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Narrative Lectionary Text: Matthew 5:1-20

Who do we look up to in our society?

Next weekend there will be millions of people and billions of dollars spent on something. What is it called? Right. The Superbowl. What is the Superbowl again? Oh right, a game.

There is a list of successful companies. What do we call that list? Right. The Fortune 500. What allows a company to make that list? Money.

We love to watch the Academy Awards, lifestyles of the rich and famous, the Kardashians…(?).

We do this in the church, too. Who do we look up to in the church? It depends on the church, actually.

If you are Roman Catholic, you look up to the Pope.

If you are evangelical, you look up to the pastor with the big and fastest-growing church.

If you are Lutheran, you look up to the Pastor, and the more fancy letters he or she has after his or her name, the more you look up to that pastor, and if the pastor is the bishop, then, all the more.

Why do we look up to these people?

Usually, it is because they have worked really hard, their hard work has paid off, and we respect them. They are the best of the best.

So, we lift them up and put them up on a…_______? Pedestal, right. We say that the successful business person climbed the corporate…________? Ladder, right.

They have worked hard, and that is good. It really is good.

What do we often call these people?

We say they are blessed. We use that word in this way all the time.

When we get a bonus check from work, we’ll say, “I was really blessed today.” Or, when we think about our comfortable house and lifestyle, we say, “I am truly blessed.”

Another word we might use is righteous.

If you grew up in the 80s then you know that righteous means good. “Dude, that is righteous.”

This weekend we continue our series called Living in Epiphany.

We’re studying the story of Jesus found in the Gospel of Matthew, and we’re looking at how Jesus revealed the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.

This week we’re talking about Living in Righteousness.

What does it mean to be righteous? What does it mean to be blessed?

So, let me ask the question a different way.

When we think about the blessed people, the righteous people, why do we look up to these people? Why up?

You know that I have finished writing my dissertation. I’m just about ready to turn in the final draft. After almost five years of work, let me share with you what I learned. Are you ready? It’s really complicated.

I learned that we need to move from this [hands moving up and down] to this [hands swirling all around].

Yep, five years. pretty awesome, right?

Let me explain.

Our culture, the Judeo-Christian culture, has struggled with something since before Jesus’ day.

We have this idea that God is up there, completely separate from the universe. And since God is up there, then everything that is good, right, and blessed is also up there. The Kingdom of Heaven is up there, in Heaven.

The whole goal of life is to move up the ladder and become more successful, more righteous, more blessed. Then, if we climb high enough, we can go to Heaven when we die.

When you look at this picture it creates a class system of those who are up there, and those who are down there. If you are down there, then you are not blessed, you are not righteous, you have missed the mark, you are a sinner.

That is what the Pharisees believed in Jesus’ day.

They took the law of Moses and made it into a ladder of righteousness. If you obey the laws, then you will climb the ladder. The more perfectly you  obey the law, the higher you climb, the more blessed and righteous you are.

They believed that if everyone in Israel could get it right, then God would remove the oppression of the Roman Empire and the nation itself would climb the ladder and be the best of the best. Blessed and Righteous.

Then Jesus shows up and does this [moving hands in every direction].

Look back at the last line of the text from last week’s lesson. In Matthew 4:17, Jesus preaches his first sermon.

He says, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near, or is at hand.”

That’s the Gospel. That’s the good news that Jesus came to remind the people.

The Kingdom of Heaven isn’t up there, out there. The Kingdom of Heaven is supposed to be here, doing this.

Then, in chapter 4, verses 18-22, Jesus calls some fishermen and says, “Follow me, I’ll show you what I’m talking about.”

Then, in verses 23-25 Jesus begins his ministry. He lives out the Good News by hanging out with the demon-possessed, the sick, the outcasts, and setting them free.

Notice who he is with. He is surrounded by the ones “down here.” These are the losers, the outcasts, the unblessed, the unrighteous, the sinners.

That is the context for our lesson today.

Jesus begins his famous sermon on the mount in Matthew 5:1-20 surrounded by the lowest of the low.

What does he tell them?

You are blessed.

Do you understand how scandalous this is?

Who are the Blessed?

Those who have nothing.

You who society says are the poor in spirit. The ones who have nothing and have no hope of being anything; you are blessed.

Who are the Blessed?

You who mourn.

You who have watched Herod slaughter your children in the streets. You whose father was crucified with the mass execution. You who grieve. You are not being punished by God. You are blessed.

Who are the Blessed?

You who are meek.

The ones who have no power and are oppressed by those with power. God’s world is for you.

Who are the Blessed?

You who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

You who see through the upward scale of the Pharisees and long for the day when there is peace on Earth and the blessings overflow through the nation.

Who are the Blessed?

You who show mercy.

You who do have power and use it to help those who are powerless.

Who are the Blessed?

You who are pure in heart, not seeking selfish gain, but a desire to know God and love others.

Who are the Blessed?

You who make peace, not war.

Who are the Blessed?

You who are persecuted for righteousness;

who would rather be killed than to kill. Who are willing to be arrested and die to live in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Then in verse 12 he reminds them of a very important point that we cannot forget. This is not a new thing.

Jesus reminded them that the prophets have been preaching this same message for centuries and they have been killed for it more often than applauded for it.

He tells them that he is not abolishing the Law.

In fact, I think he is saying that the Pharisees are the one who have abolished the Law. They took something that was designed to give life to a specific group of people, in a specific place, and turned it into a ladder for success that crushes people.

Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s because their ladder of righteousness wasn’t leading anywhere.

The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, and righteousness is not about climbing up to be blessed. Righteousness is about being deeply rooted in your blessing, and letting the love of God overflow to the world.

Here is where the Psalm for the day is helpful.

Psalm 1:1-3. It says,

Happy are those

who do not follow the advice of the wicked,

or take the path that sinners tread,

or sit in the seat of scoffers;

2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord,

and on his law they meditate day and night.

3 They are like trees

planted by streams of water,

which yield their fruit in its season,

and their leaves do not wither.

In all that they do, they prosper.

I would like you to look at this picture. I created this for my parents on their 50th wedding anniversary.

I want to close by telling you this story.

When my parents were young and only had two children (before me), my Dad was in Bible school. They were in a faith system that had created a type of caste system. The people who were really righteous were the ones who went to the foreign mission field, and everyone else were second class citizens. This put a lot of pressure on my parents, and they were seriously considering moving to North Africa and being missionaries.

Then one day, as my Dad was having his morning devotions in the kitchen, he read Psalm 1:1-3. “In whatever he does…” That phrase caught his imagination and changed his life forever. Even now he signs his letters Psalm 1:1-3

He learned that day that being blessed, that being righteous is not about what you do, how many degrees you have, how much money you give to charity.

Being righteous, being blessed, is being deeply rooted in your identity in Christ. You are blessed, so that you can be a blessing to all people, no matter who they are or where they fall on the ladder.

Now that’s righteous!

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