Tuesday, June 8

Matthew 5:11-12

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (vv. 11-12).

Prophets have a difficult task. The message they must deliver comes with the real risk of ridicule, punishment, ostracism, and ongoing struggle that could devastate their lives, or even lead to death. As a student of Scripture, I have repeatedly heard that being the kind of prophet Jesus refers to isn’t a job that most people want or will take on.

Yet when we hear from the prophets in Scripture, we marvel at them. They courageously accept their call and regularly remind their people to return to God’s mission and become instruments of justice in their communities. We have modern-day prophets to marvel at also, as they take on God’s call and struggle for the rights and equality of all God’s children.

Jesus’ promise to reward those who do a prophet’s work is a sign that such a life won’t be easy. Being a disciple of Jesus will have its challenges. People may critically judge our actions, label us and call us names, throw words of hatred our way, and engage in any number of unsavory things. Unfortunately, Christians might be the best at doing this to other Christians.

The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5–7) guides us along our path of faith. Its simple teachings are challenging to live out, but with prayer, discernment, and a Spirit-filled community, we can gather the courage we need to embody Christ’s message through our actions as well as our words, especially at the times they are needed most.

Consider

What encouragements to live a Christlike life strengthen me for the challenging times when I must speak up and act on my faith?

Pray

Comfort and challenge us, O God, for those times when we are called to do what is right, even when that is difficult. Amen.

Monday, June 7

Matthew 5:10

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
(v. 10).

Each beatitude is challenging, but I find this one especially difficult. I don’t face real persecution for my faith. Sure, some disagree with my understanding of how to live a Christlike life. But most who do call themselves Christian as well. Our country protects the freedom to
practice religion. This doesn’t mean living out my faith is easy. But I haven’t faced anything close to the subtle and obvious persecution those in other countries have experienced for believing what’s right and acting to promote God’s justice.

Persecution isn’t an easy topic, but we often approach it glibly. When some grossly misuse this text, it challenges the rest of us to wrestle with what being persecuted for righteousness’ sake truly means. Not being allowed to force our religious language and views onto others, especially in shared public space, is not persecution. Being prevented from practicing our faith, being punished for worshiping, or being killed for living out our calling certainly is.

Jesus never promised that living a Christlike life would be easy. He often addressed the difficulties that his followers would face. As daily challenges arise, we must seriously consider how we should act and what example we must set. Sometimes we let political, social, or even religious views cloud our faith perspective. We fail to see how our actions or inactions are not examples of righteousness but instead contribute to the world’s chaos and hurt. For those who pursue God’s way of righteousness, the love of God’s kingdom surrounds them.

Consider

What trials have I faced for my beliefs and actions? How did I experience God’s grace in those situations?

Pray

God, we pray for those who experience persecution on behalf of your justice. Help us to be a positive presence and voice for you. Give us courage. Amen.

Sunday, June 6

Matthew 5:9

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (v. 9).

A ministry program I once served held a children’s day camp with a theme based on this verse. During one of the activities, leaders invited the children to express what peace looks like to them. Their words and art gradually filled the sanctuary space. When I looked over the children’s simple, profound expressions, my view of the future church and the world grew more hopeful. While I don’t recall all of the words or images I saw, I remember the feelings and reflections they provoked in me. It was a gift to look at peace through the eyes of these children who conveyed their many cultures, traditions, gifts, and perspectives on the canvas.

I had studied the subject of peace and conflict in university courses but had rarely considered the topic from a child’s point of view. Watching our children explore this topic through activities, projects, discussions, and the arts that summer nurtured something new in me. What they learned during that time about new ways to share peace with each other will always stay with me.  

Their eagerness to learn about peacemaking inspired me to read and study more about peace and conflict. Peace and reconciliation groups, like the Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland, teach new and effective practices to help foster peace. I used to think that peace was largely focused on global concerns. But as I’ve continued to listen, pray, and discover over the years, I’ve learned that making peace needs to happen at all levels of our lives—within ourselves, within our relationships, and within our communities. Being peacemakers in each of these places helps create the kind of change and healing our world needs. 

Consider

What does it mean for me to be a peacemaker today?

Pray

Loving God, may your Spirit guide us in times of conflict and trouble as we strive to make peace wherever we are in the world today. Amen.

Saturday, June 5

Matthew 5:8

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (v. 8).

When my son was two, he introduced us to his best friend Hyde. Hyde rides a motorcycle. He hosts regular birthday parties and knows everything. Hyde is wise, fun, and comforting. My husband and I have never actually seen Hyde. According to my son, he moved here from outer space.

As my son has gotten older, he has had less time for Hyde. So my younger daughter has picked up the narrative with gusto. She does everything with her friend Hyde. Recently, my son was frustrated with his little sister’s constant imagination. He said, “I’m tired of hearing about Hyde! Don’t you know he’s not even real?! He’s just imaginary!” 

