If the Sermon on the Mount is the key to understanding human flourishing, then the beatitudes are the key to understanding the Sermon on the Mount Therefore, rightly reading the beginning of Jesus' sermon is imperative to rightly reading the rest of it. In this first sermon of the series, we explore what it means to be blessed, who the blessed are, and how we are blessed.

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    Today, we're going to begin a new series focused on the Sermon on the Mount, which will carry us for the next few months. Some of you might be thinking, “A whole series focused on one sermon? That sounds like a bit of a snoozer.” Others might think, “Hasn't the Sermon on the Mount been a little bit overplayed? I mean, turn the other cheek, go the second mile, we've heard all that.” Or maybe the Sermon on the Mount has been used against you. Has anybody ever said to you, “Don't be so judgy.” They were using the Sermon on the Mount against you. But unless I'm mistaken, I think it's also possible that there may be people here who have never heard of the Sermon on the Mount. This is meant to be humorous, but according to some recent polls, a surprising number of people think that the biblical figure of Noah married a woman named Joan of Arc, that Sodom and Gomorrah were the names of two sisters, and that the Sermon on the Mount got its name because it was a sermon delivered on horseback! So that tells you something. 

    I would suggest that regardless of what you may or may not have heard about the Sermon on the Mount, this is the greatest sermon that has ever been told. It is the most influential message that has ever been delivered by anyone in the entire history of the world. Even those who do not consider themselves Christians have been profoundly influenced by its content. Over the next several months, we'll engage in a close reading of Jesus' famous sermon and its far reaching implications for our lives. If you already are a Christian, my bet is that you have not heard this sermon rightly, and if you are not yet a Christian, this is the most important sermon you will ever hear. 

    The question is, what kind of a sermon is this? Is this sermon meant to lift us up to soaring heights or is it meant to crush us into the dust? Is it meant to give us an inspiring call to action or is it a spiritual downer? That very question leads us into a thicket of competing interpretations. Years ago, Mark Twain joked about all the commentators who had written about the Sermon on the Mount. He says, 

    “The research of many commentators have already thrown much darkness on this subject. And it is probable that if they continue, we shall know nothing at all about it.” 

    I think part of the reason why many people avoid the Sermon on the Mount is precisely because so many commentators have thrown darkness rather than light on what Jesus was trying to say. Some talk about the sermon as a new law that tells you that God will never accept you unless you follow Jesus' words right down to every little word. 

    Then there are others who say, “No, when Jesus gave this sermon, he never really expected any of us to do what he says.” There are some people who think of the Sermon on the Mount as an impossible ideal. It's an impossible ideal. I mean, after all, didn't Jesus say, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect?” But if you look closely at Jesus' prescriptions, none of us could follow them all. It would be impossible to follow Jesus' words completely or consistently. It seems that the point of this sermon is to reveal that we can't do it, to cause us to have to appeal to God's mercy alone. It just throws us back on God's grace. But no, because Jesus ends the sermon by saying, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Jesus intended us to do what he says in the Sermon on the Mount. 

    Then there are others who would say, “No, it's not an impossible ideal, but you have to remember that there are two different kinds of people in the world.” On the one hand, there are the religious professionals. I'm a religious professional. There are religious professionals. There are the pastors. There are the priests. There are the missionaries, the people who work in so-called “full-time Christian ministry.” Jesus expected those people to follow what he had to say in the sermon, but he wouldn't expect everyone to do what he says. That would be unrealistic, but those commentators draw arbitrary lines. They create a false dichotomy between what we might call the sacred on the one hand and the secular on the other, or between the spiritual and the civil, between our private lives and our public lives. They draw a line between Sunday and Monday. 

    I would suggest, against both of those ideas, the Sermon on the Mount is not an impossible ideal, nor is it reserved for a select few that can hack it, but rather, the Sermon on the Mount reveals Jesus' vision for the good life. The whole purpose of Jesus' life and ministry was to introduce a whole new way of being human. This sermon reveals his vision for human flourishing, and that involves everyone. This is the key to our well being. This is the key to understanding how we can thrive and flourish as humans. 

