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Sermon On The Mount 2: “Blessed”

June 8, 2010

Last Sunday was the second week of our SOTM study. The text was Matthew 5:1-12, commonly known as the “Beatitudes”. We discussed the word Jesus begins each announcement with, “blessed”, and connected this word with the name Matthew quotes in reference to Jesus, “Emmanuel” (“God is with us”; Matt. 2:23). We continue to wrestle with what these announcements mean corporately and personally, in light of Jesus and the Missio Dei.

As our church community engages in conversation on the SOTM I would also love to see us discern some fresh expressions of the SOTM message (I am convinced that it was meant to be “lived” and practiced, here and now). The work of N.T. Wright has been helpful to me in this study, and he says this in his latest book After You Believe:

These statements [Beatitudes]…are announcing a new state of affairs, a new reality which is in the process of bursting into the world. They are declaring that something that wasn’t previously the case is now going to be; that the life of heaven, which had seemed…so distant and unreal, is in the process of coming true on earth.”

We mentioned a major tension of the SOTM, namely the “already/not yet” element of these teachings. Through Jesus, the Kingdom of God is already (continuing to) breaking into the world. Yet the world is still a pretty messed up place, and total fulfillment of the Kingdom is still a future promise (“Your kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven”). This tension between already/not yet is probably behind some of the “SOTM is not meant to be literally followed” line of thinking. Jesus’ teachings here may not compute in our minds, which are influenced or wired by the way the world usually works. But what if our imaginations could open up to a completely upside-down way of looking at things?

The illustration I used Sunday in my sermon was of the time when I first learned how to rock-climb. One of the first skills they taught us was how to successfully rappel down a cliff (rock-climbing is less fun is you can’t get back down…) And after teaching us all the safety stuff and getting the harness and ropes hooked up properly, I remember getting the instruction, “Now lean back and allow your body to almost parallel the ground.” The ground that was, you know, like 100ft below. Sure. No problem. Couldn’t I just bend my ankles but keep my body upright? No-that would make you swing face-first into the cliff. You had to back out further, and trust that somehow this technique would work; that it would balance you and allow you to freely move down the cliff. And it worked (and was quite fun!). It didn’t make sense. It didn’t compute (I’m deathly afraid of heights in the first place). I didn’t think it would work. But somehow, when I allowed myself to be physically turned upside-down, it just made sense and worked.

What is your response to these announcements of Jesus? How do you respond to the already/not yet tension of the coming kingdom?

  1. June 9, 2010 2:13 pm

    The beauty of the Beatitudes is that they affirm both the fullness of the Kingdom yet to come, while not shying away from the broken reality of the here and now. Taken as steps or a formula, these blessings can easily become a set of laws. Taken as individual maxims, they are too broad and vague. Together, reflecting the virtuous and righteous nature of Christ that we should pursue in our heart, they represent hope. I’m excited for you guys working your way through this powerful text.

  2. June 9, 2010 2:40 pm

    Thanks for your comments Jamie. This is indeed a powerful text, and I’m glad that we approached the Beatitudes together (I was thinking originally about studying the announcements individually). Your point about taking them together is so true-hope and Christ’s nature really stuck out to me when looking at the text from this perspective.

    And good luck with your writing project…looking forward to the book 🙂

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