“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
MESSAGE “What Disciples Do” Rev. James Renfrew
Can anyone recite the Preamble? You know, the Preamble to the US Constitution: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. (Had you been at the service, one of the worship spontaneously participants offered the Preamble set to music!). Written in 1788 The Preamble of the U.S. Constitution—the document’s famous first fifty-two words— introduces everything that is to follow in the Constitution’s seven articles and twenty-seven amendments. It proclaims who is adopting this Constitution, it describes why it is being adopted, and it describes what is being adopted.
Can anyone tell me what an overture is? It is the opening piece in a musical production that sets forth some of the themes that will be found in all of the music that will follow, the joy, the sadness, the hopes, the wonders. In our house our granddaughter has been enjoying the Sound of Music, and it begins with Maria singing in a mountain meadow, and you just know that Maria and her music will be the thing that drives the whole story, and that climbing a mountain will be the spiritual and physical challenge for the Von Trappe family.
This morning we have heard the opening verses of the most well-known sermon ever, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Yes, a mountain, just like Maria in the Sound of Music. These verses are like the preamble or the overture for the Sermon. These opening verses are frequently referred to as the Beatitudes, based on the Latin word that begins each verse, which in English is translated as “blessed” or “happy”, though those words barely scratch the surface of what Jesus means.
Which word, “Blessed” or “happy”, works best? At our Bible study on Tuesday it was agreed that there is a lot of depth that cannot be conveyed in a single word. I listen to a Blues program on Saturday nights from Toronto on FM radio while working on sermons and one song that is frequently played is by Cheryl Lescom, a woman who sings about a “soul-shaking romance”. So there’s “romance” … and then there’s “soul-shakin’ romance”. “Soul-shakin’ romance” takes regular romance to another level, and that’s what Jesus is saying when he says ”blessed”. There’s “blessed”, and then there’s “soul-shakin’ blessedness”. So I imagine a good translation in place of “blessed” or “happy” would be “Are you poor in spirit, down in the dumps? Well God is about to shake your soul.”
What kind of shaking are we talking about? The kind where someone bigger and stronger than you grabs you by the collar and starts shaking you? There’s a lot of talk these days about how tough times require tough leaders, so I took the liberty of translating Jesus words in that vein to see if this is the kind of person Jesus is.
Here’s what people might have expected a tough guy to say: Are you poor in Spirit? Tough! Are you in mourning? Get over it! Are you meek? Man up! Are you hungry or thirsty? Stop your whining! Are you merciful? You’re a fool! Are you pure in heart? What a waste of time. Are you a peacemaker? Pathetic. Do people hate you and push you around? You deserve it! The world’s a nasty place, stop feeling sorry for yourself, and hit your enemies hard!
But Jesus speaks in a way that no one would have expected. He’s not a tough guy at all, but he speaks with power because the words he speaks turn our world, my world, your world, upside down. It’s not about the toughness we might have expected, it’s about understanding the way God works, and then getting on board with it. So as a preamble or overture, Jesus is telling us to get ready to have all of our thinking upsidedownified, to have our souls shaken, and to prepare for the adventure of our lives. I’m ready, are you ready?
I wish you all were there at the Bible Study on Tuesday night. We thought about each of these verses from the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, and what a joy it was to hear each participant name one of them as a point of special significance. The Bible is a book of course, but it is a book that will shake your soul when a verse or even a few words from it intersect with your life.
Blessed are the meek. One participant really liked this. It’s not about weakness or powerlessness, it’s about being comfortable with what you are, authentic in heart and aware of opportunities to help others.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. When your spiritual tank is running on empty, it means that God has so much more to give, something we might have missed if we make the mistake of congratulating ourselves for filling our own tank.
Blessed are the merciful, they will obtain mercy. It’s simple and radical: what you give is what you receive in return. Give love, offer peace, extend joy, and these are the things you get back. Something this participant has found to be true in life.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you. We hope and pray that no one will do these things, but as we take risks for Christ in troubled times these may be on the near horizon and we need to be ready.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. In times when people are only concerned with themselves, Jesus draws our attention to the margins, to people without food, without shelter, without homes. These margins, the needs we try not to look at may be the very heart of what Jesus is drawn to in this world. So if we’re looking to find Jesus, meeting the hungry and the thirsty are the best places to find him. If we push them away or ignore them we are ignoring and pushing away God.
I was deeply moved in hearing the insights of those around the Bible Study table. It’s what I love about opening the Bible. We find things we’ve never heard before, and the things we’ve heard many times before open up in new ways. It’s a soul-shakin’ experience. Never underestimate what the Bible message can inspire in you.
In studying these simple Beatitude phrases we get clued into the things that disciples do. You don’t have to embrace all of them at once. Try one on for size. Try living with one of these verses for a day. Take a closer walk with Jesus with some of these words. Do you end up seeing the world a little differently than before? Let one of these verses grow on you. It’s a new attitude, it’s a new approach, it’s a new understanding. Not pushing other people around, not thinking that the world owes you something at the expense of others, not thinking that the purpose of faith is privilege and power over others.
Jesus spoke these simple phrases, a preamble, an overture to the sermon that follows. Try them on and he will shake your soul! Maybe these verses will serve as the preamble or overture to the next chapter in your life!