    We're going to start at the beginning with what is known as the ‘Beatitudes,’ which comes from the Latin word ‘beatus’ which means blessed. What I want to tell you up front is that if the Sermon on the Mount is the key to human flourishing from Jesus' point of view, then the Beatitudes are the key to understanding the Sermon on the Mount. You'll never understand this sermon unless you get the Beatitudes right. You'll never hear this sermon rightly unless you understand what he says at the very beginning. We're going to start where Jesus starts with a word of blessing. 

    1Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

    2And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

    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 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. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

    Some of the most popular TED Talks ever delivered had been focused on the theme of the pursuit of happiness. Forty-five million people have watched Robert Waldinger speech entitled, What is the Good Life, and 25 million people have watched Dan Gilbert's presentation, The Surprising Science of Happiness. Gilbert offers this little pop quiz. He asks us to imagine two different scenarios in the future and to think, which one would we predict would make us more happy? Let me give you this pop quiz. Would you rather find out tomorrow that you have won the lottery or that you have become a paraplegic? Can you picture those two scenarios in your mind? Do you need more time? I don't think so. We would all say, “I'd much rather win the lottery than lose the use of my legs. I'm quite sure that I would be happier as a result.” But it turns out, we would fail the pop quiz because studies have been done on both of those groups and apparently after three months, both those who have won the lottery and those who have become paraplegics report being equally happy. Apparently three months is all it takes to adjust to a new set of circumstances. 

    Gilbert’s point is that we human beings are terrible at predicting what will make us happy. We have no idea what will make us happy. He suggests that there's a synthetic quality to happiness. Happiness is synthetic. In other words, we manufacture our own happiness. He says you can be as happy as you make up your mind to be. I suppose that there is some truth in that, and that might be relatively helpful, but it doesn't get you very far. What are you supposed to do with that? That's not very actionable. Apparently, he taught a class at Harvard called Why We Are Happy, which is one of the most popular classes at Harvard. He told them that we're terrible predictors of what will make us happy. But is that why so many people at Harvard signed up for the class? “I'm so happy. I just want to understand why.” 

    The point is, we human beings, we are terrible at predicting what will make us happy. Gilbert says, “Relax.” But Jesus says, “You are terrible at predicting what will make you happy, so listen up.” That is what the Sermon on the Mount is all about, and that is the ultimate question, is it not? How can we be happy? That is what we are searching for. What is the good life? How can we thrive and flourish as human beings? What will actually contribute to our long term, well-being? 

    But here's the question that I have for you: Do you really want to know? Do you really want to know what Jesus has to say? How serious are you about this question? If someone said that they had discovered the cure for cancer, but you had to very carefully follow the instructions that they give you, you would pay attention. But when Jesus says, “I'm going to unlock the key to human flourishing.” Are you interested? How serious are you? Are you willing to listen? Are you willing to do what he says? We need to pay attention. Jesus tells us that he has cracked the code for how to flourish as humans and this is it. During our time together, today, I'd like us to take up three questions. 1) What does it mean to be blessed? 2) Who are the blessed? 3) How are we blessed? In other words, we'll talk about the meaning of blessing, the object of blessing, and the secret to blessing

    What Does It Mean To Be Blessed?

    The Sermon on the Mount begins with these eight statements of blessing. ”Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek.” The first question that we need to take up is: what does it actually mean to be blessed? This is a notoriously difficult word to translate even in English. I mean, if someone sneezes, we say, “Bless you.” What does that even mean? Or if you spent any time in the South, you know that if you encounter someone who is sincere, and maybe they have good intentions, but they do something really stupid, what do people say? “Bless their heart.” What does that mean? 

    What does it mean to be blessed? Sometimes people translate the Beatitudes as ‘happy.’ "Happy are the poor in spirit. Happy are those who mourn. Happy are the meek," but that's not quite right. What Jesus has to say about blessedness is not less than happiness, but it's a whole lot more. Happiness is defined as enjoying pleasure and satisfaction. But that wouldn't make any sense of Jesus' words. There's nothing enjoyable or satisfying about mourning or thirsting. It would be trite to suggest so. Therefore we have to look deeper. What's the difference between happiness and blessedness? To be happy is a subjective experience based on our circumstances, but to be blessed is an objective state that doesn't fluctuate or change. That is what we want. We want to find a joy that lasts and that endures despite what life might throw at us, something that can never be taken away from us. That's what we long for. That I would suggest is what Jesus offers. That's what Jesus is talking about when he describes the ‘Blessed One.’ 

