A New Blessed The Beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-12 Chris Oakton Church of the Brethren

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1 A New Blessed The Beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-12 Chris Oakton Church of the Brethren Rev. Sam Pascoe once gave a shortened version of the history of Christianity. It went something like this: Christianity started in Palestine as a fellowship of followers; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy of thinkers; it moved to Italy and became the institution of an Empire; it moved to Europe and became a cultural ethos; and it came to America and became a business enterprise. The trouble is that each time we moved further away from our underlying purpose, we adopted un-expected baggage as the Body of Christ. For example, when a body becomes a business, as has been pointed out by others, it s called prostitution And that s a problem. But this current form of our faith-distortion is no better or worse than the others. Each time we move away from the underlying purpose of faith, we adopt unexpected baggage as the Body of Christ. So when faith was acculturated in Europe it got confused and we inherited a problem. And when, as an institution of empire, faith turned from making disciples to making laws, there was a different problem. And when faith became a philosophy and replaced discipleship with belief, we it happened again. Every step away from the initial and underlying purpose of faith lent its own challenge to our current dilemma in the church. Why is it, as an article forwarded to me this week explained, that some of the growing number people who currently say no to church are saying say yes to Jesus. So maybe the church needs to reconsider its current whereabouts in relation to Jesus. Because if people are feeling more connected to Jesus while feeling more disconnected from church then it begs the question: what do they see in Jesus that they don t see in church? (See here: yes_to_jesus a_theologies /

2 Brethren Anabaptists are familiar with this question. We began asking this question over 300 years ago as a fellowship of followers who refused the coercive power of the state, abandoned the complex philosophies of doctrinal creeds, adopted a style of living and dressing that set us outside the popular culture and instead, simply, peaceably, together, wanted to follow Jesus. We responded to the gospel proclaimed by Jesus (Repent/turn! The Kingdom of Heaven has come near) and joined the Jesus-led caravan toward God s Kingdom,,, Setting aside all competing allegiance and idolatries, to re-new the underlying purpose of the earliest church as a fellowship of followers of Jesus. Greek philosophy isn t all bad. And we probably gained something when Christianity stepped in that direction. But what did we lose when the Christian gospel was forced into the straightjacket of Greek dualism and Hellenistic categoricals of omnipotence, omniscience and the omni-everything-ness of god? Likewise, 500 years later, there were probably some real benefits to Christianity s move into the empire of Rome and the imperialism of the Catholic Empire. One wonders if the Christian faith would have made it through the dark ages without this kind of authoritative control. But Christian faith is polluted by power. There are still residuals from converting the self-giving love of Jesus into the swordwielding authority of the state. And perhaps faith gained important gifts, 500 years later, when we turned the counter-cultural message of Jesus into the normalized cultural of the civilized world. Yet one wonders what s been lost when people no longer can tell the difference between cultural and spiritual dimensions of life. As a German Christian told me recently: The European church is dying, so they are turning the old cathedrals into museums. To be honest, it s not that big of a change. And 500 years later, perhaps the church gained insight from business. Yet even as Christianity gained from these adaptions; it has also been polluted by them. So Instead of taking these pseudo-christian layers of faith as truth, we are being invited to strip the layers away and get back to the basics of following Jesus. Strip away doctrines shaped by Hellenistic philosophy which demands we make sense before we make disciples. Abandon the authoritarian, creedalized boundaries of

3 Christian imperialism that work so hard to keep some people in and some people out. Let go of the illusion that churches are country clubs where membership is our ticket to ride. or that we can acculturate and domesticate an un-confinable God. Stop treating the body of Christ like a business and learn that value comes not from what the market will bare ;-) but from what the cross can hold. Strip these away. Differentiate the purpose of Jesus from the products of church. Resist the temptation to measure success by size (as though we are adolescents comparing breasts and biceps). Fight the drive to define value in profitability as though Jesus can be listed on the stock market or faith is consumable. Battle the temptation to see power in violence or authority in coercion. You see? Now is the time to empty our closets. Now is the time to renew discipleship over productivity --- to reclaim our purpose instead of our program, the underlying call of faith instead of the individual practices of the church. It is the same for individuals as it is for churches. Life takes on new meaning, passion, and energy when we re-connect with our purpose. Books like the Purpose Driven Life remind us that one purpose of church is to reconnect people with their purpose in God their creator. Another tool that helps reconnect purpose with action is Don Miller s Storyline life-management system. Each morning I list projects I m working on, things I need to do, and appointments I have scheduled standard time management. But then at the bottom of the page I write down what my life theme is. Or at least what my life theme is this week. In other words, what is my purpose? And I find that naming a purpose filters what I do with what I m called to be. What if every program committee at Oakton Church asked not what are we doing? And, instead asked, Why? This feels born of the Spirit to me: that over the next three months every committee and staff person spend time asking why instead of how. What-for instead of what! Let s not do a single practice or program this year if we cannot see its connection to the purpose of our faith.

