Making a more loving world
| Open and Affirming
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Eau Claire, WI 54703
Worship at 10:30 am Sunday
Strange, strange words for any time. For any period in history, these are strange words.
This is the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. He’s on a hill teaching and preaching. And this is opening salvo, so to speak. So far in Matthew’s Gospel we’ve been told that he’s been preaching and teaching all over the place and healing the sick, but we haven’t heard much of what he’s been teaching. Now we finally, in this Gospel, get what he is teaching and this is how he begins: Blessed are the meek, the mourning, the merciful.
And I wonder how many who may have been hearing him say these words who elbowed his or her neighbor and said, “Did you hear that? Really? Has this guy ever looked around him? Look at us – do we look blessed? We’re not blessed. We’ve been abandoned by God. Look at our state! Blessed are the meek? Tell that to the Romans! Blessed are the peacemakers? Tell that to the Romans! Blessed are the poor in spirit? Tell that to the priests! We’re not blessed.”
But at the time, there weren’t so many entertainment options as there are now. So perhaps some felt compelled to continue to listen to this man to see what other crazy words may come out of his mouth. Or perhaps these words were really hitting for some of the people as words of hope.
And we will be reading in the coming weeks some more of the crazy words from this man on the hill, as we continue to read through this Sermon on the Mount.
Strange words for any time.
Strange in today’s world. I think especially today – these words seem kind of strange as the world watches gigantic millionaire men pound into each other with great force and throw a ball around in a very competitive must win at all costs Super Bowl this evening. Super Bowl: a sort of anti-beatitudes. Not that it’s bad, but it certainly runs on a principal that is not in keeping with the beatitudes.
Imagine – take a moment and imagine that you are the coach of either Denver or Seattle. And you may want to imagine yourself as the coach you want to lose because you are going to mess them up in a moment. Imagine you are the coach. A few minutes before the game starts. This is the biggest game of the year. Not just for your team, but almost world wide. World Cup Soccer and the Olympics are really the only other competitors for world importance in a game. This is the biggest of the year. You have Super Bowl rings on the line. The Lombardi trophy. Lots of money for winning. Plus the potential for earning a lot more money doing product endorsement if your team wins. There is a lot on the line. Plus also just the incredible prestige of being able to say that you won a Super Bowl. That’s a pretty magnificent in and of itself. All this is on the line. You are with the team, huddled together in the locker room a couple minutes before they run out on the field. They are all fired up, they are ready to win, they are ready to go out there and bust some heads and you say, “Listen up, men! Listen up! When you go out there to bring glory to your town...”
Oh, I didn’t mention, you are also wearing sandals and a robe when you say this.
“Listen up, men, as you go out there to bring glory to your town,
blessed are the poor in spirit.
Blessed are those who mourn.
Blessed are the meek.
Blessed are the merciful.
Blessed are the peacemakers.”
Strange words in any time. They are not going to make you any friends out of the “win at all costs” population. They are not going to win you any friends out of the “winning is all that matters” population, or the “you succeed only if you have more than those around you” population. But in Jesus’ world, the world that he imagined and the world that he told us about, the heavenly realm or kingdom or whatever you want to call it: that which is present now and in us. The world that Jesus imagined is this topsy-turvy cattywumpus wonky upside-down world in which the last are first. In which the poor are blessed. The outcast are sought out and looked for. And the losers are the winners.
I think a Super Bowl in the heavenly realm might very well not declare a “winner”, but may offer special praise for those who played to the best of their God-given talent. Offer special praise to those who did not withhold on their effort, who gave everything they had, and those who played for the greater good of their team and not their own glory.
The special praise may very well not go to the highest scorer, because points don’t always represent faithfulness. Whether it be the points in the football game, or the money in our bank account, or the degrees that we have earned, the cleanliness of our house, how much ink is on our calendar, or how many faith-based articles we post on our Facebook page. Whatever points we’re keeping.
Strange words for a strange new Way of life.
In the heavenly realm Super Bowl,. Jesus might even look at all the players at the end of the game and say, “Well done. Well played! But you all have plenty of money, you have fame, you are loved, you have fans, you have prestige. You really have all that you need at this point. You have plenty. So I declare that the winner today is the water boy, because when you were thirsty he brought you water. He gets a Super Bowl ring. And I declare that the winner today is that man over there in the face paint because he was energized and cheered his team. He gets a Super Bowl ring. And I declare the winner is the woman in Section C selling hotdogs because she did it with such great hospitality, a smile and a welcoming attitude. She gets a Super Bowl ring. They are the winners. Congratulations! Blessed are they!”
That’s God’s realm. That upside-down cattywumpus wonky world of God which we strive with God’s help to make a reality here, for us and for the people around us. The kingdom, the realm, the heavenly realm of God’s wonky topsy-turvy upside-down world in which everyone is invited to the table, to the feast regardless of our station in life. All are invited. There’s a miracle for you! That all are invited to the table.
Blessed are those people.
In the Living Bible translation, instead of using “blessed” uses “fortunate”, which I think helps us. It’s a nice way to think of this. “Fortunate”. Jesus is turning the table here.
The Amplified Bible, which is a translation that often when a word in the Greek or Hebrew could be translated a number of ways will list some of those options to help better understand. The Amplified Bible offers alternatives for blessed to replace it with ‘happy’, or ‘envied’, or this one which I really like, ‘spiritually prosperous.’
Spiritually prosperous are the meek, the poor, the peacemakers.
In The Message, which is a sort of translation that we have often read the Psalms out of, tries to take some of the formality out of the language and make it more modern sounding. To sound a little more like we might speak, while also clarifying some of the ambiguity. I want you to hear the Beatitudes again, and we will read out of The Message. It has a different sense to it. I really recommend to you that you get a copy of The Message and while you are reading scripture, have the translation that you like but also have The Message next to it because it can really help clarify some of the weird words or concepts in the Bible.
So sit back. I want you to relax. Close your eyes if you want. Imagine that you are at Jesus’ feet. You’ve never heard him speak before. You’ve never heard this passage before. Put yourself back in Jesus’ time up on the hill there. You’re hearing him for the first time. Feel the warm breeze and the heat of the sun on your skin. Hear the shuffling of the people around you. Smell the lunches that they brought with them, or the grass, the dust, or the smell of olive oil in the air. And listen to these words again for the first time:
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for. You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”
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