Opening Prayer -- Lord, we have gathered on this day so that in the midst of a troubling world, you may fill us with the joy and peace of believing trust, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit, we may abound in hope. Amen.
Song Intro Today we are going to talk about the Beatitudes. We just going to play the first half of a song that invites us further into worship and picks up on some of the themes we will see in the bible verses -- the Light of the world, purely focused seeing hearts, following his nature of giving up all worldly values for a heavenly reward…
Song Here I Am to Worship
Light of the world you stepped down into darkness
opened my eyes, let me see
beauty that made this heart adore you
hope of a life spent with you
Beauty that made this heart adore you
hope of a life spent with you
Here I am to worship. Here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that You’re my God
You’re altogether lovely, altogether worthy
altogether wonderful to me
King of all days oh so highly exalted
glorious in heaven above
Humbly you came to the earth you created
all for love’s sake became poor.
Bible Reading Matthew 5:3-16
- 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my ac-count. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (NRSV)
A rich man wanted to take his wealth with him. As the story goes, the Lord gave in to his persistent prayers, and he was allowed one carryon suitcase. When the time came, he arrived at the pearly gates with suitcase in hand and explained his agreement. The gatekeeper said, “Well that’s really unusual, mind if I take a look?” The man opened the case to reveal shining gold bullion. The guard was confused. “Why would you bring pavement?”
What do we value?
What we may cherish here will be common-place there – but more to the point -- what we will value most there is what we should value most here -- relationships, acceptance, love, being with each other and the Lord forever. Little else will matter.
Jesus tells us the blessed, happy qualities that lead to being light and salt. These are the character traits that keep us focused on what is most important while we live here on earth. We find that spiritual happiness when we realize that we can’t save ourselves or others from the power of the sinful nature and that we need God’s rule in our life). We find comfort when we mourn those rather than rejoice in those sins, We are more fulfilled when we learn put away impulsive outbursts of power and turn to God’s strength so we that we have the self-control to exhibit inner strength, which will, in due time, grant us the kind of quality leadership that will receive the earth as a trust to take care of… and just to list the rest quickly -- craving right living and relationships, merciful care for others, purely devoted, properly internalized inner life that allows us to see God (and his purpose), and making peace as God would made peace with us through Jesus. In doing these we take on Christ’s nature and this is what leads to becoming light and salt…
Shaped into salt - light
There is a story about a man who was walking through a city pondering his life. He saw masons working on a large church. One was carefully chiseling a triangular piece of stone. He asked the mason what he was going to do with that stone. The mason pointed way up to a nearly completed section of the steeple, “I’m shaping this stone down here so it will fit up there. The man saw it as a metaphor realized that the events of his life were shaping him for heaven and its values.
Jesus knew that these qualities, qualities that are meant to be lived now -- perhaps overly simplified as “trusting God obediently and serving others for their good is in our best interest too, for it is how we become joyfully blessed now and how we will fit in in heaven in our future -- Jesus knew that the value of these qualities is not self-evident, but counter-intuitive to “natural” thinking in this world which seeks happiness through other means, through selfish indulgence, control over circumstances, persuasive powers and bountiful possessions.
Jesus proclaimed it poetically, knowing “a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down” -- that words spoken sweetly helps us swallow what we need to hear. Unfortunately, some tend to focus on the beauty of the words and not the power of living out their meaning. This is why at the end, Jesus reminds us of the value of living the kingdom life -- as salt and light -- calling us to continue to live out the blessed life qualities in the hope that people would see, recognize, and honor God’s work in and through us. But Jesus also knew that some people who understood what he was teaching would rub them the wrong way -- Perhaps Christians who were skeptical that this was a practical way to live on earth -- but mostly others who don’t want their world or their lives to be flavored by faith or colored by the light of God. Jesus knows that to these people our lives may become targets.
