Tonight Chris invited Tanya to sing along. She did a great job and Chris sang some excellent songs.
Beautiful by Phil Wickham, Burn In Me by the Wildings, You Split the Earth by Martin Smith.
The text week was Matthew 5:1-12, The Sermon on the Mount, or The Beatitudes, which is in essence Jesus laying out what citizenship in God’s Kingdom looks like. It’s a fairly political list of statements on Jesus’ part because the backdrop is Rome and Rome's very real and unavoidable ideas about citizenship.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Right away Jesus upsets the cart. It isn’t about the world we see, it’s the spirit. But then he goes even further, it isn’t “blessed are the rich in spirit,” it’s “blessed are the poor in spirit.” Blessed is everyone who has nothing to offer spiritually. In other words, everyone, at their worst and weakest.
It’s worth noting here that the word rendered “kingdom” is the Greek word “basileia,” which refers not to a geographical kingdom but to a right to rule. So the kingdom Jesus is talking about, and the citizenship within it, is a matter of allegiance. We decide who has the right to rule and then live according to his rule. When Jesus talked about the kingdom being “at hand” it isn’t just in a temporal sense, as in soon. There’s also a spacial inflection, as in, right here, close by. You just have to step into it by changing your allegiance. By doing so you are literally bringing heaven to earth, bringing it present, co-creating it. How? By stepping into it, by living according to the following vision that Jesus lays out. Starting with “blessed are the spiritually dirt poor who can’t do a thing for themselves, this kingdom is theirs.” Wow, that’s an opener!
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
To be human is to confront loss, grief, death, mourning. Again, Jesus levels the playing field. We aren’t talking about rich people, but we also aren’t talking about the religious elite. It’s everyone, at their worst and weakest.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Probably the most misunderstood and therefore ridiculed line of the Beatitudes. The word translated as “meek” has the inflection of someone with power choosing to be gentle. In Matt. 11:29 Jesus, God incarnate mind you, refers to himself using the same greek word.
"Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” NRSV
In The Message we get this incredibly poetic translation:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” The Message
Meekness isn’t weakness, it’s about living out of the unforced rhythms of grace.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
Righteousness isn’t about piety or propriety. It is a commitment to making things relationally right in the end. Me fully me, you fully you. (I/Thou for Buber fans) It’s a dynamic, active, intense driving force. It’s about our agency in the world, under God, longing for cosmic realignment.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”
This is the simplest and most straightforward statement. The Greek word that’s translated “mercy” has one entry in the Greek dictionary, “mercy.” Be merciful, receive mercy. Mercy is defined as “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm”. It’s related to meekness. Where meekness is power choosing how to be, which is gentle; mercy is power choosing what to do, which is not harm. Almost the same, but slightly different.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
Purity of heart is also not about piety or propriety. It’s about a whole or undivided heart. It’s about bringing all of ourselves, the good, the bad and the ugly, before God. When we hide parts of ourself from ourself, we can’t bring all of ourselves to God. This is underneath the idea of humility. Humility is living out of acknowledgement and acceptance of our whole selves, the good, the bad and the ugly. When we come to God in wholeheartedly humility he meets us, we see him.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the Children of God”
Peacemaking links up with hungering and thirsting for righteousness. It’s about being active in the world, brothers and sisters of Christ. Jesus is the real person who lived 2000 years ago. The Christ is who John referred to as “logos,” the word, the voice, the Eternal One in whom all things are and have their being. Both are one in Jesus Christ. When we are invited to be brothers and sisters with Jesus Christ, and I got this from Darrell Johnson so as mind blowing as it is I’m not pulling it out of thin air, we are invited into the midst of the divine love of The Trinity. It doesn’t make us divine, but it makes us partners in the Divine Dance, partakers of the mutual giving that is Trinitarian Love.
Link it all up and we get this ungainly concoction that might kick us out of what we think we know about this passage by virtue of its very ungainliness.
"Poor-in-spirit-mourners who are gentle, intensely driven cosmic realignment-makers, who are merciful and wholeheartedly humble will be active in the world bringing about peace (integration, reconciliation, relational-rightness, shalom).”
Then Jesus makes two statements about an expected response to living as though God's kingdom is real. It sounds like a great place, this kingdom he’s describing. Who wouldn’t want to live there. So if you start living as though it’s really real, get ready to be treated like a hero. Um…no. Again, upside-down. As The Message puts it, "the truth is too close for comfort.” There are lots of people happy with the current kingdom, so they're going to revile you and persecute you on account of believing this vision that Jesus is laying out is really real.
We took some time to imagine what the Roman Beatitudes would be. The inverse Beatitudes. This is the in your face seen reality that is the backdrop to Jesus' vision of the unseen, the way it really is. The only way to make the unseen really real seen is to live The Beatitudes from right within the Inverse Beatitudes.
The Inverse Beatitudes
Blessed are the rich, for theirs is the Kingdom of Rome.
Blessed are the happy, for they will keep being happy.
Blessed are those who exercise power, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for self promotion, for it will satisfy them.
Blessed are the merciless for they will win.
Blessed are the shrewd and politically calculating for they will see Rome’s important ones.
Blessed are the fighters for they will be called Children of Rome.
Sounds eerily familiar doesn’t it. If you’ve ever watched an action film, you’ve watched the Inverse Beatitudes writ large. We take most of this stuff as a given. Evil people don’t live this way. Good people who are realistic, or just pushed too far live this way.
We took some time to discuss and share insights while at the same time leaving space to interact through drawing or writing poetry. I’m hoping we get more and more comfortable sharing our poetry with each other. As it is, it’s still a pretty new and vulnerable idea.
Here’s a version of The Beatitudes someone wrote, but didn’t get to read out loud. It came from some personal experiences that day run through the filter of Jesus’ vision of God’s kingdom. I think it breathes flesh and bones life into ancient truth with real everyday things we see and know, a project the prophets and Jesus were always on about.
Blessed are those who have no shelter, for they shall be given a mansion.
Blessed are those who have no coat, for they shall be wrapped in the warmest blanket.
Blessed are those with no teeth, for they shall be given teeth (or at least be given soup for their meal!).
Blessed are those who cannot sleep, for they shall be given peace and the softest pillow on which to rest their head.
Blessed are those who have back pain, for they will be given a healing massage.
Blessed are those who are lonely, for they will have companionship.
Blessed is Mosaic, for we see God’s Kingdom.