Sunday, 23 February 2014

Revenge and Perfection





Mahatma Gandhi is said to have read from the Sermon on the Mount regularly. Much of what he did seems to have been inspired by the words of Jesus- such as his commitment to non-violent resistance. Gandhi is often quoted as saying, “I know of no one who has done more for humanity than Jesus. In fact, there is nothing wrong with Christianity ... The trouble is with you Christians. You do not begin to live up to your own teachings.” I have found out that we don’t actually know if Gandhi said this, but the power of those words still sting regardless of who said them. Gandhi could have said them due to his experience with British colonialism in India and in South Africa.  But, those words could have been spoken by a variety of people from a variety of different times.
It’s not difficult to come up with a list of historical events where Christians have not acted very Christ-like. The Crusades, the treatment of aboriginal peoples under the colonizing influences of nations that considered themselves Christians, Christians who supported Nazism. But, it’s not just historical examples that make these words sting. If it was just what those “bad Christians” did way back then, we could rest comfortably. Those words sting because we know what it is like to live our lives and then hear Jesus’ words,
“Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.  Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. … Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”
We quickly become aware of the distance between our lives and the words of Jesus. The quote attributed to Gandhi about how Christians don’t seem to follow the teachings of Christ stings because it’s true of each one of our lives.
The author G.K. Chesterton said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”  And C.S. Lewis said, “Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive”.  There is a distance between the beauty and truth we see in Jesus’ words and our willingness to follow his teaching. We are afraid of getting taken advantage of. Or, we are worried someone who has wronged us will get away with their actions. So we feel the need to take revenge, either by spitting poisonous hurtful words, or maybe even physically attacking someone we think has wronged us. Or, maybe we are more subtle, we might find quieter subtler ways to sabotage them. Maybe it is so subtle that it just becomes a quiet anger we refuse to let go of and an unwillingness to do anything that might help them. We find Jesus’ words to love our enemies and to turn the other cheek to be impractical. Even if we find them beautiful, we still find them unrealistic. We would rather get revenge on those who harm us; fight against the wrong that is done to us; do only what is required of us; and give only to our family and friends.
            The Law “An eye for an eye” was a way of taming vengeance. If someone gouged out your eye, it would be tempting to gouge out both of the other person’s, or even to kill them. The law of an “eye for an eye” meant that there had to be a level of equality to vengeance. One eye for one eye. While the old law desired to lessen the effects of sin, Jesus desires to transform the heart and remove vengeance entirely, not just tame it. So instead he urges us to “turn the other cheek” when struck. Everything in us resists this teaching. We feel this teaching is just too hard to follow. Part of us thinks this teaching will create a world ruled by bullies. But, we also have to consider what kind of a world is created by hating our enemies. What kind of a world do we create when we stand in front of each other and trade blows back and forth? I think we see a hint of that kind of a world when we look at the relationship between Israel and Palestine. If that is how it goes for those who hate their enemies and return violence with violence, then perhaps Jesus is showing us a better way.  When we strike back the attacker is likely to feel justified in striking more blows. But, if we refuse to return violence the attacker may be forced to consider their actions and what kind of a person they are. That is no guarantee, but the possibility for transformation is there in a way it is not when revenge is the reaction to harm.  So he teaches that the person who lives with a heart ruled by God’s love will remain vulnerable and would rather be personally injured than injure another.
Like the rest of the Sermon on the Mount it is important to remember that Jesus is after the transformation of our hearts, he is not setting down laws to follow. He is describing the character of a person who is enfolded in the Kingdom of God.  That kind of person will remain vulnerable in their relationships, even if it means personal harm. That kind of a person will try to help, even if it means personal loss. That kind of a person is willing to help in ways that go beyond what was asked and required of them, if possible. That kind of a person is willing to give even to those who aren’t friends or family. As people of the Kingdom these kinds of actions won’t be hard. They will flow from us naturally and easily because we have been shaped into God’s people, and because we realize how life goes for those whose lives are filled with hate, vengeance, and selfishness.
Jesus has a particular future in mind for us. This is why he tells us to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” C.S. Lewis says this in his book Mere Christianity:
“I find a good many people have been bothered by…our Lord’s words, 'Be ye perfect.' Some people seem to think this means 'Unless you are perfect, I will not help you;' and as we cannot be perfect, then, if He meant that, our position is hopeless. But I do not think He did mean that. I think He meant 'The only help I will give is help to become perfect. You may want something less: but I will give you nothing less.' Let me explain. When I was a child I often had toothache, and I knew that if I went to my mother she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep. But I did not go to my mother—at least, not till the pain became very bad. And the reason I did not go was this. I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin; but I knew she would also do something else. I knew she would take me to the dentist next morning. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want. I wanted immediate relief from pain: but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right. And I knew those dentists: I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache. They would not let sleeping dogs lie, if you gave them an inch they took an ell. Now, if I may put it that way, Our Lord is like the dentists. If you give Him an inch, He will take an ell. Dozens of people go to Him to be cured of some one particular sin which they are ashamed of … or which is obviously spoiling daily life (like bad temper or drunkenness). Well, He will cure it all right: but He will not stop there. That may be all you asked; but if once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment.”“The command 'Be ye perfect' is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.”
A common Christian reaction to the quote attributed to Gandhi is to say “Jesus is perfect, not me, I’m just a forgiven sinner”. There is truth and humility in that statement, but we need to be careful we don’t dismiss the transformation God desires for us. We are not there yet, but God is working in each one of our lives to teach us to be more like Christ. We can resist him and slow down or stop that process, but that is God’s goal for us. He wants to restore the image of God in us.   

