Click play to listen to the audio version of this sermon.
Mountain climbing can be a wonderful and exhilarating experience if you like that sort of thing. Here in New England, we have some great mountains to climb. Lets see a show of hands, how many of you have climbed to the summit of Mt. Katahdin? How many to the summit of Mt. Washington? Personally, I've never seen a mountain I didn't want to climb.
In our gospel reading this morning, St. Matthew tells us that Jesus "went up on the mountain." And we are followers of Jesus. So whether you're a mountain climber or not, this morning we're all going "up on the mountain" with Jesus. And we're going to stay there for four more Sunday's as we sit at Jesus' feet listen to the "Sermon on the Mountain."
The Sermon on the Mount is all about the life of discipleship. It's about the life of those who follow Jesus.
Next week, we'll hear how Jesus compares discipleship to salt and light. In two weeks, we'll hear Jesus tell us how disciples handle anger, lust and divorce. In three weeks, we'll hear Jesus talk to us about how His disciples deal with enemies when the attack. And then, four Sunday's from now, we'll hear Jesus tell us about how disciples deal with the stress and anxiety that comes when the economy slows down and during tough economic times.
So, I'm glad that you're here this morning, because this morning, we hear this marvelous introduction to the Sermon on the Mount. In these 12 verses, Jesus lays the groundwork for all that follows and what He spells out in more detail in the rest of the Sermon.
St. Matthew gets us ready for what we're about to hear by saying, "And Jesus opened his mouth…" When Jesus opens His mouth, we want to open our ears, because when Jesus opens His mouth, every Word that comes out of it is the Word of God because He is God.
God's Word always does just what it says. In the beginning, God opened His mouth, "and God said." And by the Word that came from His mouth, He created the whole world. In fact, as St. John says, "apart from the Word, nothing was made that has been made." As we heard St. Paul say to us this morning, this Word of God is the "power and the wisdom of God" that saves men and women just like you and me.
So when St. Matthew says that Jesus "opened his mouth," we're all ears. And we are excited to know, 'what this Word of power and wisdom going to create' here among us this morning.
In Latin, the word that comes out of Jesus' mouth is "beatus" which means "blessed." That's why we call these "the Beatitudes." When Jesus opens His mouth, blessing after blessing after blessing, pours out from His mouth into our ears, like the waves of the ocean breaking onto the beach.
All who will hear it, and in the Kingdom of God, hearing, not seeing is believing, all who will hear it, have just what His Word says. "Blessed are you…"
Matthew writes, "Jesus went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him." It's not until the Sermon has concluded that we learn that there are also crowds of people there too. It's His disciples who are the direct objects of the word that comes out of His mouth. Jesus opens His mouth and dumps His beatific word into their ears so that they may know that they are blessed. But to be sure, He talks loudly enough for all the crowds to hear.
A word of caution might be in order here before we go too much farther with this. We shouldn't think that this is somehow a different word from the mouth of God than the word that came from God's mouth throughout the Old Testament. All throughout the Old Testament, the prophets of God opened their mouth and declared God's blessing upon Israel in that very technical formula, "blessed are you." In fact, the Old Testament is full of beatitudes.
So, what we hear from the mouth of Jesus is simply that the blessing that God promised Israel of old, is now being carried forward through this small band of men whom He has hand picked to be His disciples. And it will be through them and their 'apostolic word' – the New Testament, that the Word of God that blesses those who will hear it is carried forward into the future, all the way to you and me.
And lets be sure to make one more thing clear here too. Jesus has not brought these men to the mountaintop to tell them what they must do to be His disciples. He has already chosen them. He is not giving them new commandments to keep or rules to follow so that they may become His disciples. They are already His disciples solely by His gracious choosing.
Jesus brings His disciples to the mountaintop and pours His word into their ears because He wants to assure them that they are His and under His care and solely because He has chosen them, they are blessed. God's favor is upon them.
Now, that will be very important for them to know. And it's important for us to know too. It's important to know that we are blessed by Jesus solely because He has pronounced His blessing upon us, because it may not always seem that way to us.
