Blessed are those who… (Epiphany 4A, 29 January 2017)

Readings
Micah 6.1–8
1 Corinthians 1.18–31
Matthew 5.1–12

 

There are three principles for living into the spirit of the Beatitudes: simplicity, hopefulness, and compassion. (Charles James Cook, in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol.1)

 

Today we heard the Beatitudes:

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 shall inherit the earth…

And so on.

These words are all well known to us. But do we let them penetrate our hearts?

Let’s admit it, on the face of it, they are pretty absurd. ‘Blessed are the meek’? Is that how Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin got where they are today?

‘Blessed are those who mourn’? You don’t feel ‘blessed’ when you are grieving.

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’? The arrogant and super-confident are better candidates for blessedness!

So let’s try to get a hold of what ‘blessedness’ is.

Normally, we might say we’re blest if something wonderful happens to us. We are blest when a new baby comes into the family. We are blest if we get good weather for a family wedding.

Or we may say we’re blest by natural gifts and talents, by good looks, a musical gift or high intelligence.

We could say we’re blest to live in Australia.

(I just want to say I’m avoiding the word ‘happy’ here. It’s a misleading translation. I may be blest to live in Australia, whether I’m happy or not. I could be blest with a wonderful singing voice—(I’m not!)—but be unhappy. You can be blest without being happy.)

So, Jesus is not saying you have to put a happy face on when you are mourning for something or someone. But he is saying you are blest.

This is the thing about the Beatitudes:

Normally, we say we are blest because we have a gift or because we live in fortunate circumstances.

The Beatitudes declare people blest when they lack something real and true, or yearn for something real and true, or accept something that is real and true. 

The Beatitudes say

Blessed are those who lack self-confidence, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Or,

Blessed are those who lack justice yet yearn for it with all their heart, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are the uncomplicated, those who lack guile, for they shall see God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for the righteousness they seek, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

But why do the Beatitudes say this? How can it be true?

Because Jesus is there with you, that’s why.

Jesus is right there with those who mourn, with the meek and merciful, with those who seek justice, and with the poor in spirit.

The Apostle Paul said,

…we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

‘Christ crucified…the power of God and the wisdom of God.’

Christ crucified…The One who on the cross is poor in spirit, meek, pure in heart, yearning for the righteousness of God, persecuted to death.

Jesus Christ today is the risen crucified Lord. He is with people in this same situation—poor in spirit, mourning—and is with those yearning for justice, whose hearts are simple.

I mentioned Dietrich Bonhoeffer last week, the German Lutheran pastor who was executed on the direct orders of Hitler himself. In his book Letters and Papers from Prison, he says

only the suffering God can help.

Who is Jesus Christ for us? Is he someone who is in heaven, far removed from earthly strife? Or is he here with us, God-with-us in the difficulties and griefs that come to everyone?

‘Only the suffering God can help.’ That’s why Paul preached Christ crucified. Only the Christ who can be with us in the sufferings of life can help.

I have often spoken to people who say that Christian faith doesn’t work. What they have often meant is that God has disappointed their hopes. They prayed for healing; it didn’t happen. They didn’t get a job that they had believed God promised to them.

They have put their faith in a God who doles out rewards, and when it hasn’t happened the way they wanted they’ve felt let down.

Sometimes those rewards are in the form of healing from sickness. They think: If you pray with enough faith, God will heal you.

If people are not healed, they get the blame. You still have cancer? You mustn’t have had enough faith. And their faith withers under the pressure.

But what does Jesus say? Blessed are those who are healed? Blessed are the ones for whom everything always works out?

Remember, the Beatitudes declare people blest when they lack something real and true, or yearn for something real and true, or accept something that is real and true. The Beatitudes bless those who live in God’s reality and truth.

But can we say material wealth is a sign of the blessing of God, as those who preach the so-called ‘prosperity gospel’ do?

We need to be very careful here. There is one purpose and one purpose only for which we are blest. We are blest to be a blessing for others. Do you make your good fortune a blessing for others? Then we may call it a blessing. Those who are wealthy are not necessarily blest. Their wealth could be more of a millstone around their necks if they do not find a way to bless others with it.

Yes, there can be a blessedness for the fortunate. But it’s not the blessedness of the Beatitudes.

Here, Jesus stands with the poor in spirit, the grieving, the seeker after justice in the world. And their suffering is transformed by Jesus Christ into blessing for them and for others.

The world will tell you Blessed are the rich, the beautiful, the popular. Yet far more blest still are those who know their need of Jesus Christ. They will never be disappointed. Amen.

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Filed under church year, Epiphany Season, RCL, sermon

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