First Sunday of Lent

Matthew 4:1
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

            Temptation, a frustrating reality of our lives. Temptation to reject the things of God, and to be absorbed by the things of this world. Jesus told us to ask that our Heavenly Father not lead us into temptation and deliver us from evil (Matthew 6:10), yet still we fall time and again. We are tempted to pleasure, to possess, and to pride; to be controlled by our belly, guided by wealth, and to try and take God’s place as judge. Eve and Adam were tempted, they fell to these temptations into sin and as James writes (1:15), sin full grown is death. This is the Fall as we have heard today, refusing to listen to God and so falling to every temptation.

            And this is what you and I do too. This is our inheritance from our first parents, ‘sin … through one man and death through sin’ (Romans 5:12).  [And to be honest, I don’t want it, but nobody’s contesting the will.] And so from Adam on we have lived in condemnation and sin, suffering temptation everyday and often falling to it. But this is not the end. God hasn’t cut us off because we refused to care, He loves you more than you can imagine. He does not give up. So He sent His Son to take on our humanity and deal with our corruption. Jesus was born into our world, part of our family, on His mother’s side. He too suffered these temptations, the devil himself came again to try and entice Him away from God’s Word, but Jesus, with the Spirit, is always listening to His Father. Every temptation that came to Him, He had God’s Word at the ready. Always listening to our Heavenly Father, never listening to desire, this world, or the devil. He knows what it is to be tempted, He knows what you and I go through. He can relate, but He did not sin (Hebrews 4:15).

            He lived the perfect life, listening to God and living it out. He died for you and me, then wonderfully He rose to new and glorious life without temptation and sin. By this man Jesus you have life. You had inherited sin and death from Adam, but now you receive righteousness and life everlasting in Jesus. Yes, we still suffer temptation this side of eternity, and in Christ’s salvation we can with the Spirit’s help refuse to fall, but even when you do, turn back and listen to what God has said to you. Forgiven, loved, saved, and those same words He spoke to Jesus at His baptism, ‘you are my beloved child’ (Matthew 3:17). No one can take this away from you, so don’t give up, with the Holy Spirit’s help persevere under temptation and listen to God.

            And until Christ’s return, the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev Joseph Graham.

Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:20-21
“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Where your treasure is, there your heart, your centre, your core will be also. Drought, fire and flood remind us again that this world is passing away, that your life is always just a step from death’s door. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We are all born weak and helpless. All lead the same short, troubled life. So why should we treasure the things of this world, pleasure, possessions, and pride, all that is passing away? From Joel (2:1), the day of the Lord is coming, 40 days not counting Sundays until that time when He would come and fulfil His promises, destroying sin, death, and the devil; the Day of the New Creation.

And you are already a part of that New Creation in Jesus, joined with Him by the Spirit in baptism and again soon by Holy Communion. And yet still we are part of this world that is passing away. Jesus had lived in this world for 30yrs before He began His ministry, so to prepare He went into the wilderness, away from the world, and fasted for 40 days. He was tempted by the devil with bread, pleasing the bodily desires; with global power, possession of fame and fortune; and finally to prove Christ’s divinity outside of God’s Word, to take the place of God in pride saying it’s my way or the highway.

Jesus refused all these worldly temptations with the Word of God, and now He tells us to do the same. To fast, give to the needy, and to pray. Not to let your belly, or other lower parts of your body, control your life, not let money or pretty things guide you, not let your pride take you down that wide road to destruction. Those are the ways of this world, if you treasure these things your heart will be destroyed with them. Rather, just as Jesus did, treasure the things of God, His Word, His love, and His power. For these things will never pass away. And if these things of God which you treasure will not pass away, neither will you.

That is the promise of God at His coming. Jesus lived, died, rose and now lives again for you and the New Creation. This world is passing away, hunger, lust, greed, and pride are passing away; but the New Creation in Jesus, this holy life will never pass away. So prepare for the celebration of the New Creation, treasuring the things of God.

And the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus now and forever. Amen.

Rev Joseph Graham.

Transfiguration Sunday

The Text: Matthew 17:1-9

 

Here’s a question for you. You’re not allowed to phone a friend, but you could chat with the person next to you. The question is: what is the first commandment? The answer is: ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’ Why would God command that? Is he some sort of control freak or on a power trip? Isaiah 40:18-20 (NIV) really gives us the answer:

 To whom, then, will you compare God?       What image will you compare him to?
As for an idol, a craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it.

