There’s a book on my bookshelf here in my office that always throws people off the first time they see it. When you open the cover for the first time everything is upside-down and backwards. To read the book requires you to turn it over so that you can read it from back to front or so it seems. I picked up The Kingdom Experiment a few years ago while attending a conference and it grabbed my attention for a couple reasons. First, I knew some of the people who helped write the book. Second, the entire book is essentially a list of ways you can literally live out Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” Maybe you remember a few of the ideas Jesus shared that day. Here’s one particular chunk I think is particularly important to us today.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
These were challenging words back then and they’re still challenging to us today. Jesus went on that day to talk about what it might look like to live out such ideas. “You’ve heard it said, ‘Eye for and eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.'” He also said, “‘You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.'”
So here’s the thing, we’re not very good at living out these Kingdom ideals. When a call doesn’t go our team’s way we’re more apt to declare war on the referee with our words than accept that maybe the zebra was right or that they could use a little grace because they don’t have instant replay built into their brains. We tend to take a stand on an issue and in doing so forget altogether what it means to listen for what others are really saying.
So here’s the thing (again), I’m not sure Jesus’ ideas in the sermon on the mount were all that radical considering most of the thought behind them came from the Old Testament. I mean, they were radical in the sense that they disrupted a cushy, comfortable way of life for people of faith but this wasn’t the first time these ideas were talked about. Look at Isaiah 61; it reads like a list of ways to be merciful, pure in heart, and to be a peacemaker. Look at Jeremiah 29; there it is again. The call for the people of God to prosper those who they view as their enemies and even those who simply stand opposed to you.
So here’s the thing (last time, I promise), when was the last time you prayed for the prosperity of the presidential administration, especially when you stood opposed to what they were doing? When was the last time you prayed for peace in the home of that disgruntled co-worker even when they treated you terribly? When was the last time someone treated you so poorly it felt like you couldn’t do anything right and then in response you sought their benefit?
This feels backwards and upside-down; just like reading a book from back to front. Yet, this is who we are called to be.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.