Rev. Amy L. Coles
January 29, 2017
Matthew 5:1-12 (NRSV & The Message)
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One [who is] most dear to you.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
Last May, I had the honor of representing the Western North Carolina Conference as a delegate to our General Conference in Portland, Oregon. At this conference, held every 4 years, I gathered with 864 delegates plus 2000 to 3000 visitors for two weeks of:
Celebrating the mission and ministry of the ministry of the United Methodist Church across the world including
Raising close to $75 million for Imagine No Malaria;
Being a part of the commissioning of missionaries who will share the Good News of Jesus Christ across the world;
Celebrating the growth of Christianity in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Philippines
Rigorous and sometimes rancorous debate which resulted in the Book of Discipline that will order our life as a denomination for the next 4 years
At the close of business on Thursday of the second week, a group of friends and I jumped into an Uber to make a quick trip to the International Rose Test Garden so that we could at least say we’d see something in Portland besides the inside of the Convention Center and the inside of our hotel rooms.
As we drove, one of my friends asked each of us where we’d go to church if we weren’t United Methodist clergy. (You can also infer a bit of how we were all feeling about General Conference by her question.)
The others thought for a few moments, but I quickly replied that I’d always thought about becoming Amish, which elicited significant laughter from the back seat and a quizzical look from our Uber driver. My friends gave me a hard time about how I’d look in a plain color dress, apron, and bonnet, seated in a horse-drawn buggy (especially since I’m allergic to horses). But then they allowed me to explain that for most of my life, my grandparents had lived first in York and then in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. And, a regular part of my visits with them was at least a drive through “Amish Country” and sometimes a lecture or other educational event about these “Plain People” as they are often described. For years, I’ve been fascinated by their faithfulness to being a “set apart people” who care for each other and care for the land as a part of their Christian witness.
As we encounter this beginning section of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel, commonly described as the “Beatitudes,” I can’t help but think that the Amish give us a picture of the call to discipleship we find in these verses.
If you’re like me, when you hear this scripture read, you find it a bit overwhelming. How can I ever live into who they are asking me to be? It’s easy to think that it will take the likes of a Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Pope Francis to live wholly into the fullness of these nine ideals. Yet, when we let ourselves off the hook that easily, we fail to realize the blessings in our own lives and their promise, and in turn, our witness to the world as Christ-followers suffers. This morning, I want us to consider what it would mean if we were to claim that Jesus meant these Beatitudes for each and every one of us. Just think of what a difference we could make in the world!
A separate sermon could be preached about each one individually, but this morning, I want us to look at the collection as a whole. In doing so, I’m struck by how they relate to one another and build upon each other. For example
When you’re poor in spirit, recognizing your need for God, then you also see the ways in which the rest of the world falls short of “God’s kingdom come on each as it is in heaven,” and thus you mourn.
When you’re meek, meaning humble, knowing that all you have and are is but a gift from God, then it is easier to hunger and thirst for righteousness, that right relationship with God that only comes through faith.
The lifestyle to which Jesus calls us here in this scripture is an alternative to what our culture values and what most of the world seems to be pursuing. The Beatitudes invite us to three particular ways of living: simplicity, hopefulness, and compassion.1
First simplicity: At the beginning of this Sermon on the Mount, I think that Jesus wants to make it clear that faith “is not rocket science.”
Our Amish brothers and sisters have made some specific choices about separating themselves from the distractions of the culture, and thus they do wear plain clothing, abstain from the use of electricity, and use a common phone. (There’s not a cell phone in everyone’s pocket.) Their focus is on faith, family and farming, which results in strong communities helping each other and others in the world. I’m always amazed at how the Amish and their cousins, the Mennonites, are some of the first to come to the aid when there’s a natural disaster. They come to help repair roofs, clear debris, and begin to rebuild, always with an incredible work ethic and care in what they do.
There is something in simplifying our lives (even if just a little) so that we have the space, the bandwidth to hear these words of Jesus clearly, spoken directly to us: “You are blessed in this live when you demonstrate humility, bring a peaceful presence, open your heart to others, show mercy to those who cry out for it.”2
It doesn’t get much clearer than that.
The second way of living that these Beatitudes invite us into is that of hopefulness. I’ve shared this core conviction in many different places: “I’ve read the last chapter of the Bible and in the end, ‘God wins.’” That truth is the foundation of my hope.
