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 righteousness, 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 peacemakers, 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 and 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.
Today it appears that our country is becoming quite divided with no end in sight. People seem to talk past each other. The ability to peacefully listen to others is replaced by “in-your face” shouting at each other. Some wear masks and practice social distancing while others say that they will not wear masks – it is my Constitutional right not to wear a mask! There are massive protests across the country in cities and sports events because of the injustice that many of our minority American citizens have experienced and know it is racially oriented. Dignity is demanded! Now we are in the midst of a Presidential election time where charges and counter charges are blasted across the media and the social-media networks which further divides our country. A sense of hopelessness is beginning to pervade our thinking and the pandemic with the social isolation aspect enhances the divide. We ask ourselves what is happening to our country and, yet we seem to walk away from the words of Jesus to love our God with our heart, mind and soul and to love our neighbor as yourself? We are in a crisis! Let us hear the words of Jesus today!
This morning we will begin a several weeks look at the Sermon on the Mount. Listen up everyone! It is the major message from Jesus to us on how to live the Christian life. It is the primary ethical teaching in the Bible, and it is very relevant to us today.
The Gospel of Matthew reports the popular success of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus went throughout the Galilee region proclaiming the message of the kingdom of God, is at hand, and authenticating His claims by healing people. Throngs of people responded to His ministry from as far away as Jerusalem. Many theologians believe that these are the authentic words of Jesus. Jesus had been announcing that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, not in the future but now. Jesus has been calling for people to repent and to prepare for the kingdom. The Sermon on the Mount speaks deeply to us – Christians who are caught up in the social and political divide.
Let us start with the primary introduction to the Sermon on the Mount – The Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are some of the most recognizable words ever written, not only in the Bible, but in all of Western literature. These words have been spoken and written about so often that we cannot miss what Jesus was saying. The Beatitudes are the body and soul of what Jesus was proclaiming –the radical nature of the kingdom that was at hand.
For us to hear these words anew, to feel the impact as Jesus’ first century audience would have felt them, we need to do a little homework. Jesus’ ministry begins to expand to include teaching and healing which are signs pointing to God’s new reign. Jesus is demonstrating in word and action what life in God’s kingdom is like. Where God’s reign is in effect, health of body, mind, soul, and spirit is restored, relationships are made whole, and dignity is renewed. Matthew makes a point of telling us that Jesus “saw” the crowd; He saw their struggles and sorrows and sin. He saw their hurts and needs and fears. No one cared about them; they were like sheep without a shepherd, and Jesus hastened to their rescue. We need to listen carefully to the message that Jesus is giving us in the Beatitudes. Jesus is telling us about reality. Jesus is telling us who we are and how this world is designed to work, it makes sense to listen— especially today.
We cannot escape the fact that for many of today’s Christians, instead of life and faith being intertwined and connected, there is a disconnect between life and faith. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ teaching on how we are to actually live in the reality of God’s kingdom that is present and available to us. To live in that kingdom, each of us needs to be and become a certain kind of person, and that’s what the Beatitudes describe. As we practice Jesus’ teaching, the Holy Spirit works in us to produce the godly character that enables us to be kingdom people. It is a work that God does in us and that we cooperate with by hearing and heeding what Jesus says.
The Sermon on the Mount is seditious. It destroys the conventional wisdom about what it means to be a good person and what it means to have a good life. The Beatitudes declare that the poor in spirit, the meek and the peacemakers are the ones who are truly blessed. We live in a world, however, that celebrates happiness over the self-sufficient, the assertive, and the powerful. The people who the world sees as pitiful—the mournful and the persecuted, for instance—are the very people Jesus claims really know joy.
Each one of the Beatitudes begins in the present tense: “Blessed are….”, meaning that those who are blessed are joyful now in the present. In six of the beatitudes, however, the specific reason why they are blessed lies in the future: “they will be comforted or inherit the earth” and so on. What this means is that as the church, we are a joyful people, but the source of our joy is not in having easy lives in a happy world or trusting that things are getting better every day. Instead, we are joyful because our trust is in God and God’s kingdom. We are called as disciples to see life in two frames of reference.
First, we see what everyone else sees—the world of human history, a world of struggle in which the church works and serves and lives out its mission. Based on the evidence from this world alone, there is little reason for hope or joy. War follows war, might makes right and the innocent suffer every day. But the church also possesses a second frame of reference. We see what others do not see, that God is at work in this world even today and will surely bring all creation to a time of peace and rejoicing. This hoped for time is the kingdom of God. For the world, the kingdom is a sure future.
For the faithful, the kingdom is a present reality which gives us strength and encouragement to do our work. If the kingdom of God is an empty promise, then a life of seeking justice and showing mercy is a fool’s illusion. Only the promised kingdom validates a life of hopeful service. That is why it is so critical that we can trust that Jesus knows what he’s talking about. Based on the Sermon on the Mount, we can say with certainty that his promise of God’s kingdom is sure. Therefore, we are joyful and blessed and happy when we put our lives on the line, trusting in his promise. Amen.
 M. Michelle Fincher Feb 7, 2016 Calvary Presbyterian Church
 M. Michelle Fincher Feb 7, 2016 Calvary Presbyterian Church