Priorities: a sermon on the Beatitudes
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes a radical proclamation of God’s priorities. Jesus sees the crowds who follow him, the sick and hungry who come to him for help, those whom the empire and the religious elite have turned their backs on. He gathers his disciples, Peter and Andrew and James and John, the ones who have answered the call to follow him, and says: Are you ready? Are you ready to recognize who is blessed?
Remember what being blessed looked like in first century Judea. The chosen people of Israel were now under the rule of Rome, one of the most militant and brutal empires, spreading propaganda about its own greatness, happy to put to death anyone who resisted. The religious leaders were turning inward, focused on self-perfection and on keeping out anyone who might pollute the righteousness of the religious community: the poor, the sick, the widow, the orphan. The needy might perhaps be worthy of our charity, but that was out of the goodness and righteousness of our own hearts — not because God wanted them to be “one of us.”
And Jesus says: Forget what you know. Forget what Rome has told you about the grandeur of military power and the need to silence any dissenting voices. Forget what religion has told you about who is pleasing to God.
Rather, blessed are the poor in spirit — the anxious, the hopeless, the addicted, the downtrodden. Blessed are the mourners. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
This is an entirely radical way of understanding God’s priorities. The first thing on God’s mind is those who have been pushed aside, forgotten, laughed at, oppressed.
Are we ready to hear this?
There are beautiful ministries happening here at Grace. We feed the hungry, over and over. We comfort those among us who mourn. We create community for those who are lonely. And today, as we reflect on 2016 and plan for 2017, we must keep in mind: our work cannot be only for us. It can never be only for us. When Jesus gathered the disciples to him, it was not to say “Sit back and don’t worry. God will take care of all the suffering.” It was to say, “I will teach you to recognize who is blessed by God so that when you go into the world, carrying the message of the good news, you will know who needs it heard. You will know what the kingdom of God is going to look like.”
Am I ready to receive the same lesson? Am I ready to see the presence and blessing of God on those on the edges of society?
Am I ready to hear Jesus say:
Blessed are those who are exhausted, who have been fighting the good fight for years and today are too weary to go on. Blessed are those who feel they’ve spent every last coin of their energy trying to make the world a better place. The kingdom of God is theirs.
Blessed are those who weep, who have had everything torn from them, who sit beside the Missouri River in North Dakota and dread the day that oil fills it. They shall be comforted.
Blessed are the immigrants and refugees, the ones who sell everything they have to travel to a new country to offer a better life for their children – a better life that often means less than minimum wage and far less than respect or representation.
Blessed are those who hunger for truth in a post-truth, fake news, alternative facts world. They shall be filled.
Blessed are the lawyers — who saw that coming? — who give up their Saturday nights to travel to JFK Airport, to kneel on linoleum floors and offer their services free of charge to families detained by executive orders signed while they were on their way to start a new life in a land not ravaged by war. These, the merciful, will receive mercy.
Blessed are those who manage to resist internalizing hatred and anger and remain, as Anne Frank wrote, “really good at heart.” Blessed are those who, like Anne, stared evil in the face and yet declared their hope for the world.
Blessed are the peacemakers: who engage in difficult conversations, who keep things calm on Facebook, who love unconditionally; the mediators, those who work to make our communities welcoming and safe for all. They are the children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of quote-unquote “righteousness”: for the scientists and the Muslims and the Mexicans and the suffering of every nation, all those who are silenced when they proclaim the truth or blamed for the evils of the world that they did not cause.
And blessed are you, followers of Christ, when people mock you and turn against you because you believe in the proclamation of God’s priorities. Blessed are you when your life is turned upside down by a God who is declaring a radical reassortment of what is important. Blessed are you when you let go of self-righteousness and self-sacrifice and let yourself be called to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God.
May God make us ready to hear. May God make us strong to serve.