Yet, I won’t deny that hope is being tested as I watch our world, but more importantly our Church, be led more by fear than by faith. I’ll admit that I’ve joined with many of you in what might be described as a “news blackout” as I just can’t bear to hear about:
The possibility of lack of health insurance for those with pre-existing conditions;
Building a wall to keep out those with whom Jesus would most closely identify;
Closing our borders to a particular ethnic group, forgetting that the majority of our foremothers and forefathers were immigrants, and Jesus was a refugee.
Friends, I believe that now is the time for the Church to be the Church. When I say that, what I mean is that we have the opportunity to share Christ’s light and love to a darkened world, to care for the least, and the last, and the lost. We’re called to act in a way that demonstrates hope to a world that is losing hope. As Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of the North Carolina Conference reminded a group of us a couple of weeks ago, at this time and in this place, “the Church dare not show up small!”
I’m guided by the response of the Amish grandfathers after the West Nickel Mines school shooting. As you’ll remember, Charles Carl Roberts IV killed five school girls before turning the gun on himself. Instead of retaliating or seeking revenge, the grandfathers led the community in making the intentional choice to forgive Mr. Roberts and carry that over to his mother, Terri, who was devastated by what her son had done. For the past 10 years, they’ve cared for her in her mourning and as she’s battled cancer. And she’s cared for them, spending time each week with Rosanna, one of the students who was injured but not killed, who now sits in a wheel chair and eats through a tube. As I witness their intentional choice to forgive, I’m called to do the same.
The Beatitudes invite us to embrace the possibility that “the day will come when mercy, humility, peace, and love are the descriptions of what it means to live”3 here on earth as it is in heaven.
Simplicity, hopefulness – and the third way of living to which we’re called is compassion.
I’ve spent this weekend with a wonderful group of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders and their parents, talking about how these tweens are created in God’s image and therefore are uniquely gifted and special. That’s also true for each of you and for the rest of the world. As such, we belong to one another as family.
Henri Nouwen describes compassion as an “inner recognition that your neighbor shares your humanity with you. This partnership cuts through all walls which might have kept you separate. Across all barriers of land and language, wealth and poverty, knowledge and ignorance, we are one, created from the same dust.”4
What I noticed most about the Amish is their sense of community. In small churches, they are deeply committed to caring for each other. When one suffers, they all suffer. When one rejoices, they all rejoice.
I hear the Beatitudes calling us to remember we are not intended to walk this journey of faith alone. I experienced what is means to be a part of a small group here in this church through Sunday school, youth group, small sharing groups, and Bible studies. My “ideal” was the “Monday Night Sharing Group” which began meeting before my family joined this church in 1977 and still continues to meet today. Week after week, they witnessed what it means to bear each other’s’ burdens and hold one another in loving accountability for growing in the Christian faith. Groups which function this way naturally extend acts of mercy and compassion to others.
I love the theme of this message series, that at the beginning of this New Year, you’re invited to examine your life and press the RESET button if needed. As you do, my prayer is that we all might come to embrace these three ways of living–simplicity, hopefulness, compassion–and as you do, know that Jesus promises you will be blessed by the God we know in Jesus Christ.
I’m pretty sure that I won’t ever become Amish (I like being a United Methodist too much), nor am I asking that of you.
What I am asking is that in some intentional ways you create some space in your life to more fully love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength … and your neighbor as yourself.
Do that, says Jesus, and you will be blessed.
As we close, I’d like to share a prayer by a former pastor of this church who is now the Bishop of the Florida Conference, Bishop Ken Carter. Please pray with me:
God of the Beatitudes,
When we welcome the unborn and the Muslim refugee,
we remember that the meek will inherit the earth.
When we cease the bullying of LGBTQ youth
and the torture of political enemies,
we recall that peacemakers will be called
children of God.
When we hear the cries of the persecuted church
and women degraded in the 2016 election season,
your voice echoes from the mountain,
that the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
Gracious creator of us all,
we do not ask that you would bless us.
We ask for courage to do the things
that you are able to bless.
May your kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.
In the name of Jesus, our teacher and healer. Amen.
1 Cook, Charles James. Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 1. p. 310.
3 Ibid, 312.
Discussion Questions for January 29: Lifestyle
Share how your current lifestyle helps you to be happy. Share what about your current lifestyle might be a roadblock to happiness or fulfillment.
In your life as a Jesus-follower, when have you experienced feeling blessed?
What is one lifestyle change that would make an impact on your faith journey, enabling you to grow deeper in your relationship with Jesus?