This Sunday, September 24, at 5:30 p.m., we are hosting our annual Soup & Pie Fundraiser for Canadian Foodgrains Bank. James and Joan Alty will be sharing about their experiences with MCC/Canadian Foodgrains Bank in South Africa. The supper—delicious cabbage borscht and a variety of homemade pies—is by donation, with cheques payable to “Canadian Foodgrains Bank.”
Invite your neighbours and come on out for a wonderful meal in support of a great cause. This event is open to any and all!
When Jesus talks in the Beatitudes about being “blessed,” he is combining two ideas together: the idea of “blessing” as divine favour, and the idea of “blessing” as human flourishing.
Those who are “blessed” are those who are favoured by God. God is predisposed toward them. God is particularly concerned for their welfare. God is “especially fond” of them, to recall the phrase from Paul Young’s The Shack.
Those who are “blessed” are also those who experience the flourishing life God desires for us as human beings. All the good things God created us for—discovering truth, realizing goodness, creating beauty, in complete harmony with God, others, ourselves, and all creation—those who are “blessed” experience these things.
To be “blessed” in the way Jesus speaks of in these Beatitudes is to be favoured by God—“divine favour”—and to experience all the good that God desires for us—“human flourishing.”
But how does this even make sense? How can it be true that “the poor in spirit”—or “the poor,” as Luke’s Gospel has it—are “blessed” like this, favoured by God and experiencing the good God desires for them? How is it possible that “those who mourn” or “those who are persecuted” can be said to be “blessed” in this way?
After all, this goes against all our popular language about “blessing.” In our way of thinking, it’s the rich who are especially “blessed.” We talk about people being “blessed” with great physical strength or athletic ability, or exceptional beauty or above-average intelligence.
Sometimes successful people even say this about themselves in a kind of “humblebrag.” “I’ve been blessed,” they say with a modest smile and a slight bow of the head. But the underlying message can be, “Look at how good my life is, and how good I’ve been to get it.”
Even for us lesser mortals, “blessings” are entirely positive things, things that fit with our understanding of happiness or success or “the good life.” Having a healthy family, a comfortable home, a few simple pleasures along the way—these are “blessings.” It simply doesn’t compute for us to speak of the poor as “blessed,” or those who mourn, or even the meek or the merciful.
In our world, these blessings of Jesus are completely upside-down.
To make sense of these upside-down blessings of Jesus, it’s important to understand that all these Beatitudes are describing something that is already present yet is somehow also still future. Most of them are “Blessed are…for they will be…” All of them are describing present blessing right now alongside a future promise of blessing fulfilled down the road.
Here’s why this is so important. These are not simply future positives in spite of some present negative; they are future positives that grow out of the present negatives. There is something about the present circumstances—being poor in spirit, mourning, yearning for justice, being merciful, being peacemakers—that leads directly to the future promise being fulfilled.
Being “poor in spirit” is crucial for experiencing God’s kingdom; it’s not simply that they receive God’s kingdom someday in spite of being poor now. It’s not just that those who are “meek” will one day “inherit the earth”; it’s that they will “inherit the earth” by being meek. We cannot experience the fullness of justice in the world unless we “hunger and thirst” for it, yearning for it deep in our souls. And so on.
To put this another way, all of the Beatitudes are identifying people who already are blessed, but they are also describing the necessary attitudes and behaviours that lead to blessing. Maybe you’ve heard the Beatitudes called the “Be-Attitudes.” Well, as corny as that might seem, it’s right on the money: these blessings describe “attitudes” that we should “be,” ways of thinking and living that we should cultivate if we want to experience the full blessing of God.
How does all this help us make sense of Jesus’ upside-down Beatitudes?
First, Jesus’ Beatitudes seem so upside-down to us because Jesus has a different understanding of “blessedness” than we often do.
Jesus’ idea of “divine favour” isn’t the same thing as ours. For Jesus, and the Bible generally, “divine favour” is entirely unearned. There’s no idea in the Bible of calling ourselves “blessed” when really we mean, “look how good we are.”
And Jesus’ idea of “human flourishing” isn’t the same thing as our idea of “the good life.” For Jesus, and the Bible generally, the goal of human life is not “being successful” or “being happy.” Rather, the goal of human life as described in most of the biblical writings is shalom: justice, peace, and flourishing life for all, being in harmony with God and all creation.
Second, Jesus’ Beatitudes seem so upside-down to us because Jesus is taking the long view.
This bigger-picture vision of “blessedness” is no short-term project. It requires the cultivation of attitudes and behaviours in each of us, and all of us together, that will only lead to the full harvest of divine favour and human flourishing down the road.
This is hard for us, especially in our culture of instant gratification. We want results not now, but right now. Combine this with our mostly materialistic concepts of “success” or “happiness” or “the good life,” and it’s no wonder something like “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” makes no sense to us.
Jesus’ teaching is not just an add-on, something extra for extra-spiritual Christians. Rather, Jesus’ teaching is central to Jesus’ entire life. It fits hand-in-glove with Jesus’ healings and miracles, his death and resurrection. If you’re going to claim to follow Jesus, if you’re going to claim to be a Christian, following Jesus’ teaching is not an option—it’s part of the standard package.
Two examples from Matthew highlight this.
First, there’s the end of the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:24-27. That’s Jesus’ well-known story of the wise and foolish builders. The wise man builds his house upon the rock, and when the storm comes his house stands firm. The foolish man, however, builds his house upon the sand, and when the storm comes his house is destroyed. A sobering image in these days of hurricanes and floods.
Often that parable is taken to mean, “Build your life on God,” or “Build your life on the Bible.” But that’s not actually what Jesus says. Jesus says, “whoever hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” The wise man is not someone who builds their life on God in the abstract, or on general “biblical principles.” The wise man is that person who specifically follows Jesus’ teaching—especially his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, which is what Jesus is referring to here.
And then there’s the very end of Matthew’s Gospel, another well-known passage, the Great Commission. This is where Jesus gathers his disciples after his resurrection, and he says these words:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.
In other words, this is a critical, non-negotiable part of being a disciple of Jesus: striving to follow everything Jesus has taught. Yes, even the hard bits. Even the bits we think are unrealistic or impractical. “Everything,” Jesus says—including the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus is our Teacher with a capital-T, and we are all—everyone in the church, from the youngest to the oldest—Jesus’ students.
Jesus is our Rabbi with a capital-R, and we are all—all who claim the name “Christian”—Jesus’ disciples, learning from him like apprentices to a master, following his teachings and his way of life.
Below is the full audio of Pastor Michael’s sermon from Sept. 10, 2017, “Lord, Teach Us!” This is the first in a year-long focus on Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7.
Senior Youth kicks off this Friday, and this Sunday is the startup for our Sunday School for children and youth along with our adult Sunday Study. Contact one of the pastors or the church office for more information on youth groups, Bible studies, care groups, worship services, prayer meetings, women’s events, seniors’ coffee times, and more.
Through this year our worship will be centred on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. Our prayer as a church this year is, “Lord, Teach Us!”
Here’s our weekly Sunday morning schedule: 9:00 Morning Prayers | 9:30 Sunday School & Adult Sunday Study | 10:15 Common Ground Coffee | 10:40 Morning Worship Service
I can believe that God loves everyone, but am I truly persuaded that God loves me? How do we move from “God so loved the world that he gave his one-and-only Son” (John 3:16) to “Jesus loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20)? In this sermon from July 23, 2017, Pastor Michael offers some guidance on moving from “God is love” to “Jesus loves me, this I know.”