Summary: The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus' greatest teaching about discipleship, and the Beatitudes strike at the heart of this sermon, teaching us that blessing is found in pursuit of God's righteousness.
Over the past several weeks, there’s been an oft-referenced blog floating around the so-called blogosphere. The title of the blog is “The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying,” and it is written by Scott Dannemiller. I want to share part of his blog with you because speaks very specifically to our text this morning. The blog grew out of Dannemiller’s reflection on a recent phone call with an old college buddy. They did the usual “catching up,” and eventually, their conversation turned to their work. Dannemiller is self-employed, speaking and writing about better leadership and better communication. Scott told his friend that he was keeping a busy speaking schedule, which is good for business, and then he reflected, “[I’m] definitely feeling blessed. Last year was the best year yet for my business. And it looks like this year will be just as busy.” But after Dannemiller got off the phone, he started to really consider what he had just said to his friend.
Here’s what he wrote about that conversation: “Last year was the best year yet for my business. Things are looking busy in 2014. But that is not a blessing. I’ve noticed a trend among Christians, myself included, and it troubles me. Our rote response to material windfalls is to call ourselves blessed. Like the ‘amen’ at the end of a prayer. This new car is such a blessing. Finally closed on the house. Feeling blessed. Just got back from a mission trip. Realizing how blessed we are here in this country.
“On the surface, the phrase seems harmless. Faithful even. Why wouldn’t I want to give God the glory for everything I have? Isn’t that the right thing to do? No….[This] has to stop. And here’s why. First, when I say that my material fortune is the result of God’s blessing, it reduces The Almighty to some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers. I can’t help but draw parallels to how I handed out M&M’s to my own kids when they followed my directions and chose to poop in the toilet rather than in their pants. Sure, God wants us to continually seek his will, and it’s for our own good. But positive reinforcement? God is not a behavioral psychologist.
“Second, and more importantly, calling myself blessed because of material good fortune is just plain wrong…The problem? Nowhere in scripture are we promised worldly ease in return for our pledge of faith. In fact, the most devout saints from the Bible usually died penniless, receiving a one-way ticket to prison or death by torture…If we’re looking for the definition of blessing, Jesus spells it out clearly. Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
“So there it is. Written in red. Plain as day. Even still, we ignore it all when we hijack the word ‘blessed’ to make it fit neatly into our modern American ideals, creating a cosmic lottery where every sincere prayer buys us another scratch-off ticket. In the process, we stand the risk of alienating those we are hoping to bring to the faith. And we have to stop playing that game….”
These Beautitudes, as they are called, open the greatest body of Jesus’ teachings, the Sermon on the Mount. During the weeks of Lent, leading up to Easter, we are going to spend time “listening to Jesus” as we study together our Lord’s great sermon. Lent is to be a time of emptying, a time of turning, a time of preparation for a glorious celebration of new life with Christ’s resurrection on Easter. So this Lenten season, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount will guide our preparation, as we hear his words about what it truly means to live the life of the kingdom. And as we see in Scott Dannemiller’s reflections, the Beatitudes themselves offer us a great challenge, because they confront our notion of blessedness.