Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will 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.
What hits you? What word or phrase stands out for you?
This is a portion of Jesus’ sermon on the mount (In this Luke version it is the sermon on the plain), which we call the beatitudes. It has kept scholars and theologians very busy because there is much debate about how to interpret them.
When St. Jerome translated the bible into Latin, the phrases each begin with the word “Beati” which translates in English as “Blessed” or “happy are they”. That’s why they have been called the Beatitudes.
Some scholars think that Jesus’ sayings were an intentional exaggeration to make a moral point while others think that they were standards for the original disciples only.
Martin Luther Reminds Us – We Can’t Keep the Law
Other scholars take this group of sayings as an absolute; a set of characteristics that followers of Jesus must strive for and still others, like Martin Luther, believe that the sayings are law, but a perfect law that we cannot keep.
According to the Luther understanding, Jesus’s intent, was to have the disciples and even the crowds see what they cannot accomplish on their own, and in turn, run to God’s mercy and grace.
Law or Gospel?
The Beatitudes can be read as law or gospel. As law, they are rewards for good behavior. As gospel, they are gifts that motivate good behavior. Consider the difference: The law says IF you are poor in spirit, THEN the kingdom of heaven is yours. The gospel says: BECAUSE the kingdom of heaven is yours, THEREFORE you recognize your spiritual poverty. The law says IF you are merciful, THEN you will receive mercy. The gospel says BECAUSE you receive mercy, THEREFORE you show mercy. The law says IF you make peace, THEN you will be called children of God. The gospel says BECAUSE you are children of God, THEREFORE you make peace.
So what do you think when you hear the beatitudes?
What do you think Jesus is saying to us today?
Let’s talk about this!
Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” – GOSPEL: John 18:37
One time I was driving from home to work, when at the last minute I decided to take a route that I had never driven before. I said you myself, “self, let’s see where this road goes.” As I was driving, I came upon a young woman walking by the side of the road. I rolled down my window and asked her if she was okay or if she needed help.
She looked over at me and when she saw my collar and started crying (Note: I don’t always have that effect on people). I got out and went over to her and she told me that her car had broken down, and that her cell phone was dead, she was from out of town, and that no one would stop to help her. She said that she was praying as she walked, and then God sent her a pastor. I told her that she was correct because I NEVER come down this road, but I was led down this street today, just for her.
The Big Picture
Have you ever wondered why you are here, what your destiny is or why things happen the way that they do? Have you ever stopped to think about the bigger picture and what God has in store for you?
When Pilate questioned Jesus he asked him if he was the king of the Jews. Jesus, then, told him about destiny. Jesus said “FOR THIS I WAS BORN.” For this very moment I came to this world, to testify to the truth. Jesus knew the bigger picture, he knew that the events that were happening were leading to something more. Jesus knew why he was here.
Things to Ponder
Sometimes things happen in our lives for unexpected reasons and they leave us pondering why. And sometimes the answer comes to us quickly, like it did for me and that young woman on the road, and sometimes the answer comes later, and we say “Oh, now I get it!” God knows the reason that you are here. God moves us to places where God needs us to be, and it is our destiny to serve God.
So, let’s follow our destiny and follow Jesus in testifying to the truth, then the question of “why am I here?” will become clear.
As [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” – Mark 13:1-5
The Suspense is Killing Me…
Have you ever read a book and just had to peek at the last few pages to see how it ends?
Maybe it was a romance… Maybe it was a mystery… and it was so intense that you couldn’t wait to find out what happened at the end? Maybe you just had to know if the two people get together…. Or maybe you just needed to know if the “good guys” win… in the end.
Every once in a while, I have found myself doing that because somehow it made it easier to keep going, if I knew that everything turned out okay in the end.
Fear of the Unknown
Seems that real life isn’t that different, is it? One of the things that scares us the most is the unknown.
In their conversation with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, Peter, James, John, and Andrew wanted to know how things would end before they had even begun their work of spreading the gospel of peace to people of all nations. Jesus refused to tell them how or when their world would end.
He did not believe that revealing the end to them would help them be better disciples or more effective evangelists. Would knowing the end of the story have strengthened their faith in any way?
In some ways we are not unlike those first followers of Jesus. Most of us have moments when we are curious to know how and when things in this life are going to come to an end.
While We Wait – Living Faithfully
However, we do know how the story ends, we know that Jesus was raised from the dead so that we could have life and have it more abundantly. But let’s not stand around waiting for the end. Let’s be about the task of doing the work of God now. The future is open. What matters is not that we know the end of the story but that we live faithfully in the meantime.
Many years ago, Sharon baptized her niece Kennedy, she was six years old at the time.
One day we went to visit her brother and his family and Kennedy’s mom asked her to tell us what she had said about God.
