Following Jesus: New Vision Matthew 5:1-16. A Sermon Preached by Ernie Thompson. Westminster Presbyterian Church Greensboro, NC.

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1 Following Jesus: New Vision Matthew 5:1-16 A Sermon Preached by Ernie Thompson Westminster Presbyterian Church Greensboro, NC February 7, 2016 I m going to let Jesus do most of the preaching this morning. We re starting a new series on Following Jesus and we ll be looking at the Sermon on the Mount which we find in Matthew s gospel, chapters 5-7. And so I want to read a little longer section of Jesus sermon, and for my sermon just offer some brief reflections on Jesus words. We re using Eugene Peterson s translation called the Message because I think it helps us hear Jesus words in a fresh way. I ll also refer to Brian Zahnd s translation of the beatitudes, the center of Jesus message here. And I ll remind you of the more familiar translation as well. And in all of that I hope we ll hear Jesus speaking to us today. Jesus ministry is beginning to attract huge crowds. But Jesus is not interested in simply attracting a crowd. Jesus is calling people to become disciples. And so he begins to talk to them about what it really means to follow him. Hear now Jesus words, as they come to us through Matthew s gospel. 1 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down 2 and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said: 3 "You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. 4 "You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

2 2 5 "You're blessed when you're content with just who you are - no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought. 6 "You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat. 7 "You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'carefull,' you find yourselves cared for. 8 "You're blessed when you get your inside world - your mind and heart - put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. 9 "You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family. 10 "You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom. 11 "Not only that - count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. 12 You can be glad when that happens - give a cheer, even! For though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble. 13 "Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. 14 "Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the Godcolors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. 15 If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. 16 Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand - shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. When I was growing up I had to memorize the Children s Catechism. The only part I remember is the first question and answer, What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy him forever.

3 I mostly remember getting $10 when I was finally able to say the whole catechism by heart. In his book, Beauty Will Save the World, Brian Zahnd says that every serious follower of Jesus should memorize, not the catechism, but the Beatitudes. They are he says, our manifesto, our Magna Carta, our Bill of Rights. But they are also deeply counterintuitive and certainly counter-cultural. 3 They are not instructions but announcements. They point to God s kingdom and the blessings his kingdom brings and how as followers of Christ we both receive and share those blessings. And so as we begin our study of the Sermon on the Mount and think about what it means to follow Jesus, I want to ponder these strange blessings we call the Beatitudes. 1. Jesus begins, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Zahnd translates this first beatitude, Blessed are those who are poor at being spiritual, for the Kingdom of Heaven is well suited for ordinary people. Jesus starts by calling us to recognize that we are poor in spirit, that we are not very good at being spiritual. But in that very recognition, we can begin to experience God s grace. So Peterson translates this, You re blessed when you re at the end of your rope, with less of you there is more of God and his rule. You ll notice that the first four beatitudes all start with our poverty, with things that we lack, with our weakness. And then point to God s blessing and grace in the midst of our weakness. 2. Jesus says, Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. I talked to a nurse recently who works in public health, and she said you would not believe the things I see and I could tell that much of what she sees breaks her heart. Zahnd writes, Sorrow is a necessary consequence of loving others and being fully engaged with humanity.

4 4 If we love others and engage with humanity we will sometimes mourn we will mourn for the pain and brokenness around us. Martin Luther translates this beatitude, Blessed are the sorrow bearers blessed are those who bear the sorrow of the world, for they will be comforted. 3. Jesus says, Blessed are the meek. This may be the most unpopular and counter-cultural beatitude. Zahnd translates it, Blessings on the humble and unassuming, the gentle and trusting, those who are not grasping and clutching. Peterson says, You are blessed when you re content with just who you are that s the moment you find yourselves the strange owner of everything that can t be bought. 4. Jesus says, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God to set things right in the world and in their lives that deep hunger will be filled. I know it doesn t always seem like it. It sometimes seems like things will never be right. It s easy to let our fear get the best of us. But Jesus says that those who hunger and thirst for better world will be satisfied. Now, these are strange blessings. They are almost the opposite of what we think it means to be blessed to be poor and to mourn, to be meek and hungry. But it s only when we really recognize our need, our poverty, that we can be open to the blessings of God s grace. Jesus then turns to how we actively begin to share God s blessings.

5 5 5. Jesus says, Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Jesus puts mercy at the very center of the beatitudes. He says that those who show mercy will be the ones who receive mercy. Most of us long for justice and that s what Jesus talked about in the last beatitude hungering and thirsting for God to set things right. But here Jesus reminds us that mercy must always balance justice. Zahnd writes, Without a commitment to justice, mercy can collapse into cheap sentimentality which is nothing more than the advice to be nice. But the passion for justice must be tempered by a deep commitment to mercy, or we end up justifying viciousness in the name of justice. As followers of Christ, he says, we live, in the tension between longing for justice but always extending mercy. Zahnd adds, This world needs more mercy, and where is the world to find more mercy if not from the followers of Jesus? 6. Jesus says, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. This beatitude is focused on what s going on inside of us, and how it affects our vision. We start with what s inside of us before we begin to work on what s outside of us. The Jewish Talmud says, We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are. And so, as Peterson translates it, first we get our inside world, our mind and our heart, put right. And then we will begin to see God in the outside world. 7. Jesus says, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. That is our calling as followers of Christ - to look for ways that we can bring reconciliation and healing and peace. We seek peace, even if that peace comes at a cost.

6 6 8. Jesus says, Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus tells his followers that they will get into trouble because their faith. We will meet resistance and even persecution. But even in that persecution, Jesus says, God s blessings will continue to come. The difficulties will just drive us to depend more and more on God, and God s love will always be stronger than the hate and evil we experience. And so even in our persecution and struggles we can rejoice and know that ours is the kingdom of heaven. I memorized the catechism growing up. I also memorized the Apostles Creed and the Lord s Prayer and the Ten Commandments. But I think Brian Zahnd may be right if we re going to memorize anything, it ought to be these beatitudes. But more than memorizing them, we need to meditate on them and let them seep deeply into our souls, so that we can recognize and recieve God s blessings, and so that we can become God s blessing for the world. That s why, Jesus says, we are here.

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