The most difficult task I have many Sunday mornings is laying out an argument that the words of Jesus actually make sense. Notice I did not say I was trying to convert you to those words. Some of the things the Gospel writers have recorded leave me shaking my head. Nowhere is that more true than in these verses we call the Beatitudes. Where is the practicality in those beloved verses?
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. In any national election that platform might win 2% of the popular vote. When does meekness inherit anything?
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. In trying to be a peacemaker I have been called a lot of things, most of them I cannot repeat in church, but I am seldom called a child of God.
Blessed are those who mourn. Maybe this is the most difficult. While I believe in life and death we belong to God, the folks mourning seldom seem blessed. Yet I continue, beyond all common sense, to love these verses.
My problem with the Beatitudes began when I discovered a version of the Bible called Good News for Modern Man. You might remember it. It was that translation in Modern English accompanied by little stick figures that illustrated many of the pages. The Good News Bible substituted the word “happy” for “blessed”. This is not an inaccurate translation. In both the Greek and Hebrew language, happy and blessed are interchangeable. My problem was, “Happy are those who mourn,” didn’t work so well the first time I encountered a death in my family.
Then somewhere in my biblical studies I learned “blessed” was one of those words that points forward. This is particularly true in the gospel of Matthew. Jesus was always talking about the kingdom of God. In Matthew, it was not something that had arrived but definitely was coming. Matthew, more than any other gospel writer wrote, “When the kingdom arrives you will be blessed, you will be happy, you will understand the wisdom and the benevolence of God.” Matthew is writing in one time, expecting another. To embrace the words of Matthew you have to live in this time while preparing yourself for tomorrow. The Beatitudes are the most unrealistic and yet most practical words anyone could ever utter. But they are not for impatient people.
No one has used this formula better than the African-American church. Listen to their sermons. Sing their songs. They are about movement. They sing about crossing the river, climbing the mountain, seeing on the other side. This was the black preacher’s language symbolizing what one day they hoped their children would experience. So many sermons end, “How long? Not Long. How Long? Not long, for my eyes have seen the glory of the Lord.”
Using this analogy, the Beatitudes become a formula by which we not only visualize the kingdom of God, we work to bring it about. “Blessed are those who work for the kingdom of God believing someday, someone else will be satisfied.”
Howard Thurman tells the story of a ninety year old man planting pecan seedlings. His grandson came up to him and said, “Grandpa, what are you doing? Why would you plant a tree knowing you will never eat its fruit?”
The old man smiled and said, “But you will.” (stop)
This year I will celebrate my 67th birthday. In this church that makes me middle age. I love so many things about this congregation. Perhaps first and foremost is we dream forward. Today we dedicate the new addition to our building. I remember most of the conversations that took place as we made this decision. The number one question was, “How will this help us serve the people of our valley?”
When you build, when you love, when your primary motivation for ministry is “the other” you will eventually be blessed. Why? Because the most irrational words Jesus ever spoke are the most rational words we will ever hear.
When you choose humility, or sit with those who mourn; when you hunger for righteousness, or are merciful; when your heart is pure, or you choose to be the peacemaker; when you are persecuted for a holy cause, someone, somewhere, will be blessed. How do I know this? Because standing beside the stranger, holding up the imprisoned or speaking on behalf of those silenced never escapes the eyes and heart of God.
Can I get an Amen? (amen) Thanks be to God!