In the Beatitudes, Jesus shows us what it truly means to be blessed, revealing the truth about the kin-dom. It isn’t about winning or getting in.
All Saints A | Matthew 5:1-12
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Do you feel blessed?
I don’t mean #blessed or social media blessed. I mean really blessed by God. Right now, in this space, this beautiful building, this wonderful church gathered to learn how to love from one another. Here, today, do you feel blessed?
Did you feel blessed when the alarm went off and you got dressed? Did you feel blessed on the drive and finding the parking spot, your walk from the lot?
This week, waiting for the phone to ring or when the job search felt most frustrating? When the kids wouldn’t leave you alone or you just sat at home, did you feel blessed?
The anxiety building, our wheels keep spinning, I’m not sure “blessing” is what many of us are feeling these days.
But blessing is a funny word. Here, in this passage, the Greek is Makarios. Which has had several meanings in its life. Its origin is of the gods. And came to speak of the dead rising to the gods. Rising from death to new life!
Over time, it came to mean the elite, the special, the ones to whom God grants favor, elevation, rising above the common.
Blessed by status, supremacy, the best, kissed by God, the prom queen and king, the student serfs left watching.
There’s a way that blessed is a dirty word. A word for a God who loves the strong and the powerful. God’s blessing, the manifest destiny of oppression and murder, ordained by God and called blessing.
To me, the word is a different image entirely.
Makarios was an Orthodox bishop from India who taught at Alma College for 25 years. His smile was as wide and welcoming as the gospel he professed. He is blessed.
These Beatitudes make no sense unless you tip them upside down. Then you discover that’s the only way to read them.
Because Jesus takes a word reserved for the wealthy and the powerful, for the people who live in the penthouse and he applies it to the people lying in the dirt. You have to get down into the dirt to make sense of them.
From dirt you know what it’s like. To lose a job, get passed over, forgotten. You know what it’s like to get beat up for your gender or held back because you couldn’t sit in your seat that long.
I have met countless people who have been feeling poor in spirit for so long they don’t know when they’ll feel good again. To say that we are blessed? Jesus has to be dreaming.
But you know Jesus. He flips our expectations.
Blessed are those who mourn
Seriously? Yes! Yes! This is the point. Down in the dirt, not up in the stratosphere. Not the people the world celebrates. Not the mighty in the Kingdom of Earth.
Blessed, lifted up are those in the dirt!
- Poor in spirit
- those who mourn
- the meek
- those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
- the merciful
- the pure in heart
- the peacemakers
- those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake
Blessed are you when you are oppressed! Shoved in the dirt. May you rise from death to God when you are hated.
Oh, these Beatitudes have attitude.
U2 released a new song this week featuring these lyrics
Now you’re the girl who’s left with no words
Your heart’s a balloon, but then it bursts
It doesn’t take a cannon, just a pin
Your skin’s not covering
This is the danger of love! It hurts! Our hearts pop like balloons when we are so far from the kin-dom; when we’re so high up there at the top floor or out there in the country. We can’t see the pins in our hands. The pins we use on one another. To advance. Get up higher. We think God’s up there.
So if God is up there, then we think: if only we can get there! So we stomp on others who don’t belong. Push their hands into the mud, step on their backs. They aren’t like us, we say. They aren’t blessed.
Or we get worried about our status. Maybe someone will find out we aren’t really good on the inside. If they knew the truth, they wouldn’t accept us. If God only knew…
We think we can protect ourselves and still be saints.
But look through that book. Our newest is The Great Cloud of Witnesses. It’s filled with people dying for their faith. Including at the hands of other people of faith. They didn’t climb to the sky to find God. They laid down in the dirt.
Because love hurts.
Loving the kin-dom
For weeks, we’ve been talking about the kin-dom of heaven versus the kingdom of Earth. This is the image Jesus uses to push us to see how messed up our relationships and priorities are. We’re so busy getting ahead, rising the corporate ladder, keeping up with the Joneses in the rat race we haven’t slowed down to see where we’re actually headed.
Up is down. Dante had it backward. Rising that ladder takes us to Hell.
Jesus uses that word blessed, makarios, to lift up the lowly and show us our backward priorities. Not so we’ll get low, like the pious young man, looking to inherit eternal life on purpose. This isn’t a checklist or prescription for piety. This is a census.
This is us living in the kin-dom, finding joy and blessing in the midst of our junk. It’s overthrowing the oppression which brings the worst out of us and wipes that wide smile from our faces. It’s bringing love when the world keeps bringing hate.
This is how we’re blessed. To love right from where you are. Blessed to love.
Take one more look at those blessings. And see them, not as trouble or pain or hurt, but as love and opportunity.
Religious orders make vows of poverty to be blessed with wisdom and clarity. To feel a sense of love and dependence on God. To be poor isn’t a curse. So to be poor in spirit is an opportunity to know rock bottom, where the rest of us are.
Only here, in the dirt, can we be prepared to serve the rest.
To love the world
A young man would be my age. Derek Kaufman. His parents are two of the most faithful people I know. Their son died many years ago, right after college. After a couple of months people started asking when they’d get over it. When they’d stop mourning his death. Never they said. They know comfort in the kin-dom.
Meek isn’t weak. But it doesn’t attack or abuse another person either. It doesn’t pick fights or use false bravado to provoke others. The meek stand up to injustice.
These blessings lift up the best of what’s inside us. The stuff we need to bring the kin-dom close. A desire for justice in the world our mouths salivate and our bodies prepare for it. A true sense of mercy, being centered and full of faith and love, so that when we step out into the breach between warring armies we can change the world!
Each of us has what we need. And all of us has what we need.
We are blessed with poor spirits!
I know it still sounds crazy, but it’s true!
This is why Bishop Makarios could walk around campus in his purple cassock with his shoulders back and belly forward; the widest smile on his face. He’s the one who taught me about Peter being crucified upside down (to kiss the feet of his lord) and how to be the only Christian students trusted.
He could smile because he was blessed with a poor spirit! Because he knew what it is to love.
That’s what it takes to serve. Jesus doesn’t call the best students, he grabbed some fishermen. God didn’t call the smooth talker, but that guy’s brother, Moses. The kin-dom isn’t about best, it’s about love. And it’s about everyone knowing what it is to love and be loved.
For that, we are all blessed.