June 5, 2011
Matthew 5:4, Isaiah 61:1-2
Matthew 5:5, Psalm 37:11
Matthew 5:6, Isaiah 55:1-2
The Sermon On the Mount
The Beatitudes – Considering Our Attitudes
It always amazes me when I hear people loudly complaining in public. I stopped to eat lunch the other day, and one of the employees was in the back complaining about everything – their family, their job, their life; it was kind of embarrassing hearing such personal details loudly broadcast in public. I learned more than I needed to know about this person’s life. All of us in that restaurant heard intimate details we didn’t need to hear. It reminded me of what I used to hear some when I was growing up. When I would complain I was often told – you know what you need? You need an…attitude adjustment!
We are in a series of messages from the Sermon On the Mount, and within that series we have been in a brief series about the Beatitudes. This is the fourth and final week we’ll look at the Beatitudes. The first week we studied the Beatitudes as a whole to see them as a prescription for happiness. The second week was Considering Our Attachments and last week was Considering Our Relationships. Today is Considering Our Attitudes. Anybody need an attitude adjustment this morning? Anybody get in their car this morning and argue with their spouse or kids on the way to church and as soon as you get out of the car you put on a smile and act as if everything is fine? Perhaps an attitude adjustment is in order.
We will take a look at three of the Beatitudes this morning – blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted; blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth; and blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
In these three Beatitudes, Jesus seeks to perform an attitude adjustment on us. There is so much we can say about these three Beatitudes, but we’re going to have to squeeze it down to just a few minutes for each one.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
I believe Jesus is speaking to two different types of mourning. One is certainly the mourning that comes with the loss of one we love.
It is very difficult to lose someone we love. We don’t live long on this earth before we lose someone we love. The separation is difficult and the corresponding awareness of our own mortality comes home to us. But Jesus says there is comfort.
I have no idea how many funerals I have done over the years. I should have kept count, but I’m terrible at math so I don’t keep counts. But I’ve done a lot of funerals, and of the things I’ve learned from doing funerals is this – it makes a big difference when one has a sense of hope. A big difference. Hope brings comfort. The promise of resurrection brings hope as does the promise that resurrection brings reunion with those we love, and that is incredibly powerful to people.
There are certain Scripture passages I read at funerals, and one of them is Revelation 21:4 – He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
All sunshine one person has said, makes a desert (Barclay, p. 93). As rain is necessary to produce growth from the earth, there are certain lessons only learned in sorrow. And one of those lessons is the promise of hope. There is a new day coming. There is a life that extends beyond this life. Death is not an end, but a beginning.
Sorrow and loss also teaches us about the love and kindness of others. People will drop everything else to be with one who has lost a loved one. When I pass by a house and see a lot of cars parked out front I assume it means one of two things – someone is having a party or there has been the loss of a loved one. Hopefully it is not a combination of those two things. Sorrow moves us into the sufferings of others. Faith is about caring.
The second type of mourning is a mourning for the human condition. It is a mourning that looks at the world and is broken-hearted at the condition of humanity and our own brokenness. It is a mourning that moves us to step beyond ourselves and into the lives of others to heal that brokenness. It is possible to look at the condition of the world and say forget it. I’m after what I can get and everybody else is on their own. But faith calls us to move beyond the boundaries of our own lives and our own concerns to heal the brokenness in the world.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Meek – now there’s an adjective we all want attached to us, right? When you think of how you would like to be described, doesn’t the word meek immediately come to mind? How do you want to be remembered Dave? Well, I would like first and foremost to be remembered as being a very meek person.
Our culture has basically destroyed and idea that one would aspire to meekness. Where would Donald Trump be if meekness were his defining quality? (I don’t know, but I have to confess, I’d like to find out).
To say that the meek will inherit the earth is similar to the other paradoxical statements Jesus made – you have to lose your life to find it (Matthew 16:25); the first shall be last (Mark 10:31); and whoever wants to be great has to be a servant (Matthew 20:26). It’s the way Jesus points out that many of the qualities people aspire to are in the wrong order. There’s an irony that he points out, and we can see the truth of it in history. How many great kingdoms, with all their might and power, have fallen to the sands of time and are little more than a distant memory. The powerful may control the earth for a time, but they never keep it. Alexander the Great – he and his empire is gone. The mighty Roman Empire – gone. The great British Empire – gone.
Empires and rulers and armies come and go, but Jesus says there is a power that outlasts all other powers – it is the power of meekness, which is another word for humility. Meekness is not weakness – it is a different kind of power. It is the power that comes from humility, and Jesus says this is a power far more powerful than the kind of power sought after by the kingdoms of the world.
There really is something about power that is corrupting. We have seen some tragic examples in the news recently of powerful men behaving very badly (noting that men generally are the ones who hold power in our world). There is something about power that seems to make people think they can do whatever they want. And the kingdom response is to say that is not how a real man behaves. A real man does not treat women is such a manner.
Humility, very importantly, recognizes one’s own sinfulness and one’s own need for God. The great tragedy of humanity is the desire for complete independence. It leads to the idea that God is not needed. Many people think of independence as a strength, but Jesus speaks of it as a problem, as it cuts us off from our real source of strength.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
All of us say, at some point most every day, that we are hungry. The reality, though, is that we know neither real hunger nor real thirst. When we are hungry, we open the refrigerator or pantry and get something to eat. When we are thirsty we open the refrigerator or turn on the tap and get a drink. In the time of Jesus, most people lived on the edge of very real hunger. It was not possible to keep much food in one’s home, because there was no way to safely store it or money to purchase more than perhaps a day’s worth. And imagine, in that part of the world, where much of the landscape is barren, that you are traveling and the wind begins to blow sand and dirt and you have to cover your face because you are walking or riding an animal. There is no way to keep the sand and dirt out of your nose and mouth; imagine then, how much you would long for a drink of water. Those who listened to Jesus know real hunger and real thirst.
Jesus is saying that beyond the hunger and the drive for life’s most basic needs – food and water – we have a deeper hunger and thirst. It is a hunger and thirst for the spiritual. Some people may not recognize or accept that truth, but we are spiritual beings and there is a deep, spiritual longing within us. Built into the language of this Beatitude is the idea that we are much more than just our next bite of food or the drink of water for our immediate thirst, but people with a longing for something that will once and for all brings satisfaction. Living in a consumer-driven, stuff oriented society it is easy to seek to fill that hunger and thirst with stuff. Buy this, buy that, get this, get that, and where does it get us? Does it ever give us a sense of satisfaction? No. And amazingly, some people have even turned the gospel itself into a formula for getting more stuff! It’s called The Prosperity Gospel – just pray with a specific formula and you can get whatever you want. The Prosperity Gospel is a blight on the kingdom of God. It is a distortion of Scripture.
I heard a young man pray a very interesting prayer some years ago. He was in the 5th grade and volunteered to pray at a gathering and said this – Lord, help us not to see you as nothing more than a big vending machine, ready to give us whatever we want. I don’t know where he got that but he was demonstrating wisdom beyond many of us much older!
There is an interesting note in this beatitude. Jesus doesn’t say one is blessed only if you achieve righteousness, but only if we hunger and thirst for it. There is a note of grace in the way Jesus phrases this beatitude. Jesus recognizes that we are going to stumble and fail along the way, and so grace is always offered.
So Jesus seeks to adjust our attitudes – he offers comfort to those who mourn but also asks us to step into the mourning of others; he asks us to embrace the way of humility; and the asks us to fill our spirits with the things of the spirit, which truly satisfy.
May we pray.