This is why his last description of the character traits of the spiritually full, happy life is Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (Matthew 5:11)
Trusting God to shape us
It is difficult to believe that that is included as a description of blessed life. It is this reality that cause some to be fearful about risking trusting God, putting their life in his hands, and living according to his values.
Hannah Whitehall Smith describes a young mother who felt this way. The answer was given: Suppose your little son Charlie should come running to you tomorrow and say, "Mother, I have made up my mind to let you have your own way with me from this time forward. I am always going to obey you, and I want you to [have me] do just whatever you think best with me. I will trust your love."
Would you say to yourself, "Ah, now I shall have a chance to make Charlie miserable. I will take away all his pleasures, and fill his life with every hard and disagreeable thing that I can find. I will compel him to do just the things that are the most difficult for him to do, and will give him all sorts of impossible commands.'
"Oh, no!" said the indignant mother. "You know I wouldn't do that. You know I would hug him to my heart and cover him with kisses, and would [rush] to fill his life with all that was sweetest and best." And are you more tender and loving than God?"
The lights went on for this mother. We should have no more fear submitting to God than a child should to a truly loving parent. God loves us and wants what is best for us. He also loves others and wants the best for them too and so he calls us to be light and salt so they can have an opportunity to experience God’s love too.
But there are some who, for a variety of motivations, will reject that experience and who will insult, persecute, and slander and seek to discredit those who suggest God’s love and call to kingdom values is a good thing.
Persecution, Insults, Slander
Early Christians found conflicts in their economic-vocational life. Being Christ-ian and keeping a livelihood is sometimes a problem. Pastor Swindoll once wrote about a successful corporation man who said his company ordered him to connect their clients with women (in a bad way). He had to violate his conscience or get fired. He was out of work for six months before he took a 10,000/year pay cut to be employed again. In spite of these negative external consequences, he told his pastor that he was doing remarkably well, and knew that when all was said and done, it would be worth it.
Even to live the Christian work ethic, what we used to call an honest day’s work -- can lead to trouble. Some people are hated, ridiculed, even sabotaged by fellow employees because their diligent work and good service for the company makes the others look bad by comparison.
The first Christians were isolated in their social life. Community feasts were a big deal -- and often the only meals in which many of the poor Christians could eat meat. The problem was the meat came from animals sacrificed and dedicated to idols. Many felt that to be faithful they had to give up their community and social circles. Paul’s initial answer to the topic was make up your own mind and do not judge others who decide differently, but then later came back to the question and said in regard to the sacrificed meat -- best not to participate. (See 1 Corinthians 8, 10:18-22).
They also received pressures from the non-Christian culture. The Christians radically different way of living within the Roman culture made a big impact. Those outside the faith heard sound bites and turned them into gossip which led to slanderous characterizations. Such as:
1) The “This is my body” a phrase that we still use today - led to rumors that Christians were cannibals who sacrificed and ate children.
2) Because Communion included what they called a love feast, people assumed they were having orgies.
3) Because they spoke of a coming kingdom, Christians were accused of being unpatriotic and inciting revolution.
4) Because they would not pledge loyalty to the Roman Emperor as a god; even if they were great citizens, they were seen as outlaws and rebels to be squashed out of existence.
Yet Christ needed and still needs his people to be salt and light for a misinformed, propagandized, oppressive world. (See Matthew 5:12,16) And when we do, Jesus says we are to rejoice because it is an opportunity to show our loyalty to Christ. We rejoice because it puts us in line with great people who have gone before us. and that we would find our reward in heaven. Max Lucado concludes one of his books this way:
… you are closer to home than ever before. Each moment is a step taken. Each breath is a page turned. Each day is a mile marked, a mountain climbed. You are closer to home than you've ever been. Before you know it, your appointed time will come; you'll descend the ramp and enter the City. You'll see faces that are waiting for you. You’ll hear your name spoken by those who love you, and maybe, just maybe - in the back, behind the crowds - the One who would rather die than live without you will remove his pierced hands from his heavenly robe and applaud. “Well done good and faithful servant, Congratulations to you, blessed are you! for great is your reward in heaven.” 2
And Jesus doesn’t specifically say it, but I think it is an implied theme throughout the text. We can also rejoice because as we live like salt and light, it encourages others who are also following Christ, and those in the next generation to follow Christ, and others who don’t yet know him to join in following Christ, for as he concludes this section, they see your good deeds (your salt, your light) and glorify your Father in heaven.
