given on Sunday, January 8, 2017
Scripture base: Matthew 5:1-9 (NLT)
The Sermon on the Mount
5 One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, 2 and he began to teach them.
3 “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,[a]
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
4 God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,[b]
for they will be satisfied.
7 God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
9 God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.
January: New Year. Resolutions. Reorganizing. Cold. How in the world does a person move from one of the busiest times in the year to the deep winter ushered in afterwards?
This week we have hit that winter wall that turns us into recluses. Oh I know that we still have to get out and about when we need groceries or run to the Post Office or keep appointments, but when the temperatures plummet and the forecast starts including words like ICE, SNOW, WIND CHILL, and FRIGID, only the hardiest venture out.
As a winter recluse, the activity of choice might include curling up with a good book and a hot drink as the winter-clad world marches on by. What better book to chose than The Bible. The range of topics is so broad that it can cover one’s favorite type of reading. There is romance, war, history, poetry, irony, political controversy, self-help, and mystery. There is something for everybody’s personal interest.
Of course reading the Bible does take some effort on the reader’s part. The language can create problems, the setting may be difficult to understand, and even the physical product might be a challenge with the tiny print and thin pages. But curling up with The Good Book is an answer to the winter doldrums.
Since it is so early in January, why not consider reading for self-improvement. The Beatitudes located in Matthew 5 is the first portion of the Sermon on the Mount. The setting itself might help us escape the cold, snowy images that surround us.
The Sermon on the Mount is one of the first images of Jesus as a dramatic figure walking around the region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea fed by the Jordan River. The region was arid and mountainous—more like the coastal mountains located along the Pacific Ocean between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The region was a shipping and trading hub, so the towns along the Mediterranean Sea was filled with people of all cultures. Walking the streets one could hear different languages and see all types of diverse cultures. And in the rural area, the images shift to shepherds and the flocks of sheep, the grain fields being hand tilled and harvested.
And in the midst of daily life, Jesus emerges walking along the road with a group of followers. Even though Jesus seems to be focused on the twelve men, he cannot ignore the crowds that keep growing around him. The side of the mountain became a convenient amphitheater to stop and deliver the Good News.
Undoubtedly these cold winter days do not match the setting of Jesus delivering the messages, but the message is no different today than it was when it was first delivered. One of the advantages of reading The Bible today is that we can locate a translation that we enjoy reading and can understand on our own. So when curling up to read, make sure that the translation you read is one that fits you.
Reading a study Bible is helpful for me because it helps me to understand the setting, the audience, the author, and the language. The Life Application Bible adds in a wide range of aids to help understand the deeper meanings and the interrelationships with other passages in the Bible.
The Beatitudes seemed like a good place to begin this week. It was not part of the lectionary, which is a three-year sequence of readings that covers the entire Bible. Instead, I found myself thinking about how resolutions are made each January and it occurred to me that the Beatitudes themselves could be resolutions.
So, I curled up with my Bible and re-read them. Then I read the study notes. Then I read through them again. They sound good, almost like a poem when you hear them read aloud. But some of the words make them sound like riddles. Thank goodness the study notes were available.
Curling up with a Bible like the Life Application Study Bible, easily takes one away from the wintery view outside the window, but the reading opens up the mind. The Beatitudes were delivered to teach the new followers a lifestyle that was life changing just as much today as it was for the first listeners on the mountainside.
Today we need to read and to renew our determination to live the lifestyle outlined in the Beatitudes. The result brings peace to our own lives but can also radiate outward to others who acknowledge what a difference God makes in our lives and decide they, too, want to find the same peace in their lives.
Look back over these eight Beatitudes and consider the impact the lifestyle can make on your own life, but also on the others who come into contact with you. In each verse, there are words that refocus priorities:
- . . . realize their need for him:
- . . . who mourn . . . will be comforted
- . . . humble . . . inherit the whole earth
- . . . hunger and thirst for justice
- . . . merciful . . . shown mercy
- . . . pure hearts . . . see God
- . . . peace [workers] . . . will be children of God
- . . . doing right [earns] Kingdom of Heaven
[Refer to chart from Life Application Study Bible.]
Not once in these Beatitudes does Jesus mention money or stuff. It is a lifestyle of living for the good of others that receives the reward of eternal life.
The wonder of Christmas found in God’s promise to us is recorded in the words of the New Testament. God’s promise that accepting Jesus as our savior and living the lifestyle outlined in the Beatitudes results in a life filled with peace, joy, harmony and love. Even more importantly God’s promise is that he is with us now and forever.
Curling up with the Good Book may be ideal for this wintery season, but it is always a good activity to include in your daily life. Whether you read a small devotional like the Upper Room or Daily Word or Guideposts, or you simply pick up the Bible and open it randomly, the stories and the lessons inside those pages will make a difference in your life.
Thank you for keeping us warm these cold winter days,
Let us find extra warmth in the words of The Good Book.
Let it fuel our lives with purpose and encouragement.
Let examples of the ancient faithful followers
Teach us more about living life’s challenges.
Let Jesus’ words open our minds and hearts
About how to serve one another in love.
Let the letters of the apostles guide us
In living daily as members of God’s family
Blessing us in all that we do. –Amen