NAMC Worship Service 09062020 – All faiths are welcome! This Sermon is called The Beatitudes – or The Upside-Down World of Jesus, and discusses Ethics, the Beatitudes, Chadwick Boseman, and the Upside-Down view that Jesus’ holds. Come and join in contemplating whether Jesus’ way in the Beatitudes is the good way.
NAMC - The Beatitudes – or The Upside-Down World of Jesus
David E. Little
September 6, 2020
Ethics – I have been pondering and studying ethics for the past 40 days. Ethics are (hopefully) part of me, but it’s always is good to keep up with reading, studying, and to hear from scholars. In a conversation I had with Dr. Myles Werntz the other day, he said what was a breakthrough for me. In my world of ethics, there was all kinds of ethics – Medical Ethics, Ethics of Law, Christian Ethics, to name a few. But he said simply, ethics are: “What is Good; and what is it to pursue that good?” That is profound. Maybe that’s why he is a teacher. He said Christian ethics are Good which is God specified by Christ.
The whole world of ethics simplified for me in that; I hope it simplifies the world where you’re at. It’s good to have a simple definition, but practicing it is another thing.
There’s a big world and lots of choices. What choice is right for you? There’s hundreds of books, podcasts, groups, and religions – among other things – to choose from in figuring what life looks like for yourself. Then, you have the Holy Scriptures. Mine is the Holy Bible, where you’ve got Poetry, Narratives, History, Wisdom, Teaching, Parables, and Beatitudes, to name a few.
Oh, boy, it got complicated again…
Jesus and His upside-down view of the world
If you have ever wandered much in the New Testament, you get a feeling that Jesus looked at the world way different than most people – if not all people. After all, it was Jesus who said, “Love your enemies,” and “Do not worry.” You wonder “has he ever walked in my shoes,” but then, you realize he walked in all our shoes. He even washed His disciples’ feet before making a new covenant with them, shortly before his death. Now I think He was God, so that squares it in my head, but He was still out-of-this world.
So, did Jesus do and say good, or what is it to pursue that “Good?”
The bulk of interpreters assume that the Gospel of Matthew was written late in the first century by a Greek-speaking Jewish-Christian author. Probably Matthew, the tax collector of Capernaum who Jesus called to discipleship, and who is listed as a member of the twelve apostles. The evangelist and his community were probably located in Syria, maybe in the city of Antioch. Much of Matthew's community were Jewish Christians, as was Matthew, but a growing number of “Gentile” converts were beginning to enter into the community.
The Beatitudes – Matthew 5
The Beatitudes are the beginning of “The Sermon on the Mount,” which some of you may have heard of. For Christians across the centuries, the primary source for Jesus' teaching has been the collection of Jesus' sayings which we find in Matthew 5—7. It contains such classic texts as the Lord's Prayer and the Beatitudes, and it portrays Jesus as one who speaks with unparalleled authority. Parts of the sayings are also in Luke and Mark.
Scholars have thought that it was a collection of Jesus’s teachings that was written down. Remember, the oral language was more important then, than written script. It is Matthew’s composition, although some of the sayings are from the historical Jesus. In other words, the Sermon on the Mount is not a report of a speech actually given by Jesus on a Galilean hillside.
As an aside, Matthew’s gospel is words and then work, as teaching precedes miracles or action. But John tells of a different story – the Marriage at Cana, where Mary – his mother – gets him to do a miracle before He’s ready to start His ministry. He had only just begun to gather His disciples. It seems that Jesus did signs to speak of his divineness or authenticity without telling the others first, or at least the apostle John tells of it in this fashion.
Unlike Luke, who also give woes (in addition to beatitudes) in “The Sermon on the Plain” (Luke 6:17-49). Matthew just gives blessings before he tackles the Law in the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. This is drawn from the Great Sermon in Q, a lost book that predated Matthew and Luke.
Matthew and his church had long been thoroughly familiar with the Great Sermon in Q, which begins with beatitudes; continues with instruction on love, the "Golden Rule," attitudes toward others; and concludes with warnings about two kinds of ethical "fruit" and the story of the two builders.
Neither Jesus nor Matthew invented the beatitude form, which occurs in the Old Testament and in both Jewish and pagan literature. Most scholars agree that the core of the beatitudes goes back to the historical Jesus, who reversed the general value system by pronouncing blessing on the poor, the hungry, and those who weep. Matthew's beatitudes are not practical advice for successful living, but prophetic declarations made on the conviction of the coming-and-already-present kingdom of God.
Let’s look at the Beatitudes.
Scripture – Matthew 5:3-11
Matthew 5:3-11 English Standard Version (ESV)
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Matthew 5:9 Greek huioi; see Preface
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
As a literary form, the beatitude was widely used in the ancient world. In Jewish writings we find two different types of beatitudes. The first and earliest type occurs frequently in the Psalms and wisdom literature. The second, and later type of beatitudes, bring a promise of a new order yet to appear (Instead of defining the "good life" in the present scheme of things). The Beatitudes of Matthew fall into the second category.
A beatitude (which is Latin) or makarism (which is Greek) is a statement beginning with the adjective maka"riov (actually, Makarios is proper text), declaring certain people to be in a privileged, fortunate circumstance. The Greek adjective Makarios means "fortunate," "happy," "in a privileged situation," or "well-off." In a religious context, Makarios means "blessed" (by God).
All the way back to Psalms in the Hebrew Bible – 300 B.C. and before - "the poor" had been understood as a characterization of the true people of God, those who know their lives are not in their own control and that they are dependent on God. Thus, the beatitudes begin with the “poor in spirit.” Much of the wording of the beatitudes has ties back to the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, and all are marked by what appears to be the upside-down world Jesus sees and is explaining to us. In Matthew’s eyes, these were ways that those who followed Christ exhibited, reflected Matthew’s ethical views, and would end up being what “the Christian people” strove for. To people’s ears, it may sound odd at first, to say the least.
