A Sermon on the Beatitudes

Amos 7:1-9, Matthew 5:1-12

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen

Reread Matthew 5:1-2

What we are reading is the opening statement of the Sermon on the Mount and the beginning of Jesus’ teaching ministry. This beginning, together with the Beatitudes, is intended by Matthew to invoke the 10 Commandments and provide a contrast between the Old Testament and the New Testament. A good SAT analogy is that: 10 Commandments: Old Tesament::Beatitudes:New Testament.

Exodus tells us that the 10 Commandments were written by the finger of God on two tablets of stone and given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, is that the Old Covenant is concerned with behavior modification. Whereas, the NC is concerned with a heart modification.

For example, over the next several weeks we will be reading through the Sermon on the Mount. The 10 Commandments say “Thou shalt not murder.” But Jesus says “He who hates his brother or calls him a fool shall be liable to the fires of hell.” Where the Commandments are concerned with behavior, Jesus is concerned with the state of your heart.

And so in the Gospel of the New Testament, we have the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Ezekiel where God says “I will give them a new heart and a new spirit, I will remove their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” In other words, in the New Covenant, our hearts are no longer obedient to the words of God written on stone tablets but are obedient to the Word of God made flesh in Christ Jesus. We are not bound by the law, but we are bound to imitate him. As John puts it in his letter, we are bound by the Law of Love because God is Love.

The problem, of course, is that without written rules on stone tablets, how are we to know that we are living in accordance with the Word of God made flesh? The answer, of course, is that the Beatitudes provide us with this guidance.

In the prophet Amos in the reading this week, God says that “I will set a plumb line among by people.” Here is a plumb line. Now a plumb line is always perpendicular to the ground. And if you are building a structure, the plumb line insures that your structure is always straight and perpendicular to its foundation. And so it is with the Beatitudes.

As we grow in the knowledge and love of Christ and we seek to imitate him, the Beatitudes act as that plumb line to guide us so that we know we are on the right track. The Beatitudes tell us if our heart is in the right place. They tell us if we are truly loving our neighbors as ourselves. It is not a new behavior but a new heart that the Gospel gives to us.

Please get out your scripture reading for the day and let’s take a very few minutes to look at the Beatitudes.  If you have a pen, I’ll give you one word to describe each verse.

  1. v3. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. This is the Beatitude of Humility – John Calvin says that “only he that is reduced to nothing in himself and relies on God alone, can be poor in spirit.” So Blessed are you when you are humble and rely upon God alone, for humility is the way that leads to the kingdom of heaven.
  2. v4. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. This is the Beatitude of Repentance – Repentance is NOT saying “I’m sorry” for breaking the rules. We are not under the rules written in stone. Rather repentance is a course of correction back towards God and away from ourselves.  So Blessed are you when you mourn over those selfish desires which separate you from the kingdom of God and turn back to him. For God will provide you comfort.
  3. v5. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. This is the Beatitude of Gentleness – The Beatitudes build on one another. Our spiritual poverty and repentance guide our attitude toward others. Meekness is the mean between the extreme of being angry and being apathetic. So Blessed are you when you display the meekness, gentleness, and self-restraint of Jesus. For this gentleness will be rewarded with the inheritance of the age to come.
  4. v6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. This is the Beatitude of Motivation – As we become closer to Christ, we long to bring him into the world. The Scriptures repeatedly describe the justice of God as that which lifts up the poor and protects the outcast and downtrodden such as the widows, orphans, and aliens. So Blessed are you when you desire and work to bring God’s righteousness and justice to individuals and to society for you will find satisfaction.
  5. v7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. This is the Beatitude of Compassion – Blessed are you that show mercy and compassion for those in need, by not only giving our alms but especially for giving of ourselves in helping others. As Jesus will later ask in Matthew, What did you do for the least of these? By showing compassion we obtain mercy.
  6. v8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. This is the Beatitude of Sincerity – Pure in heart means that our relationships with others are unblemished by selfish desires.  Things are used, not people. So Blessed are you when you are upright, sincere, and honest in every thought and activity for you will feel the abiding companionship of God.
  7. v9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. This is the Beatitude of Reconciliation – Peace is not simply the absence of conflict but the absence of being at odds with one another. It is the activity of bringing reconciliation between others. So Blessed are you when you reconcile and end conflicts between others or between yourself and others for God will grant you the treasurers of divine peace from above in order to provide this peace for others who shall become children of God.
  8. v10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. This is the Beatitude of Rejection – Jesus says “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” Have you ever been rejected because of following Jesus? The promise is that when our hearts have been renewed in the beatitudes we are well shielded to face persecution. So Blessed are you when you are rejected because you follow Jesus, for the kingdom of God is alive in your hearts.

Take your paper. Fold it up. Put it in your purse or your wallet so you can find it on Monday. And then read it on Monday and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and allow the beatitudes to become the measure of your life.  Read, Learn, and Inwardly Digest. Allow these to modify your heart.

Our embrace of the Beatitudes is not a matter of legal obedience. Don’t murder is easy. Good luck trying to be humble. You will soon become the most humble person you know. Rather, these eight principles – Humility, Repentance, Gentleness, Motivation, Compassion, Sincerity, Reconciliation, and Rejection – are the measure we take of our lives in Christ. And like the builder, if we see our lives are out of plumb, it shows that we must return to him who is our standard.

So what does that return look like? A return to the beatific plumb line is not a matter of your own effort to just be better tomorrow. Rather it is a true return to God Himself. If your heart is out of plumb seek him out. Be in constant prayer with God.  Words are unnecessary. Go wherever you feel his presence and simply be. Read your Bibles or a daily devotional or a book. Anything by C.S. Lewis will do. Read those things that touch your heart and renew your spirit.  I have always found Jesus close when reading about others’ encounters with him.

Gather with other Christians. As Jesus says, where two or three are gathered, there I am. Come here on a Sunday for the Liturgy when we are given the opportunity to participate in Christ’s Passion and Resurrection. Come to my house on Tuesday evenings for dinner, fellowship, and discussion. The Christian life is a journey, and the promise of the Good News is that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion. Your heart will be renewed and in plumb with Jesus Christ. 

In the Old Testament, we had to obey and we had to curb our outward behavior in order to be right with God. But under the New Covenant, we simply have to allow Jesus Christ to do the work for us.

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