My four-year-old took a deep breath. Her response was calm and matter of fact: “Well, the thing is—I’ve never even seen Hyde, so I don’t know if he’s real or not. I don’t care.” No one could argue against this logic. Her brother’s definition of reality did not change her experience. Hyde can exist without explanation. Her pureness of heart allows her to not worry about what others think. She has no need to prove Hyde is real. Her purity of mind allows her to see and experience that which her heart feels.

Of course, God is not a childhood imaginary friend; still, when I read Matthew 5:8, I can’t help but think of my daughter’s defense of Hyde. Her response sounds like a pure, honest, explanation of faith. We can believe without seeing. We can maintain our faith even when we’re surrounded by skepticism. We can know in the very fiber of our being that God is real, because we experience God. We do not need someone else to limit or judge our experience, or define for us what that must be like. In our purity of heart, we see God. 

Consider

What gets in the way of our experiencing God? 

Pray

God, you are present in my every moment, even when I do not recognize you. Help me to approach you with a pure heart. Amen.

Friday, June 4

Matthew 5:7

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy (v. 7).

We often hear stories about “big mercies”: a grief-stricken relative forgives someone for a heinous crime against their loved one; bitter rivals become best friends. Sensational movies often capture such moments: the hero saves the villain from certain death. Huge displays of mercy are powerful and important. They point us to a sense of grace beyond our impulse for retribution and revenge. They highlight the best of humanity and point us to a mercy provided by a higher power. 

Some of us have wrestled with the possibility of enacting a “big mercy,” and sought to find God’s grace in devastating circumstances. Yet those of us who don’t have such a moment are still responsible for finding ways to offer mercy daily. We each have opportunities to choose mercy through everyday acts of extending grace and showing forgiveness. When we practice letting go, we become more free from the bitterness and sadness that bind us. When we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we narrow the chasm of misunderstanding between us. Even when we don’t understand another’s motives, mercy allows what seems strange to remain strange without costing us our peace. 

God knows and holds everyone’s battles. God knows the grossest, ugliest parts of each of us, those we don’t dare name aloud. God knows the corners of our minds that we try to avoid. God knows about the times we messed up, chose the easy way out, or hurt those closest to us. 

God still gives us another chance. God still shows up and shows us how to love each other. When we show mercy, we’re better able to imagine how God shows mercy to us—deep, dark secrets and all. 

Consider

What wrong am I holding onto? What would it look like to show mercy to myself or others in this situation?

Pray

God, help me to accept your mercy. Soften my heart to the mercy around me and help me share it, even with those who seem impossible to forgive. Amen.

Thursday, June 3

Matthew 5:6

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (v. 6).

My husband says I am a rule follower. To me, following the rules makes sense. They make life orderly and more equitable. Following rules is respectful. My husband, however, is more of a principles follower. To him, rules are guidelines that can be adjusted as the situation calls for it, particularly in contexts where rules are unfair or unjust.

Both approaches have their merits and help us pursue righteousness in our own ways. Unfortunately, when my rules-based approach becomes dogmatic and motivated by fear or control instead of respect and equity, I can lose sight of seeking the righteousness God prescribes. Likewise, when my husband’s principle-based approach becomes self-serving or simply convenient, justice may not be his motivation either.

Righteousness involves an all-encompassing, daily search. We hunger and thirst for righteousness because we will never be full as long as we live in a world with so much injustice. In the midst of our flawed society filled with flawed people, the pursuit of righteousness is a thankless, never-ending, and exhausting process.

Jesus’ blessing offers the promise that life will not always be this way. In him we see someone who neither follows nor breaks all of the established rules. In him we find someone who transforms rules to fulfill their godly purpose. He reminds us that God is the beginning and end of all things. Our constant work to seek goodness and righteousness will be satisfied. Until then, we keep seeking, keep hungering, keep thirsting, and keep striving for righteousness. 

Consider

How do I seek righteousness? What one step could I take today to make my community better?

Pray

God, thank you for showing us what righteousness looks like in the form of Jesus. Help us seek it and align our actions and hearts with yours. Amen.

Wednesday, June 2

Matthew 5:5

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (v. 5).

For a period of time, several years ago, I felt like I “had it all.” I had carefully planned and implemented the life I’d envisioned for myself. I had my dream job and a secure home. The people in my life were encouraging and proud of me. I was proud of myself. I felt unstoppable.

Then things started to fall apart. It began with just a few frayed ends here and there. A kind of nagging started to tug at the corner of my heart; something about this life I had built did not feel quite right. Little moments began to turn what I thought was a solid foundation into a house of cards. Instead of seeking God’s wisdom, my initial response was to double down and work harder to preserve what I had created.

Rather than listen to God’s voice in my life, I focused on the accolades from those around me. Rather than trust my gut, I chose pride and ignored all the signs that something needed to change.

After becoming physically ill and having some larger parts of my life unravel, I finally turned to God in the midst of the mess I had created. 

