This sermon was originally preached at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on February 2, 2020. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The beatitudes are among Jesus’ greatest expressions of faith. This passage, it challenges us to both what we should do in our faith, but also, and maybe more importantly, who we should include. Jesus challenges us to see more of the world, to be in tune with the challenges people different than us are facing, things we too should be concerned about.
Jesus takes the beatitudes in a different direction, than we may expect from the term itself. You see, the Greek word for beatitude, Makarios, is an adjective declaring certain people to be in a privileged, fortunate position. It means well-off and happy. When we look at the beatitudes mentioned, those who mourn, the merciful, the meek, the hungry, my first thought, is why Jesus would consider these people groups to be privileged. Actually, the majority of them suggest a lack of privilege.
In a religious context however, Jesus uses the term differently. In a religious context, Makarios, beatitude, means blessed, and more specifically, blessed by God. The beatitudes in the gospel of Matthew, do not seek to say who is in and who is out, who is fortunate or unfortunate.
Rather, the beatitudes here in Matthew, they are reminders of the belovedness of all of God’s children. And further, the beatitudes name those who too often remain unnamed, giving voice, power, and witness to those who are underrepresented, silenced, or unheard.
I love how simple Jesus puts this section of the Sermon on the Mount. He doesn’t try and make it hard to understand. He lays it out. Here are the ones who are blessed: the merciful, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who seek justice, and the list goes on. Jesus tells us clearly and simply, that all are blessed by God. And if all are blessed by God, our job is to also recognize everyone as a blessing from God, a challenge and a call that is harder than it seems.
The beatitudes are true, based on the authority of who spoke them, Jesus. Because Jesus is son of God, prophet and teacher and divine, Jesus speaking these words, making these pronouncements on who is blessed makes them true as they are spoken, because he said them and called the hearers to act according to their truth.
Like Jesus, we have the chance too, to share our faith, to express our faith in simple ways that people will understand. Jesus responds to the question, ‘who are we blessing’, and through his truth, he answers, ‘everyone’. From who we know Jesus to be, and how Jesus acted, we ask ourselves the same question: Who are we blessing?
Nadia Bolz Weber writes her take on the beatitudes, answering that question of who we are blessing. I read this on one of my first weeks here, and I’m going to read it again today. I want you to listen to who she is naming, and how she is naming those who are blessed.
Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt. Those who aren’t sure, who can still be surprised.
Blessed are they who are spiritually impoverished and therefore not so certain about everything that they no longer take in new information.
Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are they for whom nothing seems to be working.
Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at communion.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are they for whom death is not an abstraction.
Blessed are they who have buried their loved ones, for whom tears are as real as an ocean.
Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like.
Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried.
Blessed are they who don’t have the luxury of taking things for granted any more.
Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else.
Blessed are the motherless, the alone, the ones from whom so much has been taken.
Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet.”
Blessed are they who laughed again when for so long they thought they never would. Blessed are those who mourn.
You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Today, those who were worshipping in person got a piece of paper in their bulletin. On it, they wrote their own beatitude, their ‘blessed are…’ statement. Wherever you are, whatever you’re reading this on, I want to encourage you to do the same. So open your notes app, log on to Twitter, grab a piece of paper or sticky note from your desk. And ask yourself these questions.
- Who needs to be named today, so that they know they are blessed?
- Who are the ones that are close to your heart, that might need to be called by name, as a way of sharing how beloved they are?
- Who are the people you see clearly are blessed by God, even those who perhaps don’t yet see themselves in the same light?
Wherever you are, I want to challenge you to take some time now to proclaim the belovedness of all God’s children. Write your own beatitude, and share it with the world.
Let us pray:
Holy One, we give you thanks for all the ways you call us in to be your people. Bless us, God, that we might be a blessing for those around us, each of them called by name to be your beloved. Help us to name those who have remained unnamed for too long. Call us to speak truth in the midst of harm and confusion. Guide us to be your people, bravely living out your light. In your blessed name we pray, Amen.