4 Let me take one example: Last Sunday we held our January Congregational Business Meeting. This is the meeting each year, required by our plan of organization, in which each committee reports what it did in the previous year and what they hope to do in the future. It s the meeting where church members can ask about and guide ministries: make suggestions and offer encouragement. What if we saw that meeting as an act of faith instead of a constitutional requirement? Discipleship instead of business? What if we considered our list of activities more like an offering to God instead of a report to shareholders? If to-do lists and done-did lists felt less like business objectives and more like prayer? What if, instead of afternoon church-business, we met in the morning and turned it into God-worship? The two are not mutually exclusive but maybe we need something to remind us of that. Business can be spiritual. Work can be worshipful. Our underlying purpose can be carried, authentically, on many different frames. The difference lies in whether we are being connected or disconnected from our spiritual purpose---whether we recognize, within our doing, the presence of God s being. Listen, if we cannot connect people to the purpose of God in a business meeting we probably don t do much better in worship. Thomas Merton wrote [quote] A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire. [unquote] And here at Oakton just as in every individual life, we would do well to pause and ask: what is our underlying purpose? What is the end that we live for? Why are we here? Stripped of its countless layers of interpretation and coloring over time, what is the essential good news of God s Incarnation in our life? I invite us to look at that question this year... beginning next month the Vital Ministry Journey Bible studies will be offered for everyone who makes this church their spiritual home. And for those in leadership here, I invite our board and committees and deacons in the next three months, to set aside meeting time to work together on renewing and reconnecting our sense of calling to make clear how our program directly connects to our purpose in Christ.

5 Let s make sure that what we re doing is connected to why we re doing it. And that why we re doing it is connected to God as disciples of Jesus. Because what we do and how we do it reflects our real purpose more than what we say. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago I re-aggravated my old back injury recently. The doctor prescribed an emergency supply of muscle-relaxants and Opioid painmedications to get me through. Slowly but surely I improved and got off the medications and went to see my doctor. I asked him to prescribe more muscle relaxants and opioid pain medication. I kinda like that stuff. But instead he prescribed physical therapy. I said to him Oh, right! I ve still got those exercise instructions from last time. He said, And do you do the exercises? I know how to do them, I said. But do you actually do them? he asked again. We looked at each other and I said: You re not going to give me more pain meds are you!? He smiled and said: Let s try to find a long-term answer instead. If my underlying purpose was to be pain free in the short term I could just stick with these wonderful drugs. We ve always done it that way and it works! Addiction schmadiction. What could possibly go wrong?! But if my underlying purpose is to be pain free in the long term to be healthier and stronger. to get back to what God created me to be instead of what, in brokenness I have become, well then I need to actually do something about it that strengthens and heals the way I live day-to-day. For Brethren Anabaptists this kind of questioning and recalibrating is at the heart of what we are about. Ultimately and essentially we rest our answers about our ultimate purpose in Jesus. Not a superman Jesus who swoops in and saves us from our current dilemma or sin, but an incarnational God who accompanies us and shows us the way a new kind of death-defying life in Jesus our Lord. i In his book The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials of Radical Faith Stuart Murray explains that the core conviction, the primary purpose of faith from the

6 perspective of the Anabaptists is that we follow Jesus. As the incarnation and focal point of God s revelation, Jesus is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer and Lord. He is the source of our life, the central reference point for our faith, the overriding guide of our lifestyle. And it is through him that we understand what we are to be as a church together and how we engage with society. We re called not just to believe in Jesus but to follow him. We are simply a fellowship of followers adopting a different way of living in Jesus. Laying aside the philosophies of human knowledge we put on the foolishness of the cross. Shifting from Christendom to discipleship, and stripped of the love of power and the expectation of privilege we learn to love Jesus and carry a strong meekness. Shifting from triumphalism to self-sacrifice we are people who sacrifice for others as agents of the mercy of God since He first loved us. Shifting from arrogance to humility, now from the margins instead of the center, we impact a culture shaped by forces other than faith. Following Jesus who asked either times as many questions as he answered, we shift from telling to asking. We know that the real answers people are looking for come from a source beyond our limited language s ability even to fully describe. Mourning the loss of what used to be we hunger for the kingdom of heaven that is come to be and rededicate ourselves to continue the work of Jesus. Peacefully, Simply, Together. So it is no wonder that we turn to the Sermon on the Mount --- this section of the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus presents, as succinctly and directly as possible, his vision and instruction for those who would follow him. And the one who saves us begins his sermon with a set of upside-down concepts of blessedness called the beatitudes He lists what and who is blessed in this God-centered Kingdom of Heaven. And our to-do list gives way to a to-be list as we hear the new blessedness priorities of God and our calling to join in God s blessing where God sees fit to be at work. We reconnect with our purpose as Jesus reminds us of God s priorities above and beyond those of Greek

7 philosophers, or Roman Empires, or boundaries churches, or social norms, or business practices. It s a completely different way of living: 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 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. => And all of a sudden we see again the hope that God offers in Jesus Christ the ministry he calls for in this upside down kingdom we ve claimed. We recognize once more that God has acted shockingly, dramatically, unexpectedly as he always said he would: with new life from within the death that overwhelms us the light that shines in the darkness as we reconnect with the hope of our calling, the source of our reconciliation, the real purpose of our fellowship of followers. Amen i Some may complain that this sounds like Works Righteousness. And it does. But we believe that the dualistic dichotomy of faith vs. works is a false one. Faith is not the opposite of works. Belief is. Faith includes both belief and action --- claiming Christ AND Following Christ. Lots of people believe in Jesus; fewer want to follow him. But Jesus himself asks (Luke 6:46): Why do you call me ' Lord, Lord' and do not do what I say? Yes. Brethren confess, as do many other Christian traditions, that salvation comes by grace through faith alone, not as a result of good works (Eph. 2:8-9). And in that confession we recognize that while good works are not an influence on Grace, they are a part of faith. Thus, in Romans 4:1-8, Hebrews 11, we hear both the faith and the works counted as righteousness but salvation coming only through unmerited grace.

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