Crossing Borders

Have you ever traveled somewhere new…somewhere different… maybe somewhere outside of your comfort zone?  

In 2015, I traveled to Wittenburg, Germany with a group of Lutheran pastors to experience the sites of Martin Luther and the reformation. 

Being there was amazing.  The history…the architecture…the culture…I loved it.  

But at the same time, I felt, a lot, like a fish out of water.  I had never been to Germany before.  And I learned…really quickly…that my two years of high school German…taken 42 years earlier…didn’t help me nearly as much as I’d hoped it would.  

 “Guten Tag,” “Auf Wiedersehen,” “Danke” and “Bitte,” and maybe a couple of other simple phrases?  No problem. But beyond that?  Well, I often found myself, just feeling kind of lost…or disoriented.

Google Translate was a lifesaver.  I would regularly find myself pointing my phone at a sign…or a menu…or a street marker and hoping that Google would accurately translate the lettering into English on my screen.  Of course…me, walking around Germany, holding my phone up to everything that had words on it and looking confused was like wearing a sign that said “Hi, my name is Todd.  I am a tourist…please rob me.”

I had crossed a border. I was a stranger in a strange land.  And I’ll be honest, it was a little bit uncomfortable.  Have you ever experienced that?

Well, this discomfort…this disorientation…this was exactly what Jesus was speaking to in our Gospel story today.  

Let’s look at this story in chapter 5 for a second.  Jesus sees crowds following him, and so he climbs up a mountain. (This little detail, by the way, will become very important later.) He climbs the mountain, and his disciples follow him.  And once there, he sits down and begins teaching:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

And so on…and so on…

Our Gospel reading for today is commonly known as “the beatitudes.”  Beatitudes simply means “blessings.”

In these beatitudes, Jesus is painting a picture, of what living in the Kingdom of God looks like.  He is asserting that to live in God’s Kingdom, is to live a life of blessing.

Understand, that every culture has its own definition of what constitutes being blessed. To be honest, in 2023 America, we think of being “blessed” as living the “good life.” 

In the world we walk in every day, to be blessed means that we have achieved a high level of economic security, or an income, or a lifestyle.  Evidence of this is easy to find:  Look at your newsfeed… watch media… who does it focus on?  The rich…the powerful…the popular.  Ever listen to an NFL player after they win a big game?  “I want to thank God for my blessings…” they often say.  

But Jesus is talking about something very different here.  Jesus understands blessings very differently than our culture does.  

Theologian Jillian Engelhardt writes about what each of these beatitudes really means; about how God thinks about blessings.  She says:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The poor in spirit are those whose hearts have been crushed by poverty, or by being ignored or left behind by our society.  Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs, for there will be no poor in spirit there. God will set things right.

Jesus says that “Blessed are those who mourn.” We all experience grief.  Grief is a wound to our heart when we lose a loved one that never fully heals. To those who mourn, Jesus brings comfort.

“Blessed are the meek,” Jesus teaches.  Here “meek” refers to people who have been abused by those who profit at their expense. Jesus reassures the meek that they are the ones who will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Righteousness means to be made right with God. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, then, are those who are looking for healing and wholeness. And Jesus says that in God’s kingdom, these people will be filled. 

“Blessed are the merciful.” Jesus says that those who practice mercy, those who give of their resources and care for the outcast, they themselves will receive mercy. In God’s Kingdom all will be welcome and will have plenty.

“Blessed are the pure in heart.” The pure in heart are those who follow the will of God in their thinking and their doing. 

“Blessed are the peacemakers.” In Matthew, peace isn’t simply a lack of violence.  It is about initiating what is good, and right, and healthy, and whole for all of God’s people.  

And finally, Jesus says “blessed are those who are persecuted for my sake.”  It is when because of your faith, people reject you, and say things about you that are untrue. The life of a disciple of Jesus runs counter to the values of the world.

So, Jesus climbed this mountain.  And once there, he teaches his disciples these blessings…these beatitudes.  Now as I said, the location, being on the mountain is a really important part of the story.  

Matthew is drawing a parallel here.  The parallel is between the story of Moses and the 10 Commandments, and this story of Jesus and the beatitudes.  Remember that roughly 1500 years earlier, Moses had climbed the mountain.  And there, he received the stone tablets with the 10 commandments on them from God…and he came back down the mountain and gave them to the people.  The Israelites would need these commandments to live together in the promised land.  Moses was preparing them to cross a boundary.  The commandments were their guide.

Now Jesus, he doesn’t climb his mountain alone.  He brought his disciples with him.  And Jesus taught them not commandments, not laws…he taught them these beatitudes…these blessings. He knew that those who followed him would need the beatitudes to live together in God’s Kingdom.  Jesus was preparing them to cross a boundary.  In this case, not a physical boundary, but a spiritual one.  And the beatitudes would be their guide.

Moses and Jesus both, were preparing their people.  They were getting them ready.  Ready for what?  Ready to cross into the promised land…ready to cross into the Kingdom of God.  And for the disciples, crossing that boundary would be like stepping into a foreign land.  Until then, all they had known was law…rules.  But now, according to Jesus, God’s Kingdom is about grace…it is about blessings.  And not just blessings for them…blessings for them…and for the poor…the meek…the mourning…

Jesus knew that this would be disorienting for his disciples.  The beatitudes were meant to help them…and, frankly, us…understand what it means to live in God’s Kingdom…to live a life that is blessed.  Jesus wants us to see that God’s Kingdom is a place of abundance and blessing and compassion for the least of these…for those on the margins.  To do that, Jesus knew that we need to understand.  We need clarity.  

Have you ever been to a 3D movie in a theater?  And before you put your attractive, stylish 3D glasses on, you sneak a peek at the screen?  It’s all blurred, and misaligned, right?  But then you put the glasses on everything comes into sharp focus.  That is what Jesus is doing.  He is describing the Kingdom of God.  And the beatitudes give complete clarity.  The beatitudes bring focus.

Jesus was saying “you are going to follow me into a new way of being; into God’s Kingdom.  And this is what it looks like:  The law will be fulfilled…and we will live lives of grace.  And God’s blessings will be given to the meek, the poor, the grieving…to those in need.  To those this world doesn’t expect.  

Moses on his mountain, gave the laws…but Jesus on this mountain, he gives the blessings.  In doing so, Jesus is changing thousands of years of religious tradition.  Jesus is focusing not on what we humans…what you and I do…but instead is focusing on the blessings God gives, and how we see them, understand them, and live them out in God’s Kingdom.

So, what if we all saw the world as God sees it, and as Jesus described it?  Blessed.  And what if our lives fully reflected God’s Kingdom and the blessings of God?  Well, the world would be as God created it to be.  The world would be beautiful.

And, Jesus is telling us that it can be.  He calls us to cross a boundary.  He wants us to help create God’s Kingdom right here…where we live.  This is to be God’s Kingdom.  

Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the pure in heart, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and all who are persecuted on Christ’s behalf.  

And, blessed are you, people of Trinity, when you have the courage to cross the boundary, when you clear your vision, and you see the blessings that God has already given to you.  

Blessed are you, when you make those blessings a reality in the lives of those around you.

Blessed are you, who live in the Kingdom of God.  Blessed are you.  Blessed are you.

Thanks be to God!


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