Epiphany 4 – Souper BowlMatthew 5:1-12
2 February 2014
Elizabeth M. Deibert
Your word, O Lord, is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.
Attitude as defined by Merriam-Webster, is the way you think and feel about someone or something, often affecting behavior. But in recent years, the word has taken on a negative connotation. If I say, “That guy – he’s got an attitude!” you would assume that I meant a negative attitude.
The first twelve verses of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount are called “The Beatitudes” The word is Latin, meaning “Blessedness” and is sometimes translated “Happiness” but that sells the word short. I like to think of them as Godly Attitudes of Being.
Whenever we hear the Beatitudes, we are struck with their poetic beauty and, atthe same time, we have this inner voice telling us, “Impractical – won’t work in this world.” We live in a time when the blessings given are to those who succeed,
often at the expense of others. To be poor in spirit, peaceful, merciful, and meek will get you nowhere in a culture grounded in competition and fear.
In offering this teaching about the blessed way of being, Jesus was literally turning the values of the world upside down.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down,
his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you
and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven,
for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(New Revised Standard Version)Although the later sections of the Sermon are full of ethical imperatives, the Beatitudes are in the indicative. So Jesus is not asking his disciples to become victims of difficult circumstances. They already are. No pain, no gain. Or to be more precise, “With pain can come gain, gain of eternal, spiritual nature, not always obvious to the practically-minded bystander.”
Jesus always offers consolation to those who find themselves poor, struggling, sad, and mistreated. And he nearly always challenges people who have too much power, authority, or prestige. He comforts those who need comfort, and challenges those who need a challenge.Would he offer you comfort or challenge today? Would he say we are living according to the values of modern culture or according to the principles of the kingdom of heaven?
We value happiness, personal fulfillment, confidence and strength, success and productivity, security and popularity. But Jesus says we are blessed when we are struggling, grieving, humble, longing, weak, honest, and mistreated for our faith. The reality of things of life as seen from God's perspective is that the powerless are the inheritors the future. It is the meek, the poor, those who suffer loss, those on the bottom of the social ladder, who will rule in the rightside‑up kingdom of God. It is they who are blessed even now. Jesus seems to be undermining our assumptions regarding security and hope, showing us that the kingdom of God is for those who hope in God and not in the power structures offered by the world.As I read the Beatitudes this week, and as I worked on the rest of the service I kept seeing how they built upon each other and how they are related – not just to each other but also to the reading from the prophet Micah today. Micah’s words about seeking justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God provide a helpful outline of sorts to hold together all the beatitudes in summary.
Take the first three beatitudes for example: Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, and the meek. You could say, blessed are the depressed, sad, and humble. You wouldn’t naturally say that, though would you? But each of those difficult, humbling experiences calls us to a closer walk with God. Walk humbly with your God when you have no answers about why someone you loved suffered and died. Walk humbly with God when you when you are discouraged and lacking in personal confidence.Those who are marginalized in society and those who support them in seeking justice are easily discouraged (or poor in spirit) because the cycles of injustice are so hard to break. A kid is born into a life of poverty. He or she is behind when PreK starts. Identity is shaped at an early age. Even if the child does well in elementary school, it will be more difficult for that one to advance in college. The cards are stacked against long-term success, but theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn. You can only lose to the degree that you love. The more you love, the more you grieve a loss. People who love kindness suffer grief deeply, and those who love kindness (like Stephen Ministers and Congregational Care members) comfort the grieving. But you cannot help someone out of pain, without feeling some pain yourself. The deeper your loving-kindness, the more you hurt for others – you feel their pain. God’s loving-kindness was so great, God in Christ did not just hurt with us but for us.Blessed are the meek. To be meek is to be humble, to be unassuming, to walk humbly with God. It is the only way one can walk with God. Without meekness, we are trying to take God where we want to go, but God knows we need to go with God and to do that, we must be humble enough to admit we need God’s direction.
The next three beatitudes line up well with Micah’s three again. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. In the Bible, justice and righteousness always are a pair. You cannot be righteous without being just. You cannot be just without being righteous. Those who lust for things that are not right, will never find true fulfillment in them. They will stay hungry and thirsty, always with a nagging feeling of emptiness. They will not rest until they rest in God.7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Makes you think of the Lord’s prayer, “Forgive us our sins, debts, trespasses, as we forgive…Micah’s words “Love kindness” are often translated “love mercy” True kindness is involves mercy, which is an undeserved extra kindness and compassion when one could choose to withhold it. One who took that chance was the blessed Mother Teresa. She said, “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love....
8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. The pure in heart are those who walk humbly with God. To be pure in heart is to have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, emptied himself and humbled himself, and took death on himself, for our sakes, that our hearts might be purified and given eyes to see God.Lastly we hear “Blessed are the peacemakers, those persecuted for doing right. Again Micah’s words are echoed. Seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. True peacemakers never seek justice with practicing kindness and humility. Courageous peacemakers end up persecuted because they have the courage to seek justice at great cost to themselves, as those who stood up against the racism of Jim Crow laws in the 1960’s. Their commitment to kindness and humility compelled them toward a non-violent approach. People who step outside the magic circle of popular culture far enough to seek justice for the marginalized, to make peace where there is no peace, will find themselves despised, just as Jesus was despised and rejected. Peacemaking is risky. It means reaching across the divide to shake the hand of another, not sure if that reach or that handshake will make you lose your footing and fall. Children of God take chances for peace.
We ourselves know very little about persecution, but we have Christian brothers and sisters in Syria and Pakistan and other countries, whose churches are being demolished and whose lives are threatened constantly. And we should pray for them and seek justice for them.
On this Super Bowl Sunday when we focus excessive attention on ballplayers (most of them far from humble) who are paid excessive amounts of money. And as we watch excessively expensive advertisements which encourage us to consume in excessive, we should hear a few more words from one who practiced kindness on the poverty-ridden streets of Calcutta: It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish....So, friends, decide today that a child should not die but live as we give to the Souper Bowl Offering to help the hungry. Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. Remember what it means to be blessed.