What am I congratulating you for, you are wondering? Well that’s how I start most sermons that I preach at a wedding. It’s what someone will say to you when you’ve passed your driving test. It’s what you say to someone who has just got a new job. It’s what you say to someone when they’ve just had a new grandchild.
We say: Congratulations! You’ve just achieved something that was well-worth doing. You’ve done something to be proud of. Well done!
That’s what the word “blessed” in Matthew chapter 5 means. It’s not the usual word for when God blesses someone. It’s the word people would use to congratulate each other, only this time it’s describing someone that God wants to congratulate. It’s the word that means someone is happy. That is: Truly happy, not just feeling happy! It’s the word that we would use to say that someone is approved, only it’s God’s approval. It’s the word for someone who is really fortunate, only this is nothing to do with luck, but all to do with God’s favor.”
Father Nicholas king says;
“Having given us a preliminary glimpse of the mission of Jesus, and of the enemies of the mission, Mathew now gives us a first impression of Jesus preaching. In all, the evangelist gives us five ‘sermons’ in his Gospel, which enables him to gather Jesus’ preaching material. ‘This is the kind of thing he used to say’ he is telling us, as he offers us a carefully constructed collection of Jesus’ sayings.
Seeing the crowds, he went up into the mountain; and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And opening his mouth he began to teach them, saying:
‘Congratulations to the poor in spirit – there is the kingdom of heaven.
Congratulations to those who are mourning – they shall be consoled.
Congratulations to the gentle – they shall inherit the earth.
Congratulations to those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness –
They shall be satisfied.
Congratulations to the merciful – they shall be mercied.
Congratulations to the pure of heart – they shall see God.
Congratulations to those who create peace –
They shall be called children of God.
Congratulations to those who are persecuted because of righteousness –
Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Congratulations to you when they reproach you and persecute you and falsely talk
All kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice, and be glad, because your
Reward in heaven is huge. You see, that’s how they persecuted the prophets
Mathew starts the greatest of his five ‘sermons’ by making sure that our attention is focused. Jesus goes up the mountain, apparently because of the crowds. This reminds us of Moses, except that Moses went up a mountain to receive the Law, Jesus to give a new Law. Then we watch as he adopts the teacher’s position (‘he sat down’); his disciples join him, and Mathew next offers no less than three expressions to indicate that Jesus is talking: ‘he opened his mouth’, ‘he began to teach’, and ‘saying’. So, we know that we are privileged to hear what was intended mainly for the inner group of ‘Jesus’ disciples. We are not prepared, however, for the shock that follows, the astonishing list of those who are congratulated: the destitute, the sad, the meek, those concerned for justice the merciful, those who concentrate exclusively on God, those who refuse to go to the road of violence, those who are persecuted. At first blush this sounds absurd: are Christians supposed to be wimps/ But on second reading (try it), there is a profound wisdom in what Jesus offers, quite the opposite of the congratulations that people normally offer one another,”
So, we know that the blessings or congratulations are a bestowing of god’s favor. Something that is given freely. A beatitude is God’s favor poured out… Fred Craddock reminds us that
“Of the 44 in the New Testament, the vast majority occur in Matthew and Luke. In the Old Testament, most of the beatitudes occur in Psalms and in Wisdom literature. In the context of proverbs or other wisdom sayings, beatitudes can be translated "Happy are those who" or "How fortunate are those who." However, it is more appropriate to translate Jesus’ words so as to convey God’s favorable behavior toward those addressed. Hence, "blessed" or "favored of God are those who" conveys the understanding that such favor is both present and future. The language of a blessing is also performative; the pronouncement of blessing actually conveys the blessing. Certainly, the language is not hortatory: "We ought to be poor in spirit" or "Let us be meek" or "We must hunger and thirst for righteousness." Preachers are too easily tempted to urge, push and exhort us to implement these qualities. Such exhortations reflect frustration before the grace of God. It is more difficult to hear and receive a blessing than to attempt to achieve one.
Very important, then, is the recognition that the beatitudes appear at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, before a single instruction is given, before there has been time for obedience or disobedience. If the blessings were only for the deserving, very likely they would be stated at the end of the sermon, probably prefaced with the conditional clause, "If you have done all these things." But appearing at the beginning, they say that God’s favor precedes all our endeavors. In fact, all our efforts at kingdom living are in response to divine grace, motivated by "because of," not "in order to." In this regard, the Sermon on the Mount begins as the Decalogue begins, with a statement of God’s gracious initiative: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of bondage" (Exod. 20:2). Some Christian characterizations of Judaism forget the words of grace in the Old Testament. In fact, some Christians are so anxious to rush to the Sermon on the Mount’s moral and ethical instructions that they overlook the initial word that God’s blessing is the context for all our behavior and relationships.”
This is God’s grace poured out upon us before during and after we engage in such kin-dom living.
One commentator looks at this as if one were in an art gallery. You see a work of art and you take it in as a whole you enjoy it as something unique and beautiful. Then you step into a class on the artist and the work and you look closely and see the intricate and the intimate the work becomes even more astounding a you know the tiny decisions and work that makes up the whole.
