We Are Kingdom People
Karl Barth, who was a rather well known biblical scholar around the turn of the 20th Century, he famously said that preachers must have “the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.” Barth meant a couple of things when he said this, first – that ministers have to take into account the time, context and the audience in which they seek to preach the Gospel… And he meant also that the Bible isn’t just some ancient/stale book, but one that lives and breathes today… so it probably has something to say about the happenings in our world.
With that being said, I had a conundrum come my way this week as I was preparing this morning’s sermon. The social significance of today suggests that I should probably talk about some football… This is Superbowl Sunday after all!!! I should probably layer in some sports terminology, add a few quips about the Seahawks and the Broncos. Because this is our context for the day..
But, there is a second occasion that we are marking this weekend as well… This weekend holds the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. And with him being one of the greatest voices in non-violence ever… he is an important figure to mention and discuss…
So the conundrum… do I talk action packed/ helmet meeting helmet football… or do I talk about the greatest figure in non-violence that this world has ever seen- Mahatma Gandhi? I found this conundrum to be really kind of humorous this week as I prepared my sermon illustration. Then I got to thinking… who says that we can’t have football and Gandhi in the same message?… so there you are. For today they shall walk side by side. Pro-football and non-violence. So, hold on to your hats…. Or helmets… or something like that.
Without further ado… lets open our time of message in prayer.
God of Blessing! We are here in your house today to talk about, and wonder at your great Kingdom. Lord, grant us ears that might hear. Hearts that might mold and change. Minds that are curious and growing. Let your word and truth be heard here today. Amen.
With the Superbowl coming up, due to start in about six hours, all eye have been on the Seahawks and the Broncos. The two teams that are going to face-off. And if you turned on the National News this week, or if you (like me) go online to read the headlines, and most especially if you catch Sports Center… you may have noticed that there is an absolute flood of coverage regarding a certain boisterous football player on the Seattle Seahawks. At a game just 2 weeks ago Richard Sherman, came off the field after what turned out to be a game winning play and he was immediately interviewed by one of the sideline coverage anchors. Well he, clearly, was still pretty hyped up from his time on the field because he really botched the interview. He came off the field ranting, talking trash, and all and all he came across as a bad sport. So, now…. along with a having to pay a hefty $8000 fine for his poor behavior during the game… Sherman has had to deal with a ton of media fall out. Every major news source was covering this moment of crazed trash talk… One reporter said that in that interview he made a million Americans Bronco fans in just 20 seconds.
Now Richard Sherman is usually a pretty charismatic player, the media love him in general, what one might call confidence is kind of compelling. Most days he is fairly well spoken…
But in an effort to respond to all of this negative media coverage, he wrote an article called the “10 Things I Learned After America Found Out About Me.” In here he quotes Irvin Himmel, when he said, “No one has ever made himself great by showing how small someone else is.” Which is a solid rule for all athletes and people in power. He also talks about how unexpectedly large the stage is in which he stands. He said he was getting tweets in English, Spanish, French, Italian, Czech and Arabic. And here he is being used as a sermon illustration… I’m sure that would be an unexpected extension of the preverbal stage as well. He also talked about how the violence of the game, what happens out on the field… takes its toll on every area of his life: Physical, metal, and emotional. And defended the words he spoke in the now notorious interview as those that were given out of passion… but he also acknowledged that his actions teach… So there needs to be an awareness as well.
Now, for those of you that have steered clear of any and all Superbowl coverage, and are happy to have no idea what I’m talking about… I assure you that we are heading somewhere with this… the point that I’m trying to introduce… is that our actions, our words, our behavior… affect those around us, and they model to those that come after us.
Athletes (especially professional athletes) know this so very well. Those who are in the spot light on a global stage, those who are open to criticism… they know that their actions speak.
I’ve spoken to some of you about how excited I am for the Winter Olympics to begin! I have Olympic fever big time… but one of the things I love so much about the Olympic events is that the athletes generally display an attitude and a kind of sportsmanship that says that they represent something bigger than themselves: patriotism, the love of challenge, pushing physical limits, the potential of the human body, global comradery, shooting for your dreams! They compete on a truly global stage for the sole purpose of model something thats bigger than themselves.
