Your Kingdom ComeSeeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
"Good morning." "Welcome." "Glad you're here." "It's good to see you all." If you are a churchgoer, these are probably some of the things you hear from your preacher every Sunday. From the preacher's side, it seems only right to greet the congregation, thank them, let them know they are valued and appreciated. This is not just a practice for preachers by the way. It seems that any public address usually begins with some kind of welcome, but when we look at the preaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount he seems to launch into the sermon without any preamble at all. He appears to launch directly into describing the type of people his followers ought to be.
But what if this is not what Jesus is doing with this part of the sermon. Could it be possible that Jesus is extending a welcome as he begins his sermon? Look at the opening verse of chapter 5, "Seeing the crowds…" Could it be that we have read this sermon and forgot about the crowds? We find their description in Matthew 4.
And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. (Matthew 4:23-25 ESV)
The crowds! The sick, the demon possessed, the epileptics, the paralytics, those who were on the margins, the ones who are looking for hope, these are the folks in the congregation to whom Jesus preaches. And his first words are words of welcome. Not just, "Good morning." "Welcome." "Glad you're here." "It's good to see you all." But, "Welcome! The Kingdom of God is open to you!"
Do we see ourselves in the crowd? Haven't we been there? Are we there now? Aren't these words that we desperately long to hear? Aren't these – words of hope and welcome, words of good news – the words that people around us desperately need to hear? Please don't get me wrong. As followers of Jesus we ought to be humble (poor in spirit). We ought to mourn our sins and the conditions in which these sins have left us. We ought to be meek, long for the world to be made right, be merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, you get the idea. We know that these characteristics are needed in our churches and in our homes. We can see how far short we often fall from these traits. Yet Jesus welcomes us into his Kingdom even in our broken, marginalized state.
We could learn a lot here. Sometimes, in our churches we get this backward. Sometimes we carry the message of the way people ought to be, the way people ought to live, or the ethics they ought to have before we let them know that they are welcome in the Kingdom. Of the many things we see in the life of Jesus that we should strive to imitate, being welcoming and inclusive is one we cannot neglect. Who do we know that needs to hear these words of welcome from Jesus? To whom can we extend this invitation? Who can we tell about the way in which Jesus welcomed us when we were broken and on the margins? Maybe the question isn't, "Who can we tell?" Maybe it is, "Who will we tell?"