Psalm 15 (1)
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Occasionally, I buy a lottery ticket. But only one. I still can’t fathom that they are now three dollars. And although I can spare three dollars, I just know that buying two tickets does not greatly improve my chances of winning.
And when I buy a ticket I forget to check it. I still have a ticket in my wallet from last summer that I should check before it expires.
We had a realtor come to our house yesterday. We have looked at a few properties in Richmond. We have some anxiety about how much new debt we will take on. It would be great to win the lottery. Not the big prize, not obscene amounts of money, but just enough to help us move into a different housing market.
And yet, one reason I don’t buy many lottery tickets is that I don’t think God would want me to win. It might be nice and yet not good for me.
Now, Jesus does not talk about wealth today. He does that at other times, and often, but not today. And yet, the things Jesus talks about today are not things we wish for. And it is hard to understand why those who have them or experience them are blessed.
The things Jesus talks about are pretty much the opposite of what we wish for.
I mean, sure, we want mercy and peace, but often we want it on our terms and in our time. Which may be why I’d like to win the lottery, because then I could buy a house and pay it off and be independent. And if things did not work out with us here, I’d be OK …
But what all nine beatitudes have in common is that they all presume deep, passionate, and engaged relationships. In the world of the beatitudes you can’t be blessed and stand off to the side. Those who are blessed are deeply involved with others. That is why they mourn, why they fail, why they seek peace, why they are persecuted. The first thing then is that relationship is not only good but it is essential. The only thing those who aren’t in relationship with others may mourn is their loneliness but not the loss of someone they love.
I grew up in the church and I have always loved the Beatitudes, even when I may have had a hard time explaining why. I do remember discussions as to how they were meant, how seriously we must take them, and attempts to somehow get them to make sense to us.
Jesus sits down with the disciples. The Sermon on the Mount is not wisdom for everyone, it is not advice you may find in a self-help book, for they are neither about self nor about success, but the Sermon on the Mount is given to the disciples, given to the church. And so they are an instruction in Christian living, Christian living for the community of the church, not an individual ethic.
They are given to the church not only because Jesus gives the beatitudes to the disciples but they are given to the church because the church is Christ’s body and the beatitudes show us not only a way to live but show us the life of Jesus.
Jesus does not just speak the Gospel but lives it. Every one of the Beatitudes anticipates a moment on Jesus’ journey to the cross.
He is poor in spirit when he is taking on the sin of the whole world.
He mourns when his heart is heavy at Gethsemane.
He is meek when he is falsely accused and yet never says a word.
He thirsts on the cross.
He is merciful when he says Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.
He is pure in heart when he says not my will but your will be done.
He is a peacemaker when he tells Peter to put down his sword.
He is persecuted and reviled by the priests, scribes, soldiers, and bystanders at every moment in the passion story.
The Beatitudes are Jesus’ autobiography. Jesus says to the disciples, ‘This is who I am and this is how to be like me. This is how to be me, to be my body, in the world.’
Now, I want to be like Jesus. I want to be someone deeply in love with the Father and deeply in love with the world. I am not sure I want to be all the things for which Jesus calls people blessed, but I know that the way of Jesus is the way of life.
I was listening to the radio one day last week and the obsession with America’s new president continues. They reported his statements on torture and was quoted as saying something like, When people are beheaded just because they are Christian, then we have to … We need need to fight fire with fire.
And I thought, he really has never read the Bible. He has never read the Beatitudes. He does not understand the commandment to love our enemies.
Not that that is easy, nor even promise to be effective, or rational, or plausible, but it is the way of Jesus. The cross is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to the gentiles, and yet it is by the cross that we are saved.
The writer Marilynne Robinson said that she goes to church because the Gospel is counter intuitive and therefore she must always be reminded of its truth.
It’s an interesting thing to still live in the community where I served for 14 years. There are still good-byes to be said. On Monday morning I rejoined the Circle of Friends.
The Circle of Friends is a weekly gathering of people with mental disabilities and of their caregivers for worship and fellowship. I used to deliver a short homily every four or five weeks. This time, after my homily they sent and commissioned me. Amanda, who was born with downs syndrome, prayed for me and many came and laid their hands on me. And I knew that these were no fools, but that wisdom was right there in that assembly of believers. And I knew them to be an answer to Paul’s question in verse 20 about the location of the wise of this age. They are wise because they know God and because they love.
At the beginning of his ministry Jesus sits down with the disciples, with those who have given up all they knew (save, perhaps for their expectations) and shares with them God’s blessing.
It is about them being blessed and being a blessing, as God’s call to Abraham was, “I will bless you and you shall be a blessing.”
Sam Wells asks about how Christians can live into the beatitudes. And he says that the Beatitudes come in two parts: Cross and resurrection.
The cross is the first part, the resurrection is the second part.
He says, “Between cross and resurrection lies a comma. The comma is your life as a Christian. To be a Christian is to dwell in that comma that lies between the first and second part of each beatitude. That comma is your home on earth. That comma represents the joy and the pathos of the Christian life. That comma is where you find Jesus.
What does it look like to be a Christian? Jesus is saying, the people who know are those who are closest to my cross. The closer you get to my cross, the closer you get to resurrection. If you’re one of those people, happy are you. If you’re not one of those people, start hanging around with those who are. That’s what it means to dwell in the comma. Jesus is the place where cross and resurrection meet. So are you. It’s time to stop limiting ourselves to just one third of the gospel. It’s time to live the whole thing. It’s time to dwell in the comma, where the cross meets the resurrection. This is where we meet Jesus. This is what Christianity is. This is where to find it. This is how to live it. This is blessedness. Blessed, blessed are you.”1
1Duke Chapel, 30 January 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIxYQZWZGh4&feature=youtu.be