MONDAY, 8/15
Read Matthew 5:1-2.
Last week we began an in-depth look at Jesus’ teachings contained in the Sermon on the Mount.  The focus was upon Jesus’ ministry leading up to Matthew 5.  We encountered Jesus preaching the Good News that in Him God’s Kingdom was coming near to the people.  This is evidenced in Jesus’ healing the many sicknesses and diseases.  Matthew 4 ends with a pocket of the world buzzing with excitement about Jesus and God’s Kingdom.  Chapter 5 picks up with those teachings compiled in the Sermon on the Mount.  
In our verses today, Jesus goes up on a mountainside with the intent to teach all who would come to Him about God’s Kingdom.  Verse 1 tells us the crowd was there.  Verse 2 tells us that Jesus called His disciples there as well.  
So, what is Jesus doing here in this sermon?  In short, Jesus is forming a Kingdom people.  He is unveiling what it means to join in God’s Kingdom.  These Kingdom people are called to be unique from the world around them.  They are a “called out” people, meaning they have been called to be set apart from the values and ways of this world.  This is what we call holiness.  
Before we launch into Jesus’ teachings here in Matthew, it’s important that we draw out a core principle that underlies these three chapters: the lives of Kingdom people are to be shaped by Jesus’ teachings.  If we look at Jesus’ work with His disciples, one of His primary tasks was to help them value what He valued and share in His Spirit.  
The reason it is so important for Kingdom people to be influenced by Jesus is that it is our values and beliefs that power our deeds.  To say it another way, what we believe drives what we do.  If I believe money is the key to happiness, then my actions will be aimed at accumulating more and more money.  If I believe that God loves everyone and that I am called to love them as well, then my actions will produce a life of love.  Our beliefs and values have a tremendous impact on the kind of life we end up living.  
It’s worth our asking this question: how do we allow Jesus to shape what we believe and value?  First, we must trust Jesus.  We must give Him the authority to speak into our lives.  Jesus has authority over the world, but He chooses not to impose His authority upon us.  He invites us to believe in Him or reject Him.  The heart that trusts Him will be open to His teachings.  It is also willing to bend to and be changed by what He teaches.  Ezekiel 36 uses the image of our possessing either a heart of stone or flesh.  A heart of stone is hard and resistant to Jesus’ ideas.  A heart of flesh is soft and moldable, like a piece of clay in a potter’s hands.  This is a fitting image for our discipleship under Jesus.  
Praying Together:
“Jesus, You are the Master Potter and I am clay.  I invite You to speak into my life.  I want my values and beliefs to be molded to reflect Yours.  I trust You to do this work in me.  I pray You stir within me a greater desire for Your Word and teachings.  May the Holy Spirit teach me as You promised.  I want my life to continually be under construction as I am growing in You.  Amen.”
Read Matthew 5:3.
This is an important verse.  It is the first line of Jesus’ sermon, and it gives us a lot of insight into the Kingdom that Jesus has opened up to us.  In fact, in the first ten verses, Jesus uses one word to capture and set God’s Kingdom a part from any other.  That word is “blessing”.  God’s Kingdom is a Kingdom of blessing.  
The term translated as “blessing” is rich in meaning.  It means wholeness and complete wellness.  It conveys the idea that everything comes together and is good.  It’s important we visit that because a quick scan of these ten verses shows us that in God’s Kingdom, even the things we consider “anti-blessings” become blessings in light of God’s love and care.  
Take our passage today.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the Kingdom of heaven.”  “Poor in spirit” means humility, which is a crowning virtue in God’s Kingdom.  The world, on the other hand, doesn’t have much use for humility.  The world tends to elevate pride, which is in the antithesis of humility.  Pride is a deep satisfaction in ourselves and our achievements.  When pride is present in our hearts, it is used to distinguish ourselves from others, often in an effort to elevate ourselves over others.  When pride drives us, somehow we always end up on top of others, be it in character, accomplishments, significance, etc.  
This is why pride is a spiritual problem.  Pride builds walls, not bridges.  It closes us off.  It often produces a judgmental spirit toward others that stifles our ability or even willingness to create relationships with them.    
While some might take this as meddling, let’s use our current political climate as an example.  It is common for people who are passionate about politics to believe that they possess the right ideas.  Therefore, you look at the other side and your conclusion is that they are wrong.  In fact, today it is increasingly more common to not only consider the other side to be wrong but to be evil in their intent.  This is the norm for our politics today, and an example of how pride rears its head in our lives and hearts.  My question is this: does this reflect the humility of Jesus’ Kingdom people?  
