In which we consider the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, the beginning of Jesus’s public teaching in the Gospel of Matthew, and perhaps the beginning of a new creation. Preached at St. Peter’s Comox on January 29, 2017
Ascending a hill we see Jesus. Around him are fishermen who have abandoned their fathers and beyond a great crowd from far and wide. They’ve gathered. Why? Curiosity? It is said that he wandered the countryside healing the sick and casting out demons. Some have heard him teaching in the synagogues. His message seems to be the same as that of his cousin John “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” You know that message managed to get John behind bars. He has risen atop the hill now, and he sits down. He who is on high lowers himself and speaks.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit”
Blessed are those who come before the throne of God empty. Do you know that place? That place where everything you do to accomplish your own will has failed. That place where you are tired of turning over and over again in your own desires. That place where you realize all that you have to offer is ultimately nothing. You have nothing before the kingdom of heaven. We are beggars every one. Yet the kingdom of heaven is the place of those who are empty. To become a citizen is to become poor and in becoming empty the citizen is fulfilled.
“Blessed are those who mourn”
To inherit the kingdom of heaven, to inherit true poverty is to inherit mourning. For ours is the kingdom of love himself. Ours is the kingdom of selfless vulnerability, of risk, of mourning. We mourn because the kingdom as much as it is already here it is not yet. We mourn because of our poverty; because we long to have something to offer. We mourn because of the suffering and groaning of our brothers, sisters and our King. The Blessed mourn. Yet in the mourning is the promise of comfort. In the mourning we are not alone.
“Blessed are the meek”
In our mourning and poverty we are meek. This teacher could have sided with agitators or activists, revolutionaries or freedom fighters. But he told us that such is not the way of the kingdom of heaven. Our citizenship invites us into a relinquishing of pride. It invites us into a Way of loving our enemies, and turning the other cheek, and carrying oppression the extra mile. We don’t conquer oppressors with uplifted screeches or political action. Our conquest is in meekness, for in our submission we are made more than conquerors. The powers of this world, the Earth herself is the inheritance not of arrogance but of weakness. For even the Earth itself is being made new in the kingdom.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”
For in the inheritance of the kingdom is a hunger. It is the hunger that buries deep when we say “thy will be done.” It is the hunger for true justice that holds heaven and earth in a single peace. It is the hunger to be holy as the Lord our God is holy. It is what we have a foretaste of when we say it is meet and right so to do. For justice will be fulfilled and is fulfilled in us, in our reconciling relationships, in our being made into the image of God, the image of love.
“Blessed are the merciful”
For our citizenship is about mercy as well as justice. Our citizenship is one that does not hold debtors hostage but releases them. For in holding them hostage we too are made slaves. And such is the freedom of the citizen, that in forgiving she finds the fragrance of forgiveness, untethered she might be who she truly is.
“Blessed are the pure in heart”
For you must see that all of this is the purity of the heart. A pure heart is empty of pride, hungry for the fulfillment of the Lord’s will, in sadness over its unfullfilment, freed in forgiveness and comforted in love. A pure heart then, shall see God. Shall see him at work in the world, shall see him standing upon this hill, shall see him in his coming again, shall see him in the kingdom.
“Blessed are the peacemakers”
That is the work of the citizen: the making of peace. The reconciliation between one another. The reconciliation of heaven and earth in the giving of Glory to God and the reception of peace in Christ is our labour. This is the harvest we are made free to gather. For in being called the sons and daughters of God we participate in the peace he is making and become heirs of the kingdom.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness”
For the kingdom of heaven does not mean a jolly triumphant march. Where triumph comes, it comes over the endurance of suffering. Where triumph comes, it comes over the grave, over the disdain of powers and principalities. Over the trials of spiritual warfare, we come in to the triumph of that kingdom. But that is a triumph washed even now in the blood of the martyrs, in the courage of the witness the world seeks to silence. For when we proclaim allelujah we proclaim it with the holes still fixed in our Saviour’s hands. While slander is cast all around with mourning, empty, thirsty, pure hearts – with our whole hearts- we rejoice.
We rejoice for in this Sermon on the Mount he who spoke the world into being out of nothing speaks. By his Word he created. Is he creating something upon this mountain? Is he making something new? Is he working it even here and now?
May it be so.