August 12, 2020

All Are Welcome

Sermon on the Mountain, Carlson

By Chaplain Mike

A website I’ve learned to like when preaching the lectionary is WorkingPreacher.org. One of their entries this week is from David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. He discusses this week’s Gospel, the text of the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12), a passage I’ve discussed here on a couple of occasions here on Internet Monk.

David Lose sees them in the same way I do.

At the beginning of his “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus announces that God’s blessing has come, and that it is available to anyone and everyone. No matter what the world or religion thinks of you—no matter what you think of yourself—you are not disqualified from receiving the benefits of the Kingdom.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus blesses. Period. The Beatitudes are not ethical demands. Not requirements of virtue. Not conditions for being part of the Kingdom. Not character qualities that he is instructing us to develop in our lives.

Blessing. Pure blessing.

Here’s what David Lose says. It will give you a peek at the kind of message I’ll be preaching Sunday.

There is a trap hidden in the Beatitudes that I know I have fallen into countless times, and perhaps you have, too. The trap is a simple as it is subtle: believing that Jesus is setting up the conditions of blessing, rather than actually blessing his hearers.

…But let’s be clear – or at least pay attention to the fact that Matthew is quite clear – Jesus isn’t setting up conditions or terms but rather is just plain blessing people. All kinds of people. All kinds of down-and-out, extremely vulnerable, and at the bottom of the ladder people. Why? To proclaim that God regularly shows up in mercy and blessing just where you least expect God to be – with the poor rather than the rich, those who are mourning rather than celebrating, the meek and the peacemakers rather than the strong and victorious. This is not where citizens of the ancient world look for God and, quite frankly, it’s not where citizens of our own world do either. If God shows up here, Jesus is saying, blessing the weak and the vulnerable, then God will be everywhere, showering all creation and its inhabitants with blessing.

Not even you are disqualified. As hard as it may be to believe, not even I am disqualified. All are welcome. Come to the table, Jesus is waiting.

Comments

  1. Good news. No carrot dangling in front of you before you receive the forgiveness of the cross. Blessings declared for you and you don’t deserve anything.

  2. Does it work with all the ‘blessings’?

    “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.”

    Really? Those that have no desire to identify with Jesus (choice) are blessed because others are then persecuted for being His followers?

    Why then mention the situations? He simply could have started with: “Blessed are you…period! Generic blessings for all!”

    The blessings He is listing are in fact found in Him, not apart from Him. Not blessings of religious observance or economic/social standing or IQ level or physical strength/looks or ethnic origin or national allegiance. Not blessings of self-help, success, good behavior. Jesus blesses those that humbly acknowledge their need of God. And those that do also recognize how absurd the statements are if taken at face value…

    I do not doubt God’s generic blessings of the sun rising on the evil & the good as well as allowing rain to fall on the righteous & the unrighteous. Jesus does mention this category of blessing. And at the end of Matthew 5 He puts the ultimate condition on the entire chapter:

    “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

    • I think you’ve misunderstood me, Joseph. Jesus is announcing that his blessings are available to all, no matter what their condition in life, no matter what the world thinks of them. They are not generic blessings for all. But they are available to all. There is no human situation that excludes one from being blessed in Jesus. The world and its evaluation of who wins and who loses will not have the final say.

      • gotcha. i was ruminating out loud or writing aloud…

        i think though the blessings to be realized once we understand it is Jesus’ inclusiveness that invites all to come to Him. He alone the satisfaction we seek in this life+world…

        and no, i do not believe any prerequisites implied or spelled out in the sermon on the mount. we are going thru the beatitudes @ our fellowship the next 8 weeks. it is His desire to gather all humankind to Himself. only then will all the things He mentions have any meaning whether we understand it from our limited perspective…

        [sigh]

        as one that has been thru the whirlwind & severe disruptions of life i can identify with the topsy-turvy way Jesus addresses the wackiness of this life.

        anyway, Jesus was never stingy or exclusive or a proponent of the secret handshake+sign to get into His club. in fact, He blew the proverbial gasket over those that made such restrictions/burdens on those that did hunger+thirst for righteousness but could never measure up to the myriad of demands built up around the law & the commandments…

        • And Joseph, the Greek tells us to “be made perfect as he is perfect.” It is not we who do the perfecting. We are simply the objects who get perfected. Those who do not get perfected are those who opt out of the kingdom by refusing God’s blessings, including the totally free forgiveness available to all.