(I have been reading Dallas Willard's Divine Conspiracy. I highly recommend his exposition of the sermon of the mount)




Saturday, 22 February 2014

Anger, Lust, and Lies






In our Gospel reading Jesus is now describing to us what it means to be the people of the Kingdom of God. And as we hear his words we should also hear in the back of our minds the period (or exclamation mark!) he places after his teaching. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says this (7:21-27): 
“Not everyone who says to me, ’Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ [Which he doesn’t teach in this sermon]. Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’  ‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!’”
When we hear the words of the Sermon on the Mount we need to hear it with this kind of seriousness. As the theologian Stanley Hauerwas said “…if these radical demands are abandoned, we abandon Jesus”. To ignore these teachings of Jesus is to ignore Jesus. Jesus ties these teachings intimately to himself. To be the people of the Kingdom is to be people united with Jesus living out the call to be salt and light in the world.   
This was always God’s intention. God wanted to create a people that would bless the world. Jesus was drawing people back to God’s original plan. 
While we need to take what Jesus says with the utmost seriousness, we must also avoid turning Jesus’ teachings into laws. Jesus is more concerned with your character. Jesus doesn’t necessarily want people that follow the letter of the law. Jesus wants people whose characters are so formed that they naturally and easily do what is right- and in that way they fulfil the law. Someone in prison has a very limited ability to break the law, but might still have the heart of a lawbreaker.
Each of the topics Jesus teaches about in our reading could be a whole sermon, but I thought we could touch on them each.  

Anger:
Jesus sees anger as the seed of murder. Jesus is concerned with the state of a person’s heart. A person can be imprisoned and be prevented from murdering someone, but they might be filled with murderous anger. They are filled with the same inner condition as the person who commits murder. To Jesus this person has not truly fulfilled the law to not murder. Jesus gets right to the source of murder by pointing to anger. It is something all of us face. I don’t think Jesus is speaking about that flash of anger that comes to you when someone hurts you. I think he is concerned about dwelling on anger and acting in anger.  I would risk saying that all actions done in anger are sin and dwelling on anger and refusing to let go of it becomes poison to your soul. Dwelling on this kind of anger is poison for the whole community. That’s why confession of sin, penance, and reconciliation are necessary to receive the Eucharist.
Anger arises for a number of reasons- something we value has been devalued, an expectation hasn’t been met, or we feel like we don’t have control over a situation. We often want to hang onto anger because we think it helps us fight for justice or right a wrong, but we read in James’ letter (1:20) “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires”. Anger makes us feel self-righteous so we think it comes with justice, but it usually just clouds our minds. Anything that can be done in anger can be done better out of some other emotion, like compassion for the victims, rather than anger at the perpetrators.  This doesn’t mean we don’t confront those who we believe have wronged us. We confront them, but it is in the spirit of peacemaking and truth-telling rather than vengeance.   
This world would be a very different place without Anger. How many murders would take place without anger? How many wars would take place if there was no anger in this world? It is no accident that Jesus tackles anger early in the Sermon on the Mount.
There is a lot more we could say about the topic and there are ways of dealing with anger, which we don’t have time to get into here, but they have to do with training ourselves to think differently and changing bad habits.