Paul picks up on the theme and tells us we should shine like stars (Philippians 2:15). Sometimes we think if we are going to be a light that our light needs to be something spectacular. We can’t just shine, we have to shoot across the sky. Some of you may remember the words of Jack London: “I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze… I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of fire in magnificent glow… The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them, I shall use my time."
He got the last part mostly right. But most often, the best way to not waste days and use our time wisely, the way we give our all to the Lord is not as a onetime grand gesture, not as quickly burning out meteor, but in consistent small, sometimes even random gestures; we glow as un-blow-outable candles (like some sometimes get at birthdays), as lanterns, flashlights, kerosene lamps, or like what Jesus was probably referencing -- the small popular oil lamps of ancient days. Through these acts, we consistently express God’s love and attitude through us one action at a time -- listening to a child’s troubles, going to the committee meeting, volunteering for this, praying for that, sowing seeds of peace, hope and love wherever we go...
Read this brief prayer of St. Francis which speaks to how we are called to sow seeds opposite of what we see all around us in our challenging culture…
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
where there is hatred, let me sow love
where there is injury, pardon
where there is doubt, faith
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness, light
and where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master, grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood, as to understand
to be loved, as to love
for it is in giving that we receive
and it's in pardoning that we are pardoned
and it's in dying that we are born to eternal life
1 The Bulletin, San Francisco, California, December 2, 1916, part 2, p. 1.
Also included in Jack London’s Tales of Adventure, ed. Irving Shepard, Introduction, p. vii (1956)
2 Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Pub), 1990.
[After requests…] We are going to continue in prayer with music - this prayer is our call out to God to teach us to live kingdom values in a troubled world. Christians were a targeted group in those first years -- a threat to the Roman status quo -- There are sometimes Christian but also other groups who are under threat today. So we’ll continue today’s prayer in this Pentecost season with a song in which we the church, the bride, God’s people -- request our king, the prince of peace to come -- to teach us how to learn and live the heavenly culture; and to ask our God, the Fount, the source of every blessing to pour out himself and his peace on our nations and on us as individuals so that we can tune our lives according to him and his values - that he will shape our wandering hearts to remain true until we reach those heavenly courts.
Song Come Thou Fount Come Thou King
Come thou fount of every blessing tune my heart to sing thy grace
streams of mercy, never ceasing call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it, Mount of thy redeeming love
I was lost in utter darkness ‘til you came and rescued me
I was bound by all my sin when your love came and set me free.
Now my soul can sing a new song Now my heart has found a home
Now your grace is always with me and I’ll never be alone
Come Thou Fount, come Thou king Come thou precious Prince of Peace
Hear your Bride, to you we sing, Come though fount of our blessing
O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be
let thy goodness, like a fetter bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it prone to leave the God Iove
here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it seal it for thy courts above.
And the rest of our prayer will be loosely based on the prayer of king Hezekiah. Lord we come before you today mourning. This is a day of trouble, rebuke, and blasphemy. There are powers that want to mock and humiliate you and your people, thinking they are invincible and above the injustices they commit.
But you Lord, are seated in majesty on your throne surrounded by your mighty angels. You are the one and only God, ruler over all the kingdoms, and the creator of heaven and earth. You alone know the whole story of truth of each of us, and you know what is right. Now look and listen to our situation. Disease and distress threaten to overwhelm and destroy your world. Save us so that we and all may know that you alone are God. We know you are always working out your plans in our world. We trust that your will restore us in your time and in your way. Amen.
Blessing May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.