A man too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not topple.”

 In the religions of the pagan nations surrounding Israel, each person had their own personal idol they would have had carved or had made and each year they would take it up the mountain for an enthronement festival. God’s own people Israel got caught up in this abomination. Either they made an idol overlaid with gold, or if they are too poor for this, used a block of wood and hoped that it would not be vulnerable to rotting when exposed to the elements! Further, these blocks of wood and stone and metal couldn’t be in all places at once. They couldn’t be a saving presence wherever the people were, so they had to be carted around, and then set up and chained to the carts so that they didn’t fall over in transit! Quite comical, really. And the Israelites themselves fell for this cult of nothingness.

 The irony is astounding. Whereas the Almighty Creator created humankind in his image, mere humans created idols in their own image hoping by them to control the weather, but which were instead impacted by the weather. Those which were not everywhere present had to be carried around, and chained down so they wouldn’t fall over. And so the ironic reality for those who worshipped these idols is that they are not freed by, but chained by these idols and the worship of them and this is their downfall. For even though these idols had carved eyes they couldn’t see. Even though they had carved mouths they couldn’t speak. They were not life giving. They could not save, but only enslave.

 By contrast, today’s account of the transfiguration clearly portrays Jesus as the true living God. Unlike the little idols that had to be pulled up a mountainside on a trolley, Jesus leads Peter, James and John up a high mountain to be with him alone. And for a brief shining moment Jesus is shown in the fullness of his glory to indisputably be the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. And that’s the Father’s verification from the cloud: “This is my Son; with him I am well-pleased.”

 This Jesus is the One, who, up until this point in Matthew’s Gospel, has overcome the Devil’s temptation of him in the wilderness, he has healed lepers, the paralysed, and cast out demons from crowds of people. While he was in a boat with his disciples, he effortlessly calmed the storm that was lashing at it by simply telling it to stop. He restores a little girl to life and heals a woman who had been suffering from bleeding for 12 years. He restores sight to the blind. He feeds the multitudes with five loaves and two fish. He walks on the sea.

 There is nothing outside the scope of Jesus’ authority and power. So confesses Peter, just before our text today, in Matthew 16: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

 There on the unnamed mountain, for a few moments, the appearance of Jesus is changed so that his glorious divinity is on show. This really is the Son of God, the Saviour, God made flesh who dwelt among us, the One in whom the fullness of God dwells in bodily form. Accompanying this dazzling visual manifestation of God’s glory is the Father’s declaration: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Then adds: “Listen to him!”

 Why? Because Peter’s not listening.

 Peter just has to say something. We’ve probably all wished that at times: “If only I knew what to say”. Imagine this spectacular sight; it’s impossible to comprehend; it would be mind-blowing—what would we do or say? Peter blurts out the seemingly bizarre offer: “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

 Peter wants to hang on to the mountain-top experience. He wants to bask in the glory. He hasn’t listened to what Jesus had just told them (for us, the verses immediately before today’s text: that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things and be killed—to which Peter replies: “No Lord, that will never happen to you!”—and that his disciples must also lose their lives by dying to self and take up their cross and follow him.

 We shouldn’t be too hard on Peter and the others. We have the benefit of the whole story. We’ve received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost to bring to remembrance everything Jesus had said. They were about to lose their dear friend. They were confused and didn’t understand. They expected Jesus was coming to free them; to save them. How then could Jesus possibly talk of death on a Cross? That hardly sounds like the victory and rescue that people had hoped for and had come to see in Jesus.

 Jesus’ claim that he must suffer and die smacks of failure, defeat, and compromise of God’s mission. How can suffering and death possibly happen to the One who is the agent of salvation? How can Jesus succumb to the very forces that he’s just overcome? Where is victory in a ruler who is going to be brutally murdered? Such humiliation sounds preposterous!

 Jesus’ death is not defeat or failure. The transfiguration is the visual confirmation that the freedom and hope they long for in Jesus will be fulfilled. But glory can only come after the Cross, where his death is the beginning of his victorious rule, once for all. Here Jesus will liberate from sin, Satan and death itself.

 Perhaps, like the disciples, we too have experiences in our faith journey where God does not work in the way we would expect. We might struggle to understand what he is doing—or seemingly not doing—in our lives. We might not like the sound of ‘dying to self’ and ‘taking our Cross’ and following Jesus. But only when we do, do we grow in Christian faith and love and life, becoming more like Jesus himself.

