"This is the distillation of the Beatitudes, a glimpse into the mind of Jesus. This is the job description of the church, the Christian, the human being as we were always intended to be."
OK, right at the start let me say that in the context of this sermon it doesn’t matter if you consider the Genesis story of Creation to be literal history as shown, or simply a story looking at Creation from a Jewish perspective to counter the prevailing stories from the surrounding counties, and handed down from one generation to another until set down to be read.
Whatever your viewpoint there are great truths to be found within it!
1) Firstly that we have special responsibilities as image-bearers of God. And as image-bearers we have to desire the Tree of Life and not the other one that feeds our pride so that we think we can play at being God and judge between good and evil.
2) Secondly it tells us what we already know, that humans have consistently chosen the wrong tree!
Instead of imitating and reflecting the image of God in our lives we start competing with God, edging God out and playing by our own rules. We reject the Creator and chose another model instead, represented by the snake, which seems to show a desire to choose rivalry and violence over harmony and well-being.
In the Genesis story, Adam and Eve eat from the wrong tree and somehow feel a change come over them, there seems to be a distrust and fear which causes them to hide their nakedness.
When God approaches they hide in fear, seeing him as a rival and threat, blame each other and refuse to admit their guilt. The result in the story is that their lives become harder outside the garden that was their home. East of Eden.
Their sons, Cain and Abel follow a similar pattern, and it ends with Cain resenting perceived favours heaped on his rival brother. So Cain becomes the first murderer and Abel the first victim of violence.
It’s a very simplistic story, but within it we can see a pattern.
Humanity, created to be image-carriers of a loving, generous life-giving God become graspers, hiders, blamers and shamers. With Cain and Abel we add to that by becoming rivals, resenters, murderers and destroyers – and a long, long way from the image of God.
These stories if nothing else chart the progress of humanity and help us to understand its brokenness – and it’s mostly about our desires.
We’ve stopped imitating God’s desires to create and bless and give life, and instead we’ve started imitating the prideful, competitive, fearful and often harmful desires we see in other people – the desire to have what they have, the desire to compete and consume, the desire to label people as good or evil, the desire to harm those who are obstacles to our desires.
Desire is not bad in itself. Genesis does tell us though that to be alive is to imitate God’s generous desires to create, love and bless, to help, to serve, build up, to care for, to save and to enjoy.
To make the wrong choice – to imitate the desires of others, to embrace envy and greed, to push God to one side….is to choose a path that leads not to life but death.
This is the drama that we all live our lives within – we have choices to make, a choice of desires. Jesus is sometimes referred to as the Second Adam, but Jesus did not grasp at God-like status.
His life was about service, pouring out himself for others, suffering and sacrificing his life that others might understand what real life is all about.
He invited people to follow him, but this could also be expressed as "imitate me".
The Creation story challenges us to become those image-carriers that bring the qualities that we hear about in The Beatitudes – serving, caring, loving, standing up against injustice…and doing all these with humility.
The marks of a saint.
If we look in Scripture, the word "hagios" which we translate as "saint2 and means holy, a likeness in nature with the Lord, set apart (or different), can be found 67 times in the plural "the saints" and only once in the singular.
For example, when Ananias hears God wanting him to go and find the newly converted Paul he says; “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:13)
Now the saints that Ananias talks about are not statues of the dead that are revered by some but real people, the believers, the church!
I think Scripture would rather us remember all the believers who have lived out their faith day by day over so many generations.
Because that seems to be the way Scripture talks of saints, in the plural and meaning the church, those called to follow a different way than that of the prevailing culture, be holy….summed up so eloquently in 1 Cor 1:2
“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours”
Called to be saints – that’s what the church’s calling is. That’s what our calling is. It might seem a big ask, something you’ve never thought about it in that sense before, but it is so much of a big ask?
Let’s look at Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes and see how they help us understand sainthood!
To put the reading in context, what we have under the heading of the Sermon on the Mount, of which this is a part, are not ideas that Jesus has just thought up.
The way in which it is written suggest to us that this is actually a distillation of all that Jesus was sharing with his disciples given to us in one block by Matthew, and the Beatitudes are examples of real people that Jesus has come across, not ideals he would like to see – people that the disciples might actually recognise from his descriptions, the first saints of the church most of whose names we will never know and never be able to designate a day to remember,
I’m not going to go through each of the Beatitudes one by one, which we could do, (it would probably take an hour or two!) but rather look at them in the light of our reading from Genesis.
If you can remember that far back, I reminded us that we were, according to the wisdom of the Genesis story, created in the image of God – to be God’s image bearers or carriers through the kind of life that we live and the desires that we express - the fruit of which tree we are eating (hopefully from the tree of Life!)
I want to look at two aspects only – attitudes and desires – and remember that I said earlier that we are called to be the image-bearers that Genesis talks about, a way of living that is also reflected in the life of Jesus.
So in the beatitudes, which don’t always translate well (what do we mean by the poor in spirit?) we find so many of the attitudes, the fruitfulness that is seen in Jesus – righteousness, humility, meekness, perseverance under persecution, a love for all of humanity, mercy and forgiveness, compassion.
And when it comes to desires we see a hunger for justice, a yearning for peace, wanting the best in and for others, wholeness and healing.
This is the distillation of the Beatitudes, a glimpse into the mind of Jesus. This is the job description of the church, the Christian, the human being as we were always intended to be.
This is what Adam and Eve – or humanity should have aspired to become.
This is what Jesus was looking for in his disciples.
This is what he’s looking for in us.
It’s a bit counter-culture. The way of the world is that happiness comes through possessing things. The way of the disciple, the saint is acknowledging that happiness ultimately cannot be found through the possession of things, but in knowing and putting trust and faith in God. It’s having nothing and having everything at the same time, however weird that might sound.
The way of the world is that it’s the strong and pushy who get everything. The way of the saint should be one of meekness, which is not weakness but as Aristotle defined it a happy medium between getting angry at the right time and not getting angry at the right time! Think of it as being in control of our emotions.
The way of the world is that if someone hurts you, you hurt them back. The way of the saint is that of showing mercy, which in this context means getting inside the mind of the other person and seeing the situation from their point of view. That can be quite revealing at times!
The way of the world is to think of yourself first, and others later. The way of the saint is to live lives that are God-centred rather than self-centred, to only want the best in others, lives that in being blessed become a blessing for others. The Jewish greeting shalom means that the greeter wishes the one they are greeting peace, prosperity and wholeness – nothing but the best.
Jesus wants to see shalom makers in the world.
The way of the world is to avoid conflict and unrest, even where it impinges on what is right and just. The way of the saint is always to speak out where there is injustice in the world – to hunger after justice. This is desire with passion. And when this causes conflict with the world, the saint is willing to suffer persecution for the sake of others.
This is totally counter-culture, to suffer, perhaps even suffer death for the sake of others.
Who would do that willingly?
The Beatitudes is not a rule book.
It’s an encouragement to see these qualities in others, and seek at least some of them (let’s not get too ambitious at the start!) in our own lives!
We are part of the body of Christ here in this place – according to Scripture we have therefore responded to the call to be different, to be counter-culture, to be image-bearers of God in our words and actions – to be the saints that we read about earlier.