Despite the fact that this morning’s Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew are fairly well known, I’m not sure that makes them fairly well loved. Jesus climbs to the top of a mountain where he sits down with his disciples. And what Jesus offers is a series of exhortations. A series of pronouncements that have a bit of an undercurrent to them.
For example, when Jesus says in the Beatitudes, “blessed are the poor,” it feels like all of us should strive to be a little poorer. When Jesus says “blessed are the meek,” it sounds like we should all attempt to be a little meeker. Or “blessed are you who mourn.” Perhaps we should all be a little “mournier.”
If we do all the things Jesus mentions up on the mountain, Jesus tells us we will be blessed by God. But you have to figure there’s an easier way. Being poor is a hard way to live. I’m not sure meekness is the personality trait I most want to emulate. And if I don’t have to mourn it’s okay with me.
What makes the Beatitudes even harder to deal with is the fact that they are often read in church on or near All Saints Sunday in November. And that is no coincidence. People who are saints fit perfectly into the Beatitudes as those who are blessed because of all the good and noble and humble accomplishments they have achieved in the eyes of God over their lifetimes. Meanwhile, you and I set ourselves up for an inferiority complex whenever we try to compare ourselves to saints...
Simply put, the Beatitudes set high expectations and tough standards. Then again, as I looked at them more closely, I think there’s a chance we’ve gotten the Beatitudes mixed up over the years. What if the Beatitudes aren’t meant to be a list of conditions we have to fulfill in order to be blessed? Is it possible that the Beatitudes were nothing more than Jesus’s way of extravagantly blessing the people around him? Especially people that were never blessed by anyone else.
Back in the day, it’s not hard to imagine how the Beatitudes would have been heard and received. Everything we know and everything we’ve ever been taught about Jesus assures us he would have been all about blessing people who were poor and impoverished. Jesus would have held a special place in his heart and in his spirit for the meek and the lowly. He would have jumped at the chance to bless people in pain and people who were grieving and suffering. He would have gone out of his way to bless those who were practicing righteous living and striving to work for peace…
Jesus threw blessings around in the Gospel with reckless abandon. Which makes me wonder…fast forward some two thousand years later and what would the Beatitudes sound like on this day in this place at this time? If Jesus were standing here in the sanctuary this morning, who are the people in this congregation, in this community, in this town and state, in this world, that Jesus would single out for a blessing?
What you are about to hear then is a set of modern Beatitudes, drawn from my imagination, and offered to you in the hope they will stimulate your own thoughtful, faithful reflection. Starting with blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the ones who doubt. The ones who see gray areas where many see only black and white. Blessed are those who are skeptical and unsure and even cynical but are still willing to be surprised.
Blessed are those who think they have nothing to offer. The ones who get frustrated because nothing seems to be working. The people who can’t figure out how to be useful. And blessed are the ones who understand that the term “being useful” can be an oxymoron. Remembering in the eyes of Jesus Christ we’re not defined and valued by what we do but rather by who we are.
Yes, blessed are you who are poor in spirit for heaven will one day be yours…
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are you for whom death is not an abstract concept. Blessed are you who have wept tears at the bedside of a loved one. You who have buried a child or a spouse or a dear friend and wondered how you would go on without them.
Blessed are you who have experienced loss deep enough to leave an empty place. And those who have let that empty place be filled with cherished memories and hopeful prayers and the stubborn courage of people who refuse to leave you alone.
Blessed are mothers who have miscarried and fathers who have cradled a stillborn child in their arms. Blessed are those who no longer have the time nor the luxury of taking things in life for granted. Blessed are the caregivers who can’t afford to fall apart because they’re too busy trying to hold everything together. Blessed are the lonely who long for a phone call, a card in the mail, a friendly “hi” offered for no particular reason.
Blessed are you who have found a way to laugh again when it was hard to crack a smile for such a long time. And God bless you who haven’t gotten over it yet even if others want to convince you the time has come.
Yes, blessed are you who mourn for heaven will one day be yours…
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are the people no one takes the time to notice. The teenagers who sit all alone at a table in the high school cafeteria. The men and women who mop the floors and do the laundry at the nearby hospital. The ones who have recently lost their jobs and have to stand in long lines to receive unemployment benefits.
Blessed are the ones who lose in a world that get enough of winning and winners. Blessed are the people we’d rather not make eye contact with because it’s easier to forget they are there. Blessed are you who only feel safe living inside the closet. Blessed are youth who constantly figure out new ways to hide the cuts on their arms. Blessed are those who hide their identity for fear of being shamed or beaten or killed. And blessed are those who don’t hide their identity and have had their worst fears materialize. Blessed are the voiceless and the underrepresented and the unimpressive.
Yes, blessed are the meek, for heaven will one day be yours…
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the ones who are wrongly accused, the ones who can’t seem to catch a break, the ones who fall through the cracks due to no fault of their own. Each one of them is a part of the company Jesus chose to keep. Blessed are the ones who don’t have proper documentation and the ones who don’t have an advocate working on their behalf.
Blessed are all foster children and all children with special needs and any child who wants to feel safe and every child who longs to be held in the arms of an adult who loves them unconditionally. And blessed are those who believe we can do better for ourselves and for generations who come after us…because we can and because we need to.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are those who make business decisions based on what’s best for people even when it’s not what’s best for the bottom line. Blessed are burned out social workers and overworked nurses and teachers who spend their evenings trying to figure out how to reach students long after the school day is over. Blessed are the ones who step in and stick up for the ones who are taunted and teased and bullied. Blessed are you who delete racist, homophobic, misogynist, intolerant comments on your Facebook pages. Or better yet confront the ones who sent them…
Blessed are you who have received enough undeserved grace in your life that you no longer feel the need to distinguish between who is deserving and who is not. Blessed are you who have received enough forgiveness in your life that you no longer feel the need to figure out whether true forgiveness is deserved or not. Blessed are you who recognize the abundant grace and mercy of God because you are the ones who truly get it. Just like Jesus said, heaven will one day be yours…
Use your own imagination and think about the kind of Beatitudes Jesus would preach if he were gathered here with us on November 16th 2014. If you are feeling forsaken or abused or invisible or no longer useful, imagine well knowing that Jesus has a blessing in store just for you. Hear that blessing and receive the blessing and let the blessing seep into your heart and spirit.
We follow a Savior who came into the world to welcome and embrace all human flesh and all God’s people. We worship a God who extends a special welcome to the ones who are weak and vulnerable and lowly. We model our lives after Jesus Christ who turned the other cheek and offered redemption even to those who denied him and betrayed him and hung him on a cross.
According to Jesus Christ, we are, each one of us, worthy. No matter who we are, we are human beings created in the image of God and blessed abundantly in Christ’s name. Amen.