I hear it all the time. "I'm so blessed because..." Or it may come in this form "It was a blessing when..." Ever since a good friend of mine, known to be snarky and smart, a combination that makes others uncomfortable and prone to look down for an unnecessary examination of their shoes for scuff marks, asked me why Christians are always pronouncing themselves and others to be blessed when the opposite, cursed, is never mentioned with the same frequency, the Beatitudes in Matthew's gospel have intrigued me. The list of blessings at the start of Matthew 5 is often called 'the Beatitudes', because the Latin word 'beatus' means 'blessed'. But there is another translation for the word 'blessed' that isn't often used: 'wonderful news'. So, Matthew 5:3 might read 'Wonderful news for the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is yours'. The reversal of fortune continues for mourners, the meek, people who hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers, and the persecuted, in the following 8 verses.
The blessings are a prelude to Jesus' famous 'Sermon on the Mount', which proceeds for the next three chapters. The collection of sayings is casually interpreted as a series of ethical and moral teachings that we should all strive towards. This isn't a bad interpretation, it's just a weak one. What Jesus proposes in his proclamation of 'wonderful news' is a re-ordering of the world as we know it, in order that this world may begin to look like the kingdom of heaven. He isn't being philosophical or sentimental in his delivery. "Turning the other cheek" isn't a metaphor it's a practical expectation that sounds ridiculous in a world that has hosted the echoes of violence and war from the time of Jesus onward.
For the next seven weeks in worship at DOWNTOWN CHURCH, we will examine each of the 'blessings', one at a time, while attempting to leave behind our tendency to casually pronounce blessings without paying attention to who or what Jesus thinks is worthy of 'wonderful news'.
Lately, our worship attendance has swelled, our giving has increased, and we've launched new initiatives. In the midst of all this wonderful news, it seems appropriate to pause and reflect on what the gospel of Jesus considers 'wonderful news'. Are the poor in spirit among us 'blessed' to be in our company? Where do those who hunger and thirst for justice sit on Sunday morning? What 'wonderful news' have the mourners heard from the pulpit?
Together we will receive Jesus' atypical 'blessings' with clear eyes, open hearts, and an expectation that the unusual 'blessings' are more than a 'pick-me-up' for the people that often get passed over.
This is your invitation to join us for seven weeks of worship in which our basic assumptions about who will receive God's favor will be challenged. If you are up for it, we'll make room for you.