Lust:
After anger Jesus deals with lust. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus is not saying that merely noticing someone is beautiful is equal to committing adultery. The original Greek means something more like “lookingfor the purpose of lusting”.  This is where one dwells on the thought of the person and starts to use the imagination to commit adultery in the heart. This is essentially what lies at the heart of pornography- looking for the purpose of lusting. It turns people into objects for personal selfish gratification. 
            Jesus tells us that this is so serious that if it would help we should tear out our eye or cut off our hand. Jesus knows, of course, that these are not the sources of our lust. The source is the sin in our heart and that is what must be torn out.   

Divorce:
Jesus speaks against divorce after he speaks about anger and lust. I wonder how many marriages would be saved if anger and lust were dealt with.  Jesus speaks quite strongly against divorce. But, we also have to be careful to hear his words in his cultural context. In Jesus’ day there was a school of thought that allowed a man to divorce his wife for nearly any reason, even for not cooking a pleasing meal. It was very easy for a man to divorce his wife. A divorced woman in his culture was forced to move in with family members that would have her, or beg on the street or become a prostitute. She might be able to get remarried, but she would likely be treated as 'damaged goods' by her new husband.
            This injustice has to be in our minds as we hear Jesus’ words about divorce. Jesus is here trying to protect women from abuse. (If this is true then we could be acting against Jesus' intentions if we ask a woman to stay in an abusive relationship). God’s original intention for marriage didn’t include divorce, but we live in a broken world that makes it difficult to avoid. The ideal is what Jesus wants us to look for- two people who have been made one flesh in their love and care for each other. Paul will go on to teach that a married couple should love each other as Christ loves the church and as the church loves Christ, which involves sacrifice for the benefit of the other. But, people's hearts are hard.  There are conditions where it is allowed because people can do awful things to each other, but we shouldn't think in terms of "law" and what is allowed. We need to be thinking about the state of our hearts. We shouldn't be looking for loopholes. 

Truth-telling:
Jesus then tackles lies and truth telling. The reason we need to sign papers and take oaths is that we live in a world full of lies where people do not keep their words. If we lived in a world where people kept their word and told the truth we would have no need for oaths or signatures. The dangerous outcome is that people could come to believe that they don’t need to keep their word unless they take an oath or sign a document. Jesus wants us to recover plain speech and honest hearts where we say what we mean and mean what we say.

I didn’t give any of these the time they deserve. What Jesus wants is not people who follow laws. He doesn’t want people who keep themselves from murdering people by cutting off their arms. He doesn’t want people who blind themselves so they never see a beautiful person for fear they might lust after them. He doesn’t want people who live the letter of his teaching but miss the heart of his teaching.  We won’t become the kind of people Jesus desires by just avoiding sin. A garden is more than just pulling weeds. We pull weeds so they won’t harm the flowers. We won’t become holy people by avoiding anger and lust and lies. He wants us to learn to become a particular kind of person- a person motivated by love. 

Monday, 10 February 2014

Being Salt and Light



Last week we talked about the beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:1-12). The beatitudes point to those the world doesn’t see as especially ‘blessed’. They are not valued by the world- The poor in spirit, those in mourning, the meek. The beatitudes also mention those who are in the midst of struggle- those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (but who therefore don’t have it), the merciful (who endure the sin of others), the pure in heart (who endure the tension of temptation), the peacemakers (who live in the midst of violence), and those who are mistreated and persecuted (even though they are doing what is right and good). Jesus says even all these are welcome to be a part of the kingdom of God. They can live the kingdom of God, not just after they die, but they can live in the kingdom of God even in the midst of their spiritual poverty and even in the midst of their struggle to make peace. This tension does not mean the kingdom is not present, in fact, Jesus tells us that we are invited to be a part of the kingdom even in the midst of that tension.  Even in the midst of the messy world we are called to be citizens of the Kingdom of God, not just when we die. Jesus is telling us that no matter what our circumstances are we can live as the citizens of the kingdom of God right now.  

