I was standing in line at a deli the other day. They had installed a plexiglass screen in front of the cash register to keep both customer and cashier safe. What I found interesting, however, was how many people tried to talk to the cashier without the screen. They would position themselves to the side or lean over and try to speak around the screen. Even though it violated the safety protocols, there was something about speaking face-to-face that was important for these people.
Watching this happen, I found myself standing in line hungering for something more than food. I longed for the day we could get rid of these masks and these plexiglass screens and return to talking face-to-face.
That is why our Gospel reading is so refreshing for me. Early in His ministry, Jesus gathers people around Him and speaks to them face-to-face. Obviously, Jesus was not wearing a mask and they did not have plexiglass screens separating the people from God. But the people Jesus gathered around Him did have a problem with separation. They, like us, had built an understanding of God and God’s work in the world that kept God at a distance.
But the people Jesus gathered around Him did have a problem with separation. They, like us, had built an understanding of God and God’s work in the world that kept God at a distance.
Have you ever noticed how the word “blessed” can make God seem so far away? A new family has just joined the church. The father had a job promotion to the corporate office. The family now has a high enough income that they have bought a home in an exclusive neighborhood and the mother can stay home and care for the kids. Upon meeting them, they cannot help but share with you how “blessed” they are by God. A young woman gets accepted to a prestigious medical school. She is about to fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor and your friend cannot help but tell you how “blessed” she is by God.
Indeed, God does work material blessings in the lives of people. And it is good to give Him thanks and praise. The problem, however, is when we limit our thanks and praise only to these situations. God’s blessing becomes something that looks a lot like the American dream... and not everyone experiences that blessing.
What about the young woman who did not get into medical school and now lives with her parents and works part-time at a dry cleaner? What about the father who was passed over for a promotion or lost his job and the family now needs to downsize as they move down the ladder of prosperity rather than up? Can such people be blessed? Is God still at work in their lives?
The way we use the word “blessed” would lead us to say, “No.” But then Jesus comes and radically changes our view of how God works. He does it through His opening words.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus says. These are the people who have nothing to offer God. The publican who hides in the corner of the temple and will not dare raise His eyes to Heaven. The widow who walks out of the city taking part in the funeral procession of her son. The demon possessed man who lives among the tombs and knows he does not belong in the city. Blessed are these people. The people who have nothing, who can do nothing, who are nothing, blessed are these people. Why? Because Jesus sees them, comes to them, and promises them that they have a God who makes something out of nothing.
The people who have nothing, who can do nothing, who are nothing, blessed are these people. Why? Because Jesus sees them.
“Blessed are those who mourn… who hunger and thirst for righteousness… who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”
With these stunning words, Jesus looks upon people, real people, just as they are, amid the suffering and complexity of this life and He brings God’s blessing.
Jesus breaks through our barriers in His beatitudes. He shatters our conceptions of the blessed life and opens the Kingdom of God to all people. Why? Because the favor of God comes freely, graciously, to all people in Him. Jesus took the cross, an instrument of shame and torture, and transformed it into the gate of Heaven. All sin is forgiven in Him. All suffering is overcome by Him. All the promises of God are and will ultimately be, “Yes,” in Him.
What a blessing it is today to remember what it means to be blessed. Jesus opens our eyes to see how God comes in Him into the sinful and suffering messes of our lives and works to bring about His new creation. In Christ, you are claimed by God. In Christ, you are made a saint of God. And in Christ, you are and ever will be eternally blessed.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 5:1-12.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 5:1-12.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Charles Gieschen of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 5:1-12.