Sermon – First at Family of God 1-29-2017
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, amen.
Remember back to the last time you experienced a big, life-altering event. Whether it was the birth of your first child, news that a loved one had just died, hearing that you’ve been hired for that perfect job, or receiving an unexpected diagnosis – one minute life was normal and the next minute normal life was thrown out the window. At the very moment, your life changes, and your brain becomes completely up-ended. Like opening up your checked luggage from the baggage claim and discovering all your neatly packed belongings have not ONLY “shifted during flight”…. But have become a complete jumbled mess.
Confession time. I met many of you for the first time almost two months ago, and since then I have said goodbye to my previous congregation, packed up my life and my cats, and moved across state lines. My brain right now probably looks something like that piece of luggage, and I thank you in advance for bearing with me as we orient ourselves to one another.
The disciples who said “yes” to the call of Jesus were no strangers to transformation events. Last week we hear about how they were at the beginning of their own exciting journey. They had just been called by Jesus to follow him, to even drop what they were doing and just go. No more fishing for fish – Peter, Andrew, James, and John would be fishing for people from now on. So I’m sure their brains were more than a little addled, too, trying to wrap their minds around the whole thing, and wondering, “What happens now? What did we just commit to? Who are we now? Where in the world are we going?”
Jesus’s answer comes in the next chapter in Matthew, as he begins what we call “The sermon on the mount,” which is pretty helpful in making it obvious that this is a sermon and it happens on a mountain. But less obvious is the fact that is Jesus’ very first sermon the Matthew - his inaugural sermon if you will, and this section is what is commonly called “The beatitudes.” This sermon will set the tone for the Jesus administration and sets the terms for what it means to be a disciple.
To be a disciple is a fancy, “churchy” way to be a learner, a student. A student learns from and listens to a teacher. Jesus is the teacher, and we the students. And the very first thing that Jesus teaches in his very first sermon is that his students are blessed. Jesus’s disciples are blessed, even though they would not be considered first round draft pics for Jesus’s Kingdom. And they are blessed RIGHT NOW, even in their jumbled brain states.
Take a look over who Jesus says is blessed one more time. This is a list that seems totally backwards, and shouldn’t make any sense to us. This is not how the world works, as we see on a daily basis. THIS is who the world says are blessed – those who are wealthy and successful, those who are in power, the famous, the popular, those who seem to “have it all together,” those who are beautiful or attractive or thin or strong…THESE are the blessed ones in the eyes of the world. Just look at the news, social media, or the cover of any magazines in the checkout aisle at ACME. They do not feature people like us. THAT is the way of the world.
But Jesus turns the world order on its head. He opens up our carefully packed luggage, dumps it all out, saying we won’t need all that in Kingdom of Heaven. The NEW Kingdom, the Jesus regime, starts NOW, with his first sermon. That regime starts with the revelation that you are blessed, right where you are, however you find yourself. And we can find ourselves in some pretty touch places right about now.
THESE are the blessed ones –those who don’t have it all together, those who are bullied, dispirited, or fleeing their homes as refugees, those who are grieving, those who hunger and thirst for the common good, those who are merciful and compassionate, those who work for peace and reconciliation, those who have a single-minded devotion to God’s kingdom, those who don’t back down from working for justice, even when they are misunderstood and challenged. Jesus calls THESE people blessed. And I am sure that we can all find ourselves somewhere on this list.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran pastor and martyr in Nazi Germany, wrote in his book “The Cost of Discipleship” that this is the reason we are blessed by God - “All are called to be what in the reality of God they are already." (p. 107) It is a heritage we lay claim to because it is already ours. Jesus calls YOU blessed, because you ARE a child of God and a fellow disciple of Jesus.
Jesus teaches us that we are blessed because we need to know where we are FROM before we can know where we are going. Oh yes, the journey does not stop for the disciples on the mountain where Jesus preaches his first sermon. This is only the beginning. The journey of discipleship and the teachings of Jesus continue.
Every teacher worth their salt knows that they can’t just TELL, but they also have to SHOW. All the best teacher I know teach by example. And Jesus is no exception. Jesus doesn’t just talk the talk in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus also walks the walk, in every aspect of his life.
If you haven’t seen the show The West Wing, I think now is the time to start, and it’s even on Netflix. On the show, Leo McGarry is President Bartlett’s chief of staff, and he wrestles with challenges like alcoholism and divorce, and yet, always seems to know the right thing to do in a crisis. In one episode, his friend and fellow staff member is struggling to come to grips with his PTSD, and Leo tells him this story:
“This guy walks down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can't get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you, can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and he shouts up "Father, I'm down here, can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. ‘Hey Joe, can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we're both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I've been down here before, and I know the way out.’”
Jesus has been down here before. Jesus spent most of his time with people down there in the hole, with the downtrodden and displaced, with those grieving, with those hungering and thirsting for God’s kingdom, with those actively making peace, with those with a heart for God’s justice, with those who are merciful when the world thinks it’s a sign weakness, and with those who are hated and feared by others.
Jesus lived the true meaning of being blessed, he fulfilled his inaugural promises, and while doing so he turned an instrument of death into a symbol of new life and the new family we are all a part of. To quote again from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The fellowship of the beatitudes – the blessed are yous – is the fellowship of the Crucified [one]. With him [we] have lost all, and with him [we have] found all. From the cross there comes the call, ‘blessed, blessed….’” Blessed, blessed. (p. 114)
I recently saw this message in my Facebook feed which caught my attention: “I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. He said Deny me in front of your friends and I will deny you in front of my father. Challenge Accepted. If you are not ashamed Copy and Paste.”
I would like to propose an alternative version. “Jesus Christ has accepted me as a blessed and beloved child of God. He said, ‘blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.’ Challenge Accepted. If you are not ashamed, do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”
We are called to be hungry and thirsty for God’s justice when there is a clear shortage. We are called to march against the tune of the rest of the world. We are called to show compassion when we are taught to only look out for ourselves. We are called to follow the voice and vision of Jesus above all the other desires of our hearts. We are called to be an active force for peace in the world.
To the rest of the world, this is a completely foolish endeavor. But, as Paul wrote, “Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world?” “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”
In the Jesus regime, what is foolish is wise and what is weak is strong. The merciful, the meek, the peacemakers, you, and me are all blessed and are brought together into a blessed community and family. And a crucified man is our ruler and guide in doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with him. Challenge accepted. Amen.