Matthew 5: 1-12 1-29-17 Rev. Tony Clark ACCUCC
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“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 will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“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.”
As Christians we follow Jesus who was an immigrant, a political and religious refugee, and an undocumented migrant. Before he was born, an executive order from the ruling power forced his family to migrate from Nazareth to Bethlehem for a government-enforced census. Before he was three another executive order ordered all infants and toddler boys to be killed, and feeling persecuted, Jesus and his parents became refugees seeking political asylum in Egypt. They were also religious refugees because they believed in one God who was not the emperor of Rome. They later returned to the region but feared for their safety in Bethlehem so they relocated in Nazareth. Even if these stories are not historically and archaeologically provable, they offer alternative facts that paint a government so powerful that it could have made executive orders that disrupted the lives of the most vulnerable.
This story of authoritarian government has been written throughout human history, and many of my friends and colleagues are watching to see if we are stepping into that story again in these days.
Jesus traveled with a band of undocumented workers, his disciples, whom he called from their intense physical labors to do the intense spiritual work of healing in God’s name, doing God’s justice in the face of worldly authoritarianism, and naming God as a king who is more powerful than the Roman emperor.
Just as the disciples started the work, Jesus sat them down and gave them a sermon—the Sermon on the Mount, which is the focus of our scripture for the next 4 weeks. It starts with what we call the Beatitudes, a list of circumstances that seem like the world has cursed you but that Jesus says are really times of being blessed by God. These are words of hope from a pastoral and loving preacher. They are a bit like a bright orange life preserver—something you don’t want to use, but something you want to have handy if you need it. These spiritual words will keep you afloat if you find yourself drowning in the sea of worldly woes. These words might just preserve your life if the storms are too overwhelming and threaten to take you under, so hang them up where you can easily get to them, and keep them close if you think the waters ahead are going to be even the littlest bit rough.
When I offer a blessing, I call upon the Divine, not merely to be present, for I believe that God is already in the room; rather I call upon the Divine to reveal the holiness of the situation. In essence, I am asking the Divine to remind that person that no matter who they are or where they are in life’s journey, they are holy in the eyes of God. “God, bless this person in their need; remind them that they are holy; remind them that you are present in their struggles; remind them that they are loved and surrounded and held by you. And may they shine in you.”
Although I believe that we are always blessed in the eyes of God, I also know that as a human being there are times when I don’t feel so blessed. The norms of our world, our society, our culture name health, wealth, longevity, joyfulness, confidence, and beauty as markers of blessing, and when I don’t have those, I don’t feel very blessed.
Even as the world defines those as blessings, we as Christians push back and say that God blesses all people even those without good health or wealth, longevity or joyfulness, confidence or beauty. As Christians, we follow Jesus who asked often in his ministry, “Who among us is not healthy, who among us cannot afford housing, who among us cannot feed their families and live long productive lives, who among us is invisible, who among us is not safe where they live?” And then he called disciples like us to work to help him make that happen.
Jesus called those disciples knowing that some of them might have been going through some tough mental and physical health issues. Some of them might have lacked confidence to do their ministry. Some of them might have been grieving the loss of a loved one. And some of them might have already known the heart ache of trying to bring justice, fairness, equality in to the world. To them he said “Blessed are you who are poor in spirit, blessed are you who mourn, blessed are the meek, and blessed are the peacemakers. Even though the seas are bit rough right now for you, here’s a personal flotation device to help you get through this. Hear and believe these words: God loves you right now.”
There may have even been a few disciples who were in a pretty good spot right then. They were not weighed down by the world, but were excited to be joining this new group of people who were going out to change the world. Jesus’ sermon was for them, too. He told them to keep this life preserver close because the days of joy and excitement do not last forever. The time will come when you feel poor in spirit, or when you are grieving or when you feel like the seas of persecution are getting rough; these words may save your life. Blessed are you. God loves you. You are Holy in God’s eyes.
Jesus tells us that we are blessed, that God is on our side, that God sees even us, that we are holy in God’s eyes. These words are a life preserver. Blessed are you, even when nothing is going right. These words are there if you need them now, and if you don’t need them now keep them handy because you probably will.
These words are spoken as words of hope to suffering people, and these words are spoken to the disciples as they embark on their call to follow Jesus. Jesus spoke these words as foreshadowing of his ministry and the ministry of all who faithfully follow him. His ministry focused on those who need to be blessed. Jesus ministered to the poor, the poor in spirit, the grieving, the meek, the hungry and those who are hungry for justice, the unclean and the sinful and those who were persecuted and reviled. His ministry was not just healing and teaching; his ministry also challenged an unjust system, called out alternative facts that acted as government propaganda, decried executive orders that denied human rights, and crossed illegal borders along the way.
Jesus crossed illegal borders and boundaries between clean and unclean, and between sacred and sin every time he healed a sick person or talked to a woman. He demanded free speech that revealed truth of people’s lives rather than government propaganda when he said, “Give unto Caesar that which is Caesars and give unto God that which is God’s.” He broke laws that were unjust when he healed on the Sabbath. He spoke out against executive orders when he said that if you are told to walk a mile, go one more; Roman centurions were forbidden to make someone walk more than a mile because that would disrupt a day’s labor productivity, so walking an extra mile got the Centurion in trouble. He spoke out against executive orders when he said that if you were ordered to give your cloak, give your tunic also; this act would leave you naked, more than could be demanded of anyone, so this act shamed the one making the demands. Jesus was merciful and a maker of peace and he was reviled and persecuted. He knew poverty of spirit on the cross, and he knew God’s blessing, both throughout his life and even into his death.
The disciples followed and supported Jesus, and continued his work after he died. They hungered for justice and righteousness. They were unwelcome in many towns and had to leave shaking the dust off their feet. They were imprisoned, lost friends and family members along the way, and they were persecuted. The seas they faced were rough, and they kept these blessing words close as their life preservers. Blessed are you; you are holy in God’s eyes.
Jesus preached The Sermon on the Mount not merely to recognize the human plight of living but also to remind us that the call to follow in the ways of Jesus may put us on rough seas. Who among us needs to hear, “Blessed are you poor in spirit?” and who among us needs to hear, “Blessed are you who mourn?” Who among us is persecuted for doing God’s law, and who among us is reviled? For some of us, we need to hear these blessings. And then there are the people beyond our doors who are also in need of these blessings, and we are called to bring those blessings to them.
Jesus never claimed that any of this was easy; he did claim that in bringing a blessing to someone else we would be blessed in turn. He told us that as the storms of life are raging, God stands with us, God blesses us, God sees us, and God calls us holy. So keep these words as a life preserver in case you need them.
May the God of all blessing be revealed to each of you in your hour of need, and may you always remember that you are holy in God’s eyes. Amen.