    The thing that you need to understand is that in the Bible, there are actually two words in Hebrew that are translated as ‘blessed’ in English. There are two different meanings behind that word ‘blessed’ and Jesus brings them together. He combines them in his Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. To be blessed, from Jesus' point of view, means 1) favor and 2) flourishing. They go together. They're intimately related to one another. 

    Blessing is closely tied to the concept of God's covenant. You can see it right from the beginning of the Bible. In Genesis 12, when God enters into a covenant, when he enters into a special relationship with Abraham, he promises him “I will bless you, so that in time, the whole world will be blessed through you.” That's the essence of the covenant: to be in relationship with God. "I will be your God and you will be my people." If you are rightly related to God through his covenant, if you receive his favor, then that will lead to flourishing. That's what it means to be blessed. Think of the opposite. What's the opposite of blessing? Curse. If you're not blessed by God, you're cursed by God. To be cursed is to be cut off from God, and if you're cut off from God, nothing else in life is going to go well. To be blessed, to receive his favor, means that it will lead to flourishing. 'Blessed' means to find favor with God, to be accepted, to be approved, to be welcomed into the heart of things. That's when you'll actually flourish in life. 

    There are a number of examples that we could point to. Psalm 1, which we used as our Call to Worship this morning, tells us that the ‘blessed one,’ the one who's fortunate, the one who's in an enviable position, is the one who is rightly related to God through his covenant and therefore that person thrives, prospers, flourishes. “Blessed is the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on his law day and night.” "That person is like a tree." What kind of a tree? "A tree that is planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit and season, and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever they do prospers." Favor and flourishing go together. Psalm 32 says the same thing, “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Favor and flourishing, if we want to experience blessing, we have to find the favor of God with which leads to our ultimate flourishing. 

    Whether we recognize this longing for what it is or not, I would suggest that this is the deepest desire of all of our hearts. We want to be blessed. We want to experience the good life. We want to thrive and flourish. That's why we work so hard. That's why we work so hard to make more money or to get into certain circles of influence, to gain power and prestige, to be fit and healthy. We work so hard to try to find the good life on our own, but we're not listening to the source. We're terrible predictors of what will make us happy because we've missed the key ingredient. There is no flourishing apart from God. There is no flourishing apart from his favor. Augustine famously put it like this: “God made us for himself, and therefore our hearts are restless, until we find our rest in him.” If you're not right with him, nothing else in your life will be right. But if you are right with God through his covenant of grace, that's when the blessings will begin to flow. 

    Who Are The Blessed?

    The second question we need to ask ourselves is: If that's what it means to be blessed, who exactly is Jesus talking about? Who are the blessed? Who is his target audience? At the very beginning of the passage, Matthew 5:1 we read, “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.” In our day, usually when someone is going to teach, they stand up and address the crowd. But in the first century, a rabbi would sit down to address his students. Jesus is primarily addressing his disciples. But then at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, we read that after Jesus finished the sayings, "the crowds were astonished." They were astonished at his teaching. Jesus is primarily talking to his followers, and yet he expects the crowds to listen in. That's true today as well. The Sermon on the Mount is directed first and foremost to Jesus' followers, but anyone, regardless of their background or their beliefs, should look on and listen in to what Jesus has to say. I know that both groups of people undoubtedly are represented in this sanctuary this morning. 

    Still the question remains, who exactly is Jesus talking about? Yes, he's addressing his disciples and his followers, but who receives this word of blessing? Who are these Beatitudes for? This is where most people make one of two mistakes. If you make one of these two mistakes, you will hear the entire Sermon on the Mount wrong. You'll hear it all wrong. 

