Scripture: Matthew 5:1-12
Audio of Sermon: Mr./Mrs. Beatitudes found below!
”Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:10
Ever since I was a child I have loved both fantasy and science fiction as a genre. Whether it was devouring Tolkien, laughing hysterically at the Hitchhikers Guide Series, or watching Star Trek with my parents – I couldn’t get enough of the stories weaved in the two literary genres. A common enough story in both fantasy and science fiction is the quest to create the perfect person, superhero, robot or even monster – either for good or more often than not for nefarious purposes.
The idea usually revolves around taking the best parts of other people or things – for example someone’s speed, someone’s strength, someone’s intelligence – and merging them into one supersized hero or anti-hero, to make the strongest character imaginable. More often than not it ends with failure or some fatal flaw causing the undoing of the perfect being, but the notion of the quest for perfection is an underlying human quest – we see it in our scientific advancement, in literature, in popular culture, and yes it even bleeds into our religious observance.
If we were going to make the perfect Christian, we might begin with the passage we heard this morning from the Gospel of Matthew: the Beatitudes, one of the most beloved and well known passages of Scripture. Let us call this super Christian Mr or Mrs Beatitude. What would they look like?
Well they would likely be consistently kind, but maybe a little bit shy, avoiding being the centre of attention. They might be seen as someone with poor self-esteem, because they would be constantly downplaying their actions. They would likely be the person you could most rely on to help out, but also someone who was deeply emotionally shaken, almost to the point of depression, by every tragedy they see on the news or on their city streets.
Mr. or Mrs Beatitude would likely be the most religious person you know, with their whole life being centred around God and God’s purposes, to the point where everything they did and said would be like a perpetual offering to God. They would likely be the person supporting environmental causes, volunteering at the local food bank, cleaning up the streets and consistently talking about ways to help people who live in poverty, addiction or any other challenging situations.
If you add it all up, our Mr. or Mrs. Beatitude wouldn’t exactly be the life of the party, they wouldn’t be the most exciting or thrilling person to be around in social situations, they would constantly be calling you, by their words and actions, to be better, constantly calling your attention away from the ‘enjoyable’ things of life to a life centred on God, constantly calling you to serve the poor and the marginalized, constantly calling you away from yourself and your own concerns towards the concerns and conditions of others.
Mr. or Mrs. Beatitude would likely be labeled a troublemaker, someone that would be ridiculed for having a ‘saviour complex’ or for their restlessness and their inability to be satisfied by the status quo. They might be vilified and deemed socially unacceptable, a relic from a bygone age.
And yet this is the life we as a church, as individual disciples of Jesus, are called into when we receive the gift of faith, when we receive the gift of following Jesus, the gift of eternal and abundant life. The Beatitudes are not an ancient admission exam or entrance standard to discipleship, these aren’t the qualities you need to show in order to follow Jesus – you are given that opportunity and gift as sheer grace. But rather the Beatitudes are a window into what true Kingdom life is about, they reveal to us what our lives may look like as we follow Jesus and as we listen to his teaching, and receive his very life into our lives.
And perhaps the reason we will be ridiculed or persecuted is because we do not fit into the world’s agenda; our focus is not to be on the pursuits of this world: politics, culture, entertainment, wealth. Instead our focus is to be on God, our focus is to be on how God sees the world, our focus is to be on others and not ourselves.
That doesn’t mean we abandon the world, or don’t concern ourselves with the matters of the world – in fact it’s the complete opposite. Jesus is very clear that the vision of the Kingdom of Heaven that we see in the Beatitudes, is not some far off heavenly reality for the end of time, but is a very earthly thing. After all it is the earth that the meek inherit not some far off heaven, the hungry will be filled (suggesting real tangible food, not only the spiritual variety), those who mourn will be comforted suggesting an acknowledgment of our human emotions and condition.
Throughout this teaching, and throughout all of his life and ministry, Jesus is deeply concerned with the world as it is now. Jesus was calling his disciples to hunger and thirst for righteousness here on earth, here right now – not in eternity. We are called to be peacemakers, to be merciful, to suffer the slings and arrows of persecution here and now, for the sake of the world – so that the kingdom of God might shine forth through us like a light shining through a window in a dark night.
As such we are not called to shun our world and the culture we live in. As followers of Jesus we are not meant to ignore politics, or let the environment slide towards disaster, or let our communities suffer – no we are called approach all of these areas in light of our calling as Christians.
We are called to make our political decisions in light of the Kingdom of God – even if other people ridicule us or revile us for our decisions.
We are called to make our financial decisions in light of the Kingdom of God – even if they don’t line up with the popular capitalist notion of wealth accumulation.
We are called to make our time commitment decisions in light of the Kingdom of God – even if the world tells us we are wasting our time.
We are called to make our relational decisions in light of the Kingdom of God – even if that leaves us vulnerable to ridicule, vulnerable to the persecution that Jesus was very clear was on the horizon for those who followed him.
As the community of Grace Church we are called to make all of our decisions in light of the Kingdom of God as well, in light of the grace that God continually pours upon us through the Cross of Christ and through the enduring presence of the Holy Spirit.
That means that even as we struggle with our finances, we are called to redouble our efforts to love and serve our neighbour – even if makes making our budget harder and harder.
That means that even as we see a decline in membership, we are called to joyfully share with our neighbours and friends all the wonderful deeds God is working in our midst and in your own lives.
That means that even as we lose some of the traditions that we love, we are called to examine everything we do as a church and ensure that all of it reveals the kingdom of God to our community and to the world.
As we strive for this life, we will all come to the realization that we do not live up to the perfect Christian, none of us can lay claim to the title of Mr. or Mrs Beatitude – but the good news is we don’t have to. The good news is that the beatitudes are not the entrance requirement, they are not even the minimum requirements for staying in presence of Jesus. No the beatitudes, the blessings that Jesus speaks, are our goal. They are the goal that our common life should aspire too.
And you know what perhaps together we can get there. Perhaps together, each one of us (there are no passengers here, we are all called!), with the power and help of the Holy Spirit can see the Kingdom of God realized in our midst. Perhaps the woman sitting next to you has been gifted as a peacemaker, perhaps the man three rows back hungers and thirsts for righteousness, perhaps the child screeching with glee is full of mercy and kindness, perhaps you mourning or poor in spirit.
Together we have an opportunity, a responsibility and the privilege to live the life of the kingdom of God here and now. Alone none of us can ever be Mr. or Mrs Beatitude, but we are not alone, no matter what you may think, no matter what the statistics say about decline in our church here and across the country. Together we can, and we will, proclaim the Good News of Jesus in this place; together we can and we will proclaim the words of life and light in our community; together we will know the blessings of God as his Kingdom breaks through into our midst.
Thanks be to God. Amen
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