Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May 29, 2011 - The Sermon On the Mount - The Beatitudes - Considering Our Relationships

May 29, 2011

Matthew 5:7; Luke 6:36; Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:18;

Matthew 5:10-12; Romans 8:37-39

The Sermon On the Mount

The Beatitudes – Considering Our Relationships

The other evening I was in the greeting card aisle looking for an anniversary card – Tanya and I celebrated our 27th anniversary on Thursday – and I was surprised to find a category of cards I didn’t know existed. As you look through the rack each pocket of cards has a subject and then a line below with the general message. Did you know there is a category of cards called Troubled Relationship? (And by the way, I didn’t buy Tanya’s card from that section!) I was so fascinated by this I decided to take a picture. I took out my phone and was lining up the shot and a guy further down the rack of cards was watching me with a look that said now that’s cheap. He’s going to take a picture of a card and give the picture to someone. Which is not a bad idea, by the way.

Is it a sign of the times telling us there are more relationships that are troubled, or is it simply a sign that someone has figured out how to make money off of troubled relationships? The cards had sentiments such as, I wish I could go back; Always know that I love you; Real love isn’t perfect.

This morning, continuing our series of messages on The Sermon On the Mount, we are Considering Our Relationships. The past two weeks we have been looking at the Beatitudes, which constitute the first twelve verses of the Sermon. The first week we studied the Beatitudes as a prescription for happiness. Last week we studied them in regard to our attachments. This week, we study those Beatitudes speak to our relationships.

Three of the Beatitudes that speak to our relationships –

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Almost everything in life is relationally oriented. Actually, it is more accurate to say that everything in life is relationally oriented. A friend of mine tells me how he and his business partners spend a lot of time trying to come up with ways to make their clients sticky, that is, how they can keep them as loyal clients. They do so by spending a lot of time cultivating relationships with their clients. That’s why so many business deals are done on the golf course, as it’s a way to cultivate a relationship. Church is about relationships. People often come to a church because of a relationship with a friend or neighbor who invites them. Whether or not a person stays in a church depends in large part on whether or not they develop relationships with others in the congregation. Ministry is founded on relationships. When I came home from camp the summer after I graduated from high school and told my parents I had made a public commitment to enter the ministry my mom told me two things immediately – first, there is no shame in deciding to leave the ministry, because it can be very difficult, and second, good pastoral relationships can overcome a lot of bad sermons, but no amount of good sermons can overcome bad relationships.

How many of us have at least one relationship that is troubled? How many of us have a fractured relationship that we just don’t quite know how to fix? Or, maybe we aren’t ready to fix it.

Jesus spent a lot of time focusing on relationships. He told parables about relationships. The parable of the prodigal son, perhaps his most famous, is about relationships. His entire mission was about relationship – the relationship between humanity and God. Much of the Sermon On the Mount concerns relationships. When our relationships are good, life is good; when our relationships suffer; life suffers.

To have healthy, successful relationships, Jesus presents three qualities in the Beatitudes. Normally, I would say I wish we had more time to cover this, but as this is a holiday weekend we can all stay about an hour longer, right?

The first quality is –

Mercy. Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.

In 1970 the movie Love Story was a big hit. Did anyone see that movie? I can’t remember if I did, that’s a long time ago. Also, I was in the eighth grade so I’m sure I thought it was gross. There was a line in that movie that was a really unfortunate line – anyone remember it – love means never having to say you’re sorry. Would that work at your house? Isn’t that just about the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard? Whoever wrote that line probably came up with it after doing something dumb. Yes, I forgot your birthday, Christmas, and our anniversary. And I forgot our kid’s birthdays. But you know what? Love means never having to say you’re sorry. Never saying you’re sorry is about the worst relationship advice I have ever heard. If you love someone you will say you’re sorry – every day, if necessary. And when someone does express sorrow – mercy must be given. Love is all about grace and mercy.

Mercy is foundational to the Christian faith. Many of the parables of Jesus, as I have said, are about relationships and one of the things those parables teach us about relationships is about being merciful. One who has been given mercy, Jesus says, will in turn extend mercy to another.

