Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Beatitudes of Jesus

For those of you who don’t know me, I am Michael, whose father is a retired Marine Corps Colonel and whose mother is a So. Mississippi woman who spent her life in the Mid-West. Think of the writer Pat Conroy and the Great Santini and you have an exaggerated picture of my life. I am a follower of a First Century Jewish rabbi named Jesus, who’s not so great at being his disciple. I am a husband who married up to a beautiful woman named Dawn – and if you will
forgive me for being a little corny – she really is – my dawn. I am a father to one son and three daughters, who open me up to new ways of loving almost every day. I am a pastor, and have been one for 20 years now, but who has only in the last 4-5 become more comfortable with that fit. All of that is part of who I am, if you don’t already know me.

If I were to say one thing I am not – I am not a human being, which isn’t to say that I am an alien from another planet. It’s just to say I am not a human being; I am a human becoming…because I really believe that no matter how we all might describe ourselves – gay or straight or something
else; Christian, Muslim, Jew or nothing at all – we are all in process, we are ALL human becomings.

The most important part of the process, the becoming for me at this point in my life is learning how to recapture my faith as a way of life, rather than a system of beliefs. When we filter each other through a certain system of beliefs, we start judging lives, determining if people are right or
wrong, if we agree or disagree, all of which makes us less able to really see one another and be authentic about who we becoming. And so I am learning how to recapture my faith as a way of life and allow myself to be open to God’s spirit. (I owe that most recent insight to my wife). And I am grateful for a community of others with whom I can do that.

Which leads me to the Beatitudes, the focus for our time tonight. The Beatitudes are eight blessings Jesus invoked at the beginning of one of his greatest teaching moments. These eight blessings, in eight verses, are as someone has said, “an extravagance of wisdom in an economy of words.” Nowhere in the entire Bible are we offered a more compelling image of a life of faith
in a world of doubt than in the Beatitudes.
Jesus 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.
(Matthew 5:3-10
)

These eight blessings,eight verses of extravagant wisdom, crystallize the very heart of a message God (The Other, the More, the Holy Mystery…) has been trying to convey since the very beginning. That is: a blessed life is a transformed life, and blessed lives gathered in community are capable of transforming an entire world. That describes as nearly as we can the vision and hope of Zeteo, a word that means “to seek”.

The Beatitudes don’t really begin with Matthew chapter 5; the Beatitudes begin at the end of chapter 4
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.
(Matthew 4: 23-25
)

When I read those words, I am reminded that the context for the Beatitudes is Jesus at work to touch the lowest people in society. Touching and healing and restoring lives that were sick with the pain of what the world’s worst things had to offer. The Beatitudes of Matthew’s good news are beautiful in and of themselves, but they are not generalized, abstract sayings, whose wisdom we debate. Jesus is the speaker. He has been healing the people. He is so committed to loving the least, the last and the lost that he will do so even in the midst of being rejected and humiliated. So the Beatitudes stretch our imaginations, kind of like a multipaned window through which we get a glimpse of what life in proximity to Jesus is like.

Gregory of Nyssa (4th century CE) compared the Beatitudes to a Staircase, ascending toward God. The poor in spirit are compelled to mourn, the meek hunger for justice, the pure in heart are merciful, and therefore they strive to make peace, and wind up being hassled because of it.

But anytime we come to the Beatitudes of Jesus we are forced to see whom Jesus singled out as blessed. Whom did Jesus single out for special commendation? Frederick Buechner puts it something like this: Not the spiritual giants, but rather…“the poor in spirit”. Not the champions of faith who can rejoice even in the midst of suffering, but rather…those who mourn – for their own mistakes and for the real suffering of others in the world. Not strong ones, but rather…the meek, in the sense of gentle ones. Whom did Jesus single out? Not ones who get it all right the first time, but rather…the ones who hope they will someday. Not the winners of great victories over Evil in the world, but rather…the ones who, when they see the evil in themselves every time they brush their teeth, are in fact merciful when they see evil in others. Not the totally pure, but rather…the “pure in heart,” ones whose lives have brought them scars and pain and great amounts of suffering, but somehow keep an inner freshness and innocence in tact. Not the ones who have found peace in its fullness but rather…ones who for that reason try to bring it about wherever they can.

If any of that describes you, then you are welcome…you are welcome here.