“The way Jesus paints his portrait; he gives us 8 details that we can look at. One problem we have this morning is that this is an incredibly rich portrait. Each detail is picking up strands, themes and verses from the Old Testament. Each detail is challenging and really needs us to spend time reflecting on it, thinking about it, and asking God to give us a greater resemblance to the person in the picture.”
Poor in spirit … this person knows that what they have is miniscule and unworthy of God. Before God all is diminished. No matter all their good deeds, their wonderful loving way of being, the works and prayers they offer…in spite of all that in their soul they know they are but a drop in the ocean of God’s love…they are poor in spirit.
The person who mourns…this is the person that in-spite of joy and living life to the fullest they are always keenly aware of the grief and sorrow that is in the world. They know in their heart that the word is still being created and in the unfinished glory there is great sorrow and pain. Though their life may be blessed there is always a tinge of sorrow. They mourn for the world.
Then there are the meek…these are not weak individuals that is something quite different the meek are those who patiently listen and pray. Often the prayer is Lord let me get out of the way and thy will be done… they live into God’s will knowing their will is not their own for they are walking in the way of the lord…they are meek.
Congratulations to the gentle one…the one who approaches life as a sacred, priceless, work of art to be admired and loved. It is in their loving and care that they shall inherit the earth
The ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness are an interesting breed for though they fight the good fight and are always seeking to bring God’s kindom on earth just as it is in heaven, they will always be hungry and thirsty for more for with each victory comes ten more battles. I think we all know one or two people like this…
Next God congratulates the merciful. These are the ones who kindness and generosity are right there for all to see. They offer comfort to others before seeking their own. They believe in the redemption of each and every one even if the road to redemption is harder for some than others they always see the possibility and seek to find a way…this is the person who literally visits the sick, the prisoner, the shut in this is the person who will give till they have nothing left and then give some more…
The pure in heart “Look at them in public; look at them at work; look at them relating to their family at home; look at their Facebook presentation; look at them on their knees before God; cut them open any way you want – it’s the same person. No hypocrisy. No double standards. Pure, devoted to God, whichever way you look.”
Those who create peace…These are the people that can hear rumor, inuendo, and hate speech and gently and lovingly stop it in it tracks, these are the people who intuitively know how to lead people into sacred conversation and holy listening in order to find a way past conflict…these are the people who literally work toward the peaceful kindom..
Congratulations to the persecuted to those who do their best, who do their blessed, who do everything right and yet the world doesn’t want to work that way. So many times, it seems as if the world around us strives on everything that is opposite of the beatitudes and there for the ones who are working towards the kin dom of God are the ones who end up persecuted, hated threatened. yet even in the midst of all this they are congratulated.
“Today’s hero is someone who is independent, who can stand on their own two feet. Who plans responsibly for the future? Who is more concerned with tolerance than with what is right? Who is good fun to have around? Who is popular?
Jesus says: Blessed are the poor in Spirit. Congratulations to those who know they have nothing to offer God. Can you imagine a gravestone that says: “1924 to 2011? Lived a great life, but nothing that would impress God”?
Jesus says: Blessed are those who mourn. Can you imagine an obituary that extolled someone for the way they regularly literally wept over their shortcomings before God? “If only more people were like this,” the column read.
Jesus says: Blessed are the meek. Can you imagine a professional – perhaps a sportsperson, a politician, a scientist, or an author. They are accused by the press of all kinds of scandalous things – both in their private lives, and in their professional world. Their career ends with a whimper because they refuse to take the paper to court, they won’t work to clear their name, because they know that God will one day right all wrongs. And can you imagine the press changing its mind, and holding this person up as a role-model for their quiet trust in their God?
Jesus says: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Parents want all kinds of things for their children. A good education. A loving marriage. Two healthy children. A successful career. How many parents would say that they don’t mind if their children achieve none of these things, as long as they strive to have a God-like character?
Get the world to draw its portrait of the person deserving congratulation, of the person who has achieved true happiness and great fortune, and it does not look like the portrait that Jesus paints. The world may like one or two of the details, but not the whole picture. The person Jesus draws are the kind of person that the world is inclined to pity rather than to admire.”
God’s favor is granted to those whom society regards as the ones left behind: the poor in spirit, the meek, the mourners, the merciful, those hungering for justice, the pure hearted, the makers of peace, those mistreated for the cause of justice. On these Jesus pronounces God’s congratulations, with these God identifies in Jesus, to these comes the Good News of God’s interceding grace. What a reversal of values and fortunes! Many of these are victims, to be sure, but the beatitudes deliver them from a victim mentality. Just as there is a difference between being a servant and being servile, so there is a difference between being victimized and regarding oneself as a victim. Those who in the face of violence, oppression, abuse and neglect continue to turn the other cheek, go the second mile and share possessions even with accusers are not really victims. They are in a very real and profound sense victors, set free to live by hearing Jesus extend to them the beatitude of God.”
So, congratulations to you yes, each one of you for as we walk the walk of being Christians at one time or another some days more somedays less, we live out these beatitudes. As community we shall continue to strive and seek out ways to be worthy of these congratulations…seek out ways into which better live into these beatitudes that we may help bring into possibility Gods Kin-dom here on earth just as it is in heaven! Amen.
 King, Nicholas. The Bible: a Study Bible Freshly Translated by Nicholas King. Kevin Mayhew Ltd, 2013.