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[b] 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 is our final sermon in the Imagine: Beatitudes series and I don't know about you, but I feel like we've come through a learning process together that has changed us, somehow. Pairing this passage from Jesus's Sermon on the Mount with John Lennon's Imagine lyrics has revealed some amazing things about the way we live, how we identify as, and what it means to be disciples of Christ, and our hope for the future of humankind. We climbed the stair steps of the beatitudes, each one demanding a bit more of us than the last. Jesus's outline for God's saving plan begins with the self. We become poor in Spirit and get rid of that ego, and ends in an outward action- blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called Children of God. Living out the beatitudes means we will be known and seen in a different light than other people. Living out the beatitudes means we will see ourselves in a different light; we will se ourselves with Christ's light shining in us, leading, directing, encouraging, emboldening us to live out a life of non-violence.
But when we live that way, not returning evil for evil, and we've played this out before- what happens to us? When our only defense in the face of persecution is to love- to model good- to model God... what happens to us? Of course, we will be persecuted. And what Pastor Marsha said last week about love being the key to making it through the persecution for doing the right thing- that's true. Standing firm- knowing that we are doing our best to change the world into a peace-filled place for future generations- even though we may not see it happen ourselves, but caring enough about God's creation to give what is necessary to ensure a world only the dreamers see.
One of the things I appreciated about Pastor Marsha's sermon last week was that she brought in the background of the song, Imagine, by John Lennon; that it has become a protest song; a song about a vision for humankind and the planet- living respectfully and in harmony with one another. Lennon writes himself into the lyrics: 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. Beautiful lyrics, but tough to live out- we saw that in the life of Jesus. We saw it in the lives of the disciples, who experienced all kinds of persecution- jail, stoning, martyrdom, even crucifixion and torture in the name of this vision of a new world. We've seen others since who took up the cause, only to be struck down by a world who rejected that vision.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you... In other words, you're in good company. The thing we have to realize is, the reason we face persecution for doing the work of the peacemaker is not because it's the vision of a dreamer or an idealist or someone who is easily dismissed.
We will face persecution because every step forward we take in the pursuit of peace, serves to "expose the lie of worldly power. And the people who are citizens of this new commonwealth, those who follow the Sermon on the Mount and live the beatitudes, they have the focus of their lives on God’s spirit and the real truth which sets us all free. We will see through the lies. We will see through those who use religion to support meanness. We will see through the scapegoating of immigrants all while passing laws to make the rich richer and rob health care and citizenship from the poor." (1) We see into and through the broken and corrupt systems based in greed and wealth, unmask the racism that's been built into every institution in our country, see mass incarceration for what it is. We pull back to veil over our food systems, our water usage and control, and recognize the ways in which the society has been lulled into a false sense of security based in fear.
"We see through this, (and more) even if that makes us seems like an enemy of the state. Jesus’ commonwealth of spirit and truth is the moral enemy of systems built on power, greed, oppression and falsehood" . Do you think that the powers that be will let that slide?
It's like the scene at the end of the wizard of oz, where the characters are cowering at the booming voice and image of the wizard, and little Toto pulls pulls back the curtain exposing the lies behind the power. "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" explodes the voice, causing one final shudder among those who have not yet dared look at the deception... but it's too late. The wizard is unmasked.
"Clarence Jordan (once) said, “Persecution is a terrible thing, but unfaithfulness is far worse.” To people whose loyalty is to this world (and it's systems), Christians, true Christians who are willing to be pure in heart and peacemakers who hunger and thirst after justice—these people are subversive agents and enemies who cannot be tolerated. And so the Malcom X’s and Martin Luther Kings, and Mahatma Gandhis and Oscar Romeros, (and people just like you and I) are cut down, persecuted by assassins bullets. They could have avoided this persecution if they had compromised their faith in God. But if they did so they would not be the prophets they were." (2)
My beloved congregation of Christ- we are on the precipice of changing who we are and how we move in and through the world, for we now know what is expected of us. We've gone through Jesus's outline- we've uncovered, at least in part, God's saving plan for the world, and we can't go back to our old way of being after that. Instead of seeing ourselves at the mercy of powerful people and systems- we must recognize ourselves as a very a powerful people.
And I know that makes some people uncomfortable- when I call us, powerful. We like the notion of humble Christians, passive Christians, peace-loving Christians... We like hugging people and telling people God loves them and singing songs of praise to a God who represents what we hope for in the world. We like giving care to the people who are being crushed by the wheel of oppression; we offer them compassion, and comfort ,and hope, and a home. And hear me clearly, feeding he hungry, clothing the naked, going to the prisoner, offering the least of these a cup of cold water in God's name- these are all within the framework of our call as disciples... AND- we have a power within us that is so feared by the worldly Gods, that they will seek to silence it by nailing it to a cross, or putting a bullet through it's heart, or throwing stones at it until it finally falls. And though this might fill some with angst or even fear about stepping out and stepping up as a peacemaker as opposed to a peace-lover- it will also bring us to a new place as a community of faith.
Tolstoy says one of the individual's greatest misconceptions is that our lives are our own- that our lives are somehow real and belong solely to us. I believe that. When we are consumed with self- living for me, securing me, promoting me, insuring me- all in the hope that someday someone will come along and set all things right- when we live under the delusion that I can live putting myself and my needs first, with no thought to the future generations, my friends, we miss really living, Or in the words of Jesus when he talked about denial fo the self in Matthew 16-, "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." (NIV)
Only when we are living for others are we really living. Walk through those beatitudes again- it's exactly what they are- a pathway to living for others. It's amazing really- that our hearts, that our souls are only truly satisfied when we are doing what God calls us to... It's why jesus says "rejoice! Rejoice when people can't stand you and talk bad about you when you're doing the work of God- people will call you all kind of names- the same kind they called Jesus and so many others- but you will feel what it is to be alive, maybe for the first time!
So now what? What's next for this congregation- we're poised and ready- how do we begin? We practice. Beginning with today, we focus our lives on living out and living into God's saving plan- we practice on and with each other- and if the need arises, we ready ourselves to go out into the community and act. As you know, this is my last Sunday with you before my sabbatical begins, and a great way to go into this summer- thinking about how we can begin to live out the beatitudes. And frankly, I'm not sure where that will lead us, as pastor and people.
(Go down to talk about the change that will come over the summer- can't help but grow- but will come back together differnt people reunited in God's love) Circle