Posted on Nov 05, 2017 by Pastor Dave Whetter
“Blessed are the poor in spirit… blessed are those who mourn…” Most of us know these words well. We call this passage the Beatitudes, and they are words attributed to Jesus as he gave his Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. But to be honest, I often struggle with them because I don’t see how one who is mourning, for example, feels blessed.
The word we translate here as “blessed” in the Greek is makarios. Now, although the translation is accurate, it is also often translated as “happy.” So, in some translations, we would read the beatitudes as “Happy are the poor in spirit… happy are those who mourn…”. But as I prepared for today, I thought to myself, I have presided at many funerals, and I am not sure I can say the family and friends who lost their loved one seemed happy, or blessed, and, yet, Jesus says these people are blessed, or happy.
As most of you know, in this day of fast-paced social media, I am not very active with it. I don’t tweet, I have no idea how to Snapchat or use Instagram, and although I have a Facebook account I rarely use it, except to read what others are up to and occasionally comment on their posts or write one of my own. But, this past Tuesday, Halloween, I read a post that affected me greatly. My younger sister posted something that made me think about Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes. Her post read, “Our beautiful baby girl would have been 21 years old today. It is a bittersweet day for us. This little girl brought so much light and love to our family. She was and is forever loved and our angel.” The little girl’s name was Julianne and she died at the age of 18 months of leukemia. I am not sure my sister or brother-in-law have ever felt happy about mourning Julianne’s death.
So I struggled with that this week. In this set of Beatitudes, is Jesus offering us a moral code of conduct that we ought to follow in this life. Heck, I think I have preached that before. If I’m not mistaken, I think I have spoken of how we are to be meek in this world, where meekness is seen as a sign of weakness, and I think I have preached on how we are to be those who mourn over the brokenness of this world. But this week, it struck me that although those might be good attributes to work on in our lives, maybe Jesus wasn’t saying these things as a code of conduct for our lives. Maybe Jesus wasn’t saying, “Go be meek!” “Go mourn!” “Go and thirst for righteousness!” Maybe, just maybe, Jesus was inviting us to imagine what it is like to live in the Kingdom of God. Maybe Jesus was inviting us to be happy as a child of God. Perhaps Jesus is inviting us to see the sharp difference between God’s Kingdom and “kingdom of this word.”
Think about it; in this world, we say people who are joyful and experiencing good in their lives are the happy ones, but those who are dealing with death and sorrow, they need blessing. We say that the strong and mighty are the happy ones, yet Jesus says no, the meek are blessed. The world says that those who thirst for wealth are blessed, yet Jesus says that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, or happy. As one scholar notes, today, Jesus is inviting us “to call into question our culturally-born and very much this worldly view of all the categories with which we structure our life, navigate our decisions, and judge those around us.” He is even challenging our view of death.
In just a few moments, we will be invited to come forward to light a candle and offer a prayer for the saints in our lives. We will then read the names of those who were recently baptized and those who have died this past year. In our culture, we often say of those loved ones who died that we have lost them, but if we look at the world in light of the kingdom Jesus proclaims we have not “lost” those who have died. Oh, we are not with them and that hurts, but if we proclaim God’s kingdom the reality that it is then, those that have died we can be assured now live in the “nearer presence of God, beyond our immediate reach, yet connected to us through memory, faith, and love.”
Now keep in mind, I am not saying that we should ignore the reality of this world. In fact, I am saying just the opposite. This world is filled with brokenness, sorrow, pain, suffering, and violence, and we cannot ignore that. I would also argue that Jesus’ words today challenge us to acknowledge the brokenness of this world but to also how we might be complicit in its injustices. If we are to experience the “blessing” or “happiness” Jesus is speaking of today then we ought not ignore or downplay the realities of this world.
Instead of trusting in the ways of this world, today Jesus is challenging us to place all our trust in God and God’s ways, and when we do, then we will experience real happiness and real blessing. Our true “happiness” will stem from God and not from the empty promises of this world. Now, I’m not speaking of a “happiness” that is about a good feeling that things are going well, or that one is well-liked. No, Jesus is saying these people are happy because they live their lives in a way that is oriented toward God and God’s ways.
Now I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, “Pastor Dave, that sounds great, but that’s all a bunch of theological theory; it doesn’t really work." Well, the Psalmist has a suggestion for you, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who take refuge in God!" (Psalm 34:8). The question we are challenged to ask today is how are the ways of this world working for us, in a world where financial wealth is stronger than it has ever been, where houses keep getting bigger and we keep acquiring more stuff, yet, research shows we are more unsatisfied than ever before. Maybe we need to try the Lord’s ways. Maybe, just maybe, we need to follow the way of the saints and “taste the ways of the Lord” and trust in God first. What have we got to lose? Amen.