She was a little embarrassed at first, but then after some prodding she said with a great sense of confidence and authority… “ONLY GOD CAN GIVE YOU REAL FREEDOM!”
And with that, a six year old summed up the Gospel!
ONLY GOD CAN GIVE YOU REAL FREEDOM
Jesus was talking to the Jews who believed in him …and told them
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples. And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
Jesus reminds us that real freedom is spiritual freedom. Real freedom is the freedom from sin and death and that freedom can only be given by God.
Weekly Reminder – Confession of Sins
Each week, we begin our worship with the corporate confession that reminds us of this truth.
The pastor says: If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just with forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
And then we pray together: we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.
There it is, without God’s help we are not free. We cannot earn, or buy, or conquer our freedom because we are enslaved to sin. It is part of our human nature.
Martin Luther Described This True Freedom
“Our wills are bent or curved towards ourselves so that without God’s help, everything we do ends up being about us.”
You see we are not in bondage to our sins, those things we do wrong that come and go. We are in bondage to our own human nature which always puts ourselves before God.
And that’s exactly why Jesus came into the world. To free us from our bondage and save us from ourselves. Jesus went to the cross and went head to head with our sin so that he could pay the price required to set us free.
So I encourage you to live out your freedom. Let your life be an reflection of the Glory of God, and an example of the amazing things that living in true Freedom, TRUE FREEDOM… can produce.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” – Mark 8:31-33
Bumper Stickers – Good and Not So Good
I have seen bumper stickers on some cars that make me laugh, some that make me sad, some that just confuse me, and some that are just plain wrong.
- “My dog ate your stick family”
- “My kid beat up your honor student”
- “The man who dies with the most toys, wins”
- And my all-time favorite: “Jesus is my co-pilot”
Are You Sitting in the Right Seat?
Folks when Jesus was speaking with his disciples and asking him if people knew who he was they came up with many answers. And let me assure you that Co-Pilot was not one of them. Siblings in Christ, if Jesus is your co-pilot then you can be sure that you are sitting in the wrong seat. Jesus is NOT the one who we are training or the one who will take over from us down the road. Jesus is, or at least he should be, leading our thoughts, words and deeds.
So get up, and move over and let Jesus take the wheel.
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. – James 1:19-20 (NRSV)
Have you ever had that moment when someone or some thing made you so angry that you just wanted to strike out? Pastor Kelly Fryer in her book, “No Experience Necessary,” Shares this story:
At all of their family gatherings, Pastor Fryer’s mother tells this story about when Kelly was younger..
“I remember when she was about two and a half years old, She was outside on the sidewalk between our house and the neighbor’s with her new red tricycle. Suddenly, I heard a terrible noise. I ran to the back door and there she was. Her tricycle was all tangled up and, apparently, she was having trouble getting it to work right. So, instead of coming in and asking for help.. instead of patiently working at it until the problem was solved.. ..she was just KICKING THE DARN THING DOWN THE SIDEWALK!”
Mom Know Best
I remember that my mother used to teach us that we were to count to ten before we spoke back in anger. She said that this would give us a moment to think about what we were getting ready to say and decide whether we needed to say it or not. We live in a society where we have forgotten how to listen to one another, and even small differences of opinions turn into friendship ending or family dividing arguments.
Sometimes our anger and our tongue get the best of us, and we act or speak in ways that we later regret or wish that we could take back.
That is why this text from James is so important for us to read. Let us be mindful every day of the fact that God desires for us to learn to live in community, to learn to love one another as God loves us. So before you snap back at someone, or fire off that email or tweet. Pause and reread this passage from James, and let’s be DOERS of the Word, and not just hearers.
Okay, let’s pause from our day and think about this question for a minute.
If the world were to end today, what have we done with the gifts that God has given to us? What have we done with the gift of the church? Have we helped it grow, or are we doing our best to maintain the status quo?
What have we done with the gift of Jesus Christ? Have we helped to spread the good news of that gift, or are we trying to keep it to ourselves?
What have we done with the gift of our talents? Whatever your talent may be. Have we used it to further God’s Kingdom, or are we keeping it hidden away, out of sight and out of mind?
The Story of the Servants and the Talents
In the Gospel of Matthew 25:14-30 we read the story of the servants and the Talents, in this case the Talents were a measure of money. The lesson shows us that we are all given many gifts, and talents by God to be used to further the Kingdom, it also shows us that we do not all have the same abilities.
The talents in this text were given out in differing amounts. But each of us is expected to use the gifts that we are given, whatever that gift may be, to the best of our abilities. Sometimes it is when we are using our “talent”, that we will find that we are required to do more with it…”For to all those who have, more will be given…” So if you have ever used the expression… “I have done my part, now let others do theirs.” Bamp, wrong answer. God wants you to know that you have multiplied your gift, and now you can be entrusted with more.
