Matthew 5 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)The Beatitudes5 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
"You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will live as one." - John Lennon
This morning as we return to our Imagine: The Beatitudes series, it might be helpful to go back and review where we've been. We began this series at the start of Lent, but then took a break for Holy Week and the week after Easter. And rightly so. As I've said before, nothing, not even the beatitudes, trumps the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But, what we experienced together over the holiday, also changed us. One can't go through the events leading up to the crucifixion and not feel the weight of sorrow and sin that shows itself so pointedly- we hold up a mirror and see in ourselves the ways in which we have abandoned Christ when we were most needed, betrayed Christ and turned over those things most important in order to get a quick 30 pieces of silver. The ways we have taken part in the trial, judgment, and condemnation of Christ as we try, judge, and condemn others who don't fit our idea of Messiah. And then, somehow, on Easter morning, we picked up that same mirror, and realized all the things we've seen before are blurred by the light of the resurrected Christ shining in each of us. The risen Christ is in you- we are the resurrection of Jesus incarnate.
Then, last Sunday Pastor Jen took that affirmation one step further, naming us, not just as the resurrected Christ, but as Easter people! We live out the message, service, and love of Christ in all we do. Amen. So going back to look again at the plan of Jesus, or, God's saving plan for the world, otherwise known as the beatitudes brings with it now a sense of urgency that we perhaps could have overlooked before... before we were changed, before we picked up the mirror, before we affirmed ourselves as Easter People, the resurrected Christ. Now that we know who we are, it is even more crucial to learn more about God's plan, and how we can live it out.
Today we begin taking this plan so seriously that people who interact with us will begin to notice the changes in us. "Something's different," they may say... and people will jump to their own conclusions about what and how Easter people act... what 'disruptive love' looks like played out. "Idealists!" we may hear of ourselves... "dreamer, activist, bleeding hearts." For sure- Jesus was all of those things- i'll take it. Because Jesus could see beyond; Jesus could see into, Jesus could see through.
The beatitudes help us to see like Jesus; act like Jesus, and begin to think like Jesus...
And we've discussed the first half already: be poor in spirit- get rid of your ego, strip away your selfishness, depend on God only and everything will follow. Be mournful. leave behind the things that tie you down of tie you to this world- grieve the things we're told will make us happy or safe or secure- walk away, and God will bring you comfort/will bring forth new life. Then Jesus tells us the meek will inherit the earth. What is meekness? To be calm, controlled, have mastery over yourself, your behavior, your emotions and your thoughts- so that you can stay strong & fully present, like the captain of a ship through a storm. Because storms will come, amen? And then Jesus tells us that though it will be rough, captain, and though we will be giving up our ties, and breaking down the corrupt and violent systems- some of which keep us safe and secure, and as scary as that might seem- we are to hunger and thirst for these things to happen- we are to have an unquenchable desire for righteousness- for things to be set according to God's will. That's where we took a break.
And I take the time to go over all of this because we need to know where we are. We stopped at a pretty unsettling place in the beatitudes. As a matter of fact I believe when I asked you to reflect on that last point was when you responded with a collective no... and I get it. It's a lot to think about. What happens when we break down the systems, how do we not resist evil, cross the boundaries, and help usher in this new way of being?
Almost as if it were planned ;) Jesus provides some answers for us in the very next verses- we look inward at the core of who we are. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Is it that easy? Just, be merciful and pure of heart? Maybe I can get the mercy part. I can muster up compassion, for most people, on a dime. (My husband might argue that, but...) Mercy, I can wrap my head around. Mercy means that you show or give someone something they didn't earn. In Hebrew the word for mercy is "hessed." Otherwise translated as "everlasting love- unending faithfulness." God's steadfast hessed means that God continually pours out grace, forgiveness and love to us, even though we did nothing to earn it, pay for it, win it. And that mercy is never ending- never held back from us- even when we get our back up and walk away from God, or when we have tried, but completely failed God. That God never withdraws hessed from us. Mercy, as we see in God's example toward us, is more than just talk. It is an action. It's living in an intentional way in which our lives reflect compassion, respect, and forgiveness toward others. It also denotes a power imbalance. it means that we acknowledge though we have an advantage, or that we are privileged, or stronger, or smarter- though we are the ones even who have been wronged and have something due us, we offer grace.. That's mercy. We don't take the advantage we've earned and don't take advantage of those with less.
Again, I can understand this mercy, part.
But then there is that pure of heart, or pure in heart, piece. That's a bit more difficult, in my opinion.
