Monday, January 31, 2011

We are Fortunate!

Today we begin the Sermon on the Mount.
For the next month until the start of lent we will hear the entire Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew takes all of Jesus teachings and makes them into one huge super sermon.
I am thankful that we don’t have to have the whole sermon today. (As I am sure you are too.)
Today we start with what is the most well known part of the Sermon on the Mount.
We start with the beatitudes.
We think we know them really well.
And yet to read them again they seem well odd.
Jesus says blessed are those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are persecuted, those who are peacekeepers, those who are meek.
This is not a list of great things to be.
The preacher Robert Schuler once gave a sermon where he argued that these where the “Be happy attitudes.”
If we saw life through the beatitudes we would have a better attitude about life and we would be happy.
But looking at them again I don’t see these things leading to happiness.
All of us in this room have been mourners at some point.
I don’t believe that is really a way to be happy.
I don’t know how being poor in spirit would make my life better.
I mean isn’t the point to try and live a more spiritual life?
Don’t I want to be like the saints who pray five times a day, and sleep on a bed of nails?
Peacekeeping seems like a good idea.
But man it is hard and really unpopular in our day.
People who advocate for peace are called unpatriotic, and are ridiculed as unrealistic.
I don’t know about you but I liked to be liked, I don’t want to be reviled and persecuted.
When people talk bad of me I get very upset, and don’t feel happy at all.
I don’t think that Jesus is prescribing a way to be happy.

The word blessed here means something else.
It means fortunate.
But even that seems a little odd.
How are we fortunate to mourn, or be poor in spirit?
We are fortunate because in those times is when God comes closes to us.
Jesus taught us that God is about coming from the bottom up.
In the lowest of the low, in the worst of the worst, God is at God’s best.
On the cross God did the most wonderful amazing thing.
At that moment of violence and death, God showed us true life and love.
The Beatitudes confirm that it is ultimately in what the world sees as foolish that God does God’s best work.

Jesus in the beatitudes is not prescribing a way to live, but describing what he sees in the crowd.
Jesus is describing our lives that are filled with times of mourning, of being poor in spirit, of being reviled, because we want peace and righteousness.
Jesus is not prescribing actions that we should take, but describing the human condition, and God’s actions in the face of those realities.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
It is true that when we lose someone we love we feel sad.
We feel that lose deep to our core and cry out in the pain of death.
And yet as people of faith we know that into that pain steps our God.
In our mourning we see God offering us the comfort of eternal life.
Does not stop us from feeling sad, but offers us hope in the midst of the pain.
I know that when my dad died it was the worst feeling in my life.
The pain of that loss still stings today.
Except when I think of my Dad I think of him with Jesus in his heavenly home.
We are blessed in our mourning because through death we see the gateway to eternal life.

Blessed are they who are poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I know that I do not possess enough faith.
I do not possess enough spirit in my daily dealings with my life and the people around me.
I was listening to a woman talk about her life this week, how it had become unbearable.
She had lost her spirit.
Yet Jesus tells us that this is exactly where God comes to offer the kingdom of heaven.
The kingdom is not for ultra religious people who walk around as if nothing can bother them ever.
It is for you who have lost your way, and don’t know where God is anymore.
For you God comes and lifts out of your spiritless existence to a new place.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Last week our car broke.
It is only a three year old car.
It has been a struggle against Chrysler to try and get the situation resolved.
In the process I have felt rather week against this major corporation.
We all feel this way to some extent in our lives that there are forces out there bigger then we are controlling our destiny.
St. Paul called these power and principalities.
But Jesus says that it is the meek the lowly that will inherit the earth.
Not the rich, not the powerful, not the people pushing all the buttons but the lowly and least.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
After my sermon on righteousness someone told me that the word righteousness meant literally, “things as they were meant to be.”
How we ache for things to be as they were meant to be.
How we ache to live in world free from violence, and oppression.
Yesterday, I was out with Rise Again preaching before we handed out items to the homeless.
How I long for the day when all God’s children have the basic necessities of life.
Jesus tells us that there will be a day when everything will be as it should be.
We can catch a glimpse of that day sometimes now when we act in a way that puts life as it should be.
When we act for those that are the least in this world, but the most in God’s kingdom we strive for righteousness.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
One of the great things about being Christians is that we don’t have to pretend that we are perfect.
And we can then offer forgiveness to the other not perfect people of the world.
Surely forgiveness is the center of the Christian life.
And Jesus tells us that we receive mercy from God.

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.
Jesus never said that following him was easy.
To be a Christian is to be a little odd.
As one person said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you odd.”
To follow Christ means to love in a world filled with hate, to have compassion when others are screaming for revenge, to strive for peace in a world in love with violence, to offer forgiveness even to one’s enemies, to help the stranger and the poor.
These are things at odds with those around us, and it will make you stand out and look odd.
Yes, people will attack you as some idealist fool.
What we will find is that when Jesus is our companion that nothing in life can get us down, and we will be able to rejoice even in the face of being reviled.

That is what all the beatitudes are really about is finding God in the midst of all the struggles of life.
Not about being happy, because happiness is always a fleeting thing.
We can be happy one day and down the next based on what luck comes our way.
But with Jesus we find that life is not about luck.
It is about being fortunate enough to know God.
And then in the middle of the struggle we can see a greater purpose, we can see a better day, and the light of Christ shining in the darkest spots of our lives.
When we have Christ the situation of life does not matter, what does matter is knowing God.

So may all of you be fortunate enough to know God…so that you may rejoice and be glad in whatever situation you find yourself.

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