Everyone is welcome to become citizens of the kingdom of God. It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are. Everyone is welcome, but there is a particular identity of those who become citizens of the kingdom of God. Jesus says to you who are citizens of this kingdom, “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world”. 
In the ancient world salt was primarily used, not to flavor food, but to preserve food and keep it from going bad. So to keep meat from rotting, since they didn’t have refrigerators, the meat would be salted and would then last a lot longer. As citizens of the Kingdom of God you are the salt of the earth. You have a preservative function. When something would normally decay you prevent that decay.

Jesus also called you the “light of the world”.  Imagine getting up in the middle of the night and banging your toe on the dresser. Imagine driving on the highway at night and one of your headlights go out. Imagine being in the woods at night and finding out that your flashlight doesn’t work, and you need firewood. Light helps us see our way and it shows us reality. With the light we can see where to place our foot. With the light we can see that what our imagination thought was a snake is actually a stick. As citizens of the Kingdom of God you illuminate. When a path is dark you help people to see reality.       
Both these images- ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’ imply that we have a mission and a function in this world. If we are salt that means we fight decay and rot. If we are light it means we battle against darkness. As citizens of the Kingdom of God we have a mission that our King has called us to.  A former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, said this “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members”.  Our king is concerned about those effected by the darkness and the decay that is a part of our world.

Being a citizen means that you take on something of the nature of your King. Something of His virtue and love become a part of who you are as a citizen. As a citizen you also become a representative of your King. Your life- the ways you live, the way you speak, the way you treat people- tells people about your King. Our life tells people something about God. Something about God’s life flows through us and can encounter other people.  If they see something inaccurate about God then we become like salt that has lost its saltiness or like light hidden under a bowl. (Of course Sin is always a factor here, but that is not a reason to give up on the project)   
           

Brian Stewart[1] has been a senior reporter with the CBC and has spent a lot of his life reporting on world affairs. He spoke to Knox theological college in Toronto and he said this.
“I’ve found there is NO movement, or force, closer to the raw truth of war, famines, crises, and the vast human predicament, than organized Christianity in Action. And there is no alliance more determined and dogged in action than church workers, ordained and lay members, when mobilized for a common good. It is these Christians who are right "On the Front Lines" of committed humanity today and when I want to find that Front, I follow their trail.”
 “It is a vast Front stretching from the most impoverished reaches of the Developing world to the hectic struggle to preserve caring values in our own towns and cities. I have never been able to reach these Front lines without finding Christian volunteers already in the thick of it, mobilizing congregations that care, and being a faithful witness to truth, the primary light in the darkness and so often, the only light.”
 “… I've never reached a war zone, or famine group or crisis anywhere where some Church organization was not there long before me...sturdy, remarkable souls usually too kind to ask ‘what took you so long?’ … so often in desperate areas it is Christian groups there first, that labor heroically during the crisis and continue on long after all the media, and the visiting celebrities have left.” “Now I came to this admiring view slowly and reluctantly. At the start of my career I'd largely abandoned religion for I too regarded the church as a rather tiresome irrelevance. What ultimately persuaded me otherwise, and I took a lot of persuading, was the reality of Christianity's mission, physically and in spirit, before my very eyes. . . .”

            Stewart went on to speak of his experiences in Poland under communist control, and South African Apartheid, and the segregated American south, and children living in garbage dumps in Mozambique, the slums of Brazil, runaways and addicts in cities, famine camps all over the world, the war in El Salvador, and in the midst of it all he was struck by the courage he saw as Christians faced oppressive forces.

Stewart who was not yet a Committed Christian says, “In my mind I was struck by some words tolling again and again, like a bell: --"Even Here", .... however remote or wretched or dangerous..."Even Here" we will be by your side, even to the end. …” Once, when his plane had to make an emergency refuelling stop in the middle of the jungles of Africa they got out of the plane in middle of nowhere and was greeted by a Christian missionary who offered them tea. Stewart says, “My veteran cameraman Mike Sweeny later sighed in exasperation "Do you think you could ever get us to a story, somewhere, anywhere where those Christians aren't there first!!!" I was never able to..”

