1 When Jesus* saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
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
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 account.
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.
I feel blessed every day to be a part of the Uniting Church and to be exercising a leadership ministry in our Church.
I feel blessed today to be gathering with you in worship and spending this weekend together.
I feel blessed when I encounter Christ in people I meet in Australia and in places all over the world, who are passionately living out their Christian discipleship in their daily lives.
Yes, we are blessed,.and as your theme suggests – we are called to be a blessing in our world – being bearers of God’s abundant grace and hope that wehave received.
I recently met with a senior politician and asked for her wisdom on how she thought the Uniting Church could constructively contribute tothe public space.
She spoke about the Church being part of and developing coalitions of organisations, who promote values of respect and inclusion.
In many ways, she was speaking about the Church,through the values we embrace, contributing to the health and wellbeing of our multicultural, interfaith, intergenerational society.
These values are highlighted in our recent Vision Statement about being a “nation characterised by love for one another, of peace with justice, of healing and reconciliation, of welcome and inclusion.”
Our vision – is not one we have come up with on our own. It is one that originates in the ministry of Jesus – in his incarnation, life, ministry, death and resurrection.
Jesus, in his teaching in the Beatitudes, is calling the people of God to a vision of a community – a vision of the ways God desires us to be – in relation to God and to each other – a vision of a community that reflects the love, friendship and hope of Jesus.
As we gather this evening as this community of Christ in the Uniting Church, the Spirit speaks to us through these words of Jesus – words that describe Jesus’ vision of “an alternative community for his disciples and the crowds who follow him” (Marcia Riggs, Biblical Scholar, Preaching the Word, p. 310)
Jesus has declared in the previous chapter in Matthew’s Gospel that the kingdom of God is coming among them in his ministry and in his person.
This alternative community will be shaped by the kingdom of God breaking into the present and calling us into God’s future.
I imagine that for those people who gathered that day at the feet of Jesus, it wasn’t just what he said, but who he was – his very being- to be in his presence was a blessing.
He generated hope in them. They could see that in him the promises of God were being realised. Jesus embodies the vision of community and of our world, that we see int he Beatitudes.
As we hear these words of Jesus today, we too know that the reign of God, God’s kingdom has come among us, - we recognise that it is not fully realised, but we see signs of God’s reign all around us.
We see these signs in ways you are engaging in ministry, serving Christ in your local contexts.
Jesus calls us to live our daily lives in the light of God’s kingdom breaking in – in the Spirit of the Beatitudes – personally and communally.
And when we live in the Spirit of Jesus’ blessings, we contribute in the public space, a narrative, a way of life, that provides an alternative narrative than the narratives we hear of hatred, violence, discrimination and exclusion.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
The ‘poor in spirit’ are those who live daily – knowing their utter dependence on God, that with every breath we rely on God.
The poor in spirit are blessed as, in humility, they live and rest in the presence of God.
To be with these people is to be blessed – their lives are deeply centred in our God of grace.
They don’t have an illusion of arrogance, but they come with a deep assurance of God’s grace and love in their lives.
This is both a focus on our personal journeys of faith, but it is also a communal call – as congregations and faith communities, as the Uniting Church, God says to us – you are blessed as you recognise your utter dependence on me.
I pray that this Beatitude will shape our lives as a church – with humility and deep assurance we place ourselves in God’s hands to guide us and shape our life and direction together.
Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.
I imagine Jesus on the mountain that day, looking around at his disciples and the wider group, with eyes of compassion and love as he speaks this blessing:
One commentator, Douglas Hare, suggests that this is not only about people’s individual loss, this is about a people’s loss – living under Roman occupation, living with disappointment with their own religious leaders, people whose hopes and dreams seemed to be dashed.
We have seen communal mourning, and terrible grief in the shadow of the killing in Christchurch.
In the face of that terrible crime, people were comforted by family, by friends, by strangers, and people from various faiths and cultures.
They were comforted by visionary national leaders and in interfaith gatherings.
God brings us comfort – sharing in our grief - weeping with us; reminding us of God’s steadfast faithfulness.
In our mourning, God gently offers us care and reassurance that despite those who would draw us into words and actions of hatred and division.
God’s vision of expansive love, inclusion, and a multicultural, diverse community, will be the vision that wins out.
This indeed is the vision that we witness in the Crucified, Risen Christ.
I hope that you will find this a comforting place a place where the Spirit upholds you.
I hope that this Christian community is a place where we find time to be present to each other, listen carefully to our grief and find hope in the community we are as the embodiment of God’s compassion.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
The meek have been described as:“nonviolent people, who are humble and gentle in their dealings with others because they have humbled themselves before the greatness of God.” (Douglas Hare)
The meek have strength in their gentleness and humility.
Australian Christian author Dave Andrews has written: “In Jesus’ day the word ‘meek’ was often used to connote quiet, internal strength of character which opponents would interpret as a sign of weakness at their own peril."
I hope that we experience this quiet, internal strength in each other –that this strength is a mark of our Christian community.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
People all around us are living into this Beatitude.
People in your communities who are working with some of the most vulnerable people in our community as advocates and friends.
