Sunday January 29, 2017
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Turner
Attuned to the Father's love – becoming blest.
Three weeks ago I talked a little about mountain tops and their significance in the scriptures and how that has inspired great men like Martin Luther King to have courage in the face of adversity.
In our gospel reading today we have another of those definitive mountain top experiences, this time involving Jesus and his disciples. Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the mountain: This is often portrayed as Jesus going up higher so he can be seen and heard by the crowd. However, the text does not suggest that. Could it more likely be that Jesus climbed the mountain to get away from the crowds? That this is, actually, a special moment for the disciples and the Lord rather than some great sermon to a massed gathering? Numerous times in the gospels, and especially in in the early part of his ministry, Jesus sought private and deserted places where he could rest and pray. We are told that he taught his disciples in private, reserving the use of parables for the masses. Was this one such occasion of intimate teaching between Jesus and his disciples? If so, then it is of huge significance; it echoes the mountain top experiences of Moses, Joshua, and the elders of Israel. We read in the book of Exodus how the Hebrew tribes had arrived at Mount Sinai, where God made a covenant with them. That covenant was sealed in the blood of sacrifice and Moses sprinkled the blood not only on the altar, but on the people of Israel. Then we read these amazing words: “Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, [that is, up the mountain] and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. Goddid not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank.” (Exodus 24:9-11)
They beheld the God of Israel.
This was to prefigure the mountain of the Transfiguration, the gospel passage we shall read just before we enter the season of Lent. There, on the mountain, Peter, James and John beheld the glory of God in Jesus as he was transfigured in their sight and, significantly, Moses and Elijah were there – who met with God on mountaintops. There, the disciples heard the voice of the Father “This is my Son, the Beloved;with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (See Matthew 17:1-7)
Listen to him.
They had listened to him on the mountain when he first taught them; when he taught them about being blessed. When he taught them about the Kingdom of God.
Being blessed is about a qualitative relationship with God; that same relationship that the Lord taught his disciples about throughout his ministry on earth. That same relationship that he demonstrated in his own prayer-life. In the upper room, just before he went up to another high place - the mount of olives -Jesus prayed for his disciples that they should be one with him as he was one with his Father. Blessedness is not reward for a life well lived; blessedness is a state of life filled with grace because of the relationship that one has with the Father and the Holy Spirit through Jesus and in Jesus. It is an attunement of our lives to God the Father.
Archbishop Rowan Williams once suggested that in order to understand the power of the Beatitudes (that’s what we call the passage we have heard in the Gospel reading today – blessed are the poor in spirit…blessed are the meek…the beatitudes) then we have to look back to the narrative that precedes this sermon on the mount – to chapter four of Matthew’s Gospel and the story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Williams suggests that it is the third and most terrible temptation that is the most compelling as we try to understand the beatitudes shared with the disciples on the mountain. This third temptation also takes place on a mountain, but not just any mountain; Matthew says that it was a very high mountain. From there, the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth in their splendor and offered that splendor to him in exchange for falling down and worshipping him. The response of Jesus is the key to our understanding of the beatitudes – on that mountain, Jesus did not choose a relationship with human power and self-aggrandizement; instead he chose the perfect relationship that he already had with his Father and which relationship he would share with his friends. “‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’ (Matthew 4:10)
The beatitudes are not a blue-print for church life, neither are they a stoic way of dealing with disappointment. The beatitudes are the values of the Kingdom and the making visible of that Kingdom here on earth. As Rowan Williams has said: It all moves towards that tremendous vision of the visibility of the Kingdom in the lives of believers. Light - the light shining before the world so that people will give glory to the Father.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to make his kingdom visible through lives that are Christ-like. We are blessèd when we put God first and not the values of the world:
Blessed are the poor in spirit – when we rely on God and not our own strength – this first beatitude brings the Kingdom of God to the heart of our spiritual journey; when we recognize our need of God.
Blessed are those who mourn – but not for the things they have lost or, maybe, even wished that had, but for their own brokenness that allows God to comfort them.
Blessed are the meek - or better, the gentle – who model a different way of dealing with conflict and division – yes, they truly will inherit the earth for they can be trusted with its stewardship.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – but righteousness rooted in the Good news – the gospel of Jesus Christ who came to make people free. As Rowan Williams has put it, “It involves both social justice, and the justice of love and honesty between believers, which is the life-blood of real Christian community,” – making the Church a community of righteous living.
Blessed are the pure in heart – this takes us back to the temptations and the lure of the world; purity is not separating ourselves from the world and all the filth that is in it – it is centering the soul on God so that we recognize God in our midst, and shining as a light or a beacon of hope that will change and transform the poverty and the brokenness of the world.
Blessed are the peacemakers – yes, children of God they will be, because they are in tune with his redemptive love; on the cross, on the ultimate mountain top experience, Jesus made peace possible for all the human race, stretching out his arms of love and bearing the scars of man’s indifference.
Blessed are those who are persecuted. Yes, it is hard coming down from the mountain – and Jesus does not stop there… “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kind of evil against you…” and here is the key of the Beatitudes my friends…why is it good to be persecuted and reviled and slandered? Because it means that people recognize the kingdom in their midst – they see Jesus proclaimed – they are challenged by his presence in their midst. They are, as it were, invited up the mountain to behold the glory and the light of the Lord. “Rejoice and be glad,” says Jesus. Yes, dear friends, rejoice and be glad! For if we center ourselves on the Lord and come close to the Father’s love, then through the action of the Holy Spirit we shall truly be blessed and our lives a blessing to others.
 Bible study given to a conference in Wales, August 31, 2000.