Here’s what humility might look like in this circumstance.  Humility would give us the ability to consider other sides’ ideas, and also love enough to listen.  It means to value them because God values them, and to be open to what they bring to the table.  It isn’t to attach a label to them that becomes a wall between the two of you, but to build a bridge for the Holy Spirit to work in each of your lives.  A spirit of humility would help you see past any worldly label to see the other person as one deeply loved by God.  
Why do the humble inherit God’s Kingdom?  Humility is about our heart attitude.  Humility helps us identify our brokenness and need for God’s grace.  Without humility, we will remain unwilling to acknowledge our need.  We certainly won’t turn to anyone, even Jesus, for help.  The spirit of humility frees us to be real about ourselves and our need for God’s help.  This opens our hearts to be touched by God’s grace.  We are now able to receive His love and be changed by it.  Rather than succumbing to an ever-shrinking life due to pride, we are able to embrace an ever-expanding life through a humble spirit towards God and others.  This is the vision Jesus has for His Kingdom people.  Let it be so in us. 
Sending Prayer:
“Father, You know our hearts.  We cannot hide from You, nor is it helpful to try.  We come humbly before You.  We acknowledge our brokenness and the sin in our lives.  We turn to You because You want to free us from that and help us enter into a fuller life with You.  So we give our sin over to You, and ask that You transform our hearts by Your love.  Give us a love for others and guard our hearts from any pride that would threaten it.  We want to be a people who inherit Your Kingdom and the joys in it.  Amen.”  
Read Matthew 5:4-5.
Jesus continues to flesh out the blessings of God’s Kingdom in verses 4 and 5.  
In Matthew 5:4, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  Now this sparks some questions for us.  How can mourning lead to blessing?  We don’t consider mourning to be a good thing.  Mourning is the state of being after we have experienced loss.  No one feels blessed when their grief is heavy.  How is it that in God’s Kingdom loss is turned into a blessing?  
In order to gain some insight into that question, let’s turn to John 11, the death of Lazarus.  In this passage, Lazarus, a close friend to Jesus, has died.  When Jesus arrives at Lazarus’ home, He meets his sisters, Mary and Martha, who are grieving.  Martha is wrestling with the role Jesus could have played in healing her brother, something we can likely sympathize with in our own circumstances.  She displays faith but also a lack of understanding, which is by no means an insult.  No one knew what Jesus wanted to do that day.  Jesus tells her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die.”  In the face of death, Jesus points to an on-going life that stretches far beyond the grave.  
This is one way our grief is turned into a blessing in light of God’s Kingdom.  What we “lose” is not really lost.  For those in Christ, death is temporary rather than permanent.  That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t grieve when a loved one dies.  It does mean that our separation from our loved one is short-lived.   Someday we will experience the joys of a new Jesus-empowered life together.  Death won’t separate any longer.  Look at the final vision of this in Revelation 21.  When God takes up residence with His people again, one of the first things He does is “wipe every tear from their eyes.”  Grief will be a thing of the past.  What a blessing!  While that doesn’t keep us from experiencing grief here on Earth, the reality of the blessings to come do change it.  It means we can have hope here, and that hope means we can move through grief to healing.  
The other blessing stated in verse 5 is for the meek, as they will inherit the earth.  It’s worth defining what Jesus has in mind by being meek.  Meekness is a gentleness of spirit.  Let’s look at the good qualities of meekness in light of our relationship with God and others.  
In our relationship with God, meekness means that we trust the Lord.  We believe that God’s will and intent are good, and thus trustworthy.  We are willing to follow Him without reservation, resistance, or restrictions.  We also recognize that we have limitations to our influence and power.  Things are beyond our control, and so we call upon the Lord to help and move on our behalf.  
In our relationship with others, meekness means that we are not harsh in our dealings.  A rough exterior toward others gives the immediate impression that we are not a friend or one to be trusted.  Gentleness implies an openness and willingness.  It also means that we are willing to endure some harm for the greater causes of God’s Kingdom.  
A quick look at meekness in our relationships with God and others can help us see what is appealing about meekness, and at the same time, why it is so unpopular in our world.  Yes, meekness gives us a positive disposition toward God and others that opens up countless possibilities for deeper relationship, but it also offends the worldly siren call of personal freedom.  There is a part of us that likes the idea of vehemently defending ourselves from harm, and it’s easy to justify.  Please hear me say there is harm we shouldn’t just passively absorb.  Some harm is destructive and we should protect ourselves from it.  There is some harm that when incurred gently can open the door for God to move in the lives of others.  