Now… no body in this room can personally identify with they pressures and representation that comes with being a world renown athlete… certainly not me… But, it is my hope and prayer that we all could embrace the opportunity to represent something bigger, grander, and more than ourselves. To be one voice that speaks to a greater and more perfect truth… The Gospel.
What is that “more” in your life? What do your actions teach? Keep these questions in mind as we consider our Scripture text for the morning.
Our Scripture today is a very familiar passage, commonly known as the Beatitudes, or the Blessings.
Read Matthew 5:1-12
This is the passage that kicks off a section of Matthew’s Gospel is known as “the Sermon on the Mount.” It would be nearly impossible to overestimate the imprint that these words have left on the world. These are some of the most familiar words that Jesus spoke. It holds the very ethic and center of what it means to live a Christian life.
Former President, Harry Truman, once said, “I do not believe there is a problem in this country or the world today which could not be settled if approached through the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount.”
This is a revered and powerful chapter of Christ’s teaching. And for the next few weeks, leading up to Lent, we are going to sink in and study this beloved section of Matthew’s Gospel.
Now, the Sermon on the Mount opens with what we just read: the Beatitudes. If you were in the shoes of a disciple following Christ, up to this point, you would have already seen miracles, healings, and great acts of power. As Jesus traveled through Galilee at the beginning of his ministry his fame and popularity grew quickly… And as word traveled along the trade route about a Healer, about the long awaited Messiah… people from all over Syria would have been flocking to see Christ. As one of that flock, you would have seen Christ’ ministry start with a bang! He was doing something new and exciting, and miraculous every day! Up to this point this was Jesus the Healer! Jesus the Doer! Jesus the Go Getter! Jesus the one that will take the world by storm! That was the kind of man you were following! But then after some time of traveling… they come to a hill and Jesus sits down. This was the posture of a teacher. In those days a prophet or a teacher would sit… and everyone else would stand and gather around to hear their message… Somewhere along the line that got turned around on us… because here I am standing in front of you…
This moment when Christ sits down… he is taking on a whole new role. We have a drastic change in tempo happening here. He went from a fast passed Healer and Doer of great things… to a wise, clever and sage teacher. And what does Jesus teach us about? As his first lesson: the Kingdom of God. Which he teaches to his flock in a list of blessings.
Just for a little bit of perspective here: Matthew, our Gospel writer here, holds a very Jewish point of view on things. … He quotes the Old Testament more than any other Gospel writer… Matthew background is clearly that of a Jew, and his intended audience was likely primarily Jewish as well… When we read Matthew… he writes in a way that asks us to be knowledgeable on the Jewish traditions and the Hebrew Bible… With that in mind… What great figure for the Old Testament also went up on a hill and presented a very important list to the people? … Did you think of Moses on Mount Sinai and the Ten Commandments?
Gold star for you! Jesus’ act here of preaching a list for the top of a hill is significant. It is intended to parallel Moses. It adds authority, a perspective… it add grounds to Jesus at the beginning of His ministry.
Now Jesus teaches us about the Kingdom of God using a list of Blessings. You might have noticed that this list can be split into two parts.
The first four beatitudes- the ones concerning the poor or poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – these four refer to things that are out of our control. If we are poor or our spirits are impoverished; if we are grief stricken and mourning a great lose; if (as one commentator put it) we are better known as a doormat than a captain of industry; if our bodies cry out to God for justice that has long been denied to us… this all beyond our control. These are all conditions of living in a broken world. These are things that are afflicted upon us. Most of which is unavoidable… just part of life- out of our control. Yet in the midst of that Matthew says… “Blessed are those that are suck and floundering in a broken world.” For even though the load we bear is heavy and that the world may overlook us… God see us. God knows the heaviness that rest on your shoulders. “Blessed are those that are afflicted by brokenness… because God is here to fix it!”
The second set of beatitudes- the ones about being merciful, pure of heart, making peace, enduring persecution for the Kingdom’s sake – these are about things that are within our power to act on! These are all choices. We can choose to be merciful and show forgiveness, we can choose (often over and over again) to be pure of heart, we can choose to promote peace rather than sustaining grudges or supporting violence. We can choose to stand up for what is right even if that draws ridicule. These are within our power to choose.
