Matthew 5: 1-12
By Pastor Tim Woodard, February 2nd 2014
How blessed it would have been for us to have sat in the midst the crowd – as Jesus preached the words of what we now call the beatitudes. Can’t you almost feel his words drifting down from his position upon the hillside as they fall upon our ears? Can’t you feel your heart skip a bit as his voice opens you to receive these words in a new way, a way you had never felt before? Blessedwere those early followers, blessed indeed! And blessed are we that the words of Jesus were preserved and passed down through the ages so that we too can now allow his words to fill our minds and direct our lives!
Jesus offers up for us from his Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, which are these verses from our lesson today beginning with the words: “blessed are…” There are so many important things we can learn from this lesson and I want us to begin by lifting up the concept that Jesus is telling us we need to look to those around us as we seek out and find the actions of God. It seems as if Jesus wants us to pay more attention to the meek, the merciful and the pure in heart; we are to look to the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness sake; we are to become more aware of those who mourn, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, as-well-as those who are poor in spirit. Jesus tells us clearly that they are the ones who shall find their way into the kingdom of God; they are the ones that will be comforted and filled, these are the folks who shall receive mercy and will surely see God face to face!
One of the great writers of the twentieth Century “Scott Peck” gives us these words to consider: “The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.” In his words, he is picking up on the lesson of the Beatitudes – as he looks to those that have grappled with adversity – of the likes that Jesus has us struggling with this mourning. We need to look to our own circumstances and see how our own discomforts, our own times of feeling unhappy or feeling unfulfilled, have and can propel us – into a new mindset and relationship with the world around us – and our God. Scott Peck is telling us we can and often do turn these moments into profound opportunities for advancement… if we are willing to stay open to the possibilities.
It is a question of “humility” that is to say “we are all poor in spirit sometime; that is we all are knocked back or trodden on from time to time”, said (Margo) Margot. /Margot C. Bennett/ She was saying to me that when she looks at the Beatitudes, she sees as the heart of the message that it is not when, but rather how we look to each of these that Jesus lifts up for us in the ‘blessed are’; it is then that we can begin to see ourselves. I think she makes a really good point and it is exactly what Scott Peck was pushing us to consider. Thank you (Margo) Margot for your insights into this scripture! Continuing for just a moment longer with her thoughts we could all use ‘attitude adjustment’ from time to time! You see when we do so we can “change our outlook on how we see people places or things.” Clearly this is what Scott Peck is pushing us to do and this is what Jesus was doing with his teachings of the Beatitudes! Jesus simply says to us: “blessed are…,” and thus there is no room for debate; He is stating clearly that we are blessed in the midst of diversity!
With these thoughts in mind let us reexamine where we are in our thoughts today. Putting it in a different light let me ask you by what attitude or what frame of mind are you seeing the world today? Look into your hearts this morning and now ask yourself “have you been blessed today?” Again, I say to you, it is how you view the world and how you perceive God’s interaction in your life today that will cause you to look more deeply for the answer. Let the mystical teachings of Jesus push you to consider yet another possibility, one you may not as of yet have allowed into your heart. Just maybe, just maybe, God wants you to take your discomfort and do something new and different in your life. Some of the greatest achievements of humankind have come about during such moments. Be reminded that the United States did not propel itself into landing on the moon until after the Soviet Union beat us into outer-space with the launch of “Sputnik, on October the 4th 1957.” Look to the great advances that were created as we worked though our embarrassment and discomfort as a nation.
Susan Blain writes regarding those spotlighted in the Beatitudes: “Their lives now, in the present, hold the blessing and transforming power of God, as they live and struggle for justice, peace, and wholeness in their world. (The Beatitudes) lead us on a journey toward a vision beautiful with God not only at its center, but God at every turn, upsetting our expectations and challenging us to take another step deeper into the mystery of divine presence dwelling in our world. God is calling us to follow Christ, the Beloved, into the world to engage in a lifetime of faithful, creative, courageous, community-building love.” Her words dig deep into the concepts that are near and dear to many of us here gathered this morning. Her words also point us toward how we need to look for God in every aspect of life, not just during the good and prosperous times.
What exactly is meant by Susan Blain’s reference that we are to “engage in a lifetime of faithful, creative, courageous, community-building love?” Could it be that she believes following Christ, following in teachings such as the beatitudes, ought to propel us into such noble endeavors such as these? Being faithful is an easy one. We are certainly called to be a people of faith, especially when we apply it into being faithful to our God and the teachings of the Bible. We know that; we have always taught that. Yet, she goes further. She is telling us that we are to be creative and courageous. Kind of like that simple saying: “if you are given a lemon make lemonade.” In the case of the beatitudes, if you are given a difficult life situation don’t just sit there pouting about it, turn it around! Take your pain, your hurt and even your sorrow and push yourself to find a way to make something new out of it! Don’t expect it to look and feel like the old because it is not and shall not be! Find a way to push forward, you may just be shocked to realize what God can do if you will simply allow the Spirit of God to use you… to do a new thing!
Now what of her reference to community-building love? Community building, of course, speaks to building bridges, knocking down the barriers that divide – all the while – creating common space, simply by focusing on those things individuals and groups already share in common. It is not done by rankling over the small differences ‘in-between’ which is often ‘fodder’ for ‘dissention’ and a ‘distraction’ to the more positive aspects of community building. When communities come together, bringing their diversity, their sorrows and their joys to share with one another, then, then the opportunity for building trust and sharing the bonds of love, the love that comes from God, begin to grow. It is easy to tear things down, we have seen it in the politics of our nation and we have seen it in our churches. It takes courage, commitment and God’s love to build things up and create something new!
Susan Blain goes on to say: “All of the readings today lead us on a labyrinth type journey with God not only at its center, but God at every turn, upsetting our expectations and challenging us to take another step deeper into the mystery of divine presence dwelling in our world. God is calling us to follow Christ. We are invited to seek and find the action of God in the most unexpected people.”
Having pondered this lesson today, have we found ourselves thinking about some of the more difficult moments of our lives? Moments that at times left us bruised and sometimes broken. When we look back, from a distance, can we see that there were those times when we were able to move forward, creating things we beforehand felt we were incapable of creating? When we reflect more deeply on these moments in our journeys can we see that it was when we allowed God to nurture and nourish us, those are the times when we were able to ‘use our wounds’ and ‘work with our pain’ to ‘propel ourselves forward’ into the life God envisioned for us? Can we see that without those moments and without God’s assist, we would never have moved out from the quagmire of our past into the new life we now find ourselves in? With this insight into our own journey we are able to realize that we have been blessed, and that we are blessed every day, every moment of every day!
If you are sitting here this morning thinking how you may apply this to your life, know that you are not alone? Back in the 16th Century Martin Luther was heard to say these words: “We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”
1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then 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. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.