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It’s Not “Good News” If It’s a List of “How-Tos” (Kingdom Living #3)

Kingdom Living #3 - It’s Not “Good News” If It’s a List of “How-Tos”
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • Oct 4, 2015 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Lead Pastor

Good morning and welcome! I’m so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time or 100th time, we are glad that you are here today in our community. Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search, you were invited, or you already knew the way, we are grateful that you are here today. And our prayer for you is that you would experience welcome, that you would experience acceptance and that you would find space to encounter the loving presence of the living God during your time with us this morning!

Blessed are the spiritual zeroes, the spiritual bankrupt, the deprived, the deficient, the spiritual beggars, those without a wisp of religion.

Or so the Beatitudes go.

“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 for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children 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. (Matthew 5:3–12)

As we continue to make our way through the opening of the Sermon on the Mount, let’s remember the audience that was present with Jesus as he delivered this sermon. On this mountainside, Jesus was surrounded by this mass of humanity with people from everywhere, with every conceivable belief and understanding of God, and it is here that Jesus sits down to announce the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
Blessed are those who mourn,
Blessed are the meek, (Matthew 5:3–5)

Since most of us don’t know what to do with the ‘“Blesseds” or what we call the Beatitudes, we either located them among the most impressive religious moral teaching of all time, or we believe they are so inaccessible, impossible or unrealistic, we just ignore them and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount as some “nice things” that Jesus said that don’t mean much to us, our everyday, or our faith.

As you enter into the text with me, let’s try to consider what’s happening in the Sermon on the Mount by focusing on the audience for a moment. Remember who is there, those who are hearing his words, those who have experienced the in-breaking of the Kingdom. To put it simply there are two major groups of people, those who think they get it, and know how God works, and those who don’t.

When you start to enter into the text from this position, the context of the Beatitudes may come into sharper focus. Jesus had just healed people from everywhere who were sick with all kinds of diseases, those who were suffering severe pain, those who were demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.

This alone was good news. The condition of their suffering had come to an end. The in-breaking of the Kingdom meant that a promise of the future, where all is well, was breaking into their lives at this very moment, in the presence of Jesus and in his Kingdom proclamation and demonstration.

The Kingdom is about Proclamation not just Demonstration

So he uses his moment to teach the people about his Father and the Kingdom in which he reigns. He wanted to make clear the extent to which the Kingdom was “on hand” to us.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
Blessed are the merciful,
Blessed are the pure in heart,
Blessed are the peacemakers,
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, (Matthew 5:3–12)

This was a moment of show and tell, if you will. Standing in the crowd were people with no spiritual qualifications or abilities at all. These aren’t the type of people you would call on to do “spiritual work” in your community, yet the Kingdom was breaking out in their midst.

These aren’t people who know their Bible, who know how exegete a text, who know how to pray with power and authority, yet they are blessed and the Kingdom is theirs.

What is Jesus trying to say to us?

What is he inviting us to see, to understand?

Are we willing anything?

I’m someone who like to wrestle with scripture, and as someone who wrestles, I want to say that Jesus isn’t doing what we assume he is. He isn’t giving us a new list of moral virtues that mark the person who is welcomed in the Kingdom. He isn’t laying out new boundaries markers of who’s in and who’s out.

He was announcing something that already was.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (Matthew 5: 10-11)

When we make the Beatitudes into a new moral law, a list of virtues to aspire to, we are at risk of distorting Jesus’ Gospel announcement, the kingdom is breaking in.

Good news, you have to be poor to be blessed!
Good news, you have to be hungry to get fed!
Good news, you have to mourn to be comforted!
Good news, you have to be pure in heart in order to see God!
Good news, if you are popular no one will persecute you!
Good news, don’t fight and God will adopt you!

When we misunderstand Jesus and what he was intending to do in his Gospel announcement, we elevate our own sense of what is morally right or acceptable and we bypass contact with Jesus in his own sermon. We can miss him friends, completely.

What About Those not on the List?
If all that is needed to be blessed in the Kingdom is figuring out the right level of poverty, learning how to be meek in all situations, how to mourn, how to suffer, how to be persecuted, then let’s get to work church. If this is what Jesus is instructing us to do, then let’s not miss him, let’s not miss our blessing!

We can do this, church!
I believe in you!

If Jesus’ aim here is to tell us how to qualify for Kingdom life, then certainly he would have a complete list, wouldn’t he? He wouldn’t want us to miss out on all the ways we could enter the Kingdom. He would want us to know all of the ways that we get in or are excluded from the Kingdom.

Maybe these were some of the Beatitudes that didn’t make the cut:

How sad for you who have wealth!
That’s all the comfort you’ll have.

How sad for you who are now well-fed!
It won’t help in the hunger to come.

How sad for you who are laughing it up now!
Grief and tears are on their way.

How sad when everybody says you’re wonderful!
Their fathers said the same about lying prophets.

See and Look

We have to remember that the Beatitudes are not teachings or instruction from Jesus on how to be blessed.

The Beatitudes are not instructions for us to do anything.

They aren’t a list of terms and conditions for admission to the Kingdom.

They aren’t recommendations for good-living in the presence of God.

They aren’t a list of conditions that are especially pleasing to God.

Jesus doesn’t say, “Verily, verily, I say unto you... you will be better off for being poor, for mourning, for being persecuted, and so forth.”

And the Beatitudes aren’t the indications of who will be on top when the Kingdom fully comes, when that promise of the future is finally deposited in the present.

If you will permit me, they are illustrations, drawn from the mass of humanity right before Jesus, of the real and present availability of the Kingdom of God.

If you were trying to illustrate the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God–an upside down place–where “the first will be last and last shall be first,” what better way to do this than to use the very people who would have been considered the outsiders and welcome them in? It’s almost as if he is looking out at the crowd, sizing it up, thinking, “How do I help these folks to understand that Kingdom that I’m announcing is like nothing they’ve seen or heard of before? Oh, I know…”

Blessed are the poor in spirit,

Blessed are those who mourn,

Blessed are the meek,

This was Jesus saying here is the proof that in me, I’m revealing the Kingdom to you. You think these are the conditions of those who don’t measure up. Who aren’t good enough, holy enough, or righteous enough. But you have missed the point, I’m sorry. Just when you think you have been ruled out by your failures, your mistakes, your life’s circumstances, your missed opportunities, here’s the Kingdom breaking into your present reality.

It’s not “Good News” If It’s a list of “How-Tos”
The Beatitudes simply cannot be “good news” if they are understood as a set of “how-tos” for achieving blessedness. That wouldn’t be good news at all! This would just focus our attention on how we miss out, and how we mess up. This reading of the Beatitudes reverses what Jesus is doing in his Sermon on the Mount, throwing the doors of the Kingdom open.

The only way into the Kingdom is with our hands open. We think it’s with our hands closed tightly around our righteousness, our accomplishments, our achievements, our performance–every rung of the “salvation ladder” we’ve climbed.

But Jesus says in Luke 18:17,

"I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it" (Luke 18:17).

What is he saying here?

We get into the Kingdom with our hands open. We have to let go of everything we believe qualifies us and everything that disqualifies us.

This is hard.

But good news, Jesus has announced that the Kingdom is here. Jesus has announced the year of the Lord’s favor. Deliverance, freedom, and space is being made for us.

Are your hands open to receive the gift of the Kingdom?

Practical Tip
Join me by continuing to read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, 7) again this week. Take note of the places where Jesus is announcing good news to folks, and ask yourself why is this good news to them? Then ask yourself, do you need Jesus to announce good news to you? If so, ask Jesus to do exactly that, announce good news over you.

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