Complementary Text – Psalm 1:1-3
Preaching Text – Matthew 5:1-20
+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned. (Matthew 4:16, NRSV)
These powerful and hopeful words appeared back in chapter four to describe what was happening as Jesus’ ministry began. Having bested Satan in a battle of wills, Jesus began to travel throughout the Galilean countryside north of Jerusalem, calling disciples, bringing healing and wholeness to many, and proclaiming to all the good news that would be his life’s message – Turn your lives around! The Reign of Heaven – or Heaven’s Rule – has drawn near!
This morning, we get our first chance to hear Jesus unpacking that message, revealing just what it means for us to live in a world in which Heaven’s Reign has broken loose. Today’s reading includes an excerpt from one of the most important bodies of religious teaching ever assembled – the so-called Sermon on the Mount. Specifically, we hear the well-loved words that have come to be known as the “Beatitudes”, a description related to the Latin word for “blessed”. If Jesus’ coming represents the dawning of light for people who live in a region of shadow and death, then the Beatitudes are an expansion on that theme. What has generally happened in this world – in Jesus’ day or in our own – to “the poor in spirit”, the mourners, the meek, the hungry, and the thirsty? They aren’t often celebrated. Often they are all but invisible. The world’s attention centers far more often on those who are contented and self-assured, who see the world as their oyster and scheme to seize their place in it, who are unsatisfied unless their own will is done on earth. Jesus’ words to that assembled crowd of disciples and seekers (and, by extension, to us), reveals who will receive acknowledgement and celebration in Heaven’s Reign. In Jesus, light has dawned – not on those who have it all together, but on those who pine for acceptance even as they wonder if there is a place for them anywhere. Light has dawned – not on the happy and satisfied, but on those who lament that this world does not reflect God’s design. Light has dawned – not on those who wield power for their own sake, but on those who yearn for justice and peace to be done and for God’s reign to be realized on earth. This dawning light has arrived to lift up those who are despised or ignored by the world, and to reveal God’s steadfast love for those who seek God’s will by granting them the promise that they will receive what they could only dream of: Heaven’s reign, a word of comfort, a place to call home, and a thirst for justice satisfied by God’s righteous hand.
That incredible message of hope is also a message about discipleship. After giving words of encouragement to those beaten down by the world, Jesus charges his followers to support the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, and those who are yearning for God’s will to be done. Suddenly, congratulations are due not to those who give people what they deserve by the world’s standards, but to those who do the hard work of revealing God’s merciful love to all. Congratulations are due, not to those who astound us with their wide variety of skills honed to impress others, but to those whose single-minded focus on God reflects God’s desire to make the world “right”. Congratulations are due not to those who rule by might or deception, but to those who seek to bring peace and renewed relationships to their families, their communities, and our world. Whether you are downtrodden yourself or you seek to lift up the downtrodden, Jesus offers a hopeful word of grace that allows us to see our world with new eyes.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Matthew adds a word of encouragement to this message of hope and vocation. As we seek to serve one another and the world around us, Jesus teaches that the light of Christ that has dawned upon us is also reflected to the world through us. We, as individuals and as a community of faith, are the light of the world, a light that shines with the hope and joy and love of the good news of Jesus. Through our daily calling to be the hands and feet and voice of Christ to a world in need, we have the opportunity to be messengers of that good news in a thousand different ways that are mostly unseen, but are sometimes unmistakable. Sometimes that light shines through nothing more than a kind word spoken to a friend or neighbor. Sometimes it shines when we let ourselves leave center stage and regard someone else’s needs as more important than our own. Sometimes it shines when we rally together to provide shelter or warmth or welcome to people in need in our community and beyond. Sometimes it shines when we remember our partnership with brothers and sisters around our state, our nation, and our world, and we join in tackling the most vexing problems that exist in the globe today. In all kinds of ways, both large and small, we have the gift and the calling of being light for the world, serving others so that God might be glorified by what we say and do.
As we gather today following worship for our annual congregational meeting, I can think of no better image to keep before us in our deliberations. The Bible speaks often about the actions of people as illuminating or shadowing God and God’s purposes for the world. Through the word of Scripture, the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, and the support that we grant to one another in both joy and adversity, we who have been joined to the death and resurrection of Christ have been brought from death into life, from darkness into light. Our words, our deeds, our relationships with one another and with the world around us, all of these can reflect the light that has been poured out on us in Jesus, or they can obscure the Sun of Righteousness that shines in our midst. We who enjoy the grace of God in Christ by the power of the Spirit have a choice this year: will we choose to be the light of the world so that God might be glorified, or will we allow our own wants and desires to hold us back from the Spirit’s leading? It is my prayer that we will commit ourselves once again to the difficult but rewarding task of being Christ for the world, showing by all that we say and do as a congregation our trust in and love for our Lord Jesus. May our light so shine before others that they may see our good works, give glory to our Father in heaven, and glimpse for themselves that Heaven’s Reign has drawn near. Thanks be to God for granting us the light of Christ and calling us to spread that light today and always. Amen.