          • Amen! Preach it!

          • i think the statement was meant to be highlight that impossible Jesus standard that was as far-fetched as any theological notion could be.

            it is like you have already pointed out the ‘impossibility’ factor of ever meeting the perfect standard of God. that standard is not something we can ever attain. never. it is not something that Jesus demanded we meet, but that He would meet for us.

            we should be shocked by such a statement. the apostles got it: “Who then can be saved?”

            unless we identify with Jesus in His death+resurrection, the reality is too grand for us: divine perfection.

            only transformation on His terms will result in that eternal change of God’s doing. and Jesus will bring the visceral reality of His terms later with statements that insist we must die to live. we must be last to be first. we must decrease while He increases. we must pick up our cross daily. we must count all things lost in order to gain.

            the totality demanded of being in the kingdom can never be diluted or ignored or minimized in light of Jesus’ extreme sayings. it is truly an all or nothing requirement. yeah. crazy stuff Jesus said.

            i know i would not be the person i am today if it wasn’t for my epiphany. it was on God’s terms. and the results of that amazing event something still a work-in-process.

            we must come to the fatal conclusion that if we are going to make it into the eternal presence of God, it must on His terms. and we must rely on His mercy, grace, provision that is above & beyond the best efforts of the best of us. once i realized this, i could actually enter into His rest.

            thank God His forgiveness extends beyond the worst of the worst we can do. yeah, His gift is free. wow…

          • Jeff, could you clarify why you think it means that in the Greek? The verb is a future, middle, indicative. Most translaters recognize this as a middle deponent , in which a verb has the middle form but is active in meaning. This is more common than not with middle verbs in the future tense.

      • You should have made that clearer then, Chaplain Mike. Some people might read that post and think you’re a hardnosed antinomian.

  3. Ahhhh, an uplifting word of encouragement!
    Some of the posts of late have been a bit somber and sobering.
    Now, relief. Come all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and be blessed.
    We ARE blessed!
    Thank you, Chaplain.

  4. Yea, beatitudes!!!!

    I agree Jesus is letting us know that his blessing is open to all. But we can not ignore the real Social/economical message he was sending for 1st century Israel (& present day us).
    If we look at the beatitudes in Luke (i know i’m cheating) Jesus does not just talk about blessings he also talks about woes. In Luke he says:
    blessed are – poor,hungry,those who weep, & those who are hated
    woe to – rich, the full, those who laugh, & men who are spoken well of

    People really believed in those days ( & today) that God blesses those who are rich (unless they cheated for it, but that more about divine justice), & those who seem to have all the earthy blessings (earthly blessings are equal to God’s blessing is the idea).
    also people believed that those who were suffering & poor were only receiving God’s curse for some sins(see Job). If you were poor you deserve it ( still believed today – poor are lazy, stupid, & druggies).

    Jesus leveled the playing field we are all able to recieve God’s blessing, & if you are currently receiving earthly blessing, know that you will still be judged like everyone else. with Jesus we are equally blessed. mind-blowing!
    Jesus the leveler – peace

  5. Oh boy…here I go again.

    I sure hate to rain on this parade. but I have a difference of opinion.

    It is a blessing that you folks allow me to opine against the grain.

    I believe that the Beatitudes are pure proclamation of law. That is why Jesus went up on the mount, as Moses did, but only this time Jesus would leave NO WIGGLE ROOM. He presented the law in full force. “Your righteousness must EXCEED that of the scribes and Pharisees.” ” Blessed are the peacemankers” Blessed are the poor in spirit.” “If you even look at a woman in that way, you are guilty…” “If you hate your brother then you are a murderer” You must be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”

    These are pure law. Now the law is a blessing and is good, for it is a mirror of our sin and shows us our need of the Savior. There is no where to go, no appeal to your ability to be faithful, no where to turn…except to Jesus.

