Hi friends! We kicked off the program year at RCC this weekend with a fun Rally “Weekend” – we had a Rally Night on Friday night with a cookout, games, s’mores, movie and fellowship for all ages! Apparently this was an old tradition at RCC that hasn’t happened in a few years (this was my 9th Rally Weekend at RCC and I’ve never experienced it, so it’s been that long, at least!), so we thought we’d do it again this year and had a great time! The Youth Group stuck around for a lock-in that night and it just kind of put us in the spirit for Rally Day on Sunday.
We did a blessing of the backpacks on Sunday during worship – we invite the kids to bring in their backpacks from home and we put tags on them and then say a blessing over them. It was great to have such a wonderful turnout with our families (42 kids total!).
We kicked off a 12-week sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount this weekend by looking at The Beatitudes. I started by talking about why I chose a scripture-based sermon series (as opposed to a thematic one) for this fall and then talked broadly about the Sermon on the Mount before focusing on the Beatitudes.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
September 8, 2019
Blessed In This Season
When we started the Year of Mark last year, I did not really have any expectations. Jon told me one of the big reasons he did at Westfield was because they surveyed the congregation and members shared that their biblical literacy was not as strong as they wanted it to be. And while that is a compelling reason to spend an entire year preaching through one gospel, truth be told, I was just kind of bored with the lectionary and looking for a preaching challenge.
The cool part about the Year of Mark is that it was a story; a continual narrative of Jesus’ life and ministry. We did not jump around from book to book of the bible, trying to figure out where we were and what was going on every week. This was a first for me in my preaching career, but I LOVED it; I loved not having to give a whole lot of context every week and just jumping in to talk about the text. I loved building from week to week, feeling like there was continuity in what we were learning about, as a congregation.
And so I knew fairly early on that I probably would not jump back into the lectionary when the Year of Mark was over; that I liked the linear steps of a sermon series. But this led me into a place of discernment, because I really was not sure what was next.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to sermon series – scripture-based and thematic. Scripture-based is like what we did with the Year of Mark. Is it expository; you look at one big block of scripture (either an entire book or a large portion of one) and just preach through it, piece by piece, with no expectations about what you might learn. A thematic sermon series is like what we did with our summer sermon series on hospitality; you take one theme and break it into sub-parts and then find scriptures that coordinate well with whatever you are preaching on.
There are pros and cons to both methods. Thematic sermon series tend to have an easier buy-in with people, because (in my experience anyway) it tends to be easier to get people excited about ideas that are, sort of, tangible and relevant in their own lives than it is to get them excited about a book of the bible.
On the other hand, scripture was meant to be read and understand as a whole and not cherry-picked to defend whatever proclamation we are trying to make. We learn a lot more about scripture and about our faith when we are forced to preach on hard passages in scripture-based sermon series. Do you guys remember the look of terror in my eyes when I stood up to preach on the divorce passage in Mark last year? It was hard and I did not necessarily want to do it; but I am a better preacher because of it because this is how we learn and grow in our faith.
I have come to the conclusion that there is room for both types of sermon series, but that you just need to be intentional about why you are choosing to do one or the other. Which leads me to this morning – not only is it Rally Day, but we are kicking off a 12-week sermon series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, from the Gospel of Matthew, chapters five through seven.
I did honestly contemplate moving away from the Gospels (and we will, I promise!) but as I looked at where we are, as a congregation, and what we hope to accomplish in the fall, which is a very busy season at our church, one where are very often out in the community showcasing our church and what we think it means to be disciples of Christ, I kept coming back to Jesus.
In her first book, Faith Unraveled, the late Rachel Held Evans talks about her crisis of faith and how she committed one summer to reading through all four Gospels because, after pouring through commentaries and systematic theology books, she “decided to see if Jesus had the answer.” And I think, as both a church and a culture, it is imperative right now that we look to Jesus for the answers to our questions; to make sure our foundation is set in Jesus – in both the life he lived and the lives he now calls us to live.
So why the Sermon on the Mount? Well, it kind of started with all of these funerals I have been doing. I tend to use the Beatitudes (which is today’s passage) a lot in funerals and so, as I keep reading these words that we just heard, it has left me with a desire to keep reading and hear the rest of what Jesus has to say on the mountain.
The Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5-7 – is the best-known portion of the Gospel of Matthew. These three chapters are the most widely read chapters – they contain the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer and various sayings that have been woven into the repertoire of popular proverbs and folk wisdom. The theme of this sermon is discipleship – what does it means to respond to the call of Jesus?
Despite the fact that this is fairly early on in the Gospel, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount lends credence to the divinity of Jesus. When Jesus goes up to the mountain it evokes the imagery of God’s revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai. And in verse two, where it says, “Then [Jesus] began to speak,” the literal translation of this is, “opening of his mouth,” which, again, sort of implies this revelation of God and, again, the divinity of Jesus as he ascends to the top of this mountain to teach.
It is important to point out that Jesus purposefully distances himself from the crowd and is speaking directly to the disciples. The disciples are his intended audience, which means that this sermon is an inherent Christian teaching and not just an exposition on good moral behavior. This is a critical point we allhave to wrap our heads around, because I think often we say, “Oh you just have to be a good person. Don’t worry about the religious stuff.” But because Jesus chooses to speak solely to his disciples here, he is boldly declaring that it is not enough to simply be a good person, but that, as Christians, we have to make a deep and radical commitment to follow Christ and his teachings.
Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes, which are expressed as blessings. The word “blessed” appears nine times; it comes from the Latin word, Beati, and the Greek, Makarioi. Jesus used to the word “blessed” indicated God’s favor towards certain types of people – some vulnerable (the pour in spirit, those who mourn, the meek) and some who are working fervently for the Kingdom of God (those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness sake).
The Beatitudes, as a whole, remind us that we are not alone – that God is with us, no matter what we might be going through in life, and that God sees what we are doing and going through and is affirming us by bestowing a blessing upon us. It creates this image where every single member of the Body of Christ is blessed in the eye of God; this radical and unending love that encircles us, assuring us that no matter who we are or what we are going through, we are blessed, we are makarioi.
So whether we are deep in a season of mourning or we are fighting for peace and righteousness, we are blessed, we are makarioi.
As I thought about the Beatitudes this week, I realized that this blessing is not just something that is bestowed upon us at one point in our lives, but through every single season that we journey through. I am sure most people can relate to what I am about to say – there are seasons of life where I feel like I am on top of everything and doing well and feeling strong and then there are season of life where I feel like I am Bambi learning how to walk. But the really cool part about the Beatitudes is that it reminds me that no matter which season of life I am in, I am blessed in the eyes of God.
I am makarioi.
We all are. No matter what our journeys might look like right now.
As I close out my thoughts this morning, I think it is pertinent to point out that Jesus starts this sermon – this teaching on discipleship – by reminding the disciples that they are blessed. And so as we gather on Rally Day and gear up for another year of discipleship, I want to remind you all of the same thing.
You are blessed.
You are makarioi.
If you have got it all together or you are a hot mess right now – you are blessed.
If you laughed this morning while you got ready for church or you cried and were not sure if you could make it – you are blessed.
If you come to this space with answers or you are still confused by a lot of questions – you are blessed.
If you are feeling close to God or distant – you are blessed.
If you are feeling strong or feeling weary – you are blessed.
If you are surrounded by people who support you or you feel isolated and alone – you are blessed.
Whatever season of life that you are in right now – know without a doubt that you are blessed in the eyes of God. You are makarioi.
And with this blessing, may you be commissioned as a disciple of Christ to spread the Good News of God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love.
Thanks be to God!