 “This is My Son; with him I am well-pleased. Listen to him.” When our faith journey is not going as we might expect it to, our text today gives us hope in three ways. First, in Christ, God is a personal God. He is a God of communication. A relational God. He has something important to say to us. He wants to speak to us. Unlike carved idols, He can…and does speak.  He wants to talk with us and reveal himself and his saving will to us. “This is my Son; with him I am well-pleased. Listen to him.

 Second, when we do listen to Jesus, we grow in the life of God. When we hold firm to the Word of God and endure in faith to the end, we too will join Peter and James and John and will see Christ face to face in all his glory, not just for a fleeting glimpse but for all eternity. Despite our failings and ways we haven’t taken up our Cross and followed Jesus, but have followed our own heart, or the times we haven’t died to self but revelled in it, through trusting in Christ and his word, we are pronounced righteous, not guilty and we will see Jesus face to face for all eternity and he will say to us, as he did to the terrified disciples: “Do not be afraid.”

 Third, until that time, whenever that day will be, Jesus journeys with us. “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” the Father says. When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus came down with them.

 Jesus is on the plain with us too. He is in the wilderness. He is in those parts of our lives where there seems to be no hope of change for the better, those parts of our lives where we just don’t know what to do, who to turn to, or what to pray. Jesus journeys with us in the depths of our despair and brokenness, our illness, our struggles, our grief and pain. He journeys with us and will remain faithful to his promises even in the times we are unfaithful to him.

 How does our appearance need to be transfigured? Where do the commandments painfully show us the areas in our lives where real change needs to come? As we are called to die to self by picking up our cross and following Jesus, hear his comforting words to each of us: “Get up. … Do not be afraid.”

 For he is with us and will remain faithful to his promises to us to the very day when he will take us up the mount and we see him in the fullness of his glory, worshipping him forever in brilliant and dazzling light. There, our mortal bodies will also be transfigured to be completely without sin and frailty. Our face will shine like the sun, our clothes will be as white as the brightest light as we stand in the presence of the Lamb.

 Praise be to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, because all of this is possible only because of him alone. The mountain of transfiguration points ahead to the mountain of Calvary, where Jesus’ blood brought us victory over the devil and released us from our sins.

 His outstretched arms nailed to the wood of the cross are the keys to the gate of Heaven, for us. Nothing else could possibly be added to his sufficient work. Nothing else needs to be. You share in all of this, personally, through your baptism into Christ. By virtue of baptism, we become children of God. That is why the Father’s proclamation about Jesus in our text are his words to us: “You are my son/my daughter whom I love, with you I am well pleased.”

 Where else could you possibly find more precious words?

Amen.

Sixth Sunday of Epiphany

Deuteronomy 30:19-20
Now choose life, so that you and your children may live;to love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him, because He is your life.

            My dad was a big fan of Led Zepplin, and hearing God’s Word today reminds me of that ‘stairway to heaven’. ‘there are two paths you can go by but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.’ Of course the woman thinks she can ‘buy her way into heaven’ which is entirely missing the right road, but we can still hear echoes of Christianity throughout our culture. Two ways, a wide easy road to destruction or the narrow and difficult way of salvation (Matthew 7:13). But this is not just some airy-fairy idea, Moses puts this to the Israelites as a choice, life or death, good or evil; it’s up to you.

            These Israelites had escaped slavery in Egypt by the mighty power of God obvious and indisputable. They heard God’s command and followed Moses into the desert. Then they grumbled against God and Moses because it looked like they had chosen a path of death. But God did bring them to the land He had promised, though they refused to trust God’s Almighty power, so God sent them back into the desert for 40 years. Now Moses addresses their children, still God’s people descendants of Abraham, the one He called out (Genesis 12). This book of Deuteronomy, the second law, tells the Israelites again about their relationship with God Almighty, and Moses ends it with this promise. If you choose life and good, God’s way, to love Him and listen to Him, you will live, you and your descendants because He is your life.