    Right after the Sermon on the Mount, however, Jesus encounters a leper. Thought to be the most sinful of people. The leper asks Jesus, “will you heal me?” Jesus says, “I will”. To me, that is the true blessing. That is the gospel.

    The Beatitudes are God’s law…God’s perfect demand. Jesus and His forgiveness for sinners is pure gospel.

    There it is. The law/gospel paradigm.

    • Steve, to use the Lutheran categories, I think the Sermon on the Mount contains both Law and Grace. But I don’t think Jesus starts teaching about the Law until 5:17.

      Before that, he gives the Beatitudes, which teach that he came to bless the kinds of people those who the world and those who upheld the Law thought could not be saved, people they considered the “non-blessable.” Then in 5:13-16, he says that those who are blessed by God, no matter what the world or the religious elite think of them, will be the light of the world and salt of the earth.

      From 5:17 on, Jesus shows that even those who claim to be the best of the Law-keepers cannot fulfill the Law’s true demands. Therefore, the righteousness God requires exceeds even that of the scribes and the Pharisees.

      I think your example of the leper makes my point. The leper is one of the “poor in spirit,” “mourners,” etc., —one of the outcasts looked down upon by the world and the religious establishment. Perhaps a most extreme example. Yet Jesus still blesses him with forgiveness and cleansing.

      • I think he preaches the law right from the start. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” “…the meek” “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”, “…the pure in heart” ???

        That doesn’t sound like me most of the time, or anyone I know. I know of no one who is pure in heart. If we were, we wouldn’t need Jesus. Elsewhere Jesus tells us what eminates from the hearts of man, and it ain’t pretty.

        No, it’s a law sermon, and a tough one. Those folks must have been shaking their heads and wondering what hammer was going to drop on them next.

        Immediately after the Sermon on the Mount (chapter 8), when he came down from the mountain, is when the gospel shows up (grace is proclaimed ) and he heals the epitomy of a sinful man.

        Anyway, we may have to agree to disagree on this one.

        Thanks, Chaplain Mike.

        • Steve, get a copy of Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. Read what he has to say about the Beatitudes. I think you’ll find Willard and Chaplain Mike much more on the right road here.

          • Thanks, Jeff.

            I will say this much. I believe that in my 13 years as a Lutheran Christian, I have learned one thing and that is how to distinguish the law from the gospel.

        • I don’t see how “blessed are the spiritually bankrupt” (the meaning of poor in spirit), can possibly be law. Basically Jesus is saying, to you who have nothing spiritually, I am offering God’s blessing.

          If Matthew’s Beatitudes have any relationship to those in Luke (and I think they do), I think the argument becomes even clearer. In Luke, Jesus simply comes along and says, “Are you poor?” I’ve come to bless you with God’s riches. And the opposite. “Are you rich?” Enjoy it now, judgment’s coming.

          These words are about overturning the assessment the world puts on people, who the winners are and who the losers are.

          The world thinks spiritually bankrupt people, people who have lost everything and mourn, people who are meek and without power in the world, who cry out for fairness and justice in the world, who mercifully take the side of the weak and disenfranchised, who focus on trying to purify their own hearts when there’s a “real world” to live in, who don’t care about winning or losing but only that everybody gets along, who are always in trouble with the religious authorities and considered outsiders, are not the ones God blesses.

          The world prefers the spiritually vibrant, the happy, the powerful, the satisfied, the productive, the ones who aren’t overly religious, the ones who give everything to win, the ones who are “heroes” of the faith, with their plaques up on the wall.

          Jesus turns the tables on this whole way of thinking. The Beatitudes are akin to Isaiah 61:1-3, the mission statement he sets forth in Luke 4—he came to set the prisoner free. Here in Matthew, before he begins his sermon proper, he introduces it with a statement of his mission.