    The first mistake is to read the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount in a rigid, moralistic way. When you do that, you assume that Jesus is listing a set of virtues that we are meant to cultivate. And if we cultivate these virtues, then God will bless you. If you work really hard, and try to become poor in spirit, or if you mourn enough, or if you're meek enough, then you can earn God's blessing. But that would turn his blessing into a spiritual attainment, which we acquire through our own effort. That's the first mistake, to read the Beatitudes in this rigid moralistic way. 

    The second mistake is to do the opposite. Some people overreact to that rigid moralistic way of reading the Beatitudes, and they read it instead in a lax permissive way. That's also a mistake because what ends up happening there is people say, “The blessed are not the virtuous, but the victims. Those whom Jesus blesses are not the virtuous, but the victims.” If one hyper-spiritualizes the Beatitudes, the other approach hyper-secularizes the Beatitudes. One commentator, who I admire quite a bit on almost every other matter, makes this mistake. He says those who are beaten down and crushed by life are blessed simply because of what they have suffered. Poverty, grief, powerlessness, injustice. But nowhere does Jesus ever suggest that we are better off by virtue of being poor or grief-stricken. I mean, can you imagine if you're talking to a parent who had just lost a child, and you said to them, “Blessed are those who mourn.” That would be cruel. That's not at all what Jesus is talking about. The one mistake suggests that if you cultivate the right attitude, you will be blessed, and the other that if you're simply the victim of circumstance, you will be blessed—regardless of whether God enters into the picture or not. But that can't possibly be what Jesus is talking about. 

    Years ago, Dallas Willard put it like this. He said, given these two mistakes, 

    “Here we have full-blown, if not salvation by works, then possibly salvation by attitude. Or even by situation and chance, in case you happen to be persecuted, for example—meritorious attitude or circumstance guarantees acceptance with God! Can we really imagine that Jesus had anything like this in mind?” 

    If we're not supposed to read the Beatitudes in this rigid, moralistic way or this lax permissive way, how are we supposed to read it? We're supposed to read it in a gospel-centered way. The Beatitudes are telling you, “You are worse than you think. And yet, at the very same time, you are more loved than you could ever imagine.” That is the key. 

    What I want you to notice here is that the first and the last blessing end with the same promise, “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” That should tip you off. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." That phrase brackets the Beatitudes, which tells us that this is what the Beatitudes are all about. The Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount are all about the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God. 

    Here is the idea. The whole reason why Jesus came was to introduce a completely new way of being a human being. You see that based on the way in which he launches his public career. If you look at the immediately preceding chapter, Matthew 4, Jesus goes around announcing his primary message. What did Jesus say? What did he run around telling people? We would think that based on our understanding of Christianity in 21st century America that Jesus must have gone around from town to town saying, “If you believe in me, you can go to heaven when you die leaving the rest of your life here now otherwise unchanged.” That's not what he says. Nor does Jesus run around saying, “If you'd like to enjoy an uplifting spiritual experience, you might want to hang out with me.” No, he doesn't say that either. What does he say? Jesus says, “Forget everything you know. Forget everything you have heard, because here comes the kingdom of God." The kingdom of God is now a present reality. The power of God and the presence of God are accessible. It's available to you now because it is present in the person of the king, and his name is Jesus. The kingdom is wherever Jesus, the King, is present, wherever his reign is acknowledged, wherever evil is subdued, wherever his people are rescued, wherever his ways are followed. He brings the kingdom and when he unleashes the power and presence of God upon this world, it changes everything. He's introducing a whole new way of being human. 

    I understand that this talk about the kingdom of God can be a little bit abstract. What do we actually mean by that? So let me give you this analogy. Whenever there's a new president or a new governor or a new mayor or a new CEO who comes to power, what do they do? They establish a new administration. Their power is expressed through new policies, new priorities, new strategies, new ways of getting things done. More often than not, the goal is to try to improve human lives in some way. We could think of the kingdom of God as the administration of God, the administration of Jesus. But with this important difference. It's not as if Jesus is introducing a new administration that's just like all the old ones, and he's simply swapping out the players. No, his administration is the exact opposite of everything we've ever seen or experienced before. His kingdom turns the values, the priorities, the commitments, the standards of our world upside down. His goal is not merely to improve human lives, but to change them to make us radically different creatures than we were before. He is introducing a whole new way of being human. That's why he says, “Forget everything you know. Forget everything you've ever heard. Here comes the kingdom. Here comes the loving, gracious rule of Jesus. That is the gospel. That's the thrilling news of the gospel. 