One of my friends had someone close to them turn their back on them.  They shared hurtful words and even tried to portray them negatively toward others.  Rather than throwing daggers, my friend was gentle in his dealings with them.  He prayed for them, and over time, people began to see the contrast between him and the other.  His positive disposition even in the face of ridicule made it possible for the offender to one day come forward and seek his forgiveness.  Once forgiven, the relationship was restored and there was wholeness again.  That would not have been possible if not for his spirit of gentleness.  I’m as challenged by that as you are, but this is Jesus’ vision for you and me.  He wants us to become people who live out a spirit of gentleness, even in a sometimes harsh world.  While gentleness is often associated with weakness, it is actually a sign of tremendous inner strength.  
Sending Prayer:
“Holy Spirit, I want to celebrate the gift of Your speaking into my life through scripture.  I know You have been given to teach us and bring home Jesus’ message.  I ask that You provide the perspective to see how my grief can be turned into hope.  Put the truth of the resurrection deep in my heart.  I also ask that You develop in me a gentle spirit.  It’s easy to be harsh in our response to hardness, but that only perpetuates a cycle of ungrace.  Grace, on the other hand, can create new pathways for peace and blessing.  I want to become that kind of a person.  Please lead me toward the vision Jesus has for me here.  Amen.”  
Read Matthew 5:6.
Thankfully, only a few of us have experienced a genuine sense of physical hunger. Hunger comes from not having enough of what we need to survive. Hunger is a state of longing for wholeness. Without enough to eat, we feel our spirits grow anxious as we feel the grumbling of an empty stomach.  If left unfed for long, we will grow weak, lose muscle mass, and lose weight as our bodies continue to fight our instinctive need for food. If any of us has spent time in places where hunger is wide spread, here in the U.S. or across our borders, you’ve seen the heart- wrenching need of others who live without access to what they need to live.
Jesus tells us of a hunger that is insatiable in this life.  We have taken the time to learn all we can about the Kingdom of God.  We know what being right means as Christians. We know that the “rightness” we crave stems from a deep, faith-based place.  The focus of “rightness” in this world differs from “rightness” in God’s Kingdom.  In this world, to be right is to be correct in every argument, to climb the corporate ladder, to gain social status from accomplishments, and to marry well.
 In the kingdom of God, we crave a close, “right” relationship with God through Christ. We want to maintain the righteousness of character and conduct that pleases God.  We long for justice for those who are oppressed, we seek integrity in all relationships, business and personal.  Martin Luther said that “we should always pursue a hunger and thirst for righteousness can never be curbed or stopped or sated, when it looks for nothing and cares for nothing except the accomplishment and maintenance of the right, despising everything that hinders this end. If you cannot make the world completely pious, then do what you can.”          
I wonder what craving a closer relationship with God looks like for you. What kinds of things have you done in your community that reflect a “right” relationship with God? 
Praying together:
“God of Love and Light, may we be open to Your guidance and direction. We hunger for Your presence in this world.  We know the hope and grace that Your presence represents.  Help us share the hunger we have for You with others.  Amen.”
FRIDAY, 8/19
Read Matthew 5:7-8.
Again we are reminded of the differences in God’s Kingdom and the earthly kingdom.  The difference is best represented in our understanding of mercy. Mercy is compassion for people in need. It is in our nature to be unmerciful.  Mercy serves no purpose in today’s world. As long as we seek to get better, stronger, and richer than other community members, we have no need of mercy. 
Mercy is like credit in some ways.  We need credit to live a better life, including qualifying for a mortgage or purchasing a car. But we have to have credit to get credit.  We often have to get a co-signer as we start to make the bigger purchases or live in a nicer home.  Similarly, you have to have had some experience with mercy before you go against what this world says is right. Having mercy is countercultural.  It is against what most would advise us to do.
Mercy is well represented in the story of the Good Samaritan. A man had been beaten and left for dead by the side of the road, and the only one who stopped to help him was a resident of the despised race, a man from Samaria.  He believed in mercy. He may have experienced mercy from someone else in his community.  From this story, we are reminded that our God is a merciful God who shows mercy continuously. The citizens of His kingdom must also show mercy to others as well. But instead, our world values competition and winning more. Our world, the earthly kingdom, finds revenge to be sweet and forgiveness unnecessary.