          Steve, I agree with you that the Law in the Sermon on the Mount is devastating. I just don’t think it’s found in the Beatitudes. Before dealing with that, Jesus tells us first why he came, and that is all about grace and blessing—for the most unexpected, and therefore, for everyone.

          • They are law, because that is not how we are.
            We are quite often prideful and comfortable with the way we are. We are often not poor od spirit, or peacemakers, or loving of our brothers, let alone our enemies. We certainly don’t have pure hearts…ever. We have all lusted after things. We are all idolators from time to time. We jst flat out refuse to live up to those commands that Jesus lays out for us there.

            It’s all law, and a mirror of how we really are…until he heals the leper. He makes the leper whole again, not because he (the leper) is all of those things that Jesus describes, but because he is a real sinner in need of cleasing.

            My take.

            Of to get a hernia re-repaired. Talk to you later (like tomorrow…hopefully) 🙂

            • Steve, I’m afraid we’re just talking past each other. One reason I’m in the PE wilderness is that I can’t buy a dogmatic approach to exegesis. With all due respect, I think you are letting preset theological categories overly influence how you read Scriptures like this. Like you said, agree to disagree, and I hope agreeably.

              Praying your surgery goes well.

  6. As I have (hopefully) matured, I have come to appreciate the depth of meaning the Beatitudes hold. But no matter what, I always see them first and foremost as a sign and promise of God’s love.

  7. I like that web page very much, too, Mike. Thanks for this. I’m preaching on this passage Sun., too.

  8. LOVE the Sermon on the Mount….ended up with a poem during a time of contemplation on the Beattitudes! So, thought I’d share…thanks, Mike!

    Poor or Rich?

    You have no money,
    but you’re pure in heart.
    A heart He softens
    and tightly guards.

    You’re poor in Spirit
    and can mourn for days.
    The Kingdom is yours
    you’re rich in faith.

    You hunger & thirst
    with meekness inside.
    Inherit the earth
    be satisfied!

    You’re falsely accused
    rejected by men
    Receive His Mercy,
    Mercy you give.

    You take steps towards peace
    and humbly confess.
    Child of God
    you are blessed!

    So take His anointing,
    The Spirit in you.
    Love the oppressed,
    Bring the good news!
    -Tammy Carter

  9. I was just reading through parts of Matthew this week. Jesus seems to repeatedly contrast the kingdom of God against the religious kingdom of the priests and pharisees. The kingdom of God invades a world where one would think it would have been welcomed. It wasn’t that Jesus entered a world of Jewish religion; rather, he entered a world of apostate, man-centered, cruel, unjust, materialistic religion which had long departed from its Jewish roots and calling to be a blessing to the world. To those under the thumb of this apostate religion, Jesus says, “Are you poor in spirit? Are you mourning? Well, there’s a reason: this facade is NOT the kingdom. This day, the Kingdom of God is in your midst. Let’s celebrate!” That could not have been considered a blessing to the religious elite; it was a clear shot across their bow.

  10. “The Beatitudes are not ethical demands. Not requirements of virtue. Not conditions for being part of the Kingdom. Not character qualities that he is instructing us to develop in our lives.”

    Correct.

    However, the whole Sermon on the Mount is about what characterizes those who already are in the Kingdom. I agree with you Chaplain Mike, we cannot earn a place in God’s Kingdom by striving to be virtuous or ethical. But those who truly belong to God’s Kingdom live in a way that one would call virtuous, ethical, righteous, and loving.

    Even the statement “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9, NIV) is a conditional statement in of itself. Are you telling me that Jesus will just give the blessings of the Kingdom even to those who do NOT hunger or thirst for righteousness (cf. Matt 5:6)? I think not.

    • You’ve misinterpreted “hunger and thirst for righteousness” and have made that a moral virtue—one who has a deep longing to be righteous in God’s sight. I don’t think that’s what it means. I think it refers to people who are in bondage to the unfairness and injustice of life in a fallen, corrupt world, who cry out to God for him to make things right. These are hurting people, not people on a path to holiness.