Mercy that offers grace and it does so because mercy asks us to understand the perspective and the experiences of another person. In keeping relationships healthy we have to ask ourselves what is the other person experiencing that may cause them to say those words that have hurt me? What is the other person experiencing that may cause them to act in such a puzzling manner?

Mercy asks us to step beyond our own feelings and experiences and to seek to understand the feelings and experiences of another. I have learned a few lessons about people over the years and one of those lessons is this – the issue that seems to be causing difficulty in a relationship is often not the real issue. The real issue is often much deeper and we can discover the real issue when we seek to understand what is going on in the life, the heart, and the mind of another person.

The second quality is –

Reconciliation. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Everyone wants peace, but doing something about creating peace is a different matter entirely.

To be a peacemaker is to do the work of God, because peacemaking is the work of reconciliation, which is at the heart of what God does. Paul writes in Romans 5:18-20, God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he had committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

Paul uses the word reconcile five times in that brief passage – it’s important to him! Reconciliation is deeper than how we often think of peace. Peace can simply mean a détente, which means conflict is managed but the relationship is not whole. We had détente with the Soviet Union for years, but you couldn’t say it was a healthy relationship. Some people have a détente in their personal relationships – they come to a spoken or unspoken agreement to be civil with one another but there is no restoration or reconciliation of the relationship.

To be a peacemaker means to take an active role in the healing and restoration of a relationship. This is where things get very difficult in relationships. How many of us have a relationship that is waiting on someone to step forward and make that first step down the road of restoration? But we may resist and say, I’m not the one that is at fault here. It’s not my responsibility to try to fix this relationship. But someone has to take that first step. You may not be able to fix things. The other person may resist to the point that it is impossible to fix the relationship, but a peacemaker is one who will take that first step of reconciliation. There are some people who will resist the restoration of a relationship and they will never admit any fault and they will never make an effort at restoration. But a peacemaker – one who does the work of God at reconciling – is one who will make the attempt to bring reconciliation to a relationship.

Peacemaking moves beyond the personal to the corporate. Peacemaking involves groups, churches, communities, and nations. It means that rather than fanning the flames of discord and conflict we will work for peace.

We will talk about this more when we come to the end of chapter five, as it certainly deserves a closer study.

The third quality is –

Being who you are. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

I’m going to give you a little window into the life of being a minister. Sometimes, people don’t want you to believe what you believe; they want you to believe what they believe. Sometimes, people want their beliefs affirmed by either religious or political leadership.

But here’s the problem – we can’t represent every person’s beliefs, can we? I can’t, and neither can you. One of the reasons I am a Disciple is because of this very point. There are too many churches who want to give religious tests and doctrinal examinations so they can give approval or disapproval to what a person believes. They have religious tests and belief tests they impose upon people. Disciples don’t form creeds and they don’t impose creedalism upon people.

We live in a time when both ends of the political and religious spectrum want to enforce conformity of belief upon people. I think that’s wrong. I may not agree with what you believe, but I’ll be happy to talk with you and listen to you and debate you, but I won’t insist you agree with me. And I will resist creating any atmosphere that creates a sense that you must agree with me, or anyone else.

But there are consequences to what we believe – Jesus says this in the final Beatitudes. He says there are those who either will persecute you because of what you believe and because of who you are. We are fortunate to live in a society that allows freedom of worship, belief, and expression, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t pressure to conform and attempts to take away those freedoms. And there are countries in this world who persecute people because of their religious beliefs and because of who they are. There are brothers and sisters in Christ around the world suffering terribly because of their faith. That is tragic and it is wrong.

What Jesus is asking of us is to simply be who we are, regardless of how people respond to us. If you are a follower of Jesus some people won’t like it and may give you a hard time. Be a follower of Jesus anyway. People may not like your beliefs and they may give you a hard time – be who you are. People may not like what you think – think what you think anyway. Live free and allow others to live free.

Be free and be who God has created you to be no matter how anybody threatens you. This is Memorial Day weekend, when we remember those who helped ensure our freedom, and freedom is a gift that comes ultimately from God. It was for freedom, Paul writes in Galatians 5:1, that Christ has set us free.

May we pray.

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