Tag Archives: Beatitudes

Curling Up with The Good Book: Lessons from the Beatitudes

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, and he began to teach them.

The Beatitudes

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,[a]
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,[b]
for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.

 

Reflection:

 

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:

  1. . . . realize their need for him:
  2. . . . who mourn . . . will be comforted
  3. . . . humble . . . inherit the whole earth
  4. . . . hunger and thirst for justice
  5. . . . merciful . . . shown mercy
  6. . . . pure hearts . . . see God
  7. . . . peace [workers] . . . will be children of God
  8. . . . 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.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

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

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How did Jesus teach? The Beatitudes & The Last Supper

given on Sunday, October 6, 2013–Worldwide Communion Day

Scripture Base:  Matthew 5: 5-12 and Luke 6:20-23

Teaching and preaching seemingly follow similar methods and often the two careers seem to merge.  In fact, the training is very similar especially in classes concerning delivery of content.  The difference between the two careers is primarily the audience, as one might expect.

The Sermon on the Mount officially signaled the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  The audience was defined as the Jews, originally, but opened up to any interested person who was within hearing distance of this man.  Certainly the first notice taken of him was in the tabernacle where the Jewish rabbis were listening and interacting with him as a child even as a student.  Yet as early as 12, the scripture tells us that Jesus may have been more a preacher than a student.

Personally, I would love to learn more about this young man between 12 and 30.  Was his development typical or did he develop an aura of mystery around him causing people—family, friends, neighbors, even strangers—to start whispering about him in an almost fearful manner?

The stories of Jesus’ pre-ministry life are scanty at best, but I cannot believe that he was just quietly growing up and being trained as a carpenter.  I think there must have been a sense of calm and peace surrounding him visible in his actions and his eyes.  I think he was soft-spoken, but gifted at knowing the inner thoughts of others.

How else could one man, walking along the dusty paths along the Jordan River, up and over coastal mountains, in and along the village paths, call out the name of someone completely absorbed by the task at hand, and have them drop everything, walk towards him, and begin a journey without a thought!  I know there had to be a unique presence about Jesus.

The beginning of Jesus’ ministry is the Sermon on the Mount and the list of Beatitudes is recorded as the introduction to his teaching.  At the point he becomes aware of the large crowd growing around him and the Apostles, he shifts from preparing them for their new career to teaching and/or preaching to the curious onlookers.

What do the Beatitudes teach?  At the first reading, one might consider them to be riddles.  The words twist and turn, stating one thing, then flipping into another.  The wording is a cause and effect statement in reverse:  God blesses those (the effect) who did (the cause).  But then comes the concrete result—the Kingdom of Heaven is just one result.

Breaking down each statement like that, certainly demonstrates the rewards outnumber the expected behaviors.  One new law erases the Old Law, primarily based on the Ten Commandments:  love your neighbor as yourself.  How you are to do that is outlined in the Beatitudes:

  1. Realize your need for God
  2. Mourn for one’s loss
  3. Be humble
  4. Hunger and thirst for justice
  5. Be merciful
  6. Be pure of heart
  7. Work for peace
  8. Do right even if others do not
  9. Stick to your beliefs even if others make fun of you.

10. Be happy

These are seemingly so simple that I am sure the change in one’s lifestyle during those ancient years really did appeal to the masses.  Remember that at this time the ‘good life’ was for those in power and for the priests in the tabernacle.

Which brings us back to the audience and Jesus’ teaching style.  If the tabernacle was so holy that only certain areas were open to the people, the working class, as we might know them today (or maybe we should call them the working poor class).  Add to that group of people, the ones living and working around the area that were not even Jewish, who were living outside of the Jewish faith.

Any speaker who can deliver a new idea with such success that the crowds start growing and growing into an unmanageable crowd who could only fit along the road on the side of a mountain, must be a gifted teacher and/or preacher.

The Sermon on the Mount was a beginning.  The crowds were curious, the tone was inviting, and promises sounded appealing.  Jesus was teaching these first followers methods to simplify their lives.  Following the Old Law was demanding and built upon fearful consequences.  Jesus’ message was different and provided hope to the masses.

For three years, Jesus continued walking the dusty paths, speaking to individuals, to families, to educated and uneducated.  The legal authorities were noticing a change in the communities, the priests were watching, too.  I even suspect that attendance during Sabbath services was diminishing, too.  Change was in the air!

In fact the change was also affecting the community’s daily business.  The legal authorities were becoming agitated, not to mention the Jewish priests.  The teaching and the preaching were not stopping, but the new followers enthusiasm became overshadowed by fear.   The movement grew but also became more secretive.  The crowds were closely watched, who was following whom was noted.  Still Jesus continued teaching, preaching, and healing with his following growing and growing.

As that Passover Week rolled around and three years of work was nearing completion (the Sermon of the Mount began Jesus’ career) now the Last Supper was going to close his earthly career.  The setting changes, the audience diminishes, and the seriousness of the gathering shifts to a tone of caution.

Jesus the teacher is now preaching.  He must reinforce his message and he needs his disciples to understand the importance of their role with each other as well as the newest followers.  He has taught, preached and healed without ceasing, but his time was ending.