The thing that is really cool about these two sections is that, by making the choices spoken about in the second four… that builds us up to be able to help the people afflicted by the brokenness of the first four beatitudes.
Those who are merciful, those who are pure of heart, those that bring peace, those that can withstand persecution… You are blessed… And Jesus is saying that you can affect and bring blessing to those that are stuck and floundering in a broken world.
And how do we get to be this blessed person that can bring the work of God to those who are afflicted…
Well… we grow through affliction… don’t we? Think about:
All the lessons that you have learned from the times you have been poor, physically poor- emotionally poor – poor in spirit…
All the lessons that have come from the brutal heaviness of mourning a great lose. The death of a spouse. The lose of a career. The fading possibilities of a dream.
All the lessons come from being meek or experiencing an injustice…
Those things teach! Don’t they? Whether we like it or not… experiencing the brokenness of this world… it changes us… Hopefully it grows us. Builds us up so that we can come alongside the next person that has to experience it… and help dust them off afterwards… struggle builds us into blessings.
The Beatitudes are a circle… we are built into blessings so that we may bless. It’s a circle… cause we aren’t always going to be on top of the world – to be that great blessing… and we aren’t always going to be on the bottom… but we always have a role to play. As the giver or as the reciver.
That’s the beauty of the church. Here we have a community of believers… and in moments when we are weak others are strong… and vies versa. That is a beautiful thing!
In his book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer asks, “Is there any place on earth for such a community? Clearly there is one place, and only one, and that is where the poorest, meekest and most sorely tried of all men is to be found—on the cross at Golgotha. The fellowship of the beatitudes is the fellowship of the crucified.”
In those moments when we find our selves at the bottom, when we feel like the victim… When we find our selves at the cross of Golgotha… even then there is a choice that comes our way… we can choose not to let the brokenness win. Not to let what is dark overcome the light… we can choose to accept God’s blessings. We can choose not to give in to the victim mentality… For as Fred Craddock says, “we are no longer victims; we are Kingdom People.”
This was the first lesson that Christ offered about the Kingdom of God. “You are now Kingdom People!” That is a big deal.
We often talk about the Kingdom of God as a far off Heavenly place. As an other-worldly reward. Far off, past the stars. But it turns out that Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of God is now. And that you all are now its people.
But, with being a Kingdom Person, being one that calls out to Christ as our King… comes great responsibility…
I’d like to read to you from the book of Micah.
Read Micah 6:6-8
You cannot buy God’s favor. You cannot earn his attention…
But there is something we can do to honor our King. To live into what it means to be Kingdom People. As Micah says… we are required to do justice. Love kindness. And walk humbly with God.
We are being told to open our eyes. To look around. For there are people in poverty, people that know sorrow, people that are hungry and thirst for truth. And you gotta do something about it. Go there. Help your brother and your sister. Be the blessing that God has built you up to be. That is your responsibility. You are Kingdom People.
Earlier in this sermon I asked you what the “more” is in your life? Meaning that your life and your actions speak to a greater truth. What is that truth that you bear with everything that you do?
It is my prayer that your actions say “I am a Kingdom person!” That “God has built me into a blessing through the hard things in life so that I may be a blessing to other. So that I might bear the truth of God. That is the MORE in my life!”
Ok… I mentioned earlier that I was going to end up talking about football and Gandhi in the same sermon… well here it is.
For most of his life, Mahatma Gandhi, was a great political and spiritual leader in India. He pioneered the ethic of nonviolent resistance. And he read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount every morning. He was convinced that is contained a truth more powerful than the empire that occupied his native land. He was convinced that is contained a truth that was more powerful than the enmity that divided the Hindus and the Muslims. He was convinced that it contained MORE! This great Hindu man spent his life seeking to put Jesus’ teachings into practice for the sake of peace.
Mahatma Gandhi was questioned one time about how convicted he was by Christian Scripture, he was asked why he wasn’t a Christian… and he said, “Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but not Christians – you are not like him.”
Our actions speak… they speak loudly. As Kingdom People. We must choose to act in the face of injustice… we must choose to let our lives be something that attests to a greater truth…
May God grant us a convicted heart. May we be more than we are. Amen.