When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: – Matthew 5:1-2 (NRSV)
I’m not a lectionary preacher for many reasons, but I find myself following it in this season of Epiphany. My congregation is going out three times between New Years and Lent to lead worship for other congregations. I am staying behind at Tudor Oaks, because we will have a few people who won’t travel to the other churches and because we have 15-20 residents who worship with us each week. This week, the lectionary has us beginning the Sermon on the Mount. As I prepared for this week’s message, Jesus’ words were in constant conversation with the news out of Washington. We are one week into the new administration; Jesus’ words have never been more relevant.
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. – Matthew 5:3-6 (NRSV)
Jesus offers these blessings to those who have nothing to offer in return. Instead, Jesus sees hurt and suffering and begins to bind up the broken-hearted. Jesus says to them, “I see you. I am with you. I love you.” Jesus doesn’t care whether you have money or power or strength. Jesus sets no requirements regarding the country of your birth, the status of your papers, the affiliation of your politics, the gender you identify with, or the family you have been born into. There is no requirement of faith or religious affiliation. And neither are there any prohibitions. This is what love says and does.
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 falsely 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. – Matthew 5:7-12 (NRSV)
As Jesus continues speaking blessing, it becomes clear that he realizes that not all find themselves with empty hands. Some have mercy to offer others. Some find themselves aligned with the heart of God and are able to see the image of God in others. Some are willing to suffer on behalf of others because there is no peace without justice. It’s not that Jesus is requiring these things. Rather, Jesus is offering us a chance to bless as Jesus blesses. Jesus is offering the blessed an opportunity to be a blessing.
Like every American, when it comes to politics, I make secular choices in secular elections. My vote is influenced by my opinion on the role of government and foreign policy. People of faith vote different ways.
But as a Christian, all of these choices are under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
I have freely surrendered my words and actions and allowed them to be captive to Jesus. I have given myself no choice but to read Jesus’ words and see Jesus’ actions in the Gospels and try to do the same. For this reason, there is no option to stay silent in the face of environmental recklessness, fear-mongering, lying, lack of care for those in need, and injustice. Because this is not what love says or does.
And so the question we face today is not how we will vote. It is whether or not we will accept Jesus’ invitation. Will we extend the grace that we have so freely received? And will we do it in the way of Jesus, with no strings attached?
After all, this is what love says and does.
Jesus, Lover of our Souls, you lavish your grace on us in the freedom of your own love rather than impossibility of our merit. Love is the commandment you gave to us, and too often we see it as an obligation rather than an invitation.
Show us how to love others with a merciful and pure heart.
May the incomprehensible peace that you have breathed us on be the breath that forms the words we speak and fuels the works of our hands.
Give us the courage to follow your example as we count and accept the cost of seeking justice for others.
May we love not so that we can see the Kingdom of Heaven but because we are already a part of it. Amen.