The girls had just been dismissed from the corporate worship part of our Sunday morning gathering, and Kyle and I were settling into our seats in the downtown auditorium in which our church meets. I was picking up the crumpled napkins left behind that had been so useless in the fight against sticky brought on by donuts. One of our pastors was setting up his talk for the morning - we are examining The Beatitudes. Something he said almost in passing made me forget the trash collection and sit straight up in my chair:
"Because The Beatitudes are meant to crush individuals, right?"
He was talking about the Sermon on the Mount and how it was meant to be applied exclusively by disciples of Christ. How the Sermon on the Mount wasn't a new religious code, a New Law to replace the Old Law, and it wasn't meant to be the constitution for some political utopia.
I've read so much on this application of Christ's words to his disciples, and most scholars agree that when Jesus taught his disciples to pray saying "Our Father", he made it clear that this mysterious coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth wasn't meant to happen through a bunch of disconnected individuals. No, in saying "Our Father," he was speaking into the lives of those who would follow after him, speaking to them about leaving behind Self and surrendering to Us, to community.
And so when my pastor says that The Beatitudes were meant to crush individuals, I hear it how it is meant to be - an affront to those of us discipled in the rugged individualism of our culture.
A loving devotion to individualism runs rampant in the Western Church. "My Jesus, My Savior," "my relationship with Christ," "Jesus Loves Me." I, me, my, mine. We speak of the life in Christ in the first person because that is our first language, our native tongue.
And so we view passages like the Beatitudes through that lens and it looks like something like this:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for though my relationship with Jesus, mine is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for though my relationship with Jesus, I shall be comforted.
Blessed are the merciful, for through my relationship with Jesus, I shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for through my relationship with Jesus, I shall see God.
And you know what? There's nothing theologically inerrant about applying Christ's words in that way, I suppose. But i have to think it's woefully lacking the fullness of what Christ imagined for his followers. Yes, we have the indwelling Spirit of God to minister to us along the way, but as we have discussed, it is in the serving of others - and the allowing ourselves to be served by others - that mysterious Kingdom of God moves from hopeful idealism to 3D reality.
And so we might say:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for through community, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for through community, they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for through community, they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for through community, they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for through community, they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for through community, they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for through community, they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for through community, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
In the midst of great grief, we are comforted by Christ, and through community, there are people in our lives to check in on how we are doing months after the initial shock wears off.
In the conviction of sin, we are shown mercy by Christ, and through community, we can experience the magnificent humbling of mercy extended to us by those we have wronged.
In our hunger and thirst for righteousness, we can do a Bible study and pray in solitude, and through community, we receive the glorious satisfaction of observing the Body of Christ moving as one in all of its beautiful diversity.
There's the temptation to make it sound so easy; in fact, we think it should be easy. But it's not. Putting Self aside and choosing Community is always a matter of surrender. But in the Kingdom economy, surrender isn't subtraction until zero that stays at zero. In the Kingdom, surrender is zero that is wide open to receive the multiplications of fulfillment that is possible only through life lived together.
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“These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.
But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.” -- Matthew 7:24-27, The Message