Sermon: EPIPHANY 4, January 29th, 2017
In the Name...
In the Monty Python comedy film, "The Life of Brian", there is a scene where the character Brian walks past a crowd listening to the Sermon on the Mount and he thinks he hears Jesus say blessed are the cheese makers and that Greeks will inherit the earth.
The Beatitudes. These eight simple phrases are well known to most of us, in fact, we can probably quote some or even all of them. But, it's a common misconception to think these refer to eight different kinds of people. For each of these phrases simply describes an aspect of what together makes up the character of each one of us as individual Christians. Each one of us has these eight qualities within ourselves and each one of us can be pure in heart or peacemakers, or whatever, because these qualities simply reflect the two great commandments to love God and our neighbour and we can all do that.
When you look at them, the first four Beatitudes describe our relationship with God and the second four our relationship with each other. Let's start with “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” This is actually a message found throughout the Old Testament and we heard it from Micah this morning when he says "walk humbly with your God." You see, being poor in spirit has nothing to do with giving up wealth or position, or even self-esteem. It's about making room for the Holy Spirit in our lives. It's about making less of ourselves and more of God. It's about not being puffed up with our own spirit because that's not the kind of spirit-filled we want to be.
George Washington Carver, the scientist who discovered over 100 commercial uses for the peanut used to say that as a young man he asked God to teach him the mysteries of the universe, but, God replied, No. That knowledge was reserved to Him alone. "But," God offered, "if you want, I'll teach you the mystery of the peanut." His point was that a proud man, full of himself, would have turned down that offer.
Blessed are those who mourn. Well, this has nothing to do with death or the loss of loved ones. Jesus once told a parable about a tax-collector who went to the temple to repent of his sins and broke down in tears while doing so. Now, when was the last time we felt like that - moved to tears by our own sins or those of others? We live in a time when great emphasis is put on feeling good. There was even a best-selling book called the "Be-Happy Attitudes." Well, like it or not, there are times when we need to feel bad, to be un-happy, to mourn, because only then can we know the comfort God brings us with his word of forgiveness. It only makes sense. If we don't feel sorry or if we don't feel we're in danger, how can we understand the concept of a forgiving Saviour?
Then, Blessed is the geek, I mean meek. Well, to a lot of people “meek” is geek. But, in fact, the Greek word "praus" which we translate as "meek" is the word Greeks used to describe a well-trained horse that follows commands and there's nothing geeky about a well-trained horse. Jesus says that those who exhibit "praus" in their behaviour will inherit the earth because, like a horse, they are strong, they are confident, they keep their natural passions under control, and they respond to God when He speaks.
And number four, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and this leads into the next section because justice is such a large part of God's character.
There's a story of a rector who was so addicted to golf that one fine Sunday morning he phoned in sick and had the curate take the services so he could sneak off to the links. Well, St. Peter saw this from on high and said to the Lord, "You've got to do something about this." So, as St. Peter watched, the priest stepped up to the first tee and hit a hole in one. Then, at the next tee, he did it again and again until he had hit eighteen holes in one. Well, St. Peter couldn't believe his eyes as he saw the priest dancing for joy and said, "Lord, I thought you were going to punish him." "I did", the Lord replied, "Who can he tell?"
Well, that may be our idea of justice but, God has something more in mind.
In the Old Testament, and again we got a sense of this from Micah this morning, righteousness means living faithfully in the Covenant. I will be your God and you will be my people. To hunger and thirst for righteousness doesn't mean waiting for God to do something about what's wrong with the world. It means doing the things that God is waiting for us to do to fix it now. And the next four Beatitudes focus on how we do that, how we live in society.
Blessed are the merciful. There's no better example of what Jesus means by this than the parable of the Good Samaritan, in fact, he uses the same word "exeos" to describe the Samaritan's motive. He had mercy - exeos - for someone who hated him and who he had every right to hate in return. The merciful receive mercy and society is a better place for it.
Blessed are the pure in heart. This is straight from the 24th Psalm and refers to those who are sincere in their dealings. Those whose public and private lives are free from hypocrisy or deceit. People whose actions and motives reflect the actions and motives of Christ. The pure in heart see the image of God in every man or woman and act accordingly. They don't prejudge people by where they live or what they look like or who they know. They accept all men and women as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God. Now, that's some title, and probably because, in the words of the historic collect, God is "the author of peace and lover of concord." Peace making is a divine work and those who make it their priority are closest to the heart of God. After all, Christ came first and foremost to make peace, to reconcile Man and God. The least we can do is reconcile among ourselves.
The last beatitude comes, therefore, as a bit of a jar. We pass from peace to war. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. As we know, the fact is that however hard we may try, there are those who will not be at peace, people who thrive on conflict and want no part of the reconciliation that either we or Christ offer. They find that the righteousness for we which we hunger and thirst doesn't taste good to them and they will oppose us.
And, how does Jesus say we should act when confronted by this opposition. Rejoice and be glad. Because that's proof you're doing the right things. Is it fashionable to show mercy, to keep your passions under control, to cry over your sins, or admit your dependence on God? No, and it never has been. But, reversing values is what God in Christ is all about.
A critic once complained that the Beatitudes were a set of impossible standards. Well, he was wrong because they're not standards, they're qualities and we see them implemented every day in examples too numerous to mention. They are what make up who we are and while we may not always exhibit all of them all the time, we know they're there within us and we can use them with God's help.
In the Lord's Prayer, we say "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Well, the kingdom is here. We are the people of the kingdom and we are people of the Beatitudes. If we can live them into our lives, and allow them to mould our characters, then Beatitude itself will indeed inherit, and rule, the earth.
In the Name...