“I'm often asked if I lost belief in God covering events like Ethiopia, then called "the worst Hell on Earth". Actually, like others before me, it was precisely in such hells that I rediscovered religion. I saw so many countless acts of human love and charity, total respect for the most forsaken, for ALL life. I was confronted by the miracle of our Humanity. And I felt again the "Good Infection" of Christian volunteers....and heard again those words tolling "Even Here.....Even Here." ”  

The theologian and historian David Bentley Hart’s brilliant book Atheist Delusions corrects the sloppy history of some of the New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. But, Hart is under no illusions. He knows that the Christian message does not overnight magically transform entire societies, or turn every cruel person gentle. It’s not that people who are a part of the Jesus revolution haven’t dropped the ball, or done horrible things. We might say that it is possible for those who call themselves Christians to lose their saltiness. However, the world would be a drastically different place without the followers of the Christian God.
Hart argues that the world would not be a better place. The Jesus revolution transformed the ancient western world- Hart argues that Christianity gave freedom from fatalism and fear of the occult, gave dignity to human beings who might not have otherwise had any, it subverted some of the the cruelty of Pagan society, it gave rise to numerous moral communities of people, and elevated charity above the virtues (xi). The Jesus Revolution has through history cared for widows and orphans, gave rise to almshouses, hospitals, foundling homes, and homes for the dying (under the direction of people like Mother Theresa), schools, shelters, relief organizations, soup kitchens, medical missions, charitable aid societies, the abolitionist movement that worked and works to end slavery, The civil rights movement (under Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) and the list doesn’t stop there.
Hart states, “the quality of charitable aid in the world today supplied and sustained by Christian churches continues to be almost unimaginably vast. A world from which the gospel had been banished would surely be one in which millions more of our fellows would go unfed, unnursed, unsheltered, and uneducated” (15).   
Hart says, “If the teachings of Christianity were genuinely to take root in human hearts- if indeed we all believed that God is love and that we ought to love our neighbors as ourselves- we should have no desire for war, should hate injustice worse than death, and should find indifference to the sufferings of others impossible” (17).
This is the legacy of the kingdom we belong to. We all have a corner that needs light. We all see some decay that needs salt. We are called as citizens of God’s kingdom to be that salt and light in the midst of our lives. This is what it means to be the people of God. In the midst of whatever messiness life brings you, be salt and light there.
Amen



[1] Brian Stewart is one of Canada’s most experienced journalists. He is
host of the foreign affairs show, CBC News: World View, as well as
Senior Correspondent of the CBC flagship news hour, The National.
Stewart has received the Gemini Award as Best Overall Broadcast
Journalist as well as numerous other awards. As a foreign correspondent
he has covered many of the world’s conflicts, reporting from nine war
zones from El Salvador to Beirut. 2004 Knox College

Sunday, 2 February 2014

who is the Kingdom of God for?



(This was part of a children's sermon)