      • I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone explain it this way, but I really like it and I think it makes a lot more sense.

        • You probably never heard it interpreted that way because it is quite a novel interpretation. I don’t know where Chaplain Mike pulls his hermeneutical rabbits out of the hat sometimes, in all due respect.

          • Mark, you are way off base. There are two main streams of interpretation of the Beatitudes: (1) as ethical norms, (2) as eschatological blessings. Mine falls squarely within the second stream. It would also be nice if you spoke to me directly rather than using these back channel ways of criticizing. That’s called back-stabbing.

  11. .

    Once again, we have a scenario wherein people actually believe that their “hearts are pure” enough for the Kingdom.

    In that sense, we can all be the “religious elite”, at times.

    Once again, I repeat, “Christ died for the ungodly.”

    If you are Godly…then you don’t really need Him.

  12. Thank you for this, CM. Coming from a tradition that looks at the SoTM solely as a moral imperative, this just lightens that burden. It really is Good News!

  13. Chaplain Mike, did you sing the song “All Are Welcome” this past Sunday in your church? We did, in my little St. Joseph’s Church in Farmington, Maine. I love the lyrics and the tune. You can read the lyrics at:
    http://www.mljmusic.com/Portals/0/Lyrics/All%20Are%20Welcome.pdf

    Well, I will put them here too for those who don’t like to click on links. Often there will be part of a song or a hymn that I don’t like, but I like this one all the way through:

    Title: All Are Welcome
    Author: Marty Haugen
    Copyright: 1994 GIA Publications

    Verse 1
    Let us build a house
    where love can dwell
    And all can safely live,
    A place where
    saints and children tell
    How hearts learn to forgive.

    Verse 2
    Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
    Rock of faith and vault of grace;
    Here the love of Christ shall end divisions;

    Verse 3
    Let us build a house where prophets speak,
    And words are strong and true,
    Where all God’s children dare to seek
    To dream God’s reign anew.

    Verse 4
    Here the cross shall stand as witness
    And a symbol of God’s grace;
    Here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:

    Verse 5
    Let us build a house where love is found
    In water, wine and wheat:
    A banquet hall on holy ground,
    Where peace and justice meet.

    Verse 6
    Here the love of God, through Jesus,
    Is revealed in time and space;
    As we share in Christ the feast that frees us:

    Chorus
    All are welcome, all are welcome,
    All are welcome in this place.

  14. That Jesus simply aimed to pronounce blessings on classes of His hearers seems right. But i don’t see why that precludes the belief that in our time and place, these are imitable qualities. i don’t see why the positions are mutually exclusive.

    –guy

    • Some of these may indeed be admirable qualities–merciful, peacemakers, for example–but Jesus is not so much commending the qualities themselves as he is pointing to examples of those seen as “losers” by the world.

      • i see that they are mutually exclusive *if* someone were to say Jesus intended merely to bless and Jesus intended to provide conditions. If both claims have to do with Jesus’ intent, then yes, i think you’re right. i’m saying, given that it’s true Jesus intent was only to bless, i don’t see why we can’t also say that these are character traits worthy of our pursuit even if that wasn’t Jesus immediate intent.

        –guy

        • Well, guy, I break them down this way:

          1. The first four are not “character qualities” in any way, shape, or form, but conditions of life. The poor in spirit are those who have nothing spiritually. Those who mourn are those overwhelmed by sorrow. The meek are those without power in the world. Those who hunger are the mistreated ones who cry out for God to make the world right.

          2. The second four represent qualities and actions of those who try to alleviate the hurt of the world. However, they go about it in a way the world thinks is weak and ineffective—through mercy, keeping oneself pure, making peace and living in such a way that the world persecutes you. These are qualities and actions that may indeed be imitated.

          Make sense?

  15. Another great resource for this week’s text is at Crossmarks.com – Pr. Brian Stoffregen does wonderful exegesis of this passage – he quotes also from Mark Allen Powell’s very fine book – God With Us: A Pastoral Theology of Matthew’s Gospel (Fortress, 1995).