Below is my sermon from January 29, 2017, on the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes from Matthew have never been my personal favorite (I tend to prefer Luke’s version), but they’re a good reminder that the values of Jesus are often at odds with what we see valued in everyday culture.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Thinking about this passage from Matthew got me wondering about what it means to be blessed. So naturally, I did a quick search of #blessed on Twitter. Anyone ever see tweets or posts with that tag before? People use the hashtag to mark their posts as celebrating a blessing in their lives.
Some of the more fun ones: “Got pulled over for going 42 in a 30. Explained to the officer that I was trying to get to Pop-Eyes and it closed in 30 minutes. He let me go. #Blessed.” “Just got my new Audi! #Blessed.” And, my personal favorite, “Ordered an eight piece nuggets, and Chick-fil-a gave me ten. #Blessed.”
Of course there were some more serious things going on, too. A lot of high schoolers had gotten accepted to college, and used the hashtag blessed to share their joy. Or there was the woman who had just gotten to hold her first grandchild for the first time. The young man celebrating being best man in his brother’s wedding. The father of three who had a job offer after being out of work for six months. #Blessed.
What does it mean to be blessed? These tweets are a pretty good representation of how we use the word today. We say we are blessed, or others are blessed, when something good happens to them. Something worth celebrating or sharing with others.
There’s even a theology that treats blessing like this. We call it the Prosperity Gospel, and its proponents, most notably Joel Osteen, will tell you can tell who’s blessed and who isn’t by how much material blessing they have in their life.
And then, we have Jesus, who gives us a different take on what it means to be blessed. Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely.
This isn’t the kind of list that you tweet about, at least not with the hashtag blessed. Just imagine it: “Had a rough day, not sure what I believe anymore. #Blessed.” Or, “Was meek at work, and got walked all over. #Blessed.” “Spoke out for justice today…lost a couple of friends. #Blessed.”
This isn’t how the word blessed is supposed to be used. The beatitudes, this beginning of the sermon on the mount, are so familiar to us, that we’re used to them. But when you really pause and think about them, they don’t make sense.
Instead, it is as Paul writes in First Corinthians: The message about the cross is foolishness. It is foolishness. Think about it. We’re part of a religion that celebrates its leader being executed by the state. We’re part of a religion that says the poor are blessed. A religion that says those who mourn and those who are reviled are blessed. We’re part of a religion that says all are equal in God’s eyes, regardless of nationality, or race, or gender, and yes, even regardless of religion. It’s pure foolishness.
It may be foolishness, but God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. What we get in the beatitudes is a glimpse of that foolishness. A look into the way that God sees the world. And God’s foolishness is indeed wiser than our greatest wisdom.
Those whom, in our wisdom, we would ignore or devalue, are precisely those God has chosen to bless, and to honor, and to love. But the beatitudes are more than just a glimpse into how God sees the world, they are an invitation to join God in that viewpoint. To look at others and the world around us, to look at our own selves, with the eyes of our creator.
Instead of measuring someone by their possessions, we are invited to see their character. Instead of feeling pity for someone’s misfortune, we are invited to enter into that grief, or pain, or loss and share it with them.
Instead of despising another’s weakness, we are invited to see weakness as the point of God’s connection with humanity. Instead of seeing the needs of our neighbors as a nuisance that we have to deal with, we are invited to view our neighbors’ needs as a mark of blessedness to which we are privileged to attend.
And yet, we so often fail at seeing things through God’s viewpoint. We despise the foolishness of God as just that, foolishness. We all do it. I do it, you do it. We try to cover up the weakness we find within ourselves, and it makes us uncomfortable when we find it in other people.
We do not love our neighbor as ourselves. When we look at another, and judge how deserving they are of our care, of our advocacy, we judge their very humanity, and in doing so, we chip away at our own.
And yet, we hear Jesus’ call: Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. For theirs is the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God does not have to be a faraway place, to be reached at some distant time, or after our deaths. Listen to what Jesus says: theirs is the kingdom of God. Not theirs will be the kingdom of God, or they shall see the kingdom of God. Theirs is the kingdom of God.
The kingdom is right here, present among us, when we honor each other as God’s children. When we look at another, and see not differences, but common humanity. When we look past the world’s judgment of weakness or vulnerability, and see instead strength and dignity.
Seeing others as God sees them is part of living in the kingdom, but so is seeing ourselves the way that God sees us. Because the same grace and blessing extended to others is also given to us. I prayer that we are able to look at others, and ourselves, through God’s eyes. It’s probably foolish. But God’s foolishness points us towards the kingdom of love, justice, and hope. Amen.