The Beatitudes 2017
January 29, 2017
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
We come to the Sunday when the Gospel text is the beatitudes. The great blesseds. We love these words. But they are also hard words.
I realized one day that those of us who live in relative comfort without a great deal of fear of persecution or disruption of our lives because of our faith cannot really feel the impact of the beatitudes. They sort of go over our heads.
As a matter of fact, most of the time we try to make them fit who we are.
We try to reword them into something like this:
Instead of ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit:’ we want to say: blessed are those who are rich in material things but are humble about it.
Instead of Blessed are the meek: we want to say blessed are those who have power because of the color of their skin and birthright but try not to be racist about it.
Instead of Blessed are those who are persecuted: we want to say blessed are those who can go to church and practice their faith without fear but who don’t draw attention to it and who you would even know were Christians by the way they act....
Believe me I have sat in many bible studies where the beatitudes are reinterpreted for white, relatively wealthy, safe American Christians. And I’m afraid I have done some of this interpreting myself.
I have come to believe that one of the great sins of American Christianity is that we have tried to make American Christianity fit into what it means to be a biblical disciple of Jesus Christ.
Rewriting and misinterpreting the beatitudes is just the tip of the iceberg.
Pope John Paul II spoke to a group of teens in March 2000 about the difference between Christianity and modern culture. "Modern culture says, 'Blessed are the proud.' Jesus said, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit.' Culture says, 'Blessed are the pitiless.' Jesus said, 'Blessed are the merciful.' Culture says, 'Blessed are the devious.' Jesus said, 'Blessed are the pure in heart.' Culture says, 'Blessed are those who fight.' Jesus said, 'Blessed are the peacemakers.' Culture says, 'Blessed are the prosecutors.' Jesus said, 'Blessed are the persecuted.'"
Last week I shared with you the beautiful image of Starlings creating murmurations by communicating with seven other birds in the flock. I encouraged you to find your seven others and start moving together as people of God. Moving together to form the kindom of God on earth, right here.
Today I want to continue to encourage you and even more, to encourage us to be very honest with each other in our communications.
For the good of the flock.
For the good of the Christian church in America.
Now I’m not exactly sure what the communication is like for those seven birds as they fly together I have no idea what exactly they ‘say’ to each other or how they influence each other’s patterns of behavior so that they all fly in what looks like a ballet.
But I do know that they must be very clear about the truth of their communication. They don’t try to come up with alternative facts about the purpose of their formations or their movements.
They don’t try to tell the other birds that everything is ok. If it is true that they are flying in such an intricate pattern to keep a predator from preying on the flock, then there is no room for false truths.
That would be deadly.
So it is with us, as we come together in community to keep ourselves protected from the enemy. The evil one who wants to convince us that lies are facts. That we can justify misinterpretations of the biblical text in order to bring ourselves comfort.
In the Gospel of John it is recorded that Jesus preached some strong words to people who wanted to make the bible, the teachings of God, into something easy to digest. Easy to follow. People who wanted the word of God to justify their unjust treatment of the poor, their oppression of the widow, their condemnation of those who were giving up their all to follow Jesus.
Jesus reminded them that the truth would set them free. If they were willing to hear the truth and allow the truth to change them. To open up their hearts to the poor, the widow, the oppressed, the blind, the lame, the outcast. To see that the meek, the person with no power was truly the blessed one.
That the person who is grieving is that one whom God comforts
That the ones who long for justice and peace will be given places of honor.
When we really see this as truth and not try to sugar coat to fit our own experience. To really be humbled by this truth and seek to allow our hearts to be melted and concerned and changed for and by people who are the heart of God then we are closer to the truth.
Unfortunately, those Jesus spoke to didn’t want to hear such a thing. And Jesus said to them: You are the children of your father, the Devil, the Evil One, and you want to follow your father's desires. From the very beginning he was a murderer and has never been on the side of truth, because there is no truth in him. When The Evil One tells a lie, he is only doing what is natural to him, because he is a liar and the father of all lies. (John 8)
We must be sure we are telling truth to one another. Like Cameron, whom I read about this week.
Cameron was a man who visited those in the care center who had no visitors.
He would simply read to them. From the newspaper, the bible, a book.
We have people like that here among us. Who visit people in the care center. Who whisper words of love and show great acts of mercy just by their presence. Who connect the parts of the flock at the care center to the rest of us. So that they can fly in the same beautiful formations with us.
Cameron had three Bibles—big, heavy editions streaked with highlighter or underlined with ink. Most of the passages marked are in the Psalms or the Gospel of John. “According to your steadfast love, O God, remember me.” “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” “My times are in your hand.” “I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
A refuge for the afflicted, steadfast love for the lonely, companionship for the forgotten—that’s the nature of Cameron’s God.
Every Sunday, Cameron—he would offer the same prayer. Week after week, Cameron would ask us to pray for people without homes, people in hospitals and prisons, and anyone stuck where they didn’t want to be.
His petition was an act of solidarity, a call to remember who we forget: people hidden from us, people from whom we hide ourselves—God’s children everywhere who pray the words of the psalmist, “Remember me, O Lord, for I am lonely and afflicted.” Cameron remembered, every Sunday, the beloveds of God who long for companionship, all of us who long to know that we occupy the thoughts of another and the mind of God.
Cameron remembered the blessed beloved ones of God. https://www.christiancentury.org/article/deathbed-man-who-cared-others
Max Lucado describes blessings from God as sacred delight: He wrote in The Applause of Heaven:
"Blessing is sacred delight. It is having God as your biggest fan, and your best friend." Blessedness is God doing what you hope God would do but you are too afraid you are not good enough to receive it.”
The beatitudes and Jesus and people like Cameron remind us that it isn’t the ones who are so amazingly good who are blessed, it is the ones who are struggling, grieving, hopeless, poor. The ones who long for peace not power.
Blessed by God, of sacred delight to God, are those who are merciful instead of vengeful, those who make peace even in the smallest of ways.
Blessed by God, of sacred delight to God, are those who change their hearts to become followers of Jesus without trying to make excuses for who they are. Without trying to reinterpret the facts so that they feel more comfortable. Without turning their backs on the love God will pour down into their lives as they become more and more like person they were created to be.
Blessed by God are those who live into their sacred worth because they want to honor who God is. Who know they are a sacred delight to God because of who God is. Blessed by God are those who live into their sacred worth because they have no need to fabricate the details.