People of the Uniting Church who have a hunger and thirst for justice - whose expression of their Christian discipleship is immersing themselves in advocacy, who have sought to live lives of integrity – living justly, living in ways that care for our earth and others who share in it - conscious of their impacts on the global community.
In our recently released Vision Statement – A Vision for a Just Australia – we hear this hunger for justice – in the seven foundation areas that articulate our hopes.
“A First People’s Heart” In this foundation we affirm the sovereignty of First Peoples, and the importance of them having a voice in the decision-making of our country. A vision of “walking together as First and Second Peoples, creating socially just and culturally safe relationships, listening and learning from one another.
“Renewal of the Whole Creation.” Our vision for the renewal of God’s creation. Addressing the impacts of climate change, working for a sustainable future for the earth.
“A Welcoming, Compassionate and Diverse Nation.” Our vision of valuing our diversity of cultures, languages,faiths and experiences. Being a compassionate nation, whichwelcomes people seeking refuge and treats them fairly.
"An Economy of Life". A Vision of a just Australia, where economic decisions are made onthe basis of what serves the “wellbeing and flourishing of all people”,“lifts people out of poverty and fairly shares our country’s wealth.
"An Inclusive and Equal Society.“ We live together in a society where all are equal and free to exerciseour rights equally, regardless of faith, cultural background, race, age,sexual orientation and gender identity. We defend those rights for all.
"Flourishing Communities, Regional, Remote and Urban.“ In communities all over Australia from our big cities toremote regions, we seek the well-being of each Australian and upliftthose who are on the margins.
“Contributing to a Just and Peaceful World.” We are a nation that works in partnership with other nations to dismantle the structural and historical causes of violence, injustice and inequality. Our government upholds human rights everywhere, acting in the best interests of all people and the planet.
Jesus says to us - all the longing, the desires you have to see justice for the oppressed, for right relationships among all people – these longings and desires will be fulfilled.
Because this Jesus who speaks to us is the embodiment of God’s justice and compassion.
And Jesus assures us that God’s promises for us and for all creation will be fulfilled.
There are signs of hope around us, glimpses of God’s kingdom all around.
We are blessed in our longing, because it is God who gives us the desire for justice and peace and dignity and equality for everyone.
It is God in us, for us and with us, that generates in us the thirst and the hunger and God will satisfy us.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Mercy …includes forgiveness and compassion for the other.…”(Douglas Hare)
We experience mercy through God’s grace.
It is my hope that people experience this mercy in every community of the Uniting Church, in the ways we treat each other, in the ways we encounter God - that blessed by God’s graciousness we will bless others as grace infuses our conversations, our prayers, our actions as we grapple with issues that affect our lives and the life of our world.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Douglas Hare has described the pure in heart as “those who are innocent not only of moral failures, but also of evil intentions."
In my own work in counselling situations, there were a number of occasions, where I heard of young people and adults whose lives were severely impacted by people who had evil intent toward them.
We see this in many situations of abuse.
As the people of God, we are called to be those whose intent toward others is honourable, respectful, treating them the way we would want to be treated, treating them in ways we understand God calls us to act.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
This is a Beatitude that we are called to live in our time.
Where in so many parts of our world – intractable conflict is erupting; this Beatitude speaks with an alternative voice.
Where we see ingrained prejudices and hatred seemingly getting the upper hand and where we do not seem to be able to live together with our differences, this Beatitude presents an alternative way.
We are following in the footsteps of Jesus whenever we seek to makepeace.
We are living the Beatitudes, whenever we see the other as aperson of worth, created in God’s image, infinitely loved.God invites us today to be peacemakers.
As we focus on living non-violently in our personal relationships, where we seek peacefuland nonviolent solutions to disagreements, where we refuse to demonise and dehumanise others who are different to ourselves.
Jesus says to us – you peacemakers – you are God’s children (God claims you as God’s own). You are a blessing to the world.
Blessed are those who are persecutedfor righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you andutter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
These last two Beatitudes remind us that living the way of Jesus will not always bring us applause or approval.
There will be times when living God’s compassion and hope may lead us into danger, into acts of resistance and protest.
We are reminded in these Beatitudes of our many sisters and brothers around the world, who risk their lives as people of faith – people who with the courage of God’s Spirit share and live the Good news of Christ.
As the people of God, we are called to live “daily in the spirit of the Beatitudes.”
We may at times, feel that these are impossible ideals – experienced only when the full realisation of God’s kingdom is here.
But as the people of God, as the Holy Spirit moves among us and empowers us,we believe that the daily living of the Beatitudes is possible.
I would encourage us over the next week to go over the Beatitudes each day and to allow the Spirit to speak to us anew through their poetry, their vision, challenge and their hope.
As we gather in fellowship, as a community of God’s people, what are the words Jesus says to you?
What are the blessings you have received and seek to offer to others?
In our living as the people of God, we are blessed, and as the Spirit empowers us with courage to live as followers of Jesus we will be blessed with comfort, hope, peace, justice and love - and we as the people of God will be a blessing to all the people of the earth and the whole creation.