of how things really are in God’s community, what Jesus calls the Kingdom of God, which Jesus calls the good news, and which Jesus preaches is coming and is at hand.
In real life, every life, sometimes, people are poor in spirit. Our God knows this and notices and moves toward those who are poor in spirit. Those who are down, not thinking very much of themselves, to them, this God comes a little nearer, God whispers love and reminds them of their precious value. In our world, it is often those who think too much of themselves, or who consider themselves above or better than others that we assume deserve all the attention. But with this God, and in God's coming community the kingdom of heaven, special attention is given to the ones the world forgets or avoids, the poor in spirit.
In real life, every life, sometimes, people mourn. When things change, when someone dies, when someone leaves, we mourn. We can resist it happening, pretend it doesn’t hurt, or distract ourselves. We can get angry for things changing, for them leaving, or for them dying. We can weep and cry. Our God knows how it hurts when things change or when people leave or die. This God comes nearer to those who mourn. In our world, we often prefer the happy-go-lucky, roll-with-it folk, the ones who don’t seem to miss or mourn or dwell on the past. But God knows, when we love, it hurts for things to change, to leave, to die. In God’s community, the Kingdom of heaven, God brings comfort to those who have the courage to show and share their honest feelings of loss that come from love.
This God has a thing for the meek. In our world, its often the bold and brash, the big personalities that find their way to the top of our social, corporate, or political structures. The meek get passed over, shunned, or left behind. But in God’s community, God notices and remembers the meek, the humble, the ones not putting themselves at the center. God drifts toward the wallflowers, approaches them, invites them, and lets them know they are seen and appreciated, precious, included, and will inherit the earth.
This God has a special affinity for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and who show mercy. Our world is often put off by those who protest or push for big change. But this God promises those who are hungry, thirsty for justice, righteousness, in God’s community, they won’t have to protest anymore. They will be satisfied. It won’t be the justice the world sometimes prefers, where the guilty get what they deserve. This God is not a fan of that kind of justice, righteousness. This God is crafting a community where justice includes mercy, and where mercy is always just.
This God appreciates the pure in heart, those who focus the intentions of their own hearts to be in tune with God’s heart. In our world, we are often encouraged to follow our hearts, to do whatever our hearts’ desire. There’s some merit to that for those who have been shunned or quieted by others when they try to follow their God-given passions and interests. In the Kingdom of Heaven, people’s hearts mirror the desires and wishes of God’s heart, and we are all encouraged, not shunned, from following our pure hearts.
This God even likes hanging with peacemakers. Peace-makers are an interesting bunch. They don’t enjoy fighting and don’t pick fights. They abhor violence, in word or deed. But they aren’t conflict-avoidant. Where there is disagreement, conflict, that’s where peacemakers go. They walk into the middle of the tension and sacrifice their own safety and comfort not to pick a side or to win a fight, but to make peace for all. In God’s community, there will still be peacemakers, meaning there will still be some tension or areas of disagreement. But in God’s community, peace is made across and despite those differences.
Last, God sidles up beside and behind those who suffer from doing all these wacky kingdom things. Our world will not often appreciate hearing what breaks our hearts. Our world will not often appreciate our sharing visions of a different and better community, our hunger and thirst for justice, our radical forgiveness, or our attempts not to avoid conflict but to engage it and to broker real, lasting peace. When we, his disciples, people of God are like this, there will be resistance.
Still, the God we know and worship in Jesus the Christ sat down with his disciples and taught them these realities about God’s community first. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peace-makers. May this congregation continue being so blessed.
“God, thank you, for these blessed gifts and traits. May we, each and every day, embody them more and more, and invite others into the radical reality of your kingdom, a little foretaste of your community on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.”