4th Sunday After Epiphany
L. Shannon Jung
January 29, 2017.
How are we to understand the beatitudes?
Let me recreate the setting of the opening of the Sermon on the Mount.
There has been quite a buzz in your village – it seems that a great teacher, some said even the Messiah, was coming to town. How could we not go hear him? Some said that he was able to heal the sick, to enable the blind to see, that a dove has descended on him when he was baptized and a voice from heaven had announced that this is my beloved Son.
So, you find yourself in a large crowd going up to the highest hill in your area, where he is purported to be headed. There, in fact you find him in an authoritative position on top of the mount and in the position of a great rabbi. The crowd is quite expectant, they are not sure what is going to happen, but they anxiously await his words. They grow quiet as he begins to speak:
He has us all with those words. Who is it that is favored by God? Who is it that is destined for the kingdom of heaven? Surely it is the powerful, the most popular, the wealthy.
Blessed are, he continues, the poor in spirit… for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The depressed…the sad…the despondent…the disheartened?
He goes on:
Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.
Those who grieve…who lament…who suffer.
What does he mean? He pronounces these sayings with authority, but they are unlike anything we have heard before.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Maybe my hearing is bad. Blessed are the humble…the submissive…the mild…the gentle. It seems like the humble get walked on, not inherit the earth.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
This is a wonderful ideal, but our experience is that they do not always receive mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
This comes closer to something we do believe.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
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.
We in that village in Galilee of course do not seek to be reviled or persecuted, but we do understand that those who follow Jesus may suffer this. And yet he says we are to rejoice, for our reward in heaven will be great.
And then, suddenly, we on that hillside, realize. Jesus is talking about us. We are the ones who are often reviled, who are poor in spirit, who have to be meek, who often mourn.
And he is speaking about heaven. Who is going to be in heaven? WE ARE!!! It is going to be filled with the lowly. It is we who will inherit the kingdom of heaven. Rejoice indeed!!! Heaven is not reserved for the powerful, the rich, or the popular, not the secure, not the happy. Indeed, the blessed, the favored by God, the children of God are we. This is GREAT NEWS…This is Deliverence indeed. This is in fact GOSPEL.
What kind of God is this? What kind of heaven?
These beatitudes are the promise of a Blessed Kingdom, a Kingdom ruled by the Suffering Servant, where it is the persecuted and distraught who are loved by God. [Not that everyone is not loved by God. But maybe these come closer to realizing God’s grace and power.]
BUT NOWlet me invite you off that hillside in Galilee in 32 A.D.
Welcome to Lakewood Ranch, to Peace Presbyterian, to 2017.
How are we to understand this?
How we these beatitudes relate to us? How do we understand them? How can we take the kingdom that is to come and ask that God “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?
There are two answers here, I believe.
Number One. Let’s tackle the most inaccessible of the beatitudes first, and concentrate there for a few minutes.
Take a look at your neighbor sitting in the pew. Yes, physically rotate your body and look to the right and left. You can do it.
Is one of your neighbors poor in spirit today? Is he or she depressed for some reason? Is he or she despondent? Demoralized? Sad? Such is the kingdom of heaven. If you are depressed, if you are dishearetedned? If you are demoralized for whatever reason, know that yours is the kingdom of heaven….that God knows your depression, your demoralization, your sadness.
If one of your neighbors is mourning for whatever reason, maybe the loss of a loved one, maybe the threat of a loss, maybe you mourn for those who died in the past, maybe the mourning is of a recent loss…. Know that you will be comforted….Know that the Great Comforter will comfort you, is already comforting you.
If one of those neighbors is submissive, docile, gentle, mild, if he or she does not take offense, is willing to suffer insult or slight, does not easily get bent out of shape, … then know that he and she will inherit the earth. They will be those that God calls blessed. You are blessed by God. They are already exhibiting the great compassion and unselfishness of God.
Some of the beatitudes are less difficult to understand.
We know that the peacemakers are blessed. Those who work for reconciliation between estranged peoples.
Blessed are the merciful. Those who are able to forgive, to offer mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart.
Even blessed are those who are so committed to Jesus’s call that they may be reviled, misunderstood, or even persecuted.
So Jesus has given us a glimpse of the Kingdom. This is what heaven is like. This is the way we are live in anticipation of the Kingdom. In fact, every time we stand with those who are poor in spirit, every time we mourn with those who mourn, every time we appreciate gentleness and humility, we are enacting the Kingdom. So there is an “already” element here.
There is also a “not yet.” In a way we are called to bring in this reality Jesus described. Notice the beautitudes are couched in descriptive languages….. blessed are ….. for they will be ….
Also they refer to the Kingdom of Heaven, where people will be comforted, where they will inherit the earth, receive mercy, will see God, will be called the children of God. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven, where ---- get this! -- their reward will be great.
However it is also about the here and now. God is here with the depressed, the mournful, the distressed, the gentle, those who are persecuted, and those who are peacemakers.
And also that I am to put my trust in God and obey the laws of neighborliness and worship. This is the gift of a promised future. This is about God’s trustworthiness and generosity that we are to follow.
This God is not afraid of depression, of grief, of death. This God dwells right with us in the midst of our brokenness, undaunted by our lack of polish. And because this God dares to draw near to us, we are counted as “blessed.”
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.