Sermon on January 1th, 2021
by Volker Aßmann
Kirche am Bahnhof, Frankenberg

“Happy differently – The Beatitudes”

This sermon is translated from German into English. You can find the original video here


“Standards that challenge” – that is the topic of our sermon and service series over the next few weeks. It is about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It is certainly the most famous and most challenging sermon in all the history to this day.

But what is the Sermon on the Mount? A church or even political program based on Franz Alt’s motto “Peace is possible”? Are we making our world better with it? Or an illusion that can never become reality?

Perhaps the last assumption is one reason why Christians have repeatedly said: This sermon does not apply to us at all. It has no practical consequence for us because it cannot be lived anyway. It applies to others, the Jews then or whoever, but not to us.

But let’s look at the beginning of the sermon: “When Jesus saw the crowd, He went up a mountain. He sat down, His disciples gathered around Him, and He began to teach them. “(5: 1 + 2)

The first listeners to this sermon from Jesus were His disciples, i.e. the people who followed HIM, shared their lives with HIM and who lived after Jesus. So I assume that we Christians in our society in the 21st century are the addressees of this sermon. Oswald Sanders writes about this in his book> Standards that challenge <: “It still applies today to those who want to follow Jesus.” (P.11)     Jesus is not formulating an ideology here that would be somewhere between Marxism and capitalism or whatever. No, it is the life program of Jesus, the Son of God, in our world. And it is His standard for your and my life. Already in the first divine service of this year, when it came to the annual motto, we were in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount: “Be / be merciful, as your heavenly Father is merciful!” And already then we discovered that Jesus has great demands on your and my life:

“You should be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48)

A claim that totally challenges us. This sentence is certainly not a description of how we humans are. It is a strong imperative: you should be perfect! ‘Perfect’ never means perfect because we will never be. But it means: Jesus is the standard for my and your life. This standard challenges us to live according to it and in this sense to grow in our faith in Jesus. It is about our life with the clear focus on this goal. This is how Jesus imagines my and your life: Become like God! Take God as a model for your behavior and actions! Yes, it is the government declaration of Jesus Christ for his kingdom, for the people who trust HIM and live after him. > The “Kingdom of Heaven / Kingdom of Heaven” refers to the rulership of God in our lives, in our hearts. The community / church is composed of men and women who recognize God as sovereign. <(Oswald Sanders, page 14) Nothing else can be the basis and relevance of the Sermon on the Mount. Yes, the Sermon on the Mount applies to anyone who says I believe in Jesus. It is not a utopia or an illusion, but Jesus’ standard for our life that challenges us.

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount it becomes clear once again that it was and is intended for the disciples of Jesus:

“When Jesus had finished his speech, the crowd was deeply impressed by his teaching, for He did not teach them like their scribes, but with authority.” (7:28)

So to us, you and me as followers of Jesus, this sermon applies to all of its claims. Not so that if we fulfill (what we fail) we go to Heaven. But it applies to us because we know Jesus and here look into his heart and his being.

“The ethics of the Sermon on the Mount is based on the mysterious relationship between Christ and his community.” (Oswald Sanders, page 12)

Sometimes I think it would be nice if it were just some secret information for the Jesus people, but “stupidly” Jesus delivered this sermon very publicly, so now everyone knows how challenging Jesus’ claims to His people are. And sometimes these sentences are held up to us as a claim by people who have nothing to do with Jesus. I recommend you to get this old book from 1972 by Oswald Sanders in the antiquarian bookshop and read: “Standards that challenge – The Sermon on the Mount as a program of life”! Oswald Sanders was the director of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship in the last century, a successor to the China missionary Hudson Taylor.

Yes, I hear the objections:> again just doing and making requests. I can’t do it anymore and I don’t want to hear imperatives, but gospel and grace! < It’s not about the services that we should bring, but about real life changes that make you happy. But these life changes will not come upon us tonight in our sleep, but rather our decisions to live differently with God’s help – that is the good news!

