If you would like to read the Scripture upon which this is based: Matthew 5: 1-12
Meek. Merciful. Persecuted. Peacemaker. Reviled. Poor in spirit and heart. Are those really words to live by? Sounds hard! Sounds scary! Sounds dreadful!!
Those words and others like them are surely not the words a new preacher should be preaching in order to gather a crowd of followers. But not to worry – these words were spoken over 2000 years ago. How can they possibly be relevant for us today?
Meek. Merciful. Persecuted. Peacemaker. Reviled. Poor in spirit and heart.
Now that we have heard these words for the third time this morning, it might be time to take a deeper look. And yes, they were said by a new preacher – Jesus said them as he was beginning his ministry. And he said more than just those words. As a matter of fact, as Jesus said those words to a crowd that was gathering he said:
Blessed are the meek,
Blessed are the merciful,
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness,
Blessed are the persecuted, the reviled, the poor in spirit, the poor in heart.
He told the crowd, if you live like this, you will be called children of God, you will be given the kingdom of heaven, you will not go hungry, in fact, you will be filled, you will receive mercy. You will see God.
The Greek word makarios is used in the text and its literal translation is ‘blessed’ – to be honored, revered. As I read through commentaries in preparation for my sermon, it was suggested that the word happiness might be substituted for the word blessed.
Well there!!!! That makes it much better. Happy are the persecuted, the reviled, etc. Not very convincing, right?
So what was Jesus telling the crowd that day? What was their take-home as they left the mountainside later that afternoon? Did Jesus’ words stay with them? I think they might have. You see, some in the crowd were fishermen: did they think about what they heard as they sat quietly in their boat in the middle of the sea. Some were merchants – did his words come back to them as they perhaps folded their garments, or stacked their shelves for next day shoppers. Some were religious people, who came to hear the words of Jesus. Were their own reflections filled with the message they heard that day? I asked myself – what would I have thought if I was in the crowd that day?
And now I ask you: what might you have thought?
Well, let’s try to apply Jesus’ message about blessedness to our own reality this morning.
Let us begin by acknowledging that this scripture read today is hard. It’s hard to hear, to understand, to take in, and to apply.
We ask: What does ‘blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ actually mean? Is Jesus saying that in order to attain heaven, we must walk around in sackcloth and give everything we have to the poor? I don’t think that’s what it means.
To be pure in spirit means that we look outward more and inward less; to realize that the world does not revolve around us; nor is the world all about me. In my work as your pastoral care associate at times I am invited into individual’s and families’ lives to those who are very sick, or may have just been given a serious diagnosis. I visit with families who have lost a loved one. These folks are amazing people. As we settle into conversation, I hear stories about their loved one – how kind and generous they were, how strong they were in their suffering. Grandchildren especially talk about the little things: going fishing with Pop Pop or baking Christmas cookies with Grammy.
You see when you find yourself in a challenging place, the characteristics I describe are how a person is remembered. It is there that the memories are made and meaning and purpose is pronounced.
So for me “poor in spirit” means two things: It means that our lives should be counted in the being rather than the doing; and if we are doing – it should be more for others than ourselves. So poor in spirit does not mean a thing about financial wealth or lack of – it is about finding out what really matters in life – for ourselves, our family and our God.
So, having unpacked the first Beatitude, we can take what we have discovered and apply it to all the rest:
Comforting those who are mourning: Spend time with them, perhaps take a walk, looking at pictures of their loved ones – listening to their stories.
Being meek: If we look at our life through the lens of God, we will soon realize all that we have been given – our life, our thoughts, our intelligence, are all gifts from God, our creator. The God who knows us by name, who knows the number of hairs on our head, the God who is with us – always, who gives us all we need. Once we take such an inventory – and realize all the gifts we have been given – we begin to appreciate it all so much more.
There is a song that we teach our little children that says, “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty; there’s nothing my God cannot do!” I love hearing the children sing this – each verse is the same, but as they sing they place more and more emphasis on big, strong, mighty, until their little voices are shouting: there is nothing my God cannot do!!!! There is nothing my God cannot do!!!!
John 3:16 tells us: that God so loved the world (God’s children) that God gave God’s only begotten son so all who believe in him will have eternal life. Think about that! God gave God’s only begotten son to us!
Are you beginning to feel blessed?
Jesus goes on and says:
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled! Blessed are those who are merciful for they will receive mercy. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Are we beginning to understand this text, with all the promises and blessings? Jesus wants us to have hunger and thirst for what is right, fair, good, respectable. He wants us to have integrity and purpose. To make it a priority in our lives.
He wants us to receive mercy and give mercy to others.
Yesterday, we had a seminar here at the church on Restorative Justice, and the facilitator talked about those who were incarcerated and the difficulties they encounter as they were released from prison because of the stigma. They’ve gone through being arrested, put into prison, served their time and yet found it difficult to put that all behind them when they are released. He asked us, “How would you like to be judged for the rest of your life for the stupidest thing you ever did?” A quiet and nervous laugh trickled through the room. Blessed are the merciful … for they will receive mercy.
So as we take these words that were spoken by Jesus on the mountain that day and dig deeper into their meaning, we begin to better understand Jesus’ message. We remember times when we cried out to God for help and help came. We remember times when we asked for forgiveness and we were forgiven. And yes, there may be times when we felt abandoned by God, lost hope, were angry at God. And God sent us peacemakers, comforters, those that seemed to say exactly what we needed at that time.
That’s how this all works!. Sometimes we are blessed and sometimes we bring the blessing.
In closing I would like to share with you that I feel blessed to be your pastoral care pastor. I am blessed because our church recognizes the need to have someone who dedicates his or her work to the well-being of this congregation. I am blessed because over the 30 some years I worshipped and participated in the life of this church I too have been on the receiving end of care. I am blessed because I am part of a team of Deacons, prayer ministrants, visitation ministrants and others who give of their time and talents to reach out to all those who are going through a bad time. Here at the church we have an Overcomers group, modeled after the 12 steps, it’s there for those struggling with addiction. We have a Caregiver support group, for those who are taking care of someone with a long term illness, like alzheimers or dementia. A Depression Group for those who suffer with depression and are looking for a safe place to share what they go through, and a Bereavement group to support those who have lost a loved one.
These groups meet regularly and welcome all, to provide support during a difficult time. And finally, I am happy to report that within the next few months we will once again offer Stephen Ministers – who will give one-to-one support to those who need a listening ear.
Friends, wouldn’t you agree … we are all truly blessed. Amen.