I had been under the impression that fighting for justice, and showing mercy, and basically doing all the things in the first half of the beatitudes would make me a better person- that my pure in heart would come as a byproduct of doing the right thing. We see what the right thing is, of course. We "like" the right thing, people, causes, on FB. We post a lot about the "wrong thing, wrong people, wrong causes- we are great at naming the flaws of others- it makes us feel good, superior, powerful. Surely everyone can be pure- like us.
It also seems that pure of heart goes more against the grain of what it means to be "mature" or "worldly." In our society, we're supposed to "wise up" as we get older- we're supposed to learn things, most of the time through personal experience- many times through painful experiences. And not for nothing, but those life lessons can leave us somewhat jaded. We get duped in a scam- only once. We get blindsided in a relationship- only once. We get betrayed by a friend- only once. Because after that, we are more savvy. We become, at the very least, guarded. We don't want to appear weak. We don't want to hear from anyone how we allowed someone to best us because we were naive. We find ways to keep the upper hand in relationships, or to gain a financial advantage, or the competitive edge. Now how, Jesus, are we are supposed to stay pure- to keep our lives, minds and hearts from becoming corrupt, or suspicious, or hard?
It was while I was pondering purity of heart that I was traveling home with my granddaughter last weekend and listening to the audio book version of Peter Pan. If you've not read the original story of Peter Pan, let me recommend it. There are many wonderful insights and learning take aways. But the passage God tuned my ears to, is the one Pastor jen read to you this morning. Look at it again.
Two things illustrate mercy and purity of heart. First, Peter finds himself in the advantageous position agains the fearsome Captain Hook. He realizes he is "higher on the rock" than Hook, and though he could have ended the fight there, he offers his competitor and arm up. My friends that's mercy. We, as the ones with the advantage, make sure the playing field is level. And each of us can think of examples in our own lives where we have had the opportunity to offer mercy, and whether we did or didn't. On the flip side we can think of times in our lives when we've wished someone would show us mercy but they didn't. Showing mercy sometimes puts you at risk... but when we don't it makes us mean.... as anyone knows who has not been shown mercy.
But go back to the insert. Peter's mercy is not well received and Hook bites him. He's shocked. Look at it with me, "Not the pain of this but its unfairness was what dazed Peter. It made him quite helpless. He could only stare, horrified. Every child is affected thus the first time he is treated unfairly. All he thinks he has a right to when he comes to you to be yours is fairness. After you have been unfair to him he will love you again, but he will never afterward be quite the same boy. No one ever gets over the first unfairness;
And we get this, right? This is a perfect illustration of what we were talking about. We learn from our experiences- we become the sadder but wise person... but Jesus is asking us to instead receive the kin-dom of God like little children- to keep our hearts pure toward others. Expect the best. See others, no matter who they are as equal, to treat others as you would like to be treated. Look at that last sentence again: No one ever gets over the first unfairness; no one except Peter. He often met it, but he always forgot it. I suppose that was the real difference between him and all the rest.
While I'm not chartering a ship to never-land anytime soon, I can't help but see Christ likeness here. After all isn't it after Christ doling out mercy upon mercy, grace upon grace, that we often bite the one who has given us everything? How often do we see ourselves in an almost sword fight with God- when we want what we want, and pit our own will against God's desires for us? We, like spoiled children, or haughty Captain Hook, pull out all the stops to gain power in a situation to assert our agenda in front of God's agenda. Again and again we fight back, or bite back, yet Christ continues to offer us a hand up, like Pan, Christ forgets... and mercy, hessed, everlasting love, pours out again and again. And yes, that makes the difference between Christ and all the rest.
And it is because God does not see the jaded, hurt, selfish beings we have come to think we are, or that we've been taught we are, or told we are. When God sees you, God sees you as pure, as perfect, as holy. 1 John 3:3 says,everyone who thus hopes in God purifies themselves as they are pure. In Hebrews, it says, for by one sacrifice God has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. We're not created to become jaded, hard, judgmental people. It's not in our DNA. It's why we are left feeling sour and bitter after we've acted that way.
You know what is in our DNA? The heart and mind of Christ. Co-heirs with Christ. Brothers, sisters, siblings of and Christ. It's in us- it just maybe has been covered over with hurt or pain or anger that now it will take some unearthing in our hearts to find it... but I promise you, the creator has placed within you, the spirit of the living God that is holy and pure. Can we adopt the pure heart of Christ? Blessed are the pure in heart, says Jesus, for they will see God. And again, this starts first, within us. Remember that mirror. When we lift it up and see ourselves the way Christ sees us, When we see one another as Christ sees us, as pure, as being made perfect, and holy, then of course we see God.
As we come to this time of communion, I want us to keep in mind how God sees us.