Feb 20

You Have Heard: Blessed Are the Pure in Heart

With the Sermon on the Mount, there is always the temptation to sing-song our way through the beatitudes and skip the difficult bits that follow: Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart. But the beatitudes themselves end bracingly, like a cold shower when you would give anything for a hot bath. “Rejoice and be glad,” not in frivolous blessings, but in the persecution you may face should you actually put Jesus’s teachings into practice. Too many Christians have a persecution complex. There’s a great headline from a Christian comedy site that reads, “Man Unsure If He’s Persecuted Because He’s A Christian Or Because He’s A Massive Jerk” (February 7, 2017: http://babylonbee.com/news/man-unsure-hes-persecuted-hes-christian-hes-massive-jerk/). We don’t want to be seeing persecution under every rock, or to be blind to our human failures that others, outside the church, see too well. But the promise for Christ’s followers is still a promise of a hard road, not an easy path. Continue reading

Jan 16

You Have Heard: Blessed Are the Poor…

I think the Sermon on the Mount should come with a warning labeled attached: “Yes, this means you.” In this sermon we have some of Jesus’s most challenging and confrontational teaching, but the Sermon on the Mount is not difficult because it’s hard to understand. No, there’s nothing convoluted or obscure about the Sermon on the Mount. It is as direct and as straightforward as you could wish, and that’s exactly the problem. For most of the Sermon, the meaning couldn’t be clearer, and we don’t like what it means. Blessed are the poor in spirit? Your righteousness must exceed the scribes’ and the Pharisees’? Reconcile before offering your gift to God? Who wants that? Frankly, at some point, most of us don’t want anything to do with something Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. So we’ve developed cushions, devices to place between us and the sermon, to soften it’s blow. We say, “Oh, that’s too hard; Jesus couldn’t mean that we literally need to do any of that.” Or, “the Sermon on the Mount is for super Christians, but I’m just an ordinary follower of Jesus.” Or, “salvation is by grace, so there’s no obligation to follow rules anymore.” Continue reading

Nov 07

Saints and the Way of Happiness

It happens all the time, really without us even noticing it. You wake up in the morning, and it won’t be the first thing on your mind, at least, not most days. Instead, it will creep in, naturally, slowly, without drawing attention to itself. You’ll be in a conversation with a loved one and you’ll hold back, just a little bit, what you’re thinking about. Or you’ll double-check the locks on your house before you go out for the day. You’ll walk down the street and look over your shoulder a couple times. You’ll be asked how you’re doing, and you’ll say, “Fine,” which is only half-true today. You’ll hear your candidate promising to make you safer, to hold to what is rightfully yours, and you’ll nod in gratitude. You’ll be up in bed trying to sleep, wondering how things have reached this point in your life, wishing you had had the chance to change something, to be someone else for once. Continue reading