When I read blessed are the meek, I remember that it is okay to be meek and to surrender to God. God is bigger and more powerful than anything we can create on our own. In our pride, we risk the blessing God has set aside for us. In our meekness, God’s power takes center stage.

Consider

When has pride gotten in the way of experiencing God’s blessing?

Pray

Gracious God, you wait beside me, ever present and always good. Your goodness is true and steadfast. Help me to put aside my worldly ideals so that I can see your vision and experience your blessing. Amen.

Tuesday, June 1

Matthew 5:4

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (v. 4).

For the past few years, I have worked as a hospice chaplain. Every day I sit with families and individuals as they attempt to travel the road of remembrance, loss, and grief.

Grief is something we feel and experience. While loss happens to us, mourning is an action that we allow ourselves to do in order to process a loss. Mourning is not passive. Mourning is a messy, tangled web of a journey. It is through this journey of truly embracing and processing loss that we are able to find comfort and meaning.

Death is not the only thing we need to mourn. We mourn relationships. We mourn lost opportunities. We mourn lost homes and loss of faith. We mourn our youth. We mourn what was that will never be again. 

Our grief comes in waves at the most unexpected moments. A poignant dream about a lost love occurs years after the break-up. A parent finds a handprint drawing from a toddler whose adult life took a much different trajectory than those sweet little fingers suggested. An adult holds the favorite coffee mug of a parent who can no longer remember them. A box of old photos, the smell of perfume, the taste of a special recipe—all bring a smile, a memory, or a story to mind.

Any of these circumstances can send us into the throws of grief. Hearing Jesus bless those who mourn reminds us that this grief is not only okay, it is good. Fully experiencing moments of mourning and memory brings comfort.

Consider

When have I experienced loss? How have I mourned this loss?

Pray

God, you are present with us in our joy and in our sorrow. Help us recognize and mourn our losses. Teach us to find comfort in your presence. Amen.

Monday, May 31

Matthew 5:1-3

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (v. 3).

When we consider the crowds who follow Jesus in first-century Palestine, picturing their poverty isn’t hard. They live day-to-day and are easily susceptible to illness, drought, famine, and political unrest. They don’t know about grocery stores or electricity or antibiotics. Even the monetarily rich are plagued with knowing that a simple illness might kill them in a matter of days.

As we read Scripture through our twenty-first-century lens of relative comfort, these poor seem distant from us. But Jesus blesses not only the poor through his sermon. Jesus broadens the category to bless the poor in spirit (v. 3).

Poverty of spirit doesn’t discriminate between income levels. It comes from years of bullying, loss, challenging family relationships, political uncertainty, and a sense of the mundane. It comes from religious leaders offering condemnation instead of grace. It comes from feeling voiceless in the face of injustice. It comes from needing nothing physically and still lacking everything emotionally. It comes from loneliness and loss. It comes from adding insult to injury over and over.

In this Beatitude, Jesus includes all who have felt like dry bones, cracked and broken. Jesus includes those of us whose spirit lays unfulfilled. Jesus includes those who can’t just “snap out of it,” those whose spirits are plagued even when their stomachs are full.

Jesus offers this good news: there is hope. Hang on to that last thread of it. God heals. There will be a time when each day is not so hard. God is here. These worst things are not the last things. The Kingdom of Heaven is coming. 

Consider

How fulfilled is my spirit? When do I need to turn to God for hope?

Pray

God, help me examine my spirit and seek you in my need. Amen.

Sunday, May 30

Matthew 4:23-25

Jesus is moving amid the people, healing, teaching, and preaching everywhere while gaining quite the reputation. More and more people seek out and follow this nobody from nowhere who has become somebody whose message permeates everywhere. 

The crowds who follow Jesus live in a world full of hardship. They are tired and broken, bound by systems of oppression and downtrodden by disease. They are the dirty, the sick, the guilty, the average. They follow their fragile thread of hope to see Jesus. 

Jesus reaches out his hand and heals those who have been condemned to pain. He speaks and truth pours out, revealing a Kingdom greater than the world understands. Jesus introduces us to God, who meets us right where we are in the messiness of our humanity. Jesus uncovers our blessedness and reminds us that we are not stuck in our failures. In God, we have hope in our present and the promise of a future blessing.

We may have walked away from our sense of God’s blessing. Maybe we feel like sinners or outcasts. Maybe we feel too normal or too boring. Maybe we can’t get past our insecurities, addictions, bad habits, or bitter relationships. Jesus meets us in the midst of those feelings of pain and inadequacy. Jesus understands our humanity and reveals what God can create through us. God will turn our human experience into abundant life. Jesus speaks and reminds us: even when we feel unworthy, God pours out blessing for us to receive.

Consider

What parts of my life do I consider unworthy of God’s blessing? What would it look like for me to turn these parts of my life over to God?

Pray

God, you know all of my thoughts and experiences. Allow me to know your presence in every part of my life. Open my heart to receive your blessing. Amen.