The Sermon on the Mount begins with the so-called “Beatitudes”. It is about the secret of joy and “bliss”. “Bliss,” that old word that we don’t normally use at all, means much more than happiness or being happy. Do you know that, that you feel blissful, simply deeply and all around happy – blessed. Just like a baby that has just been breastfed – completely happy and satisfied. Or as if struck by lightning with being in love. There is nothing bigger for you, nothing can beat this feeling. Simply blissful! It is about a deep joy that fulfills you and does not depend on the changing circumstances of your life.

What is the greatest happiness imaginable for you today? What makes your life enviable? Be rich, have a house, a family, a great job, be and stay healthy, freedom without corona rules …?

Jesus blows all ideas of Christians then and now. What He associates with happiness and bliss are predominantly things that we never associate with being happy, and instead tend to avoid and avoid them because they are exhausting. And they are the opposite of what is normal in our society.

Oswald Sanders: “Instead of poverty in the spirit, we find pronounced pride, instead of humility we offer arrogance, instead of hunger for justice we hear people say: ‘We are rich, our wealth is growing, we don’t need anything else.’ Purity of heart is displaced by perverted ideas, Peacefulness must give way to strife and vengeance, and whoever suffers injustice strikes back with every weapon available. “(page 18)

> When you read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount for the first time, you get the impression that everything is being turned upside down. The second time you discover that everything is being put right. At first one thinks that such a life is impossible, only to find out that nothing else is possible. <(G.K. Chesterton)

It is very typical for these statements that it is paradoxes that provoke and challenge us to react. In the beginning Jesus is concerned with true happiness, being happy … but HE makes it clear that the way to this happiness is paved with poverty, sadness, hunger, thirst, slander and persecution.

Now I want to talk about 2 areas of our life, about 2 of the 9 Beatitudes of Jesus in Matthew 5: 3–12:

Happy to be praised
who are poor before God
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy to be praised
who make peace;
for they will be called sons of God.
(Matth. 5,3 + 9)

“Happy to be praised are those who are poor before God (who know that they are poor in spirit inwardly), for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”

It is not about glorifying poverty, which is a huge global problem for very many people. Poverty in itself is not a value, but a need. And if so, then it would have to be a challenge for us to share our wealth with the poorest. In general, it is very problematic when we talk about poverty in the West, yes, which also exists in our society. But if we look closely, Jesus is not talking about material poverty here, which Jesus does speak about elsewhere. And poverty is not automatically the opposite of pride and arrogance and pride. > One day Diogenes visited Plato in his palace. Diogenes trampled on the luxurious carpets and exclaimed: “With this I trample the pride of Plato.” Plato later returned a visit to Diogenes’ humble house, where he lived in poverty. In doing so, Plato remarked that he saw Diogenes ‘pride peeking through the holes in his carpet.’

Luther described what Jesus meant here as follows: “Blessed are those who consider themselves beggars before God.”

A piece of paper found shortly after Martin Luther’s death read:

“We are beggars, that’s true!”

He wanted to express: We have nothing to show before God I am poor and God is rich. Everything I don’t have, but need, God has. And God wants to give it to me.

The proud are not the lucky ones, not those who work for their fortune or buy it. Our life is not a “Monopoly game” in which I have to own Parkstrasse and Schlossallee.

I recently played “Children’s Monopoly” with my grandchildren and I had the most valuable streets, Parkstrasse and Schloss-Allee. But there was one card in the game: go ahead to any street and buy the street from the owner. And Josia then bought Schlossallee from me – it was gone. Jesus tells us: “Real happy and happy, blissful people are poor, are bankrupt (not in money) at the expense of the grace and generosity of God.” They are aware of their need and need and they know where they can get rich at God. However, it is not about material possessions and wealth, but about this “bliss” independent of health or illness, abundance or restriction, freedom or distress and need.

