The Lutheran Women’s League of Great Britain held its Convention online yesterday to which I was invited to lead the opening service and give a devotion. The theme was ‘The Beatitudes’ (Matthew 5:1-12).
Often Christianity is thought of as being about rules and tasks – ‘being good to get to heaven’ is the usual idea. Often people in our society know that in Christianity there is a Jesus and he died on a cross and rose again – and so Jesus must be important. But if I ask why, then often people have to stop and think and then they usually go back to the rules – Jesus died and rose again to tell people that his rules for how to live are important.
The arrests at the Coronation a week ago are newsworthy because it is coming down to interpretations of the law – the rules – and a questioning of the precision of the rules themselves. We live with rules all around us and we often bristle with them just as we can bristle when others don’t follow them. We all remember rules at school – for students or teachers or staff – even down to what to wear. At work – where do I start? Dealing with taxation, driving on the roads, travelling overseas, getting married, funerals, and on and on we go, there are rules for so much of life. Most of the time, the rules are sensible, even good, and we’re wise to follow them – so follow them and good things happen – don’t follow them and take what you get. That’s the way of the world.
So when people hear Jesus talking about blessings which they think of as ‘rewards’ in our reading – and it is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount – I wonder whether people start thinking that these are just another set of rules – rules for Jesus’ followers; for Christians. Be poor in spirit, or meek, pure in heart, and so on and you’ll receive blessings. Don’t be merciful enough, be slack at peace making, or just don’t even want this sort of stuff, don’t like this apparent lifestyle, and you’re in for some heavy punishment. It’s all rules again – just another set to add to all the others.
However if we are going to communicate something about Jesus it is that he is God who has come to rescue, to restore, to help and if people are hearing rules-rules-rules, performance and consequences, Jesus as another law-giver then they are hearing things wrong. Instead this reading gives us a picture of who Jesus is – the type of person he is – poor in spirit, meek, pure in heart, hungering for righteousness, a peacemaker, persecuted – what makes Jesus tick – what’s going on inside of him particularly when he is hanging on the cross. His death on the cross had the ultimate aim of blessing the world – blessing you and me. Jesus is a life giver – new for old – each day – through his Word – through Baptism – strengthened through Holy Communion – through his gift of faith.
When rules trip us up; when people want to play by their own rules and when they’re in trouble; when circumstances dump on you and life is tough; when people wonder at the purpose of life, then Christians don’t turn to another set of rules and try harder. Rather we turn to Jesus who accepts, forgives, restores, and helps us – because he’s already said and acted and proved that he loves us – each one of us – as we are in that moment on that day!
And having received God’s love and care, these Beatitudes also become a description of a lifestyle that those who follow Jesus seek to live – not as rules – but as an expression of the relationship they have with Jesus. Relationships govern behaviour. Those in Christ seek to be like Jesus and it is a daily task – just as life is a daily task each day – so responding to God’s care in Jesus each day guides our behaviour and the Beatitudes are a good description of what we seek to do – and wonder of wonders – we and those around us are blessed. –GS