“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 shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I Love My Church
I love my friends at church, and the teaching/preaching, and the music. Moreover, I love the ministry opportunities and the mission trips. And the ways it grew my kids and its relationships within our community. I believe God loves my church as well. But, if I’m honest, it is for completely different reasons than mine. Surely, God is not as impressed with our programs and our polish as we are. He doesn’t measure a church by its numbers of people nor by its budget. So, what? By God’s standards, what church is good? What church does God bless?
#blessed versus Blessed
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 is, in a word, shocking. It was disruptive to its original hearers in their own cultural context and it is disruptive to us today in our context. It presents the kingdom of God, i.e., a life “in the Spirit”, as being so very upside-down from the understandings and structures of the world as we know it. And it does so from its very first introduction, which we call “the beatitudes”. In short, the world’s understanding of “blessed” is so very shallow, even hollow, compared to God’s understanding of “blessed”.
We have all seen the social media posts that end with #blessed. They are posts and photos about amazing vacations or other incredible experiences or children being born or new houses or terrific new jobs or any of a huge variety of happy moments in friends’ lives. And there is nothing at all wrong with those posts; indeed, they are wonderful occasions worth celebrating and yes, posting.
But that kind of #blessed and the “blessed” with which Jesus begins his sermon on the mount are very different concepts. #Blessed is about moments of undeserved happiness, comfort, ease, and fortune. But Jesus’ word which we translate as “blessed” is much deeper, much broader than that. It is about enduring joy, profound peace, and a kind of deep-seated contentment rooted in completeness and relationship. As is the theme of the entire sermon on the mount, #blessed is aimed at the tip of the iceberg, while Jesus’ “blessed” captures the entire iceberg.
Whom God Blesses
In the beatitudes, Jesus’ account of whom God blesses begins with those who are lowly and humble. The poor in spirit, the meek, and those who mourn all have an honest assessment of themselves, i.e., who they are and who they are not. They are at rock bottom and know they are nothing without some help from God. Such people do not have inflated egos and they are not wielding worldly powers (economic, social, political, etc.). This is true of individuals, and I believe it is true of churches as well. The church God blesses is fostering and growing attitudes of humility and lowliness.
From that lowly starting point, Jesus then “blesses” those whose inner thought life is pure and right with God. He blesses those who hunger for righteousness, i.e., those who desire the things God desires. Then there are those who are merciful and those who are pure in heart. Again, the focus is less on the outward and much more on what is on the inside…the heart and the mind. It is not about branding, nor impressive abilities, nor power or influence. It is about wanting the things God wants and about caring about the things He cares about. The church God blesses is growing that kind of heart in its people.
Lastly, Jesus blesses peacemakers and those who suffer persecution. Both of these deal with our relationships with others. In our engagement with the world around us, we are to be building healthy relationships and bridges rather than divisiveness. And we are to embrace the persecution and suffering that will no doubt come our way in response. The church God blesses understands this and fosters these attitudes in its people.
The Upside Down
In short, God’s priorities and values are so very inside out and upside down from those of this world. As a result, Jesus’ words throughout his ministry were always disruptive and challenging. Nowhere is that clearer than in his Sermon on the Mount. His opening beatitudes to that sermon are intentionally shocking that way. They challenge me. I do love my church. But Jesus challenges me to consider WHY I love it, and to reimagine all the ways I measure my church’s effectiveness in the light of what God blesses. And reimagining church in that way can only be good for us. Right?