Our current theme is Unexpected. We’ve had the logo up here for awhile. It’s a subtle nod to the TV show Stranger Things. In the show, the world is literally turned upside down. Things don’t make sense. The unexpected occurs.
At the time of Jesus’ ministry, the people were occupied by Rome. The people were being over-taxed, taken advantage of. The people of Israel were praying for a leader. They wanted a king to come and release them from occupation. They were looking for hope.
It feels like our world has turned upside down. Laws across the globe are being passed based on fear and hate. People are being oppressed. Families are being separated and visitors are being turned away at airports. We, too, seem to be looking for a glimpse of hope.
The people of Israel’s prayers for a messiah were answered in the form of a baby. They received hope in a manger. This was completely unexpected.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at Jesus preparing for ministry. Last week we looked at how he chose his team of Disciples — completely unexpected people, those looked over by the rest of society. Tonight, we’re looking at his jump into ministry.
We learn from Luke’s gospel that Jesus announced his ministry by entering a synagogue and quoting from Isaiah 61, which reads:
The LORD God’s spirit is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and a day of vindication for our God, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for Zion’s mourners, to give them a crown in place of ashes, oil of joy in place of mourning, a mantle of praise in place of discouragement. Isaiah 61 (CEB)
Jesus announces his ministry by telling a few people in a synagogue he has come to bring hope to those oppressed and hurting. He has come to bring liberation and comfort. Jesus has come to bring good news to all that need to hear it.
This message of hope spread throughout the land. The end of Matthew chapter 4 explains that “Large crowds followed [Jesus] from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from areas beyond the Jordan river.”
Word of this unexpected teacher bringing hope and healing spread all over and people traveled great distances to see him and to be healed by him. Our scripture tonight picks up at this point. It’s the beginning of what is called the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ first major proclamation of the Kingdom of God.
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up a mountain. He sat down and his disciples came to him.
He taught them, saying:
“Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
“Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad.
“Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.
“Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full.
“Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy.
“Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God.
“Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children.
“Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
“Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me. Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before you. Matthew 5:1–12 (CEB)
Other translations read “blessed” instead of “happy.” I did some research and the original Hebrew word translates to something along the lines of “Oh the blessings of the hopeless…”
Imagine, for a moment, you have heard of this teacher and healer named Jesus. There’s no internet so you can’t look anything up. No TV. No radio. But word has spread that he is delivering hope and healing into a broken world. You want to see it for yourself. You travel a great distance. By foot. You get to the place where the crowd is, eager to hear what the man is going to say. He opens his mouth and his first words are: “Oh the blessings of the hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”
Talk about unexpected.
These nine statements are known as the Beatitudes. This is a word that comes from the Latin word for happiness, which is why our translation uses “happy.” The Beatitudes are Jesus’ nine statements on the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus’ ministry explains that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. That means that today, now, the Kingdom of God is here. Not something to be longed for. Not something to look forward to after we die. But something here, right now.
When Jesus gets up on the mountain and says, “Oh the blessings of the hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs,” he means it. Not for the future, but for right now. For all those hearing the message that are experiencing hopelessness, brokenness. Both then and today. And forever more.
All of the Beatitudes are this way. They are present-tense realities for a people experiencing pain and uncertainty. I see the Beatitudes as a declaration of what makes up the Kingdom of God — of God’s people.
We are hurting. We are broken. We grieve. We mourn. We strive for humility and mercy and long for justice. We try to come to God with open and pure hearts. We get walked on by people in power. We get looked down upon. We are bullied. We are mocked… yet through it all, we are given God’s Kingdom.
This is truly radical.
Jesus gets up on that mountain and turns the world upside down by telling everyone it’s not about having it all together. It’s not about looking the part or saying the right words. It’s not about having power or being in command. It’s not about striving for perfection, or even goodness. The Kingdom of heaven is given to us, the broken people. And we should be blessed in our brokenness.
Yesterday I sat on the couch and my heart broke as I read stories about people being detained at airports. I read the story of an Iraqi man who has been in a refugee camp for a few years. His wife and son live outside of Houston. His son, seven years old, recently wrote a letter to Santa at their local mall asking for his dad to come home. Yesterday was going to be that day. A surprise for his son that he was finally able to come home. To his new home. Then he was detained at an airport in New York.
I sat on the couch and felt the world truly turning upside down.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us that those who are hopeless are blessed in their hopelessness and the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. This is radical. Jesus also tells us that those who make peace and those who hunger for justice are his children.
This is a message we need to hear today, just as much as the people on the side of the mountain needed to hear it then. Our world may be upside down, but Jesus has given his Kingdom to all of us. He’s given it to the refugee who has been jumping through hoops for years, who was just told the place of their birth poses a problem. The Kingdom is given to the person hurting and looking for any sign of hope. Jesus has given his Kingdom to you and to me.
Jesus warns us that the Kingdom comes with a price. He says, “Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me. Be full of joy and be glad…” Being a Christian isn’t always easy. Jesus knew this would be the case from the beginning.
When we proclaim that message of inclusivity — when you and I truly own that message and live it — then it may have implications in how we are treated. To stand here and say that Christ’s Kingdom is open to all, regardless of their place of birth, might stir anger in someone. But Jesus’ message to love our neighbor is a truly radical statement that requires us to turn the world upside down.
Yesterday a friend posted a flyer that said “If you were born in the USA, Canada, Iraqi, Australia, Syria, anywhere, you are welcome here. If you are 10, 26, 74, 37, however old, you are welcome here.” This flyer shows what loving your neighbor looks like. The flyer wasn’t for their church, it was for their roller derby league.
We, as followers of Jesus who believe in his message of loving our neighbors need to stand up and live it out.
I read the flyer and realized that I have been complacent for too long. That flyer should be the welcoming message that Jesus’ people unveil in every place they are. I have not done a great job at that myself. My complacency hit me in the face and I realized that I could do better.
This isn’t easy. In fact, for some of us proclaiming God’s Kingdom might be difficult. It might bring us unwanted Facebook comments or texts or people may tune us out or even end friendships. Yet, if we are insulted because we deliver Jesus’ message of love, Jesus tells us we should be full of joy and be glad as a result. Talk about unexpected.
In the show Stranger Things the world is flipped upside down. It turns into a dark, shadow-filled place. It’s scary. When Jesus steps onto the side of a mountain and flips the world upside down, he shows us joy. He shows us that we’re blessed in our humanity and imperfection. He provides hope.
Our world may feel like a dark and shadow-filled place. But we are called to turn the world upside down and be Christ’s light in the darkness. We’re called to bring Christ’s hope in the world. Jesus calls each of us to proclaim that all are welcome and all are deserving of love because the Kingdom of God is just as much theirs as it is ours.