The Beatitudes

July 5, 2020
Matthew 5:1-12
Union University Church
Reverend Laurie DeMott

The twelve verses which I just read are called the Beatitudes, from the Latin beatitudo meaning blessed.  In these twelve short verses, Jesus describes the full spectrum of human life and if you were to place these verses over the days of your time here on earth, you would undoubtedly find a time in your life that fit every one of his descriptions.  Yes, you would say, as you reviewed the years of your existence, here is the time when I was poor in spirit, depressed with challenges that depleted my will.  And there are the nights when I was mourning for a loved one death had taken from me.  Continue to review your timeline and you will find the instances when you were meek, finally recognizing that there were not as in control of events as you had imagined yourself to be; and you will see the days when your hunger and thirst for righteousness made you grind your teeth in frustration at the continuing injustice, bigotry, and cruelties people inflict upon one another.  The low points of our lives are laid out for us in these verses.  But here also in Jesus’ words are those high moments.  There is that surprising mercy we encountered when we expected another to judge us but instead they held out their hands in smiling acceptance.  There are the wonderful moments when the purity of another’s heart, the innocence of a child, the steadfast commitment of a friend, infused us with joy.  There is the amazing courage of people who turned the other cheek and gave us hope in the reality of peace even amidst our many differences.  There was the inspiring faith of those who insisted on following Christ no matter what was thrown at them.  

The Beatitudes paint a picture of life as we know it – the ups and the downs, the good and the bad — and in 2020, that picture has been compressed into a short timeline when the instances of injustice, mourning, and surprising moments of goodness have occurred over a period of weeks instead of years.  For the past few months, we have been on a roller coaster of emotions, jumping back and forth from one Beatitude to another as the pandemic, the protests, the social changes, the depth of human cruelty and the heights of human kindness have played in our lives on a daily basis, and we can see in Jesus’ words a snapshot of our reality.  Jesus, however, didn’t deliver the Sermon on the Mount to describe what we already know; Jesus painted a portrait of our lives and then, with one word, transformed our experience into something new.  That word is “Blessed.”  Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn.  If Jesus intended only to describe the ups and downs of human experience, he would have said, “There are people who are poor in spirit, there are people who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” and his audience would have nodded and said, “Yep.  That’s us, Jesus,” but Jesus wanted to give us something more than sympathy.  The word “blessed” transforms our experience — both the good and the bad, both the highs and the lows — into something holy.  To say that we are blessed whether we are down or up, meek or courageous, persecuted or loved, is to say that God is right at our elbow through it all.  What powerful words these are: no matter what happens, God is with you. When cruddy things happen to you, God will stick by you even if the rest of the world turns against you. When you are cruddy yourself – when you mess up and make mincemeat of your life, when everyone else gives up on you, God will stand you back up on your feet and say, “Remember, I made you and you are mine.  Just take my hand and we can walk forward out of this together.”  When the world is crumbling and cruelty is all around you and you are about to explode with anger at the terrible ways people treat one another, God says, “Blessed is your anger, because together we can use it to bring my will to bear on the world.”   

God’s presence with us is transformative because the knowledge that we are not alone but have a holy wisdom guiding us, a holy strength emboldening us, a holy hope making all things possible, gives us the power to believe in the future and believe in our ability to contribute to the making of that future.  In God’s world, people forget how to judge one another, and Jesus has told us that God is with right now.  We who believe in God’s presence with us are already blessed and already living in that world of God’s vision, and so we will not judge.  In God’s world — the world in which we as committed Christians choose to live — we are not afraid of each other’s differences.  In God’s world, we want to share all things with all people and in God’s world, each of us will is valued and capable of remarkable compassion. That day may not have come in the fullness of God’s vision, but it exists in part in the people who know that they live in the embrace of God’s blessing and insist on living out that promise right now.

Have you seen these Beatitude people?  I have.  I have seen people in this church who used their own grief to help another through the pain of loss.  Blessed are those who mourn.  I have seen people devote themselves to caring for those in poverty that everyone else would forget.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  I have seen people work hard to forgive those who have hurt them, and strive to set aside their judgment of another.  Blessed are the merciful.  And I have seen in this church the deepest of compassion for others.  Blessed are the pure in heart.

2020 has been an astonishingly difficult year and will likely continue to be for some time, and yet we as followers of Christ testify that even in the midst of these worst of times, we have been blessed by the transformative presence of God and, with the grace of God, we have been blessings for others.  May these words of Jesus strengthen us, enlighten us, and give us hope and peace.