It is hard to imagine words that have affected the world more than the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). For 2000 years these words have been transforming humanity. In my own life these words have been profound. It was reading these words, and through them encountering the man who spoke them, that I really became a Christian.   For the rest of the season of Epiphany we will be exploring the beginning of this sermon that Jesus spoke. As Christians these words should be neared to our hearts than any other.
            In Matthew this series of teachings take place after he climbs a mountain, which to us in Alberta would be little more than a hill. The crowd was separated by those willing to climb the hill to be with Jesus and those who didn’t. Those who wished to be his disciples (those who really wanted to learn from him about how to live) and the crowds who were maybe just curious or bored.  In the minds of those of the first century mountains were almost like suburbs of heaven. God spoke in special ways on mountains. That is where Moses received the Law from God. That parallel is likely being made in the Sermon on the Mount. Just as Moses climbed the mountain and delivered God’s word and welcomed God’s people into a special relationship with Him, so also Jesus climbs the mountain and delivers divine teaching and welcomes people into a new covenant relationship. God’s Kingdom is present and available.
            The Gospel of Matthew has been paralleling the lives of Jesus and Moses. They both were nearly killed by a paranoid ruler’s horrific command to kill infants. They both passed through water- Moses passed through the sea and Jesus passed through the waters of baptism. They both endured temptation in the wilderness. And they both passed on divine revelation from a mountain top.
            So just as Moses welcomes the Hebrews in a covenant relationship headed for the Promised Land, so Jesus welcomes people to God’s Kingdom.  Kingdoms have entrance requirements. To enter Canada you need a valid passport and to have a particular legal standing. You need to not be considered a criminal and you need to meet a list of requirements. If you want to move here from another country the requirements are even more strict. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is going to describe the character of the citizens of that kingdom and he begins with the entrance requirements. But, he doesn’t give requirements most of us would give. The language he uses is the language of being “blessed” or “fortunate”-  “Fortunate (or blessed) are those who…”.  We would say “Blessed are the strong in spirit”, but Jesus says “blessed are the poor in spirit”. We would say “blessed are those who no longer morn, but are now comforted”, but Jesus says “blessed are those who mourn”. We would say “blessed are those who are confident and assertive”, but Jesus says “blessed are the meek (or gentle)”. We would say “blessed are the righteous”, but Jesus says “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”. We would say blessed are those who have had success over their competition” but Jesus says “blessed are the merciful”.  We would say “blessed are the successful”, but Jesus says “blessed are the pure in heart”. We would say “Blessed are those who are victorious”, but Jesus says “blessed are the peacemakers”. We would say “blessed are you when people understand and appreciate you” but Jesus says “Blessed are you when you are persecuted for righteousness sake”. We would say “blessed are you when people speak highly of you” but Jesus says “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account”.       
            From a common human perspective, if we are interviewing someone for a job or interviewing for entrance into our kingdom the common human traits we find acceptable are very backwards to Jesus’.  I don’t believe that we are supposed to try to copy these traits. Perhaps when we get to the beatitude about being merciful or being peacemakers, but it is a bit of a mixed bag and imitation of the beatitudes doesn’t really work all the way through the list Jesus presents. For example, we are not to try to be "spiritually poor" by reading our Bible less and praying less. We are not to seek out "mourning" so we can check that off our Beatitudes list. Though, I should say that some do read them that way.  For example, some say that we are to recognize the "poverty" of our souls- and recognize our need for God. We are to "mourn" over our sin. We are to learn to become more meek, and to hunger and thirst for righteousness, and so on. I think there is value to reading the Beatitudes this way, but I don’t think that is really what Jesus is saying.
            I think that Jesus is saying that wherever you are you can be a part of the Kingdom he is talking about. The kingdom is not just for those who pray 12 hours a day and have memorized the Bible. If you are 'spiritually poor' the kingdom is for you. He won’t leave you spiritually poor, but that is a fine entry point into the kingdom of God. If you are in the midst of mourning, you can still be a part of the Kingdom of God. You don’t have to wait until the tears have dried up. You are welcomed into the kingdom even in the midst of your tears.  If you are meek or timid in a world that values the strong and assertive the Kingdom is for you too. You can enter into the kingdom. You don’t have to be righteous or holy, you just have to hunger and thirst for it.
            The last few beatitudes speak of living in a messy world. Jesus is essentially saying you don’t have to wait until people have all stopped abusing you to be in the kingdom. The only reason to be merciful is when someone has wronged you in some way and you don’t give them the punishment they deserve- You show mercy, but that implies that you are living in a world where people hurt you. To be pure in heart might imply living in a world that is full of temptation, but even in the midst of that struggle to keep your heart pure you are already in the kingdom. In a world full of violence, those who work for peace are welcomed into the kingdom even before peace is reached. The struggle for peace in a world of violence is a welcome into the Kingdom. In a world where you will be persecuted and hated for doing what is right, even in that moment you are welcomed to live in the kingdom.
            Wherever we are and whatever we are going through we are welcomed to take our first steps into the kingdom. Living in the kingdom on earth isn’t a promise to live a stress-free life. Living the kingdom on earth for Jesus meant a cross. Living in the midst of suffering and struggle doesn’t mean you are excluded from the kingdom. If you struggle because your spirit is poor, or because you are mourning, or because you are timid, or because you thirst for righteousness and don’t feel righteous, or because you are merciful when you would rather punish, or struggle against your temptations seeking  purity, or struggle for peace in the midst of conflict, or struggle to speak truth even when it means you will be treated with persecution. Even in the midst of these struggles you are welcome to live the life of the kingdom. Even on the cross Jesus was living the life of the kingdom.
            With life in the kingdom, at the end of that struggle, comes the fullness of the kingdom of heaven- Comfort, inheritance, righteousness, mercy, seeing God, becoming a child of God, and receiving great reward in heaven.  
Follow @RevChrisRoth