Sermon on the Beatitudes Jan. 29, 2017

The Blessed Life  by Rev. June Fothergill    Matthew 5: 1-12

“Reported to be seen on  a sign outside a church in Houston Texas, “ The meek shall inherit the earth.” Underneath it a graffiti artist had scrawled “ But not the mineral rights.” P. 89  ( Encyclopedia of Humor, Lowell D. Streiker)

When you hear the word Blessings what come to mind?  Maybe our families or our homes?  Living in a free country?    Friends?   If we are honest, I doubt if many of us would think first of things like mourning or persecution!    We live in a culture which values hard work and achievement and the fruits of our labors.  We expect progress and life to get better over time.  Success is important.  I know that I was proud of my good grades in school.  I liked the feeling of being successful.    But now at the closing end of my career, I face the reality that I serve in a declining denomination.   I haven’t had too much “success”   in terms of how we tend to evaluate it. Even here at Ebbert,  our average worship attendance has gone down by one rather than up.  Our income is smaller.  By the ways the world and even the institutional church measure “ success”  I’m in trouble.  Of course the numbers of people we feed each week has grown substantially, but there are few ways to report that in our statistics.   I can report that I have a little Bible study on Monday morning during our meal. Yet, how can I report how studying the scripture  with folks who are unhoused has changed in my heart?  How each Monday I am humbled and inspired?

I think that in this passage we call the Beatitudes Jesus is giving us two kinds of encouragement.   He is showing us the way to the Blessed life in the Beloved community of God’s realm.

1. The word is one of encouragement to those who experience humility and hurt in their lives.

I invite you to close your eyes and imagine these words as Jesus encouraging you in your life right now.

He tells us that when we are poor in spirit. When we don’t have the answers, when we feel empty, even useless- we are blessed , the kingdom of heaven is ours!

He tells us that when we are bereaved, when we have lost what matters to us, when we mourn. We are blessed- we will find comfort.

He tells us that when we are meek. When we have no power in the political process, when our lives don’t seem to matter-  we  are blessed- we will inherit the earth.

He tells us that when we hunger and thirst, when we long to do the right thing, not when when do it but when we really want to do what is righteous. We are blessed. We will be satisfied!  We will learn how to walk in God’s ways!

He tells us that when  we are merciful, when we forgive one another and treat reach other with tender loving care. We are blessed. This merciful way will spread and yes we will receive it too.

He tells us that when we really focus our lives and hearts on what matters, when we have purity of heart. We are blessed.  We will see God.

He tells us when you get involved in making peace in your world. You are blessed. You are God’s children.

And finally, Especially if you experience persecution and harm because you are my followers. If you seek to live in this Blessed way and others don’t understand or misinterpret your actions or misrepresent your beliefs. You are blessed. The world may not like you, but you belong to me. and  the realm of  God belongs to you.

How did it feel to hear those blessings?

I hear Jesus saying to us as it was put by someone at Monday morning Bible Study

When we fall through the cracks. When we have empty hands.  The Lord will smile on us doing the best that we can and try to make things better for us.

The blessed life isn’t about achievement or success or failure or having or not having power or control or stuff.  The blessed life is about relationship with God and each other.  It’s about humility and seeking the Beloved Community of Peace. It’s about realizing that Christ is present in our suffering  and in our joy!    This word is encouragement  and reassurance for us.

2.  Yet, it is also encouragement to practice a humility that trusts God and pays attention to our longing for  God and seeks peace and mercy in our world.

Th passage  encourages us to live a different way- a way that will make us part of what God is doing in the world.  Jesus came to bring this Beloved Community, this Kingdom of God/ Heaven.  These words give us guidance and encouragement about how to live.

The key component of this practice seems to be  humility.  The prophet Micah agrees- we are called to walk humbly with  God.  This walking humbly is harder than it sounds.

p. 116   “ It’s like the beaver told the rabbit as they stared up at the immense wall of Hoover Dam.” No I didn’t actually build it myself. But it was based on an idea of mine.”  Charles H. Townes ( Nobel prize winner in laser technology)  p. 116 ( 1001 Quotes, Illustrations and Humorous Stories ed. Edward K. Rowell)

Rev. Obadiah Franklin wrote a sermon on “Humility” then filed it away. He wanted to save it for a really big occasion when he could impress a lot of people.” P. 23 ( Encyclopedia of Humor ed. Lowell D. Streiker)

We can even get proud of our own humility!     I think Jesus words offer us some help.  He talks about being pure of heart, of hungering and thirsting for righteousness, of being meek.  These are all about letting go of having to be in control, of recognizing our limitations.  One definition of humility is to be willing to see the truth about ourselves, our gifts and our limitations.  Humility is a not about becoming a victim but  staying strong in our trust in God and God’s love of us.  Our lives can become less about what we achieve but more about what God does through us.  Less about doing and more about being.

Helen Keller once said, “ I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty and joy to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.”  (P. 152 Quotes…)

Another key component is mercy and peacemaking.   One example of this is the practice of restorative justice, an alternative to our punitive criminal justice system.     I heard a story the other day that illustrates this.  ( OPB Radio)   A young man in Memphis Tennessee grew up in the poor part of town, the youngest of 10 kids to a sing parent.  He longed for something different and rode the busses everywhere.  When he was a scrawny 15 year old he got it into his head to become a bus driver. He started watching the women who drove his bus carefully.  One day he decided to see if he really could do it.  He snuck into the bus yard and took a bus, started it up and took it out for a spin.   He brought it back and was of course arrested.   Before the judge he pleaded his case that he just wanted to see if it was possible for him to drive it and his longing to be a driver.  Hearing his testimony,  a manager of the bus company offered him and the judge a deal. If he would stay out of trouble until he was 25, he could come back to the bus company and they would  hire him as a driver.   The young man took this to heart.   He graduated high school, went into the military and when he was 25 went back to the bus company.  Now he got the job and now serves as a manager himself.

Humility, Mercy and Peacemaking. This is what Jesus invites us to practice in our lives. And when we do, we become part of the Beloved Community- the Realm God is creating. Then we can humbly and joyously embrace the Blessed Life.

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