A (Different) Sermon on the Mount

Cathy Boyd
A view from the Mount of the Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The sermon was preached at a pilgrimage Eucharist on the mount.
Blessed be the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.
Blessed is the one who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.
Blessed are you among women.
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Blessed are the merciful.
“Blessed” is a well-used word in Scripture, and nowhere more famously than here, in the Beatitudes. It is a dangerously slippery word, blessed.
The Greek used in the Beatitudes-makarios, translated in here as “blessed”-is often thought to mean “happy,” “fortunate,” “well-off.” You may remember Robert Schuller’s book “The Be-Happy Attitudes.”
Unfortunately this (admittedly clever) turn of phrase perpetuates what I believe is one of the great lies of Christianity. This lie tells us that being a Christian guarantees a happy life. That God promises success. The religious environment in which I grew up taught us that if bad things happened it was because we did not have “enough” faith.
The problem with this terrible theology: when things don’t work out, it means it’s your fault. But it’s a setup, isn’t it? Because life doesn’t always work out. Bad things happen, despite our prayers. This way of thinking holds that blessedness is therefore a function of chance and personal effort. This creates shame in people of faith, and sets God up as a capricious score-keeper. A bully.
One of the gifts of the Holy Land is that we are reminded over and over that Jesus rejects this thinking. Jesus lived in a culture of honor and shame and he defied this culture by offering blessing freely. By extending friendship and fellowship and healing willy-nilly…like a farmer who doesn’t pay attention or care where he throws the seed. The people Jesus proclaims in the Beatitudes as blessed most certainly are not the people his society or our society considers blessed.
Lutheran theologian David Lose says: “Because in this sermon he is not — contrary to all of the pseudo-Christian, pseudo-therapeutic preaching of these verses over the years — offering a recipe for success or the keys to happiness or a roadmap to having your best life now. Rather, Jesus is demonstrating that God regularly and relentlessly shows up just where we least expect God to be. God offers freely what we can neither earn nor achieve: blessedness.”
Another, more meaningful translation of the Greek word makarios goes deeper than happiness or luck. It also means unique standing, permission, and empowerment.
When Mary said yes, she was blessed—empowered—among women. And she accepted God’s invitation. Blessed are we among people. We are blessed. We need also to defy our culture by offering blessing to those who seem least worthy. We are empowered to bless the world. Do you really hunger and thirst for righteousness? The Beatitudes are a call to action.
The LORD bless you and protect you! The LORD deal kindly and graciously with you! The LORD bestow favor upon you and grant you peace! Amen.

One thought on “A (Different) Sermon on the Mount

  1. Oh Cathy this is so beautiful. I have felt this way for so long. God is not a bully – he had been there to comfort me in so many times of need. I have never asked Him Why? But felt it my way of thanking Him for helping me walk through my dark times. Joyfully Janis

    Sent from my iPhone

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