Parents and teachers know that their role changes when children and students grow up and move on.  Jesus knew this too.  The promises shared in the Beatitudes would not be fulfilled if he did not complete his earthly job.

The Last Supper signaled the transition of teaching, preaching and healing from him to his Apostles.  And, as the Apostles hear the words we now use in the communion liturgy, they graduated with fear into new roles.  They were now to be the teachers, the preachers, and the healers.

Still, the setting and the tone of that final meal was filled with casual conversation, with laughter, with hope, with calm until Jesus commanded their attention and began explaining what was about to happen.  The clamor in the room stopped, the silence filled the room, and Jesus’ words filled the void (Matthew 26:21-24):

I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.  . . .One of you who has just eaten from this bowl with me will betray me.  For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago.  But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him.  It would be far better for that man if he had never been born.

Shock, bewilderment, defensiveness, horror, disbelief, and fear:  the emotions at that moment are far different than the emotions of the crowds listening to the Sermon on the Mount.  The hope and the promises listed in the Beatitudes suddenly become just distant memories as Jesus’ prepares his handpicked Apostles for the final phase of his ministry.

The simple act of sharing a meal with those closest to you creates a bond of trust.  The Last Supper, also known as Communion or the Eucharist, does this for each of us yet today.  We symbolize that meal with Jesus each time we take the cup and the bread.  As we remember how Jesus’ spent three years teaching, preaching, and healing, we also renew that bond with God.

God loves each and every one of us so much, that he came to this earth as Jesus to teach us, to preach to us, and to heal us.  The words of hope and promises delivered in the Beatitudes are as meaningful today as they were 2,000 years ago.

The rule, the one rule, simplifies our lives so much that we want to share it with others, too, because we know the difference it has made in our lives.  It is a rule that creates the Christ-filled lives we experience here on earth as well as leads to the promises of eternal life with God once our earthly lives are completed.

Thanks be to God for the gift of his Son and of the Holy Spirit as we live our lives to His glory.  May we be the Church, teaching, preaching and healing others so they may experience the grace and the love of God.

[At this time, join in the ritual of Communion.  Take the cup and the bread as a symbol of the bond between you and God.]

 

Closing Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, Jesus your son, and the Holy Ghost,

Thank you for the gifts you have given us

so we may join You in teaching, preaching, and healing.

We acknowledge our human weaknesses,

but we believe in your grace and your forgiveness.

Help us share that sense of hope found in the Beatitudes

with those who are lost and forlorn.

May our skills be instrumental in the transformation

of the lives of your children, young and old alike.

Through the sharing of the bread and the wine,

renew our bond, our commitment to You and to each other.

To Your glory, amen.

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The Big E(vangelism): What is the good news that we are to share?

given on Sunday, March 4, 2012:  the second in a series about evangelizing in the 21st century

Okay, last week we tackled what the word evangelism is and why it makes us so uncomfortable.  Evangelism is the good news that God so loved the world that he gave his only son, Jesus Christ, so that we could have eternal life, John 3:16.

That one verse serves as the foundation for almost all conversations concerning ‘the good news.’  Yet how in the world can the birth and death of one individual—man and God—be good news?  If we are to spread the good news, we need to know the good news in words that make sense to us and to others who are skeptical or non-believing.

Face it.  We have all heard the same platitudes repeated throughout our life.  Parents scold their kids that if they continue doing wrong they will not get to heaven.  Schoolteachers ominously tell us that we are being bad and that will lead us down the wrong path.  The older generation shakes their heads and says what is this world coming to.  Everybody seems to know what happens if evil wins, but nobody is able to give a concrete account of what happens next—next being after our bodies die here on earth.

Is that the good news?  We have to live a good life here on earth to reach heaven after death?  The skeptics ask how do we know.  We have no concrete proof.  We have the promises of the Bible.  We have the teachings of the disciples and theologians who have used all the methods that Jesus demonstrated while he was living.  Yet, we do not seem to have the words that are needed to convince or to assure others just what the good news is.

Surprisingly, though, I think we do have the answers.  We just have never been able to confidently state exactly what the good news is.  The Apologetics’ Bible article, “If There is Such Good Evidence for God, then Why Don’t More People Believe?” convinces me that I should be able to define the good news in ways that people can understand.

The article uses the contemporary arguments against smoking as a metaphor for understanding the good news.  Scientists have researched the relationship between smoking and lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and even complications of pregnancy and are overwhelmingly convinced that smoking is directly related to these life-threatening conditions.

Researchers have tried to confirm the existence of Jesus throughout the last 2,000 plus years.  The evidence continues to prove that this man did exist.  The analysis of the scripture—Old and New Testaments—connects and reconnects with the secular evidence of historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and theologians.  The more in-depth I search for answers, the more solid my understanding of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

The article poses the question, “Why don’t more people believe?”  The next statement is “The basic cause of all unbelief is a sinful heart.”  The article continues:

One reason may be ignorance of the evidence.  This is why it is important for Christians to study the evidence and be prepared to present it in a logical, gracious way.  The Bible commands us to “always be ready to give a defense” (I Peter 3:15) as you “go . . . and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19)

Therefore, we must study the Bible in order to be comfortable in discussing it confidently with others why may not know it so well.  This is a lifelong process.