            This word was given to God’s people all those years ago, but now He brings it to you. I put before you, life and good, death and evil. Choose life every day, make that commitment to truly hear God’s Word that you receive His peace, joy and love and your life is changed; to truly love Him in all that you do, do it all for the glory of God (Colossians 3:17). And remember when I speak from here I am talking to myself too; no Israelite was excluded, no Christian is excluded. To choose life every day, to daily put on the full armour of God, to pray without ceasing for all our petitions with thanksgiving, being dedicated to God in everything we are (Ephesians 6:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Philippians 4:6). This is what God calls us to, me and you. And we know what this means, to dedicate 8hrs a day to work, to dedicate an evening to your spouse, to dedicate an afternoon to your family; we are called to dedicate everything to God, to choose life not death. A very tall order. How can our salvation hinge on our own choice? Weather we choose life or choose death.

            This is where we come to one of the mysteries of the Faith. Do we focus on my choice or on what Jesus has done for me? This is very important for every Christian to understand, because if we confuse this, we ruin the peace God gives. Are you saved by choosing life? Are you saved by your continual decisions to listen to God and love Him in your everything? If you are, can you be sure that you are saved? That you have life everlasting? Or have we opened a door for doubt or even despair?

            I’ll ask another question, were the Israelites chosen by God, or did they choose to live such good lives that God noticed them and blessed them? Did those Israelites escape Egypt by their own strength and seek God in the desert to find Him and listen to Him? Did you baptise yourself and earn adoption as God’s beloved child, or was it God who loved you first and brought you into new life in His Son (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:18)? Moses was addressing the people of God, a rebellious people, stubborn as an old German Lutheran mule, but still chosen and loved by God (Exodus 32:9). It was God who brought them out of Egypt, who led them by His voice to Sinai, who taught them and brought them to the promised land. And Moses told the Israelites just earlier in the passage that when they go into the land, reject God, go into exile and God brings them back He will ‘circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul that you will live’ (30:6).

            Just as He chose the ancient Israelites and continued to love them even though they rejected Him, He has chosen you, promising that He gives you new and renewed life everlasting in your baptism, that your Heavenly Father has drawn you to His Son and sent the Holy Spirit to continue to guide you on His way; to choose life everyday (Romans 6:4; John 6:44; 14:17). Hear God’s Word for you today, love Him in all you do that this obedience and service may be a blessing to you and all around you. God has given you life and He is the only one who sustains it, He is the one who makes you holy circumcising your heart, He is the one who works and the one who saves you. I asked before, what do we focus on? We focus on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Yet in doing this we are choosing life and good by the strength of the Holy Spirit, this is why we say if one is saved it is God’s work, if one is condemned it is their rejection of life. But again for the Christian to choose life and not death is a daily thing, it’s not just the end; and we see this throughout the Old Testament, the earthly results of clinging to God or rejecting Him. So I tell you today, with the Light of Christ shining into these ancient words, God loves you and hears you, He has already saved you and will perfect you. Cling to Him for He is your life.

Joseph Graham.

Fifth Sunday of Epiphany

The Text: Matthew 5:13-20

“Be What You Are”

 Some years ago the story was told of a 30-year-old man who spent most of his life as an imposter: at the age of 16 he posed as an airline pilot; at 19 he posed as a paediatrician. Later, he was an assistant district attorney. He was caught in the end. But by that time he had passed cheques amounting to 2.5 million dollars. He was not what he appeared to be.

 Sometimes people tell us that they want nothing to do with the church. The reason?  Because, so they say, there are too many hypocrites there. The trouble is that Christians don’t always know who they are, and they don’t act accordingly. Christians need to be genuine. They dare not be a phony or a hypocrite. The world is quite right in judging the truth of Jesus by the sort of people faith in Jesus is able to produce. 

 So the question for us, as Christians, is this: what are we? The answer to that question comes from Jesus. In the first two verses of today’s Gospel he says that we are salt and light!  Listen carefully! Jesus does not say you ought to be salt, or that should be light, but rather “You are salt…You are light.” What a tremendous saying! After all, what Jesus is saying is this: “You disciples standing here before me—you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.”

 One wonders if anyone in that bunch of people, squatting in the dust of that Galilean hillside, could take it all in. And what about us? The church was in its numerical heyday fifty years ago when Christians felt as if they were the majority. Numerical significance and cultural superiority was the self‑understanding of most churches in the Western world at that time.  We were the majority faith. This was our country, as we saw it, our world. Today, can you imagine that there ever was such a time, when they closed the petrol stations on Sunday mornings and refused to play football matches on Sundays? Were you endangered in the stampede leaving your neighbourhood this morning on your way to church? I doubt it. Here, when we go to church on Sundays even in a rural or middle‑class neighbourhood, we are a minority with just a bit of occasional hostility and derision.