But the nine beatitudes or pronouncements are not statements about general human virtues; in fact, most appear exactly contrary to common wisdom. They do pronounce blessing on authentic people who are devoted to God; disciples in the Christian community according to Matthew.
Again, they do not describe nine different kinds of good people who get to go to heaven, but are nine declarations about the blessedness - contrary to all appearances – of the community living in anticipation of God's reign. In the Gospel of Matthew, they are oriented to life together in the community of discipleship, not to individualistic ethics. The people that are other-worldly and live here and now; with another mission or end.
For Christians, the beatitudes future tense makes it clear that Christianity is a "philosophy of life" not designed to make people successful and calm on this earth. In other words, it is not a scheme to reduce stress, lose weight, advance in one's career, or preserve one from illness. Instead, Christian faith is a way of living, and is based on the sure and firm hope that God’s way is the way of meekness, that righteousness and peace will ultimately prevail, and that a future with God will be a time of mercy. Participation in the kingdom also requires an ethical or moral decision; that is, a readiness to follow the way of life of the kingdom.
But this is not something the world anticipated from Jesus, either then or now. Maybe, as Jesus said, “A person who has ears, let that person hear”…
Chadwick Boseman – the movie star – was in the news recently because he died – seemingly suddenly – of colon cancer at 43 years of age. What wasn’t known until recently was that he fought it for the last four years – while he was filming movies, to include Black Panther. He was diagnosed in 2016 with stage 3 colon cancer, and he kept it private because he lived a private life. He even got married privately, so that no one in the media would know.
The aftermath of the death of Chadwick and the outpouring of love have opened up the private life, and shown that he was really a special man. He was born and raised in South Carolina, his mother a nurse and his father worked as a textile worker and managed an upholstery business. Chadwick liked theater, and wrote a play in his junior year in High School. He went to Howard University in Washington, D.C. and graduated in 2000 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Directing. He also attended the British American Drama Academy in London, and after that New York City's Digital Film Academy.
He loved to direct and write, and only got involved in acting to better understand actors. I guess he figured them out pretty well! He started on Television, and eventually ended up on the big screen. His first role as a lead actor in the movies was 42 in 2013, where he played Jackie Robinson. He also played the entertainer James Brown, and the lawyer and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. His coming-out role was T’Challa, the Black Panther, which he played in four Marvel movies, including The Black Panther. In that role, he became the first black superhero, and was a role model for all minority people the world over.
But he was more than that… He got fired from a soap opera after the first week, because he asked questions about the black character he was playing. He wanted to know that character and give hope to the black world, and they didn’t like it. He was Christian, and stayed with his faith and the justice that the Bible talks about throughout his life. Chadwick was also charitable and relational, going to hospitals and talking with, walking with, and being there for youth and kids – while going to the same treatment privately himself. He went to radiation and chemotherapy while making movies (including Marvel’s Infinity War and Endgame – which is now the most successful movie of all time), and visiting youth and kids in the hospital, doing the marketing and work-up for the movies, and even giving a speech at Howard University’s Commencement that is motivating and moving.
He was “larger than life,” especially when he got diagnosed with cancer. Marvel Studios president and CCO Kevin Feige called Boseman's death "absolutely devastating", writing: "Each time he stepped on set, he radiated charisma and joy, and each time he appeared on screen, he created something truly indelible [...] Now he takes his place [as] an icon for the ages." Could it be that he was further hardened by the trials of his life; that then he had the things that Jesus talked of in the Beatitudes as having devoted himself to God – and as a Christian, Jesus? And it showed to all around him; even as the actors he was playing?
Bring it to the community
Is the Upside-Down world of Jesus worth pursuing? Is it complicated, easy, or other-worldly?
The Sermon on the Mount is tough to read and/or hear, and the Beatitudes are just the beginning. When Jesus spoke, it was too much for people of his own day to hear, and many of them walked away. Still others were astounded that He talked with such authority.
But the Beatitudes are looking inward, saying what becomes of someone when their life is devoted to God. Yes, it will be hard down here on earth – sorry. But it matures you in ways that others can see, and makes you different; other-worldly almost.
It makes you hard, able to do mighty things, but still able to be wise, mature, an old soul, and relational. It also makes you humble, resilient, and driven.
We jump to say that Chadwick Boseman was taken too early, that he was on the top of his acting abilities, and had so much to offer this world. And he was humble, strong, and had a heart for struggling folks – like him – and walked along beside them. And while all of that may be true, it was his fight against cancer, oppression, and racial justice that made him ultimately be the Black Panther – T’Challa – and all that means to this world. And it was his charity to those who needed it – walking with, being with, and sharing his time with kids and youth that must have seen him as a hero.
Have you ever thought of the Beatitudes as something of a challenge to you?
A comfort when you’re down and doing exactly what it says in the Beatitudes?
A mark to see others by as you walk along this path; who is really in the kingdom?
A goal to strive for (though you’ll never see it perfectly until you go to glory)?
Are there poor, meek, mournful, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness out there in the audience? For those that are not, have you ever thought of living like that, even for a moment?
What would it be like? What relation would you have to those around you? Would you be a team? Companions? Travelers on the road? Would you be a community? Would you be self-sacrificing for oppressed others? Would you look forward to a world with mercy, grace, hope, care, comfort, compassion, and love?
It comes back to the Beatitudes – if you want to see someone who lives for others, lives for God, and walks among us – look to the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, or those who are reviled because of who they follow. They are the children of God, and it shows to everyone who has eyes to see.