Jesus once said that it is difficult for rich and influential people to enter God’s kingdom because they seek their happiness and fulfillment in what they themselves have created and have in their hands. And they don’t notice how all this gradually slips away like sand between their fingers. Or elsewhere Jesus compares himself to a doctor and says that the healthy do not need him, but the sick do.

For those who already have everything, Jesus has nothing more to offer. But if you already have everything, at the end of your life you will be left with empty hands and nobody will fill them anymore. It’s about knowing today that I am a beggar before God. Dependent on HIM and dependent on His grace and ready to be filled by God. This first Beatitude is the key to the kingdom of God, to the relationship with Jesus for today and forever and ever: God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life, that is true “riches” of which Jesus speaks and which decides everything else. No inflation, stock market crash, disease or death can take away this “wealth” either. That is why Jesus praises people with this attitude as blessed. They own everything that God himself has.

And the question for you and me today is: What are you building on and are you leaving?

Happy to be praised
who make peace;
for they will be called sons of God.
At the beginning of the year I said that I believe that mercy will be the great challenge for us Christians and churches this year.
Mercy instead of hard-hearted judgment of one another!
Build bridges over the rifts in our society and also in the community, even if they are only rifts of speechlessness.
Whoever has experienced that his own guilt has been forgiven by Jesus and that He has brought reconciliation with God can afford it and instead of insisting on his own interests, he can make peace with other people. This can concern questions of piety and theology, which are not about the immovable statements of the Bible, but also other questions of daily life.
What can it look like under Corona conditions to make peace and not to live further and further apart and in the end perhaps to separate and divide. Otherwise we will completely lose sight of what Jesus still allows us to be for as his followers in the community and church here on this earth: namely to live according to His standards, which truly challenge us and our fellow human beings the offer of God’s reconciliation, forgiveness and to make eternal life through our lives and speeches.
I have thought about it over and over again over the past few days and weeks and I am now consciously saying this as one of the elders in our church. God showed me that making peace today can mean consciously avoiding pointed and other provocative statements. And so I changed my sermon at this point and deleted some passages. If we do this mutually and consciously approach one another, overcome speechlessness and live together with our hearts and with devotion the commission that Jesus gave us, we will honor Jesus, our LORD. The fact that we are currently observing some of the rules that the government gives us should not dissuade us from the unity and His mission given by Jesus!!!
I think that would be an obvious step towards making peace, which is perceived as a role model in our society, which needs unity and mercy so much.
This Beatitude is not about keeping the status quo, keeping peace, living a “ceasefire”, but about making peace, actively working for peace and reconciliation. These are true marks of the sons and daughters of God. This requires a decision to want to create this peace and to work for it. I quote Oswald Sanders again:
>Jesus came to destroy rotten peace. There is no peace at all costs, no peace through escape from problems. Peacemakers are willing to pay the cost of their reconciliation efforts. And the price is often high.<
Peace making means that we actively go towards one another, in our marriages and families, the community and society.
>The peacemaker achieves reconciliation by allowing his own peace to be destroyed and his own imagination to be neglected. For the sake of the other, for the sake of the kingdom of God and His honor.<
Love for one another, Jesus said, is a strong indication that we belong to God and through this we can invite other people into a relationship with God. I would like to challenge you after this sermon to approach at least one person actively and to be a bridge builder and peacemaker.
God’s promise is that you will not become poor as a result, but that you will be able to rejoice more than before to belong to God. That is the greatest that there can be for us.
I invite you to pray with me the prayer of Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
that I practice love where one hates one another,
that I forgive where you are offended,
that I connect where there is a dispute,
that I tell the truth where there is error,
that I awaken hope where despair torments,
that I light a light where darkness reigns,
that I bring joy where sorrow resides.
Oh Lord, let me seek:
not that I am comforted, but that I comfort
not that I am understood, but that I understand
not that I am loved, but that I love.
Because whoever gives, receives,
if you forget yourself, you will find
who forgives will be forgiven,
and whoever dies there awakens to eternal life.


Would you like to get to know Jesus?