I want to remind you of what we just heard St. Paul say to the Corinthians. “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” Let those words sink in. God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
These words from St. Paul start to gain legs as we begin to read Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, don’t they? Jesus doesn’t waste anytime dismantling our worldly assumptions about power and wisdom. There are no jokes to lighten the mood, no cute stories to make you feel warm inside. Instead, Jesus starts his famous sermon by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The sermon continues with Jesus saying more paradoxical statements about the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the humble, blessed are those who thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, and the final bombshell – blessed are those who are persecuted.
In order to make more sense of the Beatitudes, as they are often called, we must remember what kind of world Jesus is living in. The Roman Empire has become a world superpower and their rule has extended to include Palestine. Even more, members of the Jewish religious establishment are in bed with the Romans and are taking advantage of their own people.
Anglican bishop and writer N.T. Wright describes the socio-political climate of 1st Palestine as containing the ingredients for a perfect storm. A combination of events are intensifying and are about to trigger a ticking time bomb.
Think of the Roman Empire as the high-pressure front and the Jewish establishment as the low-pressure front. Then think of Jesus as the tropical moisture that turns a thunderstorm into a tornado. And now you have the April 2011 tornado outbreak or you have the United States in 2017.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is given to remind his followers about their vocation as God’s people, a people who embody and reflect the eternal truth of God’s justice, mercy, and kindness. In order for this sermon to pack a punch, Jesus first reminds his disciples that the kingdom of heaven looks nothing like the world around them.
The places of honor in the kingdom of heaven do not belong to the rich but to the poor. Those who will be comforted by the eternal truth of God are not those who live in secure palaces but those who are stricken by grief over the violence and destruction of the world.
I read the other day, “A lie doesn’t become truth, wrong doesn’t become right and evil doesn’t become good, just because it’s accepted by a majority.” Jesus is telling his disciples that the kingdoms of this earth are lying to you about what it means to be wise and powerful.
In the kingdom that Jesus is setting up on earth, those who are meek and humble are the ones who will rule with integrity and truth – not those who rule with an iron fist. Those who seek to be reconciled with God and neighbor are the ones who will find fulfillment in this life – not the ones who seek vengeance and retaliation.
Blessed are the merciful, Jesus says. Blessed are the merciful because the one who shows mercy receives mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart because they will see past the lies and deception and see eternal truth in the heart of God.
Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are the ones who make no peace with oppression and who fearlessly contend against evil. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Blessed are those who stand to proclaim truth no matter the cost, no matter what kind of evil is uttered behind their back.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Using the words of the prophet Micah, “What does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” It’s that easy, right?
The task that God has set before us is both essential and impossible in our vocation as God’s people. For if we are going to call ourselves Christians, it isn’t enough to show up to church on Sundays. We must follow Jesus out into the world proclaiming the truth of a God who desires for all the nations of the earth to live in peace and harmony in his kingdom.
But more often than not we fail to follow Jesus out into the world. At the first sign of resistance, we get nervous and go back to serving whatever idol we have created that keeps us “safe.” We go back and huddle with the people who sin just like we do and we can forget about the rest of the world’s problems.
More often than not, when we follow Jesus, we find ourselves in places that make us extremely uncomfortable. And we don’t like to be uncomfortable so we go find whatever it is we need to make us comfortable again. Our answer to pain is usually – avoid at all costs.
And let me be perfectly clear – that is fine. God will love you just the same. God will forgive you just the same. But let me also say – this is also the way to a slow painful death. As a teacher might say, when we stop learning, we stop growing. Likewise, when we stop trying to follow Jesus, we stop growing as Christians who reveal God’s justice and kindness and humility in the world.
As we discussed in Sunday School last week, God is going to make his justice and kindness and humility known in the world with or without you. And the good news is that God has made his justice, kindness, and humility known through the person and work of Jesus.
But don’t you desire to be a part of God’s transformative love in the world? Now that you see that Jesus lives beyond death and the grave, aren’t you convinced that God’s justice and truth and humility are the way to life? Lies and half-truths eventually die but truth lives.
Yes, I know it sounds intimidating. What if I fail? What if I get hurt? What if I make somebody mad? Let me go ahead and ease your worries now. You will fail. You will get hurt. You will make somebody mad! But the good news tells us that whatever happens God’s grace will be there to catch you and lift you back to life, God will sustain you with a new community of love.
For those of you who have quit smoking, following Jesus isn’t all that much different. It is difficult but possible. You will try again and again and again only to fail again and again and again. But at some you will realize the insanity of it all. You will begin to wonder why you are holding onto this so-called life of safety and security and realize that you are dying of cancer.
The kingdoms of this world are promising life through power and success and security. But Jesus is promising life when you give up pursuing these things, when you give up trusting that these are things you need to live. For God is saying we need a heart for justice and kindness and humility in order to truly live. And through Christ, God has given us a heart for justice, kindness, and humility and this is the heart that we endure the death and destruction of this world.
Blessed are you who are willing to voice the unpopular truth, for you will be called a saint. Blessed are you who are willing to show compassion to the unlovable, for you will always be loved. Blessed are you who are overtaken with grief by the state of our world, for you know the heart of God. Blessed are you who are poor in spirit, for you are filled with the riches of God’s grace.
Blessed are you who trust that God’s foolishness is wiser than your own wisdom, for you will be set free from the lies of this world. Blessed are you who trust that God’s weakness is stronger than your strength, for you will overcome any obstacle this world has to offer. Blessed are you who trust that God’s ways are better than our ways, for you know life and peace. Amen.