For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life
Let us pray:
Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen
Welcome to Matthew! As we enter the New Testament portion of the love letter, it seems important to remember that although this is the first time that we are hearing Jesus speak to us directly, it is not as though he has arrived with no notice. God has been pointing us to him all through the Old Testament stories and instructions and prophesies. And Matthew, as the first Gospel in the New Testament is written in such a way as to point out all of the places where the road signs from Israel’s history are now found fully identified and beautifully arrived in the person of Jesus.
Reading Matthew can be a little challenging for us, who sit in a modern context and have no frame of reference for some of the things that he writes. Matthew was an apostle – formerly a tax collector, he followed Jesus and because he could write, he did. His book was not the first Gospel written – Mark’s was first, but Matthew’s is first in the canon because what he does really well is say “ok, now that you’ve read what God has promised, let me tell you how that promise looks on two legs”. Even the structure of the book reflects similarity to the first 5 books of the Old Testament: there’s a genealogy, an origin story, a rescue, a wandering, and then, today, we hear Jesus’s words from a mountain.
And for those of us who have been following the Epic of Eden Bible study, we recognize right away that the language Jesus uses is covenant language – he gives blessings first and then later, what we didn’t read, are some curses. For those who haven’t been in the Bible study, covenants have blessings and curses as rewards and punishments for those who are signing off on the covenant terms – it is very similar to our contracts today, if you sign a contract you are agreeing to give something to get something and if you break your part or the other person breaks theirs, there are consequences. In this case, the blessings and the cursings are based on what happens when you sign on to being a member of the Kingdom of God. These blessings are the covenant promises to the people of God – the ones who follow Jesus and obey his command (to love God and love their neighbor).
But notice something – these promises are not contingent on being most successful, most charismatic, most studious. These promises are not made to those who read their Bible the most, who pray the hardest, or who don’t swear.
Instead these promises, these blessings are made to those who are the least. Those who are in the places where we live and breathe and move every day: the poor in spirit: the ones who have something in them that is perhaps depressed or despairing. Those who mourn: those who have lost someone or something precious that has caused them to grieve. The meek: those who have poured out all they have for the sake of someone else. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the ones who love mercy, the ones who are pure in heart, living their lives for God’s desires, the peacemakers – the ones who look for ways to bring order to chaos where ever they are.
If any of you watched Game of Thrones (and I have not, although I did read some of the books) then you know that the struggle over a throne that rules seven kingdoms is the center of the story. At various times and in various circumstances different people occupy or long to occupy the throne. Along the way in the kingdoms, people who further the cause of the king or queen are rewarded for their loyalty and fierceness and willingness to fight with positions of authority or riches or land.
But in God’s kingdom, the promises Jesus makes are all around living out kindness and goodness to others and allowing ourselves space to be broken and imperfect. This kingdom is backwards and upside down in its assertion that the ones who are pitiful and sad are the ones who are blessed and the ones who give are the ones who are richest and the ones who humble themselves to live as Christ followers are the ones who win the biggest rewards: primarily in the form and presence of Christ himself! Jesus doesn’t tell us to forget about being sad – he tells the mourning they will be comforted. Jesus doesn’t tell us to cheer up or stop thinking about hard things – he says the poor in spirit will have the kingdom. Jesus says the meek will inherit the earth, not that they will become warriors.
As we begin the journey through the New Testament, it is this series of promises that remind us what God is doing through Jesus: building a kingdom of Christ followers who surrender their sorrow, their pride, their hunger, their very lives to live differently, to live completely in tune with the very heart of God – to remember Eden and the relationship that was lost when we cost ourselves the garden. The God who walked in the cool of the day with Adam and Eve reminds us that Jesus walked among us 2000 years ago, and has sent the Holy Spirit to walk with us all the time. We are blessed in that our lives can be characterized by the fullness of God’s constant presence. We can and are and should be blessed by the hope of a God who cares enough to bring himself to us when we could no longer get to him.
Yesterday, a popular author, Rachel Held Evans was buried. Her funeral was shared online with many who had only known her through her books and her blogs. She was raised in church and when she became an adult, she found that some of the things, if not many of the things she had believed became harder to understand and believe. She was a woman of faith who wrestled with her faith and yet lived it so beautifully that thousands of people who never actually met her were moved by her death and mourned. She was able, sometimes, to put into words the tension some people feel between what they want to believe and what they actually believe and how hard it is to recapture what feels lost forever. The benediction to her service was a recast of these kingdom blessings to remind us that this kingdom is different, this kingdom is not about the most or best, but it is about the less and least. It was written by her friend Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber:
Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt. Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are those whom no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex workers and the night-shift street sweepers. The closeted. The teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like. Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried. Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else. Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet.” Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
I imagine Jesus standing here blessing us because that is our Lord’s nature. This Jesus cried at his friend’s tomb, turned the other cheek, and forgave those who hung him on a cross. He was God’s Beatitude— God’s blessing to the weak in a world that admires only the strong.
As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:
What does it mean to say God loves?
God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.
God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.
God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.
God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption
God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing
God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.
God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.
God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.
God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.
God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.
God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.
God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.
For God so loved the world…
God loves you.
God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.
God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.
God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.
So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.
God loves you. Go, love the world with him.