I had the privilege of leading one of the devotions for our pastoral group today. I was a little nervous having to lead such an auspicious group. My assignment was to reflect on the beatitudes in Matthew 5. Oh, and did I mention we were on the mount where Jesus possibly delivered THE “Sermon”? What an honor I felt to be sharing the beatitudes where Jesus taught. How cool is that?!
The Sermon on the Mount may be considered the hallmark of the ethical teachings of Jesus. After having launched His ministry and called disciples to follow him, Jesus goes to a mountain where multitudes also follow him. In contrast to the artifacts of the rich and famous we saw yesterday, for me, this place represented the site of the poor, marginalized people who were attracted to the good news that Jesus preached.
With the coming of Jesus, God’s kingdom was inaugurated on earth. The good news for poor people who had been excluded, overtaxed and overlooked by the powers that be, was that they were welcomed in this new kingdom–this new community of Christ followers.
The sermon on the mount, at its core, was about how people in this community ought to believe and behave. And before Jesus gave his commands for living, he looked at the multitude, and then at his disciples, and blessed them!
Isn’t that just like Jesus? He blessed the ones who had given up all to follow Him. He describe the state of blessedness they were and would experience using countercultural attributes.
The dominant culture of his time (well, ours too, for that matter) prized opulence and wealth, and were arrogantly proud. But in his kingdom, the poor in spirit, those who mourned, the merciful, the righteous, the meek, the peacemakers, the pure in heart, the persecuted for righteousness sake–these were and would be blessed. For blessedness was not a material possession but a state of being, based on being in relationship with Christ!
These passages have inspired many a person, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young pastor theologian who lived in the time of Nazi Germany. He taught pastors and ministers and vocally helped to lead the resistance movement against Hitler and what he called the idolatry of the Confessional Church. Church leaders had gotten too close for comfort and instead of calling out and speaking up against Hitler’s atrocities and ideology, they were deathly silent. Perhaps, like too many leaders today, it was easier to “go along to get along.” But Bonhoeffer spoke up and worked diligently against their national sin. He died a martyr, embodying the costliness of Christian discipleship
In his book, “The Cost of Discipleship,” he gives a marvelous exposition on the Beatitudes that has stayed with me and, at some level informed my brief devotion for our Pastors earlier today.
Jesus looked at the multitude and then looked at his disciples. The disciples had come from among the people and had given up everything to follow Jesus when he called.
His teaching was a commendation of the disciples, perhaps, and a call, even beckoning to the multitude into his kingdom.
Discipleship is first and foremost a costly proposition, and from Bonhoeffer I am reminded that when the church forgets from where it has come, and gets too caught up in the culture, it loses its prophetic voice. Jesus, with his revolutionary message of the kingdom, did not want his disciples to forget their call or misunderstand the true character of the kingdom.
But what about us? Especially those of us who lead in the Western Church? Do we maintain the posture of disciples, first and foremost, who have come from out of the people and given up all, supposedly, to follow Christ? In the midst of the wealth of the West, are we poor in spirit, ever mindful of our deep spiritual need? Or do we cling to our education and positions as idols? Are we willing to follow Jesus to places that defy popular culture and challenge the powers that be?
These are questions I am contemplating for myself as a result of walking where Jesus walked. How will I use what I am learning and seeing to live more fully according to a kingdom ethic? Now that I’ve walked where Jesus walked, how might I walk how Jesus walked more fully?
As leaders today, may we never forget that we, too, have come out from the people who need, even clamor for, the gospel. Blessedness for us is not found in the title or position of leader but, like those first century disciples, blessedness is in the radical relationship with the Counter-Cultural One!
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