September 21, 2003
It may be some of the most radical words we say when we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” So many times we say these words of the Lord’s Prayer without fully realizing what we are saying. We say them so often that the words become rote for us; just another line in a prayer that we have memorized long ago. But there is nothing routine about these words. It is a radical thing to request of God that God’s kingdom come and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Gospel of Matthew, like the other Gospels, makes an astonishing claim about God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom is not clouds, harps, or Peter sitting at the pearly gate with a list in his hands of who’s been naughty or nice in their earthly life. God’s kingdom is quite earthly, with trees, lakes and rivers; mountains and deserted places; cities and towns; and people of all ages. For Matthew, the kingdom has little to do with angels and golden streets, as it does with the way we treat each other, the way we see our neighbor, the way we follow Jesus as his disciples in the world, and most importantly our sure hope of God’s promises in Jesus Christ.
There are enormous implications in what we are asking for God to do when we say these words, enormous implications for how we want God to interfere in world events, enormous implications for how we want God to make a radical reversal of the world in which we live. Why are there enormous implications for us in these words? Because of the Gospel’s most radical claim that in Jesus Christ, God’s kingdom – the kingdom of heaven – has come to the world.
Our text for this morning is one of the most beloved passages in the Bible, which we call the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes is the beginning of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. In many respects, the Beatitudes are the preamble to Jesus’ ministry, the introduction to his message, and the opening to his Gospel. They are first and foremost a promise, a promise to those whom Jesus has called to follow him, a promise to those who live as God’s people in the world, a promise to those who see with a double vision.
It usually happens late at night when I’m lying in bed watching tv as I start to doze off to sleep. Although I clearly still awake and can still see everything on the screen, the one tv screen on the dresser will slowly separate into two tv screens. The fun part is to see if I can keep the two tv screens separated without having them come back together into just the one screen.
Of course, having double vision when one is on the verge of going to sleep is harmless, but having double vision when one is wide-awake is not so fun. It’s disruptive, frightening, and frustrating not being able to tell what is real and what is illusion, and it makes it hard to navigate around obstacles, walk through doors, and do the simplest routines of life. But the kind of double vision I’m talking about is the vision that sees the world as it is and at the same time what the world should and will be.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, and as Christ’s church in the world, we see the world in two frames of vision. The first vision sees what everyone else sees too – the world of human history, a world of struggle and brokenness, a world in which the church works and serves and lives out its mission. It’s a tough world, a sad world, a world without much joy and little reason for hope; a world where war follows war, where the political, social, and economic powerbrokers and elites call the shots, where the innocent and impoverished suffer everyday, and where injustice runs rampant.
As the great crowd of people came
to see Jesus on the mountain, Jesus saw them all; all who came from different
lands; the men, women, and children; the sick, the lame, the wounded; the
lowly, the lost, and the left out. They
were not part of the political power structure, and they didn’t have Fortune
500 portfolios. They didn’t have million
dollar salaries for being the strongest and the fastest, nor were they part of
“Blessed are you…” are the radical words of God’s promise and they give us a second vision that others in the world do not see, a vision which sees God at work even now to restore creation, to break down the walls that divide us, to bring about peace and reconciliation, and to reverse the values and structures that destroy human worth rather than build it up. It is this vision, which is the great promise of the Gospel and the foundation of our hope in Jesus Christ that God’s kingdom has come.
For us in the church, the kingdom of heaven is not an empty hope that “maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t,” but a sure-footed reality that God’s kingdom is here and now, a present reality in which we live and serve. The promise of the kingdom is not an empty promise, but a promise that God is at work even now to bring about a radical new order to the world, a radical reversal of the world’s values, structures, and ideals, and a radical blessing and promise to those people who make up God’s kingdom.
“Blessed are you who are poor in spirit, who mourn, and who are meek.” Blessed are those who realize that they have nothing to offer God, but must depend completely on God’s grace alone. They know that they are empty without God and powerless. Blessed are those who see themselves truly as they are and mourn for their own sinfulness. They see their own and the world’s shortcomings and failures and they long for God to make it right, they long for God’s kingdom to come.
“Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Blessed are those who are starved for better relationships. They want them so bad that they refuse to carry a grudge, they refuse to think evil about another, refuse to slander or gossip, and refuse to give in to their emotions and aggressions.
“Blessed are you who are merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers.” Blessed are those who are always willing to forgive, who are always willing to love the unlovable without counting the cost. Blessed are those who bring healing, wholeness, and reconciliation, who are willing to bear injustice rather than create it, who are willing to take upon the injustice, pain, and suffering for the sake of another.
“Blessed are you who are persecuted for righteousness sake and reviled by others on account of Jesus.” Blessed are those who see with a double vision, who see the world in a different way, who see a world in need of God’s presence, compassion, love, justice, and mercy. Blessed are those who see a world that is in need of reversing. Blessed are you who live in the reality of God’s kingdom now, and who hope and long for the day when God’s kingdom will finally and fully come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.