Matthew 5:7-12
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
May 12, 2024

A husband felt sure his wife was losing her hearing. One evening, while she was cooking at the stove with her back to him, he decided to run a test. He stood six feet behind her and asked, “What’s for dinner?” Hearing no response, he shook his head sadly and stepped two feet closer to repeat the question. Again he picked up no sign of her hearing him. So he came up right behind her and asked a third time in a loud voice, “What’s for dinner?” His wife put down her spoon, turned around, and said, “For Pete’s sake, Harold, how often do I have to repeat myself? For the third time: It’s beef stew!”

So often we perceive what we expect to perceive even if it’s not really there, and we miss what is actually there. We do that even with the Bible. Our presumptions cause us to project our expectations on to it.

Many find the Sermon on the Mount scary. To many, Jesus seems to set the discipleship bar so high as to put it out of reach. I think that interpretation is the projection of false expectation. I think Jesus is telling us here, not what we have to do in order to receive His blessings, but what we can do and get to do in order to know them in their fullness. For the Sermon on the Mount is teaching those whom He has made His own how to make His blessings their own, to the max.

Remember, here at the Sermon’s start, Jesus is speaking, not to those who are considering following whether to follow Him, but to those who’ve already committed to following Him. The disciples, for all their confusion about Jesus and His way, have already entered His kingdom by entering into a personal relationship with Him, its King. They’re people in process who by that relationship are learning to walk with Him in His way of justice, righteousness, compassion and evangelistic outreach. They’re learning how to make the most of this gift they haven’t paid for, earned or merited in any way. But it does take much effort to fully take in all its benefits in all their fullness.

Today we look at the second half of the eight beatitudes by which Jesus begins the Sermon. These four new beatitudes give us four more identifiers of the “blessed”. The first four, which we studied last week, did not point to any ethical or spiritual achievement in the blessed, but to their attitude of humility in accepting their desperate need of God. Jesus spoke of their being poor in spirit, mournful over their mistakes, meek before their Master and merely hoping to become righteous. In this second half of His beatitudes Jesus speaks of their being the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

Jesus had no illusions about His disciples being perfect in any way. Thus He wasn’t surprised when James and John were the opposite of “merciful” when they wanted fire to rain down from heaven to burn up the Samaritans who rejected them…the other ten disciples were the opposite of “pure in heart” when they faulted those two brothers for asking Jesus to give them the honor of sitting at His right and left in His glory, hypocritically pretending to think it wrong when in fact they were angry they’d gotten beaten to the punch in making the request themselves…Peter was the opposite of a “peacemaker” when at Jesus’ arrest he pulled out a knife and cut off an innocent man’s ear…and all of them were the opposite of the “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” when in His Passion they ran from His side to hide from the danger.

Yet, Jesus said these imperfect, frequently failing men were “blessed”. If they can be blessed, can’t we under the same grace? While Jesus calls us to perfection, He doesn’t expect it from us. He just expects us to duly revere His ideals of righteousness and love and to aspire to them with faithful perseverance.

With the fifth beatitude Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy.” That is not to say that we receive kindness and generosity from God just to the extent that we give such to others, as if His mercy were a reward for good behavior. It is to say that our receiving it is intertwined with our giving it. For to open our hearts to others is to open our hearts to God and to open our hearts to God is to open our hearts to others. We can’t experience the full benefits of God’s grace unless we share them. It’s not tit for tat; it’s just the way life works. If we refuse to let grace bless everyone, we prevent it from blessing us. That’s why Jesus later says in the Sermon we can’t be forgiven if we won’t forgive.

With the sixth beatitude Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God”. Now, to be pure is to be all one thing, and nothing but that one thing, lest its quality be diluted or compromised. But what person other than Jesus has ever been 100% pure? Surely not those Jesus calls the blessed and describes as hungering and thirsting for righteousness! For if they were 100% pure, they wouldn’t be hungering and thirsting for righteousness; they’d be savoring and relishing it. May God deliver us from “all or nothing” stinking thinking!

But we get to approximate purity in heart more and more as we pursue it with genuine fervor and prove our sincerity, not by attaining the highest heights of holiness, but by keeping on keeping on in an upward direction!

That reorientation impacts the state of our heart, and that state of heart impacts our ability to see God. For we see God with the eyes of the heart. So, if our heart is filled with the darkness of, say, resentment, its darkness dims our vision and blocks out God’s light. Conversely, expelling the darkness brightens our spiritual eyesight!

With the seventh beatitude Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God”. Peacemakers don’t stir up drama or throw gasoline on the fire of folks’ anger. Insofar as the involved allow them, peacemakers reconcile those at hammer and tongs. And in bringing them peace, they bring themselves peace, the wholeness that marks them as God’s children. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Plain, we receive as we give.

Finally, with the eighth beatitude, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Note this last beatitude concludes with the same promise as the first: “Theirs is the kingdom!” Note too that it’s the only beatitude Jesus repeats to apply explicitly to Peter and the rest, saying, “Blessed are you when people…persecute you.”

Life in the kingdom is a high cost, high reward life. The more we put into it, the more we get out of it; and the more we sacrifice for it, the more we gain from it.
Jesus suffered, not so we’d never suffer again, but so we’d suffer like Him. To follow Him is to take on His battles and to fight His fights. Fighting them wounds us and brings us to the end of ourselves, giving us the poverty of spirit that makes the kingdom ours. It also leads us to mourn our weakness and to adopt meekness, giving us the humility to see God as our only chance to make it.

All this opens us up to God’s mercy, inner comfort, enduring hope and the priceless companionship of the Son of God.

With Jesus, we don’t have to live up to expectations; we just get to live it up with Him whose greatness exceeds every expectation!

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