 It’s been said that it is a dubious sign if the world lives too peaceably with the church. We’re all familiar with the saying about rubbing salt into a wound. Salt always bites and stings at those points where we men and women have wounds, where our sore-points are. So where there is salt in a church and it’s preaching there is bound to be a negative reaction against it. But where there is no bitter reaction to the message what then? Perhaps what is lacking is a biting salty truth that will sting in some people’s pious wounds. To be salt and light, Christians must be different from the world.

 From the point of view of purely quantity, the proportion of practicing Christians to the whole mass of people in the world is comparable to the few grains for salt in a big pot of food. And when we Christians get discouraged as we think of how we few stand alone in our family, the place where we work, or among our friends and acquaintances; when we are afraid and confused, then we do well to take comfort from this saying of Jesus. He did not say: “You are the great power-bloc of the world”. No, he said: “You are the pinch of salt in the world!” And that, by its very nature, is a very small quantity.

 But actually, how often can the power of this one pinch of salt turn out to be mightily effective? When one person does not join in the gossip around the dinner table, then that pinch of salt seasons the negative group conversation. When one teenager refuses to go along with the group’s plan for the night, then that can be a change of direction. When one Christian practices forgiveness in a company that is poisoned by hatred and the desire for revenge, then all of a sudden there can be a healing factor in the situation. When one Christian is willing to stand up for his or her faith where this is hard to do, then suddenly the whole atmosphere of a meeting can be “salted” as ears that were closed before may now be opened. When one person in any group paralysed by fear communicates something of the peace of God to others simply by being who they are and where they are, then the salt is doing its work in the midst of corrupting strife and disorder; then the light is shining in the darkness of fear and distrust.

 There is still this other important attribute of both salt and light. Both become useful only when they give of themselves, when they are mixed with something else and sacrificed, as it were. Light goes into darkness and salt loses itself in the food. Each individual Christian is given a great promise: he or she is a grain of salt. But this one Christian also has the responsibility to share this promise. And, of course, if we are to fulfil this responsibility, then we must get out of the “salt-shaker” as it were. Salt works, salt remains salt only as it gives of itself. Or a Christian puts his light under a bowl simply because he is afraid that the winds that blow in the evil world, among his unbelieving friends in the factory or office or school will blow out the light of his faith. But when that light is kept under a bowl its light helps nobody, and what is more, it exhausts the oxygen and nothing is left but a nasty, shapeless wick.

 You don’t need to be super-confident to ask your neighbour to come with you to worship. You can do it faithfully in weakness, and in fear and trembling. You don’t need to be brimming with slick ideas of how to get through to seventh graders to teach Sunday School. You don’t need to be comfortably sure of what to say in order to visit a fellow member in the hospital. You don’t have to be financially secure, guaranteed of a surplus for life, to be a steward who tithes. You don’t need to feel sure of your faith to begin to pray regularly for others. You can stumble over the words, praying in weakness.

 And if you do—when you do—you will find not that you miraculously have done everything perfectly, amazing people with your skills. But you will find that the Lord keeps his promise, and that somehow the words you stumbled over—the awkward condolence, the wavering word of love, the blurted invitation—found a home in another human heart.

 A Christian dentist moved into a new house. He soon found neighbourhood teenagers littering his yard and riding their bicycles over his lawn. None of this encouraged him to love his new neighbours as himself. One night the leader of the teenage group had a bad toothache. The boy’s mother sent the boy to the dentist for a check-up. The dentist found the tooth in need of expensive repair and offered to take care of it. The boy refused. He said his family couldn’t pay the bill for a job like that. In the end the dentist persuaded the lad to let him do the repairs. The dentist did not send the boy a bill. Soon he forgot the incident. That summer the dentist left town for an extended holiday. When he returned, he found that his lawn had been well looked after during all that time by the teenager whose tooth he’d fixed. The dentist tried to pay the boy. But he refused. Shyly he said: “A tooth for a tooth”.

 With day-by-day efforts like that, we make our light shine. We bring rich flavour to a tasteless society, and so become the salt of the earth. God gave his only-begotten Son for this world. Therefore we are called upon to be salt and light for this same world. And certainly the world is worth saving by our sacrifice because this one man Jesus Christ first sacrificed himself for all of us. We are to be the little grains of salt for the little bit of earth that God has entrusted to us. We are to be the glimmer of light for that little part of the world in which we live and move and have our being. Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Epiphany

Text: Matthew 5:1-12

When are you really blessed?

