Summary: Christianity is not a form of self-help therapy. It’s a call to radical discipleship ...
We have as our Gospel reading this morning what is certainly one of the best known and best loved portions of the Bible. Along with ’The Lord is my Shepherd’ and ’For God so love the world ...’, the verses from the beginning of Matthew Chapter 5 must be amongst the most popular in the world, perhaps particularly in this day and age.
They are traditionally known as the ’Beatitudes’:
Blessed are the poor in spirit
Blessed are the meek
Blessed are the peacemakers ...
Despite the occasional confusion with the ’cheese-makers’, I think you will agree that most of us know these blessings pretty well. They are amongst the best-known and most celebrated words Jesus ever spoke.
I used to have a poster on my study wall with the Beatitudes on them. It had an image of a beautiful landscape in the background. I took it down some time ago as it was worn out (perhaps through being meditated upon once too often).
I remember hearing these Beatitudes read out upon TV, by a man with a deep, soothing voice if I remember, and with similar beautiful landscape images running in the background.
The way the Beatitudes have been presented (in my experience) reflects the fact that people perceive this list of blessings from Jesus to be beautiful and inspiring.
Doing a search on this passage on the NET suggests to us one reason why so many people appreciate these blessings so much. It is because they give us a straightforward list of attitudes that we need to adopt if we are going to live a full life.
Pastor David Legge from preachtheword.com says, that here "the Lord reveals to all those - His children, and to the world at large ...the attitudes of the kingdom of God, the attitudes that we as believers... are to follow to live righteously."
Indeed, one thing you discover quickly when doing a search on the Beatitudes on the NET is that most people nowadays seem to be spelling ’Beatitudes’ with three ’t’s’, to bring it in line with the spelling of ’attitude’.
Indeed, some go further and hyphenate the word, and capitalize the ’B’ and the ’A’, so that they become the ’Be-Attitudes’ - the Attitudes that we need to adopt if we are going to Be the persons that God requires!
Now you’ve probably picked up that I’ve already started to descend into the world of the American tele-evangelist - a character who is increasingly finding his way on to the Internet to hold online worship! This is true, but it’s sort of inevitable once you start doing a search on ’the blessings of Jesus’.
It’s a recurring theme coming from this end of the Christian spectrum, that God’s greatest desire is to bless you (which tends to mean that He’s going to make you wildly rich and successful) and within this context, the Be-Attitudes are regularly seen as the key to the sort of mindset that you need to adopt if you are going to be truly blessed.
This end of the Christian spectrum, in my view, tends to confuse Christian spirituality with positive thinking. Christianity at this level can become very much a form of self-help therapy, wherein one adopts the so-called spiritual mindset (as reflected in the Be-Attitudes) as a means to climbing the ladder of success.
This involves a very selective reading of the Bible of course, as is well evidenced by the one publication that I purchased online, coming from this end of the church - ’The Positive Bible’ by Kenneth Caine (Avon Books, NY, 1998).
I found the online add for this publication to be irresistible. It promised to give me a Bible that had "all the good stuff" in it and ... "nothing else"!
From the inside cover: "Turn to any page in this book. You will be greeted with a Biblical passage that offers hope, help, and encouragement. It is a simple concept, but one that may have a profound influence on your life."
Indeed, it also claimed that it would allow me to "read the whole Bible in about an hour", which is an indication of the fact that there is a lot of the Bible, as traditionally composed, that is left out!
The Gospel of Matthew, in The Positive Bible, begins with the Beatitudes (most of them, at any rate). Why? Because they list the attitudes that we need to adopt if we are to live a positive, happy and successful life.
If have a real problem with this (in case you hadn’t worked that out)!
Why? Mainly because I run a website and an online newsletter with around 3000 subscribers, many of whom write to me each week, and speak to me about their struggle to find the key to ’releasing God’s blessings’ for them.