The sermon from Sunday, January 29 on Matthew 5: 1-12
How do you preach a sermon about a sermon? That’s what we will be doing here in these next weeks as we look at the Sermon on the Mount. Our Gospel passage tonight picks up where we left off last week. Jesus has gathered his disciples and begun traveling around, healing the sick and proclaiming the good news.
Here is where we first to get from Jesus himself what that good news might be. We have this incredible moment of a long, important sermon. Matthew contains several of these long discourses. There are a lot of Jesus’ words in this Gospel.
This sermon, my friends, including the part that we focus on this evening, was written for times such as these. Jesus is telling us about what good living looks like here and he’s offering us the great promise of following in his path.
This is an active demand of the Gospel. The Beatitudes are one of the most familiar passages and yet their challenge to us never gets old. We are continually called to reinterpret its call on our lives into the given moment. These words were referenced recently at the inauguration, but I have to say that I hear that as a stunning misread of the meaning we find in the treasured passages.
The Greek word that’s translated here as blessed can also be translated as happy – the basic point is that these are some of the keys to living a good life – this is what Jesus lifts up as what is required of us and what comes to us on this path
Let’s look at the first 3 and let us hear them in this way – blessed are the humble, the grieving, the powerless. First we need to make sure that we distinguish between humility and humiliation. Those words are so similar. This is not about humiliation. To be poor in spirit is to be humble, to set aside the drive of your own ego and let yourself be open to God. It is to orient yourself to God’s love so that you can carry it out into the world.
Blessed, happy are those who are humble – for they let God work through them, allowing them to bear witness to the goodness of heaven here on earth.
Blessed, happy are those who grieve – for in a community of love and fellowship, they will be comforted. There will be mourning. There will be grief. There will be suffering. But you do not grieve alone. You do not suffer alone. God is with you and your community is with you.
Blessed, happy are the powerless – for if we follow the way of Jesus, if we live the realm of God into reality, we erase the margins to which we exile some people in this world. If we are truly following Jesus, we move people from margins to the center, so that together we all share in the abundance of society.
We do not leave behind the refugee or the Muslim or the immigrant. We do not leave some people without affordable health care or some people without food or some people without secure and decent housing. We do not clear cut public forests and run pipelines through indigenous lands.
If we are to take the message of Gospel seriously, then we create a world where the most powerless among us are brought into the fullness of our world.
The grave abuse of human power at the expense of the powerless among us stands in direct contradiction to the teachings of the Gospel.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled” My seminary professor who taught the Gospels had a thing about the word righteousness. You know all translations are human and all translations are political. We hear the word righteousness and we think about our own individual piety. He believed that was a mistranslation and argued that the word should be ‘justice’.
So we hear the reading as blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice for they will feast on justice.
What better meal could there be? If you carry Jesus in your heart, how can we not strive to bring about a world where no one is an outcast and no one is a stranger?
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” The work of mercy is everyday work – and we are called to it by the Gospel. We are called to it by our faith. In a true and just realm of God, all will be merciful and all will receive mercy. That is the world that we are striving for.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” God is with us and loving us all the time. The question is whether we live in such a way as to see God and God’s call on our lives. To be pure in heart is to live with a sense of integrity. There is corruption all around us. There is manipulation of power all around us. There are questionable motives and mean people and moral ambiguity at every turn.
But why do we do this?
Because we believe in something that is greater than ourselves and that’s love of God into this world that speaks back to a system that deals death, that lives for profit, that consumes the earth, that exploits people, that uses everything to its own advantage.
The book of Matthew is full of these people and our world is full of these people. Jesus is consistent in his witness for God’s love and justice and so must we be.
To be pure in heart is to live with integrity – and when you do that you will see the presence of God in this world. That is the call of the Gospel.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Peacemaking is work. Peace is not passive. Peace is not false unity that silences oppression. Peace does not mask injustice and allow it to fester. Peacemaking is hard, daily, active work. It is necessary. It is constant. It is the duty of people who claim to be Christian.
But there’s another cool part of this. Sometimes peacemaking is grim duty, but it’s also active joy. It is life-giving to the person doing it and to all involved. It is embodied hope and steadfast dedication. It is connection and deep satisfaction. It is friendship and transformation and possibility. Peacemaking is an act so fully suffused by the Holy Spirit that it lights up your heart and feeds your soul.
By this work God is pleased.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Remember our tweak of the word righteousness. But this really works either way, provided that you don’t see this as just some measure of narrow personal morality.
Let there be no mistake. The quest for genuine justice will not make you popular in some circles.
When you stand up for the innate value of all people and the planet, people will come after you.
When you say that Muslims and physically disabled and mentally ill people and Guatemalan immigrants and the homeless and Syrian refugees and urban black folk and transgender people and those living in poverty and queer folk and precious natural ecosystems – when you say that all of these are precious and fully worthy in the sight of God, there are people with power in this world who do not want to hear it.
Because if that is true then we as a global culture are called to live in a very different way.
That is a threat to their power and their profits – and it is a wise thing to be prepared for what might come at you. That is not a happy thought. But the alternative is to turn away from the Gospel message and that is worse.
“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.” So we get this two verses in a row – be aware that this is not going to be an easy road. Jesus knew what was coming. Do not expect success by the measures of this world. There will be days when you don’t seem to make anybody happy.
Living out the love of the Gospel is a huge challenge – it is a challenge to ourselves and it is a challenge to the powers that be and the way we are supposed to believe and buy our way through life.
It is a call to live differently, to love extravagantly, to care deeply, to pray without ceasing, to tend to the needs of your neighbor, to see everyone as your neighbor, to find the face of Jesus in the marginalized, and to work to change a system that puts people and the planet at the margins.
You may or may not see your reward on earth for this work. People have lived and many faithful people have died at the hands of men across the millennia.
But if you live as a peacemaker, if you seek justice, if you live with integrity, if you are humble and merciful, you are living the life God calls you to live.
image credit to Easter Lutheran Church, Eagan, MN