Sunday, February 2, 2020

Topsy-Turvy Blessings

Our Gospel message comes to us today from the 5th chapter of Matthew, beginning with the 1st verse.

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: “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 be shown 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 because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12)

Dear Heavenly Father, you have revealed yourself to us through your Word, recorded in the Scriptures, spoken by the prophets, but most clearly through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, your Word become flesh. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to your Word, that we might perceive your presence among us, embrace your truth for our lives, and gain the courage to witness to others of your redeeming grace. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

“Topsy-Turvy Blessings”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”

Jesus’ words in this sermon on the mount sound very comforting, very uplifting, very comfortable. I think that most of us, when we hear these beatitudes read from scripture, try to place ourselves somewhere in the list. We may listen and think, “ah, I’ve been merciful to people at times.” Or we may sit and remember a time when we made peace with a friend or a relative. Typically, we hear these words as a great promise, because we like to see ourselves included on those that Jesus describes as blessed.

But what does it mean to be blessed? Does it mean that we have physical possessions, that we have a house to live in or lots of things to surround ourselves with? Think for a moment. Who are the people in this world who we consider the blessed ones? Is it the person who won the publisher’s clearinghouse sweepstakes? Is it the person who has a big house, a boat, a vacation home up north? Is it the person with no debt and no bills? Is it the executive with the big three who are making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year? Is it the parents who just had a healthy baby or the kid at school whose parents just bought her a brand new car? Far too often, the people we consider blessed are those who have THINGS!

In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus uses the word “blessed” differently. Although the world may seem that the rich and powerful or the high and mighty as blessed, Jesus says that God has blessed the lowly, the meek, the poor, the hungry. Jesus takes the prevalent worldview and turns it upside down.

Do any of you remember the Disney movie from a few years ago called Hunchback of Notre Dame? As the story goes, once a year, the people of Paris have a street festival. On that day, everything is topsy turvy, sings Clopin, the narrator-jester. At that festival, they crown the king of fools, who is the ugliest, most hideous person there. Why do they crown the least likely person, sings Clopin? Why, because everything is topsy turvy! A king becomes a clown, and a clown becomes a king, he sings.

At that festival, Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bell-ringer of Notre Dame, is crowned the king of fools. He put the top in topsy-turvy, sings Clopin. Jesus’ words about being blessed strike us in sort of a topsy-turvy fashion. Those who seem to be less fortunate, who look like they are not as “blessed” as we are, turn out to be those who God proclaims as blessed, as fortunate. The fortunate ones in God’s eyes are those who are at the bottom of the heap of humanity. What seems up is down, and what seems down is up. Jesus reminds us that God’s ways of seeing things are sometimes topsy-turvy from the way we see things.

The beatitudes are not “entrance requirements for the kingdom of heaven,” but descriptions of the nature of God’s rule. Jesus is not pronouncing the blessing; that is, his words do not cause the blessing. Instead, Jesus is describing a situation that exists. According to Jesus, when the rule of God is fully realized, the people who will benefit are those who now have no reason for hope or cause for joy, who seem to have been denied their share of God’s blessings in this world. The people that Jesus describes as blessed people are those for whom things have not been the way they ought to be. For such people, the coming of God’s kingdom is a blessing, because when God rules, things will be equalized.

Our response to the beatitudes should not be going out and trying to make ourselves meek, or poor in spirit, or hungry, or righteous. Jesus may call us to that action later. Still, here, Jesus is merely disputing the conventional wisdom about who is “blessed.” Jesus is not telling us to become those people. He is telling us to look at those people through God’s eyes. Although we may not think of people in those situations as blessed, God’s view is different. The poor in spirit, the meek, the peacemakers, are blessed, not because they are virtuous, but because they have something to look forward to in the great divine reversal.

St. Paul writes about the cross being foolishness to those who are perishing. These Beatitudes of Jesus illustrate the kind of foolishness that is spoken through the cross. What looks like topsy-turvy day is only an example of the reversal of fortune that will be found in the kingdom. Those who looked blessed are not, and those who seem cursed are those who are blessed.

The poor in spirit, those who seem to be downhearted now, will gain the kingdom of heaven. Those who mourn, who weep for the pain of their loss, will find comfort from God, even if the world will not give them the time of day. The meek, those who seem not to have any power or authority, will gain land. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who try to do what’s right no matter what the reward or punishment is, will be filled.

Jesus isn’t trying to get us to try to be meek, poor in spirit, or even merciful. Nor is Jesus telling us that we can find out who’s going to heaven by judging their situation in light of the beatitudes. What we can learn from the Beatitudes is to see who God is focused upon and what we should do about it.

How should I act if history is headed toward a dramatic reversal of fortunes for the poor in spirit and the pure in heart? How could I treat the poor or the hungry or the thirsty if there will be a day when things will be reversed? How might I respond differently to the mourners or meek that I see on the street if I knew that God was ultimately concerned about them?

The Micah text reminds us of what we can do to see the fulfillment of the kingdom. What does the Lord require of us? To be meek? To become poor in spirit? To hunger and thirst for righteousness? No, “God has told you what is good, and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” We have a responsibility to those who are described in the beatitudes. We have a responsibility to act justly, to show kindness, and to walk with God.

As Paul says, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” Yes, things may look topsy-turvy, but through these situations, God is shining light on us, lifting us up. The message of the cross may seem like mere foolishness, crazy festival nonsense. But God uses the weak things of the world, the foolish things of the world to show forth God’s glory.

If God can love you, if God can love me, then surely, we can love those who look foolish, those who seem weak, those who appear to be less fortunate. May God give us wisdom to seek the foolishness of the cross, and the weakness of Christ crucified.

Let us pray: Let us pray: Lord Jesus, you said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Keep us from being preoccupied with money and worldly goods, and with trying to increase them at the expense of justice.

Lord Jesus, you said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Help us not to be ruthless with one another, and to eliminate the discord and violence that exists in the world around us.

Lord Jesus, you said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Let us not be impatient under our own burdens and unconcerned about the burdens of others.

Lord Jesus, you said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Make us thirst for you, the fountain of all holiness, and actively spread your influence in our private lives and society.

Lord Jesus, you said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Grant that we may be quick to forgive and slow to condemn.

Lord Jesus, you said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Free us from our senses and our evil desires, and help us to fix our eyes on you.

Lord Jesus, you said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Aid us to make peace in our families, in our country, and the world.

Lord Jesus, you said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Make us willing to suffer for the sake of right rather than to practice injustice; do not let us discriminate against our neighbors and oppress and persecute them. Amen.

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Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Sermon contributed by Rev. Carla Powell.
When death comes close, it is painful. The faithful mourn. Even in this, the Lord tells us, we are blessed because He will draw close to bring comfort. Jesus’ Beatitudes are a splash of frigid water in the face of the self-righteous, but a cup of refreshing water for God’s forgiven saints who are weary of the ways of the world. The beatitudes are a description of what life in the kingdom of God looks like.

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