Sermon: Epiphany 4 RCL A – “Blessed are You!”

After listening to this Gospel reading, don’t you think Jesus needs to get with the program? Seriously? Blessed are the poor. I don’t know that I’ve ever been poor, but I have been broke and that didn’t feel too blessed. I think a rewrite is in order for this particular passage of scripture. Maybe something like:

Blessed are the rich and famous, because they can always get a seat at the best restaurants.

Blessed are the good-looking, for they shall get to hang out with the Kardashians.

Blessed are those who take first place, for they shall have momentum going into the play-offs.

Blessed are the movers and shakers, for they shall be elected president.

Blessed are those who demand their rights, for they shall not be overlooked.

Blessed are the healthy and fit, because they don’t mind being seen in a bathing suit.

Yes. A rewrite is definitely in order.

One woman reports with great distress that her son dropped his Christian identity and left the church because of the Beatitudes. He is a military man: strong, intelligent, and definitely not poor, sad, weak or mild as he believed the picture of the perfect Christian was supposed to be, based on the Beatitudes. He said to his mother, “That is not me. I can never be like that,” so he left the church. That is the sentiment of many who look at the Christian faith based on the calling of the Beatitudes. And there lies the problem. We set the Beatitudes up and say, “Contained within these verses is the description of the perfect Christian,” to which we add, “and it is something I will never be.”

But let me ask you this: in your knowledge of God, do you ever really get the impression that He wants you poor in spirit? Depressed? Or Mourning? What about all that business in Scripture about being joyful in the Lord? Or as St. Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

Let me ask you this: what does it really mean to be meek? Are we talking humble or becoming a doormat or even worse abused? You may hunger and thirst for righteousness and quite often when we think of that we are visualizing the world out there, but what about the person who hungers and thirst for righteousness within themselves, but fails time and time again, falling into sin? “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy,” but in today’s language, “Woe to the merciful, for they shall be taken advantage of.”

You see the point and where this leads, so I wonder if we should look at the Beatitudes from a different perspective? Scripture has many levels. So today, instead of beating ourselves over the head with the Beatitudes and declaring, “I will never measure up!” let’s consider them from a different angle. It begins with something we have discussed before.

In the time of Jesus and throughout history, folks have believed that the rich, the famous, the powerful—the elite of society are the ones who are blessed by God. Therefore, if you had walked through the streets of Jerusalem during the time of Jesus you would have noticed those elite of your society, the well to do. In particular, you would have noticed the priest. And because of who they were – fat and happy – and what they supposedly did – serve God – then the connection was simple. Serving God = being blessed by God = being fat and happy. However, because you were likely to be dirt poor and more subject to being oppressed by the occupying Romans, because your life was basically miserable, then you must be the wicked sinful sort and therefore were not blessed by God. Think of the time that Jesus came upon a man who was blind since birth, and his disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Even the disciples assumed, if you were afflicted with anything, then it was because you were wicked. So, instead of being one of those that was fat and happy, you were the poor and depressed.

Now, consider the setting of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus preached the Beatitudes. He is in the beginning of his ministry, he has just called his disciples, and has begun preaching. Just prior to today, Scripture says, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.” They brought all the people – who in the eyes of everyone – were apparently the wicked and sinful. Now, fast forward to today and Jesus saying: Blessed are the poor, the meek, etc. Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes, but he has not just given us the formula for some standard of Christian living – not only would that be too tame, it would be legalistic, something Jesus condemns – instead, Jesus has done something extremely radical and he has done what he does best, he has turned the world on its head.

Jesus is saying, “Not only are the rich blessed, but blessed are all these poor that you see sitting on this hillside. Truly blessed are the joyful, but blessed are all these that mourn. Blessed are the powerful and blessed are the meek, the oppressed, the persecuted. 1 Samuel 16:7, “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” People look at whether you’re rich or poor, healthy or sick (these days it would be Republican or Democrat). Jesus says, the Father looks at the soul, whether or not you seek His righteousness.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus is proclaiming Good News for all. The healing of God for a broken body and a broken world is not about external matters or your status in life. Instead, it is about internal matters. It is about the heart.

Consider this: have you ever know someone very wealthy who loved God and was truly blessed by Him? Have you ever known someone who was joyful and that loved the Lord? Have you ever known someone who was poor that was a snake in the grass? Have you ever known someone who mourns, but everyone knows their sorry behind is going to hell? Of course you have. Again, it is not about external circumstances, it’s about the condition of the heart.

Dallas Willard writes, “Blessed are the physically repulsive, blessed are those who smell bad, the twisted, misshapen, deformed, the too big, too little, too loud, the bald, the fat, and the old – for they are all riotously celebrated in the party of Jesus.”

There are much deeper understandings of the Beatitudes and how we understand our sinful nature, and perhaps that message would be more for the religious leaders who were listening, but it seems that the average listener of the time would have not necessarily delved so deeply. Instead, they would have heard Good News. “Just because I’m poor, does not mean I’m wicked.” “Just because I’m sick, does not necessarily mean their is a sin attached.” “Just because I am distressed does not mean I’m unworthy of the Kingdom of God.” As we said, this was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and before the people could take in the meat and potatoes of his later teachings, they first needed a bit of milk. They needed a reason to keep listening. They needed hope, and Jesus gave it to them. “Blessed are you… no strings attached… blessed are you.”

Let us pray:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
We praise you and give you glory:
We bless you for calling us to be your holy people.

Remain in our hearts,
And guide us in your love and service.
Help us to let our light shine before others
And lead them to the way of faith.

Holy Trinity of love,
We praise you now and for ever.

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