    When it comes to the Beatitudes, here's the main thing that you need to understand. Let me give you a little hint. If you don't remember anything I said this morning, remember this part. When it comes to the Beatitudes, Jesus is not telling you what you need to do, or what kind of attitude you need to cultivate in order to enter into the kingdom, in order to win God's favor and blessing. Jesus is not telling you what you need to do in order to enter the kingdom. He's telling you what happens to you when the reign of God falls upon you. 

    When you place yourself under the power and the presence of God that has been made manifest in the person of Jesus, you become—in a word—‘different’—radically different. He's not telling you what you need to do to enter the kingdom. He's telling you what happens to you when you encounter the kingdom by sheer grace. You become a whole new kind of person. And the Beatitudes reveal the upside down nature of the kingdom of God. These are the qualities and the characteristics that define an authentic Christian life. 

    How Are We Blessed?

    The last question we have to take up is, how exactly does this work? How do we receive this blessing? In response, I'm going to focus on the very first Beatitude. We won't even get past the first Beatitude today, but this first Beatitude is the key to unlocking all the others. 

    Writing 500 years ago, Martin Luther suggested that the words of Jesus here in verse 3 fly in the face of our commonly held beliefs, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” No one in the history of the world has ever said anything like that. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Luther suggested that the greatest and the most universal religion in the world, the greatest most universal religion in the world is the belief in success. Whether it takes the form of succeeding and acquiring wealth or power or prestige or whatever—everybody thinks that personal accomplishment is the path to happiness. Or if you were to put it in religious terms, we would say that the one who is blessed is the one who is self-sufficient. The one who is strong. The one who's righteous. The one who's got deep spiritual resources. The person who knows the Bible, who loves to pray. Jesus says, “Nope. Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 

    This is a tricky verse, I admit, because in the parallel passage in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus omits those words ‘in spirit.’ He just says, “Blessed are the poor,” which naturally then raises the question, what is he talking about? Is Jesus talking about spiritual poverty or material poverty? We need to be careful not to drive a wedge between the two. Conservative scholars say, “Of course, he's only talking about spiritual poverty.” Liberal scholars would say, “No, he's saying that the poor are automatically blessed simply by virtue of being poor.” But no, you need to understand that spiritual poverty and material poverty in the Bible are connected to one another in a very specific way. In the Old Testament, the word ‘poor’ was used almost as a technical term to describe not merely people who were materially impoverished or physically oppressed, but rather, the word 'poor' describe those who are materially impoverished and physically oppressed, and who—in the midst of their plight—rely on God alone as their only source for help and for hope. We can't drive a wedge between these two. Jesus is not saying that poverty in of itself is a blessing. No one would want to live below the poverty line. There's nothing inherently good about poverty. 

    So what is Jesus saying? What he is saying is that while that may be the case, it often proves true that those who are materially impoverished, are under less illusions about their need for God. And therefore, they're more receptive to receive his grace and to enter into his kingdom. That was true in Jesus' day and it remains true in our own day. The point is, whether we are materially well-off or not, the secret to the life that Jesus offers is not to try to build up spiritual resources of our own, but rather to acknowledge our spiritual bankruptcy. The more we come to see God for who he is, the more we see ourselves for who we really are. We acknowledge our poverty and we realize our desperate need for his grace. 