More and more people were hearing about Jesus, more and more people were coming to look for Jesus. They had heard what Jesus was doing, as he healed the sick and helped people in their needs. Now they wanted to find out what Jesus was all about.

Jesus had been telling them that the Kingdom of heaven was coming, the Kingdom of heaven was coming to earth. Jesus was bringing the Kingdom of heaven to earth.

So what was this kingdom like? What did it mean to live in this kingdom?

Where is the kingdom of heaven today? Is it up there? Is it also down here? What does it look like?

Are you citizens of the kingdom of heaven?

Hey, come and follow me.

Matthew tells the story of Jesus going up a mountainside, calling his disciples to himself, and teaching them. His teaching is what we now call the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew does not tell us where this mount is but the traditional belief is that the Sermon on the Mount was given on the slopes leading up from the lake.

If you go to Israel, to Galilee, this is the place that they will show you as the site of the Sermon on the Mount. There is a church built there, a rather beautiful church in a lovely garden, called the Church of the Beatitudes.

It’s a beautiful, peaceful setting. And the Sermon on the Mount gives us some of the best known and most loved words that Jesus ever spoke. Among them are the opening words that we heard as our Gospel today. We know these words as the Beatitudes, which means the Blessings.

Jesus talks about being blessed. Blessing means sharing in the goodness of God, receiving the gifts of God.

Yet, when we listen to what Jesus says about being blessed, it is hugely challenging. That’s because Jesus’ idea of what being blessed means and our idea of what being blessed means are hugely different from each other.

You have probably been told to count your blessings. Maybe you have told others to count their blessings. OK – count your blessings. What are the blessings you have, that you really appreciate…?

Now let’s see what blessings Jesus talks about when he talks about your blessings.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Are you blessed when you are poor?

We like to think that the things we have make us rich. Or we don’t expect to be rich, but we do like to be comfortable. The opportunity to live a comfortable life; that is a blessing.

We don’t want to be poor. Sometimes people have to put up with being poor, but it is not a blessing. Yet Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor.”

OK…he says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” So he is talking about spiritual things, not material things.

Do you want to be spiritually poor? I think we want even more to be spiritually rich, to have a spiritual life where we feel wonderfully exalted.

Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” You are blessed when you have nothing, when you come with nothing, because then you are ready to receive everything that God wants to give you. You are blessed when you let go of all your own spirituality, and you live in the grace of God.

You are blessed when you have nothing, nothing of your own and when you rely on God for everything; when you rely on God for every spiritual gift.

And what does God give you?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

God gives you a place in the kingdom of heaven. This means that you receive life from God, life that is full and free, life that is lived with God.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Count your blessings. Surely the greatest blessings are the people in your life, people who belong to you and you belong to them, people whom you love, people who love you.

How can you be blessed when you lose someone who is a blessing? How can you be blessed, when you mourn such a loss?

Jesus says you are blessed even in the face of loss and tragedy. You are blessed by his presence and by his promise. He has promised to be with you—when your need is greatest, his gift is even greater.

You will be blessed, even when you mourn great loss. You will be comforted, covered with the grace of your loving Father.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

We are taught that we have to be strong, that we have to be assertive, that we have to stand up for ourselves. We like to believe that we are blessed when we can make our own way in the world, when we can stand up for our rights, when we can get what we deserve.

Jesus says: “Blessed are the meek.” Meek is not weak. But meekness is a different sort of strength.

Being meek is being strong enough that you do not have to prove how strong and tough you are. Being meek is being strong enough to forget about yourself, and give of yourself for the sake of others. Being meek is being more concerned about caring about the rights and the needs of others, than your own rights and your own needs.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Blessed are you when you are meek, when you are prepared to give up what you think is yours, because God will give you much more. You will inherit the earth. Your life on earth will be rich and fulfilling, because you will be living as citizens of heaven even while you are living on earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

None of us like to be hungry. None of us like to be thirsty. Hunger tells us that we need food. Thirst tells us that we need something to drink. Hunger and thirst are fine, as long as we can eat and drink when we need to eat and drink.

And most of us eat and drink much more than we need. We eat and drink to savor the richness of taste, to enjoy food and drink to the fullest.

