When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“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 receive 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 for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter 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.
Salt and Light
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
The Law and the Prophets
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
The Narrative Lectionary, the cycle of Scripture readings that we've been following since September, allows us to catch something of the broad sweep of the Bible, as we have it today.
It helps us put the stories in some kind of context, as we pick up the pace of the stories of God's people: Creation stories, stories of pilgrimage, of turf wars, of judges, Kings, prophets, poets and teachers.
We spent the autumn meandering through the drama of the Old Testament.
And now, still in Epiphany, we've moved from these dramatic Old Testament stories to the immediacy of the gospel.
Each of the gospel writers retold the story of Jesus' birth, ministry, death and resurrection in different ways, depending on their particular take on events, their particular interests and context. Matthew's gospel, that we're following this year is very concerned to root the events of Jesus' ministry in the tradition of ancient scriptures, constantly referencing the prophets to lend some authenticity and authority to Jesus' life and teaching.
We know well that many of the stories in the Bible are not pretty or comforting.
They don't show folk in their best light.
But what they do show is a God who did not abandon flawed human beings, a God who kept inviting people into relationship.
And, as we move further into the gospel of Matthew over these next few weeks, we see God continuing to draw us close, to reveal new ways that we can be God's people.
And so the story of the history of Gods people continues today, as God goes on, holding out for us the possibility of relationship.
And so the broad sweep of the Narrative Lectionary, as well as helping us to grasp the drama of the journey of God's people through history, also helps us to recognise that we are, today, part of God's continuing story.
We are the people of God for today.
So,what of these Beatitudes that we read today?
Some of them seem quite familiar.
Some of them we've heard oft quoted.
Some of them we've probably even quoted ourselves.
But what seems to have been lost in the translation is the shock that these Beatitudes would have been for those who first heard them.
Let's listen to them again, this time from The Message version:
When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
"You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
"You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.
"You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat.
"You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'carefull,' you find yourselves cared for.
"You're blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
"You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.
"You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom.
"Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
Salt and Light
"Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-Flavours of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
"Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-Colours in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.
Completing God's Law
"Don't suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God's Law or the Prophets. I'm not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God's Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God's Law will be alive and working.
"Trivialise even the smallest item in God's Law and you will only have trivialised yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honour in the kingdom. Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won't know the first thing about entering the kingdom.
For Jesus' listeners, the Beatitudes made no sense at all.
For folk who believed that you reaped what you sowed, that blessing came to those whom God favoured, to hear Jesus seemingly randomly bless people was such a contrary notion.
The Beatitudes conflicted with every norm and tradition that folk knew, so radical were they.
But totally in line with the radical good news that Matthew is recording.
Two weeks ago we affirmed the love of God for each of us in baptism, naming us beloved children.
Last week, as we read of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness, we reminded ourselves that whatever temptations come our way, still God cherishes us as beloved children.
And, today, we read of Jesus calling folk blessed.
These Beatitudes are not a list of conditions.
It's not a contract that Jesus is setting out.
On a mountain, surrounded by his disciples, Jesus states the facts.
Starkly and simply.
You are blessed.
Not - you will be blessed if you fall into a particular category, if you undergo suffering, if you are bereaved, if you are persecuted, if you sacrifice enough.
None of that.
Just - You are blessed.
It is simply a way of being in relationship with God revealed in Jesus.
You are blessed.
Whatever our circumstances, God sees us and God blesses us.
That message was a huge surprise to those who heard Jesus say it.
To hear that those who were usually invisible were in God's sights.
To hear that God blessed the lowly and the lonely, those whom others barely noticed.
To hear themselves described as blessed.
Was as shocking then as it is now.
Today God's story continues.
And we, here, are included in that story.
Not just included.
In fact we help to write the next chapter.
We are the people in God's sights today.
Known and loved and blessed.
We don't look at Scripture to determine where God is in our story today.
What we find is that we are included in God's story.
Resisting when the world conspires to tell us differently.
Beloved and blessed.
And those are just for starters.
Three weeks in Matthew's gospel and we encounter major themes in God's relationship with us.
And are invited to be part of the next instalment, invited, in relationship with God to be a part of God's story.
To allow our status as blessed, beloved children to infect the world.
To be salt and light, for all the world.
Writing the story alongside God.
Are we prepared, today, to live into our blessedness?
To take up our mantle as God's people today, and, knowing ourselves beloved and blessed to see with God's eyes.
Noticing those who are so often overlooked and seeing them as also beloved and blessed.
Not looking for potential.
But celebrating what is.
The Beatitudes are not a statement of intent.
Not even a statement of promise.
The Beatitudes state what is.
You and I, today, are blessed.
Thanks be to God.