Matthew 5:1-12New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
5 When Jesus[a] saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, 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 will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely[b] on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Ethos is an interesting word.
It simply means the characteristic of a culture, a person, or an organization. What are the things that guide us?
- What is a guiding characteristic of our culture?
- What is a personal guiding characteristic that you try to live by?
- What about an organization that you belong to?
- What about Fleming Road UCC?
These are all interesting characteristics. I would also say that we can present an ethos or character statements in our lives or in our church that can help guide us and give us meaning and purpose.
For example, my friends at Oasis have five ethos statements that define what they value and how they operate:
- a passion to include everyone
- a desire to treat everyone equally, respecting differences
- a commitment to healthy and open relationships
- a deep sense of hope that things can change and be transformed
- a sense of perseverance to keep going for the long haul
Our gospel lesson this morning also gives us the ethos of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We call them the beatitudes. The word beatitude means blessing. One of the things about reading the beatitudes is to understand that these are not commandments. They are an ethos or a characteristic of what it means to live in the Kingdom of God, the Presence or reality that this is God’s world and we are God’s and we are called to follow God.
So, if you are a peacemaker, you are blessed. If you show mercy, you are blessed, if you are meek, you are blessed and will inherit the earth. If you mourn, you are blessed and you will find comfort. If you are persecuted, you are blessed because of righteousness…in other words, because you have lived in right relationships with others, worked on making those relationships good, then when persecution comes, when the bullies do their thing, you are blessed and your right relationships always works towards kingdom values and kingdom awareness…and, bullies or the unrighteous actions of others eventually simply waste away to nothing…like chafe in the wind. They don’t have lasting meaning.
Now, what the beatitudes aren’t asking for is moral perfection. When scripture says to be perfect as God is perfect, we tend to put our cultural ethos of doing things right or being right into this statement…we think as the Greeks did or in a dualistic way. But, in Hebrew and Aramaic, it is odd to speak of God as morally perfect. Dr. Glen Stassen and Dr. David Gushee in their book, Kingdom Ethics, state that the word perfect in biblical sense means to be complete or all-inclusive in your love…especially in your love for enemies.
It’s easy to love your friends, but to go out of your way to bless and love your enemies. That’s truly counter cultural. Yet, that’s the message of Jesus throughout the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus isn’t teaching impossible moral ideals, Jesus is teaching an ethos of all inclusive and committed love that perseveres through all circumstances. That’s a hard teaching for many, but when you can move towards that, things shift in your life in the lives of others.
Ghandi understood that, Martin Luther King understood that, Nelson Mandela also…the great changes in history happened as folks followed the way of Jesus. Even Ghandi modeled his non-violent protests in many ways on the life of Jesus. Living in the way of Jesus does come at a cost, you have to move from comfort to courage in life, but it gives you the peace you long for in your own life, and it can bring peace to others…it can even usher an awareness of the Kingdom of God.
David Gushee and Glen Stassen also go on to say that there is a threefold pattern in Jesus’ teachings on the Mount. There is a teaching on what it means to be in right relationship, a vicious cycle meant to tell the listeners that one can’t settle for the way they’ve always lived, and a transforming initiative that says if you live in a characteristic or ethos of authentic love, you’ll be aware of God’s presence and that will change you and give you the growth you desire.
People in this world are craving for this kind of teaching, because it not only cultivates a relationship with God, but also action and an ethos that is worth living into. We can see that in Jesus’ time, crowds came to hear this teaching. The early disciples experienced amazing growth that changed the course of history through this teaching. Folks today are leaving the church in droves because we’ve gone away from this ethos, but my bet is that if we taught this and lived this, people would want to embrace again the teachings of Jesus and want to see real change in all aspects of our personal lives and in the lives we live together in our church, community, our city, and our country. In many ways, many of us here at Fleming Road UCC are already are already living into this Kingdom ethos as a church, it’s simply a matter of naming it and living into it. As our church goes through some strategic visioning this year, defining our ‘ethos’ and how we live into that will be a central part of our discussions.
God has been pleading with us to live this way throughout history, our old testament lesson today in Micah says that God has a “controversy with” God’s people…God simply requires us to live good by honoring God and others by doing justice, and loving kindness, and to walking humbly with your God. And our passage in Psalms tells us that those who practice this will abide in God’s big and expansive tent!
God has made God’s tent with us and walks with us, all of us. May we recognize God’s walking with us, beside us, before us, behind us, and walk in humility with God and God’s loving ethos for us, all of us. We cannot turn our backs on the refugee, on persons of different skin color, sexual orientation, economic status, or whether they are new or old to our country or our church. What’s amazing is that Fleming Road UCC honestly strives to do this, it’s been a part of the ethos of this congregation in many ways throughout it’s history I believe. We can live into the ethos that God has given us with the opportunities right at our doorstep. We can be a blessing and be blessed, or we can live drifting from one distraction to another, and miss out on the goodness that God has created within us and around us. But, I believe that’s not us at our core, we want to move boldly and with courage to the future God has for us!