There is another kind of hunger and another kind of thirst. It is spiritual hunger and spiritual thirst. It is feeling that deep need for spiritual nourishment and spiritual fulfilment.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

We might try to convince ourselves that we have enough righteousness, that we are good enough to satisfy ourselves and to satisfy others, and to satisfy God. But then we are living a lie, and our blessing is an illusion.

You are blessed when you come to God with complete honesty, knowing that you need righteousness from God, knowing that you need God to forgive your sins and make you whole and healthy and strong. When you come to God with that need, and when you come to God with that faith, then you will be filled, and you will be blessed.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

We like to think that blessings are all the things that make life good for ourselves. And we are pretty good at complaining when we think life is not fair. We are quick to blame someone, anyone, and maybe we blame God if life does not give us what we think we deserve.

Mercy is knowing and understanding the needs of others, and forgetting about our own needs and wants. Mercy is being prepared to give of ourselves for the sake of others. Mercy is sacrificing ourselves, and what is ours, rather than being worried about getting for ourselves.

Blessed are you when you are merciful. Blessed are you when your heart and mind are tuned to other people, people who are close to you and people who might be far away, but people who have great needs, physical needs, are politically oppressed and in danger, and suffer from spiritual emptiness.

When you see those needs, when you feel those needs, when you respond to those needs—that is mercy. And when your heart and mind are tuned into the needs of others, somehow your needs don’t seem so urgent at all.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive God’s own mercy, the mercy of forgiveness and the mercy of pain and anguish relieved, the mercy of being loved and supported. When you are merciful you are committing yourself to the mercy of God, and God gives mercy richly and fully.

“Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.”

We like to think that we are smart and sophisticated, and being smart and sophisticated means that we can see and do whatever we like. We think that we can play with all sorts of things that are evil, because that is what is flaunted in our world. We like to think that makes us clever and wise, and that if we are smart enough these things won’t do us any damage.

Jesus says: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

When we fill our minds with all sorts of experiences to prove that we are mature and that we can handle them, we lose sight of what is really precious and enriching. We lose sight of God.

When we hear the word of God and focus on what is good and holy, even in the middle of the most demanding and degrading sights, then we learn to see God in every situation, and we are blessed as we seek the will of God everywhere, always.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

We all want peace. But we also want things to be done our way.

We want to hold control. We want others to serve our purposes.

We generate conflict, in our own personal life and at every level right up to international power-plays and wars.

It takes great wisdom but also great will power to become a peace maker, to overcome the conflicts in your own life, and to work with others to overcome conflicts in their life. It means sacrifice. It means forgiveness. It means understanding life is more than getting your own way.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

God is the great peacemaker, breaking down the hatred and rebellion that people throw against him, and leading people to reconciliation and restored relationships. Peacemakers are children of God, for they are learning from God, and following in the footsteps of their heavenly Father.

Making peace is a vital part of Christian life. Learn how to be a Christian peacemaker.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I don’t like pain. I don’t like to be rejected. How can you be blessed when you are being persecuted?

Being persecuted is not a blessing. But being persecuted can show that you have a blessing which is much greater, a blessing that no one can take from you, no matter how much they try.

Christians have been persecuted, and Christians are still being persecuted, when they stand up for their faith. Persecutors think that they can enforce their will, and destroy Christian faith by using ridicule, threats, pain, violence, and even death.

Jesus says that you are blessed even when you are persecuted. That’s because righteousness, the gift from the righteous God, is stronger and more precious than any persecution.

People might turn against you, and take away your property and your comfort, your reputation, your freedom, even your life. What have you got left?

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

Those persecuted because of righteousness have the kingdom of heaven. That is God’s gift, and no one can take that away. That is the greatest blessing.

So Jesus teaches us about being blessed, about being really blessed.

He strips away so many things that we think are blessings. He shows us the blessings that go much deeper, blessings that are much more precious, the blessings of living with God in the kingdom of heaven.

Do you still want to protest: “But I don’t want to let go of all the blessings that I want”?

Look at Jesus, look at the way he lived. He was poor in spirit, dependent on his heavenly Father. He suffered great loss, and great deprivation. He was pure in heart, and merciful, and meek. He was persecuted, to the point of the cross. He gave it all away for the sake of bringing peace.

When are you blessed? You are blessed when you are with Jesus. May you share his blessings in the kingdom of heaven, now and forever. Amen.