Yet the article continues:

. . . When told about the gospel, some people realize that a life given to Christ will result in sacrifice and serving others.  The idea that they have to give up their sin compels them to reject God no matter how good the evidence is.  Still others say they reject God because they’ve seen Christians act sinfully.  This amounts to using the sins of others to justify your own sins and unbelief.

These descriptors sound familiar to me.  Others have talked abou them before.  I have felt inadequate to address their disbelief.  And, I have also used the sins of others to justify my poor decisions.  Now I must focus on God and not fall from grace.

Here is the clencher in the article:

Belief is like a two-sided coin:  on one side the evidence; the other side is the will.  Just as some people continue to smoke despite the evidence, some refuse to believe in God even when they know the evidence.  Others remain skeptical, because they are steeped in a worldview that does not allow them to evaluate the evidence properly.

A two-sided coin:  you can believe or not.  As one who does believe, I think telling the good news, or evangelizing, is primarily living a God-centered life.  We live a life that models the behaviors that Jesus taught us.  We see this world through God’s eyes.   What better way to learn the concrete proof needed so unbelievers can see God in our lives!

The Beatitudes describe the behaviors that God asks from us.  The first scripture reference for today is Matthews 5:3-5:

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.

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.  (the MSG)

These are the first verses of the beatitudes Jesus first shared in the Sermon on the Mount.  He outlines in the beatitudes the behaviors needed to reach the kingdom of heaven (which sound more familiar in the NIV translation):

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.

These behaviors are concrete.   These are ideas that are real to us in the 21st century.  Still there is that phrase again:  kingdom of heaven.  What makes that term so impossible for us to explain in a comfortable manner that others can understand?

One issue is we do not understand the concept of kingdom.  Since the colonies separated from England, kingdom has become an archaic word, an outdated word.  We do not use the term kingdom to mean a specific, geographical location on this earth.  Kingdom is not a word we use in casual conversation and to connect it to heaven creates a whirlwind of images in our minds.

During ancient times, kingdom was a common reference to a region that was ruled by a specific family.  The size widely varied, but the ruling family gave the people the law of that kingdom.  Today our society is not subject to one ruling family; rather we are all involved through the democratic principles of this republic.

With all the confusion over the term “kingdom of heaven” one can certainly understand how skeptics and non-believers are not convinced that the “kingdom of heaven” or the “good news” exists.  After reading a few articles, reading the scriptures referenced, and stopping to reflect and talk to God, I think I have some concrete evidence of the kingdom of heaven:

  • a baby’s hand automatically wraps around your finger,
  • the robins sing when snow is still in the air (not the ground this year),
  • the bite of the summer’s first tomato off your very own vine,
  • the peepers first song on a spring evening,
  • the smell of honeysuckle wafting through the breeze,
  • the sight of a small calf trying to stand for the first time,
  • the excitement of completing a crossword puzzle,
  • receiving that first paycheck,
  • the sound of a child calling for mom or dad,
  • the toe-tapping sensation when the music comes on,
  • the thrill of wind racing past your face on a bike or in a convertible,
  • the tug on the line as a fish takes the bait,
  • the thrill when pushing off for a downhill run on the skis
  • the sunset or the sunrise across the ocean,
  • the smell of supper when you open the door after a long day,
  • the joy of blowing bubbles and watching them float upwards,
  •  and …………………………. fill in the blank.

 

We have the proof of the kingdom of heaven.  It is right here with us and provides us with that inner joy that defeats the evil that exists around us.  It places good as the priority in our lives.  We see the world through God’s eyes.

The Big E, evangelism, is the gospel, the good news, and we are to spread the good news.  How many times do we react to some tiny little thing that gives us joy—these are the times we experience the kingdom of heaven.  How often do others say that it certainly does not take much to make us happy—we are modeling Christian life in the kingdom of heaven?  How many times do our thoughts turn to prayer when we hear a siren—we are part of the kingdom of heaven?

Evangelism is easy.  All we have to do is to see God in our lives today.  All we have to do is model God’s teachings.  All we have to do is accept God’s grace and find the joy it brings into our hearts.  Is not that easy to do and to share with others?  The good news is good living even when surrounded with evil.

Share the good news and you will be evangelizing.  In the last verses of our scripture, Jesus again tells the disciples how to reach the kingdom of heaven:

. . .  19-20“Trivialize even the smallest item in God’s Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom.   (the MSG)

Keep it simple, and you will know the kingdom of heaven.  Live it and others will soon know the kingdom of heaven, too.  The disciples did it, so can you.

Dear Loving Father,

Thank you for such a sparkling day filled with hope and promises.

Thank you for making our lives much easier than it was in ancient times.

Thank you for loving us so much that you sent your own Son to guide us.

As we begin a new week, help us to keep centered on You.

Remind us to look at the world and all that we do through your eyes.

Help us to use the Lenten season to re-evaluate our lives.

Help us to make the corrections in our lives

So others may see the kingdom of heaven in their lives, too.

–Amen.

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