The Grace of Blessing Received and Blessing SharedEpiphany
I felt extremely blessed this week by significant conversations with members in homes, care facilities and even in meetings with those who shared their stories of faith. They told of their connection to St. Andrew’s, past and present and how their faith has been shaped and lasting relationships formed.
Whether they were in church last week or in years past, each person has been blessed by their connection to St. Andrews. The blessings we received from one another is a form of grace that is a gift given to us by God.
The Sermon on the Mount is a collection of Jesus teachings which are found in the early portion of Matthew. Jesus didn’t just sit down on a stump and teach the sermon on the Mount in the order we read. These teachings were arranged in such a way that the Beatitudes come first to set the foundation for Jesus’ lessons.
The Beatitudes are nine statements that describe conditions of blessedness. These descriptors depict the character of Christ that is God’s gift to us by grace, not something we earn by our own efforts. This is good news for me as the Beatitudes have always seemed a steep hill to climb. I thought I had to struggle to understand and then to attain meekness, poverty of spirit, and purity of heart to find favour with God.
Nothing, however, could ever be further from the intent of these Beatitudes.The Beatitudes depict the character of Christ which becomes our character when we commit ourselves to Christ by grace. This is the grace that puts us on a road we didn’t expect to take.
We can only receive blessings, we cannot earn them. One by one; the Beatitudes seem impossibly complex. We might miss what it means to receive these gifts that reflect the character which becomes our character. Dr. Craig Barnes, recently retired President of Princeton Seminary, has grouped the Beatitudes into helpful categories.
We begin with the blessing of spiritual poverty: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The word “poor” usually refers to those who struggle to make ends meet. “Poor in Spirit,” however, describes those who are spiritually destitute. When we are poor in spirit we are honest with ourselves and with God that we are not good at being a Christian and may lament how bad we are in prayer and reading and understanding the Bible. Poor in Spirit means that we can stop thinking about the things we have or have not done for which we cannot forgive ourselves because we finally understand that it matters more what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do.
Verses 4-5 are the blessing of a Saviour: “Blessed are those who mourn; for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.”
Christ is our Saviour when we accept our own spiritual poverty. We know mourning in our lives as we experience significant losses. In Jesus’ teaching here, “Blessed are those who mourn” refers to those who know what it means to mourn our lack of intimacy with God or mourn the sin that separates us from God.
We all seek comfort in our loss. But the meek are those who are open to accept these losses in order to receive more of Christ’s character than we knew before the loss. Meekness is not usually a desired trait. No one teaches meekness training. The understanding of meekness in this beatitude reveals a core strength that is based in gentleness – first with ourselves and then with others. In fact, only the strong can be meek. We accept the grace of meekness only when we cease to live with our anxious core.
Matthew 5:6-7 teaches the blessing of thirsting and receiving: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”
Hunger and thirst are created conditions; we are never full for long. We hunger and thirst for intimacy, for community, for joy. We don’t usually hunger for righteousness. The beatitude does not say blessed are the righteous. No matter how hard we try, we cannot make ourselves right. We are completely dependent upon the grace of God who makes us righteous in Christ. Notice the passive voice: “they will be filled.” We cannot fill ourselves.
In grace, Christ finds us and Christ’s mercy opens us to receive the Holy Spirit, the filling of Jesus in our lives. Mercy is like love, the more you give the more you receive. The only way to lose mercy is to try to keep it. We cannot give what we do not have. We cannot become a merciful community without first experiencing the love of God ourselves.
Verses 8-9 are “The Blessing of Vision.” “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
Someone has said that being pure in heart means “to will one thing.” We are distracted by many things that make it hard to see the work of the Holy Spirit. We live as beloved children of God who act as peacemakers in the world. We can only do this by confessing our own spiritual poverty (back to the first blessing of being poor in spirit.) The pure in heart are finally able to see God because we are no longer in our own way.
These verses distinguish peacemakers from peace-lovers. Blessed are the peacemakers provides us grace that allows us to give up our certainty that we are always right that creates division. The presence of the Holy Spirit allows us to resolve conflicts, to celebrate our differences, forgive and be forgiven.
The final verses of Matthew 5:10-12 are the “The Blessing of Conviction.” “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.”
How do we live by the convictions of the Kingdom of God? There will be those who will malign you and shame you for your convictions. The blessing is that you know who you are, what you believe and how we will live our lives in the grace and love of Christ.
I received that grace and love of Christ expressed in the stories and lives of those from St. Andrew’s who shared their stories of faith with me. I experienced the strength of community, the singleness of purpose, and relationships that continued to reflect the love of Christ.