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Jan 29, 2017

Beatitudes

Passage: Matthew 5:1-12

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Kurt Gerhard

Series: Epiphany 2017

Category: Epiphany

Summary:

In today's assigned readings, we hear about providing hope as a response to faith. How do these words speak to us in today's world?

Detail:

“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6)

It can almost fit on a bumper sticker and certainly is memorable enough to store away for a quick summary of what it means to be a Christian. The readings this week are full of these little gems.

Earlier this week, Karen asked me for my favorite beatitude. She was trying to prepare the announcement sheet and she needed a scripture quotation for the blue box. We usually quote from the scripture assigned for the week. It is a pithy way to summarize our weekly theme.

“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."

Which one is your favorite?

I find it too difficult to pick only one, so Karen picked one.

The beatitudes begin Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was speaking to the crowds of people. We don’t know exactly who was in this crowd, but it most likely didn’t include the powerful. Jesus’ crowds were the people seeking hope; not those who were experiencing blessings, in this plane of existence. What I mean by this is that the people who gathered for Jesus’ famous sermon were looking for something that they didn’t have. It wasn’t monetary wealth (because Jesus wasn’t guaranteeing that). It wasn’t an upgrade in influence (because that was not what Jesus was offering). They were looking to be accepted and included into the community. They wanted something that Jesus was known to provide: Hope. And Jesus began his sermon by stating: Blessed are… 

What does this “blessing” mean? Not that life will be secure or that fortunes will rain down. Blessing is the promise that there is a place where each of these groups will be included, equally. It was not a promise of a change in their current situation (at least on the surface), but a change in their soul. Of something in the spirit that they could count on to fill their lives. That they should be filled with hope. Not fear. Joy nor sorrow.

I actually heard the beatitudes recently, in a place that seemed unlikely. It was before I knew that they were assigned in this Sunday’s lectionary. Do you know when that was? 

It was the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez who prayed the Beatitudes at the January 20th inaugural service that I watched from my office on C-Span. There were quite a few ministers offering something as part of the ceremony. All the others prayed about the newly installed leader and the blessings of this country (the people already enjoying the blessings of freedom), but then Rodriguez read these blessings; inspiring hope in those who are not as blessed.

I hope that we can be a country, a people, a community that can try to provide the hope of inclusion that the beatitudes state in such clear terms. See, if each of those groups (and we might add others) could feel the love of God showering upon them, wouldn’t the world be amazing. Wouldn’t it be great! But, in every generation there are people who sit on the margins hoping for an opportunity while others mind the gate. And Jesus called those people blessed. They were the ones Jesus transformed in his ministry.

The Beatitudes are often put in a frame and hung on a wall (hopefully in a spot that we walk past quite often). Maybe near a door, or by the refrigerator, or on the bed stand. These words gave hope to the people who heard Jesus when he opened his Sermon on the Mount and they still give to those who are outsiders, those who are persecuted, those who are marginalized, those who are refugees. 

No matter how safe we might feel, we are all refugees (people escaping situations that are unjust) and we need God’s love and compassion and God’s hope in these times. But the Beatitudes are also a reminder to us when we are on the inside. When we are the holding the keys to the gate. So, when I heard Rev. Rodriguez pray those words, I felt, for sure, that he was speaking to us. Of how open we should be in a world that tells us that to be safe requires us to close up, turn away, to hide out.

I felt for sure that he was calling us to remember our core belief: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”