In fact, the disciple of Jesus Christ may sometimes wonder whether it's God's favor or God's curse that is upon him because he may experience unpleasant or painful, and possibly even deadly situations and circumstances just because he is a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes we too may wonder whether or not we are really blessed by God because "blessed" doesn't always mean what we think it means, or what we want it to mean. We think that 'blessed' means 'happy.' We want it mean, 'successful' or 'comfortable,' or 'pleasant.' But as we have heard and will hear again, the 'blessed' that comes out of Jesus' mouth doesn't fit any of these definitions.
Knowing what lies ahead for these men and for all who follow Him, He assures them that they are blessed. But they will have to believe His Word more than the experience and circumstance that they will face.
Each one of these "beatitudes" deserves it's own sermon. We'll simply touch on them in a very general way here. The rest of the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus' own elaboration on each one of these beatitudes.
The Beatitudes in a nutshell is this, the disciples are blessed simply because Jesus Christ has called them to follow Him. And the present reality of His blessing upon them is that their life looks like His. The future reality of His blessing is, their life will be exactly like His.
For now, just as their King was poor and gave away of all of the glory and power that belonged to Him, so, His disciples will experience His "poverty in spirit." While everyone else is accumulating all the worldly wealth and power they can wrap their hearts around, they have no desire for that which thieves break in and steal. To the world it looks like poverty. But the disciple knows that he is blessed by God and therefore rich with eternal things.
Just as their Lord "mourned" for the lost who reject His Word, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I have longed to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks, but you were not willing," so His disciples find themselves "mourning" the very thought that so many deny Jesus and reject His Word, sometimes family members and friends, and it brings tears to their eyes as it did to Jesus'. They long for the day when they will be comforted.
The King of the Kingdom of God is meek and lowly. True, He is 'God of God, light of light, true God of true God.' "But He made Himself nothing and took the form of a servant being born in the likeness of men. He humbled Himself by becoming obedient unto death even death on a cross." (Phil.2:7-8) And so, His followers will follow in His footsteps. They take nothing by force. They willingly give up their rights, just as He did, for they are perfectly confident that in the end, they shall inherit the earth.
The One who called them to come and follow Him, is headed to a cross where He will hunger and thirst for their righteousness. And so they hunger and thirst for the righteousness that He gave His life to satisfy. And they experience His blessing now, as they eat and drink His righteousness. And although it's just a foretaste of the feast to come, they are satisfied.
And so it goes. He is 'merciful' to them and so they desire to be merciful to others. And wonderfully, it is as they are "merciful" with others that they delight more and more in God's mercy toward them.
Jesus is 'pure in heart.' Which means, He desires nothing but what is good and right. And so, His disciples strive to have the same heart as their master that they may be that 'good tree' that Jesus says, 'bears good fruit because that's just what good trees produce.'
Jesus is the great 'peacemaker.' He came into this world to make peace between God and man. And He gives His disciples His peace, a peace that the world cannot give. And they share His peace with others.
For all of this, the disciples of Jesus expect nothing in return from this world except what their Lord also received. He was persecuted for doing what was right and they will receive the same.
This is the life of the disciple of Jesus Christ. And over all this, Jesus paints the gracious and glorious word: "Blessed."
This is the life that Jesus has called Maira to this morning through Holy Baptism. And it is the life that Jesus has called you to enter into through your Baptism as well.
As we can easily see, life in the Kingdom of God stands in radical contrast to life outside of the Kingdom of God. No one who stands outside of the Kingdom of God is likely to strive to live his or her life according to these principles. As St. Paul reminded us, to those who are perishing, this is pure folly. And maybe sometimes, you may wonder whether its pure folly too.
But do not forget this one thing, dear disciple, beloved follower of Jesus, this One who "went up the mountain and opened His mouth" and has called you and has poured out His blessing upon you in your baptism, is the One on whom the Holy Spirit descended in His baptism. And of whom the Father declared, "This is My Son, with whom I am well pleased." And whom God raised Him from the dead. He is the Blessed One from whom all blessings flow like the waves of the ocean breaking upon you.
And as radical as this life of discipleship may seem to us right now, blessed, the day is coming, when it will be the only life there is.