Your Talent: Find it – Get Over it – Adjust
So if you have buried your talent (find it), or if you feel that someone else may be better at something than you are (get over it), or if you feel as if you need a break (adjust). The Kingdom of God is at hand, and we are all called to make sure that we are about the business of building up, and growing
As the hymn teaches us… Let us talents and tongues employ, reaching out with a shout of joy: Bread is broken, the wine is poured, Christ is spoken and seen and heard. Jesus lives again, earth can breathe again, pass the Word around: Loaves abound.-(ELW #674)
When Elijah was fleeing from the wrath of Jezebel, he did not know what was in store for him, but God did. God sent an angel to Elijah when he was at the point of giving up, and that angel brought him food and water. That angel brought him bread for his journey. “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” – 1 Kings 19:4-9
There are times in our lives when we can also feel as if the journey is going to be too long, and we want to give up or give in. Even though we may not know where that journey is leading, God does, and God sends messengers and angels to us to give us bread for our journey.
Enough that Sustains
That bread is Jesus and the Word of God. Are you eating enough to sustain you? Are you drinking in God’s Word enough to fulfill you?
We are standing at the start of a brand new journey together…
We are standing at the start of a brand new journey together and we don’t know where this road is leading, but God does. I want you to make sure that you are being filled by God’s Word. We have several adult Bible study options here at Grace as well as our children and youth Christian Education. I invite you to find a way to attend. Find a way to come and eat and drink and gain strength for our journey.
Some of you may remember from my introduction letter that many years ago, my wife, Sharon and I took a trip to Muir Woods. Muir Woods is a wonderful national park outside San Francisco where the majestic redwoods grow. When I saw these beautiful enormous trees for the first time, I was struck with a feeling of awe. I was amazed by their strength, their size, and their age. I was also amazed to learn that even though the redwoods are so tall and strong, each tree actually has a very short root system. Each individual tree has a root that is approximately ten feet long.
How Can That Be?
Think about it for a moment… a tree anywhere from a hundred to three hundred feet tall is supported only by a ten foot long root! How could that be? It doesn’t seem possible. In fact, what we learned is that it is not possible. If a redwood grew by itself, its root could not support the weight and height of the tree. Left alone, the tree would eventually pull up its own root, topple over, and die.
That is why redwoods never grow alone. They always grow in community. They grow in tree clusters. Each tree is surrounded by other trees. They are so close to one another that their roots interconnect by stretching out horizontally rather than vertically. This creates a literal web of roots so strong that it can support a whole community of trees, even ones that tower hundreds of feet above the earth.
We Grow Together in Christ
As I enter into the community here at Grace, I am very aware of two things:
- In a very profound way we (you and I) have always been a part of the same community. In baptism, we have been rooted together in Christ Jesus and therefore are part of the same body.
- Yet, at the same time, I am new to this cluster and need your support, prayers, and welcome as I begin to intertwine my roots with yours.
Perhaps the tension between one and two is an example of the tension in which we live as disciples of Christ. We are constantly living in the tension between building loving relationships with those who are already here and reaching out to invite new people to join the community. As a new person here, I look forward to meeting you all and beginning to build those connections. I look forward to hearing your stories and sharing mine.
A Cluster of Support
I am excited about our partnership in ministry together as we honor the past as well as look to the future. I pray that our ministry will be faithful to both our calling to love and care for the present body and our call to increase the body by reaching out to those who stand alone in need of a cluster to love, support, and pray with them.
Yours in Christ,
Summer is supposed to be a time for us to rest and recover from our hectic work schedules. A time when many of us take vacations and head away with family and friends to clear our minds and restore our spirits.
How are you doing with that?
In the lesson for today, Jesus’ disciples have just returned from their first Mission trip. They had been sent out among the people and they had healed and cured and cast out demons. They had experienced ministry in a new and very exciting way, and they couldn’t wait to share this wonderful news with Jesus. But Jesus knew that they were tired and worn out. He could see that they needed a break, so he sent them away by themselves to refresh, recharge, and re-energize.
In the creation story, we learn that God made this world in 6 days and on the 7th day God rested. It is important for us to remember that we need to take some time, and learn to breath, and restore our spirits and our bodies and our souls.
Step Up and Join us on this Journey
This is especially important for us here at Grace. Because we are about to start a journey together. We stand at the beginning of some new and very exciting ministry and we want to make sure that we are well rested at the start. I have already seen some of the joy and the enthusiasm that is present at Grace, and I can hardly wait for what is to come next.
But I will, because I want you to rest up, so that you will be ready. Ready to step in and step up and step out into this wonderfully exciting world of God’s. So enjoy your vacation, take some time to nap or read or write or play, and then come back to Grace and let’s get this party started.