    Let me close with this final story from the Old Testament, which illustrates this point. You may be familiar with the figure of Jacob, the second son of Isaac and Rebecca. Throughout Jacob's life, he's a little bit of a trickster. He's duplicitous. He's conniving. He exploits his brother Esau's hunger and swindles him out of his birthright by trading it for a bowl of soup. Then later, he works in cahoots with his own mother, Rebecca, and tricks his blind father into giving him the blessing that was intended for Esau. When Esau finds out that Jacob has stolen not only his birthright, his inheritance, but also his blessing, he's furiously angry. So Jacob has to flee for his life. He spends decades away from home. Eventually, he's got nowhere else to go, so he begins his journey home. In Genesis 32, he learns that his brother Esau has come to meet him. The night before he comes face-to-face with his brother Esau again, he wrestles with a mysterious figure, who he later realizes is God. He wrestles all night with God, and with one touch, God knocks his hip out of its socket so that Jacob is going to spend the rest of his life walking with a limp. But as daybreak comes, God tells Jacob to give up. “You're not going to win. Let go.” But Jacob says, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” What does he want? He wants the blessing, the favor of God that will lead to flourishing. 

    How would God respond to such a request coming from a person like Jacob? It's a very curious response because he turns to Jacob and says, “What is your name?” Why would he do that? Why would he ask: “What is your name?” Do you know what the name 'Jacob' means? It means usurper, swindler, liar, cheat. God makes him say his name: Jacob. But that's the moment he receives God's grace because, finally, the duplicity is gone. Finally, he is able to see himself for who he really is. Finally, he's willing to acknowledge his desperate need for God's grace and God's grace alone. That’s what changes him because then God gives him a new name. It’s Israel, and he will become the father of a great nation. 

    This is what it means to become a Christian. A Christian is not someone who merely acknowledges their sin or admits their mistakes. Anybody can do that. Pharisees acknowledge their mistakes. A Christian is someone who acknowledges not only their sin, but also admits that even the best things that they have done have been tainted with self-interest. A Christian is someone who acknowledges their poverty of spirit. They know that at the end of the day, they are spiritually bankrupt. They have no currency with God. You and I, we don't have anything to commend ourselves to God. We don't have any leverage over God. God owes us nothing. We could never turn to God and say, "I deserve better." No, we're spiritually bankrupt. All we can do is say, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross, I cling.” When we acknowledge that we are empty, and we've got nothing, that's when he fills us. That's when the power and the presence of God comes upon us and we become a whole new creature. We receive his favor, and that's what leads to our flourishing. 

    The question, of course, is how? How can God do that? How can God accept a person like Jacob in light of everything that he'd ever done? How could he accept someone like you? How can you accept someone like me? Only because of Jesus. Only because on the cross Jesus is the one who was crushed. Jesus is the one who was wounded. Psalm 22, all of his bones were knocked out of joint. Jesus is the king who had all the riches in the world, but he became poor so that through his poverty, you and I might become rich. All of this is ours if we simply acknowledge that we need it. Blessed are the poor in spirit, the spiritually bankrupt, those who know that they are spiritual zeros because the moment you acknowledge your emptiness, you will be filled. That's the key to human flourishing. The question is, do you want it? Do I want it? Are we willing to do that? Are we really willing to do that? Can we acknowledge our poverty? Look at me, I'm a pastor. I'm a preacher and a teacher, a student of the Bible and of the human heart. Can I honestly admit that I don't have any spiritual resources of my own. But it's true. Compared to God, and his riches, we are nothing. We've got nothing to commend, nothing to give, nothing to offer. All we can do is receive. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross, I cling.” 

    I want you to remember this because the Sermon on the Mount is a sermon all about doing. There are lots of things that we're going to have to do in response to his grace, but it all starts right here by acknowledging that we do not have the spiritual resources at all. We're bankrupt. We do not have the spiritual wherewithal to follow through on the things that Jesus calls us to. We’re absolutely, 100 percent, completely dependent upon his grace to do anything that he requires of us. This sermon is all about doing. Living out the ethic of the kingdom begins with acknowledging our poverty, and we never move past that—ever. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross, I cling."

    Let's pray. 

    Father, we acknowledge we want your favor. We want to know what it means to be accepted, to be approved, to be welcomed into the heart of things, so that we might experience the flourishing that only you can offer. Help us to move past our pride, our stubborn resistance, and to listen to what Jesus is trying to tell us. We thank you that he holds forth the key to flourishing and by sheer grace through the Spirit's power, gives us the ability to become whole new kinds of human beings. Work that grace in us. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.