We soon learn in scripture that blessed are those who show mercy, for mercy shall be shown to them. If we forgive men their trespasses, our heavenly Father will also forgive us. It is all a matter of choice.  First, if we have intentionally repented of our sins, we can be forgiven and pure in heart. Second, we have to submit ourselves to God so that we can receive His mercy and forgiveness. It is this kind of truth sharing and deepening of our relationship with God that can free our hearts and open our minds to receive His mercy, His grace, and His forgiveness,
I wonder what obstacles you might be facing when it comes to showing mercy or receiving it. What do you need to do to encourage forgiveness for all things?
Praying together:
“Merciful Lord, I love You.  I can see Your work in my life.  I know You know my obstacles to giving and receiving forgiveness.  Give me the strength and courage to see where I have wronged others so that I can make it right. Be patient with me as I face my obstacles in Your presence. Make in me a clean heart. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
Read Matthew 5:9.
I used to love watching a show called Project Runway.  The contestants/designers were selected out of thousands of applicants to represent the best clothing designers across the country.  Every week they would be given the same budget and same amount of time to shop for fabric.  They would then create a new design, given the time and budget constraints. Most of them would be beautiful.  But some of the designs would be labeled “cheap” or “expensive” by the judges.  In my mind, I could not help but think, If they all had the same budget, how could some clothing be labeled “cheaper” or “more expensive” than others?
I soon learned it was less about cost and more about the work that was put into it.  A well- designed gown that was strategically sewn to flatter the model was said to look “expensive”. For those gowns where shortcuts were obvious—often poorly fitted with crooked hems–judges would call them “cheap”. 
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the first to discuss something called “cheap grace.” Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance; in other words, we cut corners and allow forgiveness when the person that wronged us has admitted no wrongdoing.  It’s the proclamation that we are Christians at church, but our lives have not changed to reflect what it means to be a Christian. Without the work, saying that we are Christians without the sacrifice and holding one another accountable cheapens the gift of grace.
Similarly, true peace and true forgiveness are also costly treasures. God forgives us only when we repent. Forgiving an injury when it’s neither admitted no regretted cheapens peace and forgiveness. Peacemaking is not easy. Where possible, finding peace requires listening, discerning, reconciling, and forgiving. Peacemaking requires considerable work. 
I wonder if you have ever been called to be the peacemaker. What did it take to accomplish peace?
Praying together:
“Lord, I know that peacemaking is a gift from You.  Not all of us can be successful in building bridges between two opposing parties.  Peacemaking requires work.  Show me where I am taking shortcuts, overlooking repentance, and forgetting steps in forgiveness.  Forgive us for cutting corners when we seek peace. May our next attempts at peacemaking call us to account for repentance before we allow forgiveness. Remind us that there are people in church who can help us with peacemaking, mainly my pastors.  Amen.”
SUNDAY, 8/21
Read Matthew 5:10-12.
I have friends from elementary school, some from high school, some from graduate school, and others who worked with me from the university.  These relationships span my lifetime. I have  loved and cherished them over the years. For the most part, for any troubles faced, I felt confident that we could move through them together.  Most of them are practicing Christians, and we know the drill of reconciliation. We work through repentance and forgiveness, a step at a time.  
Not all attempts at reconciliation succeed, even among our closest friends and family. Many times, reconciliation fails when one party rejects the Christ we seek to follow. Persecution is simply the clash between two irreconcilable value systems.  As disciples, we are expected to rejoice and be glad when we are being persecuted for our faith. We’re not supposed to retaliate like an unbeliever or pout like a child or lick our wounds. The biggest reason why we should rejoice in the face of persecution is because we’re suffering for Jesus. We stand loyal to Jesus and His standards of truth and righteousness. Even though the disciples face significant persecution for knowing about Jesus, Scripture says that the persecuted “shall inherit everything in heaven.” (v.10).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer had this to say about suffering, persecution, and discipleship: “Suffering, then, is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above his master. Following Christ means suffering because we have to suffer. That is why Luther reckons suffering among the marks of the true Church.  Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer. In fact, it is a joy and a token of His grace.”
All of those who were prophets before us were also called to suffer because they too were spreading a truth about Jesus the world did not understand. Have you ever found yourself tempted to keep your beliefs quiet to avoid persecution? What can we do when we see someone else dealing with persecution?
Praying together:
“God Almighty, You see all, You hear all, and You love all. Strengthen us to hear what persecutors have to say only to be glad to love a Savior who loves us more than life itself.  Thank you for a Savior who chose to die on the cross for us only to rise again. Your love is beyond measure. Your forgiveness follows our repentance every single time.  May we become more like Jesus in this life.  Amen.”