Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Then Jesus took his disciples up to the mountain, and gathering them around him, he taught them, saying, “Blessed are the meek. Blessed are they that mourn. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are they who thirst for justice. Blessed are you when persecuted. Blessed are you when you suffer. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven.” Then Simon Peter said, “Do we have to write this down?” And Andrew said, “Are we supposed to know this?” And James said, “Will we have a test on this?” And Bartholomew said, “Do we have to turn this in?” And John said, “The other disciples don't have to learn this!” And Matthew said, “When do we get out of here?” And Judas said, “What does this have to do with real life?”
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in, and focus on, secondary things, not realizing the importance of what is being said. Jesus is teaching his disciples what it will mean to follow him. This teaching is in the form of a list of blessings. The first four blessings
are ones I think most of us would rather avoid.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” According to Biblical scholars, to be poor in spirit meant to be destitute, discouraged, without hope. Yet Jesus calls them blessed, and says the kingdom of heaven is theirs. In a reversal of fortune, the lowest of the low according to this world, are lifted up to the Kingdom of Heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn.” We remember those who have gone before us, especially Barbara Neff. This morning, we are dedicating the bench she donated to the church. For many of us, this year has been a time of mourning and remembering Barbara, and all she meant to the church and the congregation. In the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus tells us, those who mourn will be comforted. Just as with the “poor in spirit,” Jesus flips our worldly values upside down.
“Blessed are the meek.” The meek get a bad rap, don’t they? To be meek is to be a doormat, a pushover, walked on, powerless. Can Jesus really mean these are the ones who inherit the Earth? Are you sensing a pattern here? It seems human values and the values of the Kingdom are on opposite sides, doesn’t it?
And it is the same for the fourth of the blessed. “Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” To say that someone hungers for something implies much more than to just say they want it. To hunger for justice is to desire something which you have been denied. There is no shortage of injustice in this world, that’s for sure! Children abused, people harassed because of the color of their skin, denied justice because they are poor or handicapped, gay or undocumented. In the Kingdom of Heaven, these people will be filled with righteousness, lifted up, along with the poor in spirit, the mourners, and the meek.
These first four Beatitudes represent the state of the world as it is – broken, sinful, without hope. And at the same time, the reversal which the Kingdom of Heaven brings, these first blessings, are all about God’s action, bringing in the Kingdom. Jesus isn’t talking about some far-off heaven in the future. He is talking about God’s action taking place through the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus himself. This is the Kingdom breaking into the world, the Kingdom we call for whenever we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.”
As we stand with the crowds, listening, we find that Jesus is asking more than prayer, beyond calling for the Kingdom to come. Jesus calls the faithful to act as if the Kingdom has come and is continuing to come into the world.
“Blessed are the merciful.” Acting as if the Kingdom is here means seeking mercy for those who are without hope, lifting up the poor in spirit to the place Jesus says they will have in the Kingdom of Heaven.
“Blessed are the pure in heart.” Is it possible to be pure in heart? And what does it mean? Something that is pure can be something that has a single ingredient, like pure vanilla. Or someone who is steadfast, holding to one belief. Acting as if the Kingdom is already here means putting God first, but not just as the first on a long list. God is to be the focus and purpose of everything.
“Blessed are the peace makers.” Acting as if the Kingdom is here means seeking peace between nations, and peoples. But most especially within families, and between individuals. Making peace, ending violence.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” Acting as if the Kingdom is already here means standing up for the oppressed, the persecuted - and risking persecution, as well.
Looked at together, the first four Beatitudes describe the state of the world and the reversal the Kingdom of Heaven brings. The second four describe how believers are
to live in the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom that is already here, and at the same time, still breaking into the world.
And there’s more to the story. Jesus continues, “Blessed are you when people revile you, and persecute you, and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Living as if the Kingdom of Heaven is already here will have a cost. When we live lives of mercy, we may find ourselves in need of mercy. When we live - lives of purity and lives of peacemaking, we may find ourselves longing for peace - lives of standing up for righteousness, we may find ourselves in need of justice. When we find ourselves in these situations, we will remember Jesus’s words of the Kingdom and we will be comforted. We live in the time of “already” and “not yet.” The Kingdom of Heaven - the Kingdom of God - has begun breaking into the world. Jesus is calling me, calling you, calling all Christians to live as if the Kingdom of Heaven were already here - because it is. Amen.