Sermon passage: Matthew 4:23-5:12
I love attending men’s breakfasts. True, when I’m waking up at some unearthly hour my first thought is not one of joy. Yet that tends not to last too long: it’s great hanging out with my brothers in Christ, discussing life together, praying together, and thinking through our devotion together. Oh, and the breakfast… that’s quite nice too! But a while back I did something rather silly: I rocked up at a men’s breakfast sans my wallet. My only option was to head off to find an ATM and draw some cardless cash.
But before I could leave, Mark intervened. He produced a Dome voucher and told me that it was his gift to me. And then Peter, I think, bought me something to drink.
And the thing is… they didn’t owe me anything. And that didn’t sit right with me. I think I tried to pay Mark back – which attempt he rebuffed.
Why didn’t it sit right with me? I think it might be because in our world, there’s no such thing as a free
lunch, or breakfast as the case may be! One gets what you deserve. As Christians, we base our lives on
grace and mercy – God showing kindness to us even though we’ve done nothing to deserve it. But so
often, we hold as a deeper, more fundamental, belief, that God must operate on the principle of
reciprocity. For instance, there is a sneaking suspicion that if God is to bless us, we have to somehow be “blessable”.
At the end of last week’s passage, Mathew summarised Jesus’ gospel: announcing that the kingdom of the heavens was near, and that we should repent and believe it! A person’s kingdom is that sphere of
influence where their will is done. We all have kingdoms, and together all human kingdoms form the
kingdom of this world. God too has a kingdom; where things are exactly as God wants them to be. His is a kingdom of love and joy and peace and patience and life! Our kingdoms are ours – but they are tainted by sin, and so belong to Satan. The kingdom(s) of this broken world result in tears and wars and messed-up lives and a messed-up world.
And Jesus, God’s king, came to announce that God’s kingdom was come near. And he didn’t just announce it – he brought it. Mathew wrote how Jesus taught and preached and healed the crowds who came in droves from all over to him.
This week’s passage continues from that point. Seeing the crowds, Jesus goes up a hill and starts teaching the famous “sermon on the mount”. But before addressing what a kingdom of the heavens life looks like, Jesus begins with a list of “blesseds.” To the crowd who have been experiencing the presence and power of the kingdom through him, the King amongst them, Jesus, speaks about who it is that is blessed in terms of the kingdom come. Jesus announces to them who the fortuuate ones are in light of the kingdom he announces and brings.
But are the beatitudes a list for us on how we should act if we want God to bless us? Is the most important thing, the headline of Jesus’ sermon, that if we expect God to bless us, we should be or act in certain ways? Does God’s kingdom operate on our logic – that you get what’s coming to you? If so, is it possible that Jesus is giving us a back-door into God’s kingdom here – one that doesn’t involve us having to rely on Jesus? Is it possible for us to gain the kingdom of the heavens merely as a result of our own virtue and effort?
Sadly, since that’s the way we think the world works, it’s also been how we’ve read the Beatitudes. But is it possible that Jesus was actually making a bigger, more subversive point? Is it possible that the kingdom of God doesn’t operate in a legalistic manner? Is it possible that even God’s blessing is all about God’s grace? In that case… just who are the blessed ones, in light of God’s kingdom come near?