Posts Tagged ‘Beatitudes’

The Beatitudes As a Way of Life

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

Westminster Towers Ecumenical Service

Matthew 5: 1-12

Deacon Larry Brockman

Well, did all of you enjoy your Halloween last Friday!  Was this place full of carved pumpkins, pumpkin spice latte, spooky skeletons, and costume parties?  Did you know that Halloween is now the second largest holiday in the US?    But do you also know what Halloween is really all about? 

Well more than a thousand years ago, in the 600’s, Pope Boniface IV decided that Christians needed a day to honor the dead saints.  He called it “All Hallows Day” and it began the night before on “All Hallows Eve.”  That morphed into Halloween.    In the 900’s, the date was moved from May 13 to November 1st by Pope Gregory III.  That’s because the Europeans were used to honoring the dead at the beginning of the Winter period.  Originally, the people were encouraged to dress up to look like the different saints in the church.  These were the original Halloween costumes.   

But there were still a lot of pagans around and it seems they also honored their dead around the same time.  On or about that time of the year, they believed that the ghosts of the dead arose and they could walk about amongst us.   

So society has unfortunately merged what was a wonderful tribute to the saints with some of these old pagan customs including dressing up like witches and ghosts and heaven knows what all!   

Today, I want to talk to you about the saints, not all the hype about Halloween.  Because that’s what all All Saints Day is really about and that’s what all of us are interested in, right.  Like the famous song, “When the Saints Go Marching In”, says: “I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in” \ and I’m sure all of you do too.   

It happens that when our different churches celebrate All Saints Day on November 1,they all pretty much use the same bible readings.  Our Gospel reading today is one of them, the Beatitudes.  But one of the other readings is from Revelation 7,which describes the gathering of all of the saints in heaven in these words:  “After this I had a vision of a great multitude which no-one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.  They stood before the throne and the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.  They cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb’”. 

Yes, all the saints are gathered around God and his throne in heaven.  And I am sure all of us want to be in that number when we die.   

But let me ask this.  Just what is a saint?  We have Saints like Joseph and Peter and Paul and all the Apostles.  They were all called to a very special life directly. And we have Saints like Francis, Ignatius of Loyola, Dominic, and Anthony of the desert; and Saints like Theresa of Calcutta and Theresa of Lisieux and Catherine of Sienna.  They heard God’s call; gave up everything, and I mean everything, and dedicated the rest of their lives to God.  And we have Saints like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and Jerome who did wonderful things in preaching and teaching and putting the bible together.  The Church recognizes all these people for their special holiness and they were all honored by being named saints.   

But is that what it means to be a saint?  Is that what we have to do to be in that number, something truly exceptional?  Do we all have to give up everything and dedicate our lives to prayer and the Lord.   

Now I know that all of us here are making an honest effort to seek and live by God’s will, but that’s not what I mean.  I mean do we have to be people who separate from society like the people mentioned above did, giving up family and everything else, in order to be saints.    And then consider this.  Do any of us feel a little uneasy or guilty when you read about some of these saints because you have not done something exceptional?  Especially all of us here who are a little older and most of our life has happened?     

Well, you should know that a saint is any person who lives a holy and righteous life.  All those in heaven are saints, not just those our churches honor with the special title.  Saints hear the will of God for themselves and live their lives accordingly.  Most saints are regular folks just like you and me.   

In fact, I think it is important to recognize that man’s primary calling on earth comes from Genesis.  It was given right after man was created and right after the first man was blessed.  In Genesis 1:28, God said “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.”  That’s what almost all of us are called to do.  We are called to married life, to have children, and to be fruitful.   

Most of us don’t have any problem at all with the multiply part, do we?  But what does it really mean to be fruitful?  Well, fruitful is the means by which we “subdue the earth”.  We are fisherman, farmers, soldiers, policeman, engineers, teachers, nurses, caretakers, musicians, artists, whatever.  We are what makes the world go around and provide for food, water, shelter, entertainment and the well-being of our brothers and sisters.  The world cannot exist without us; neither can God’s will be accomplished.  We are responding to the specific talents and gifts and interests and environment we were born into.  That’s what most of us were called to do.   

Sometimes we feel inspired to pursue things of interest to us, and we do;  God fills our lives with circumstances that we must deal with; and we do  But most of us have not heard a special call like the ones the named saints above heard.  And that is OK.   

You see, God doesn’t make junk.  God lovingly formed each and every one of us.  It was his will to place us in this time and place, and with the people we were placed with.  And God showed no favorites in his creative mode.  He gives each of us our unique talents, and judges each of us one-on-one based on what we have done with them.  We are not compared with anyone else.   

And that brings us to our Gospel today.  You see, just like there will be a great crowd gathered around the throne in heaven as in the description in Revelation; there was a great crowd gathered around Jesus in our Gospel reading.  Jesus gave all of those folks in the crowd, the ordinary people, the saints in the making, their marching orders.  We know those marching orders as the Beatitudes.  They instruct us on what we should do rather than should not do, which the Mosaic law emphasized.  Let’s look at each one carefully.  

Let us recognize that the words blessed and happy are both used, depending on the translation.  So, when one is blessed, they are truly righteous with God, and at the same time, they are happy.   

First, we hear, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  Now it is easy to focus on the word “poor” here.  But it is “poor in spirit”, not financially poor Jesus is talking about.  All kinds of commentary has been written about this.  And the general sense is that Jesus is referring to people who defer in spirit.  The poor in spirit are those who recognize their own limitations. Their focus is not on letting their own spirit dominate them as if they were a god unto themselves.  Rather, we must all come to recognize that our life force is a free gift from God.  And so we need to defer our spirit and our inclinations to the will of God to fully experience that gift.  We will be happier if we defer to God’s spirit because we will not lust after the things of this world.  They cannot bring us ultimate happiness; only God can do that.  For those who are poor in spirit, the kingdom of God is theirs.  And that is the happiness we all ultimately seek.   

Next, “Blessed are they who mourn”.  This seems strange at first but think of it this way.  Virtually all of us strive for the right thing, but somehow fall short.  That is something to mourn about.  It is a recognition of our own humanity; our own limitations.  Try as we might, we fail in some ways of weakness over and over.  But it is important that we recognize that, and so mourn over it.  Jesus is telling us that if we are sincere in our mourning, we will be comforted.  It’s the same as our relationship with children, isn’t it?  No matter how many times they mess up, we are there to comfort them and tell them it will be OK.   

Then, “Blessed are the meek”.  Those who are meek quietly submit to the will of the Lord.  When God points them in a direction, they go that way- like the person who must care for a sick child or an elderly parent.  Such people may be besieged by lots of influences and temptations along the way, but they quietly hold fast to their calling.  They will inherit the land,  This is as if to say that even though some of the things of the world seemed to pass them by   while they held firm to their purpose, ultimately they will inherit “the land”, a place with the Lord.  And that is what is really important.   

Now true Christians not only follow their instincts on what the Lord is calling them to do, but they also seek God, they are proactive.  So “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied”.  Indeed, those who seek God spiritually in prayer will be rewarded.  And this also applies to hungering and thirsting for justice.  So, we cannot be complacent in a largely secular world.  We have to be meek; but we also have to hold firm and seek justice for ourselves and others.  Jesus is telling us we will be rewarded for our efforts if we do.   

I am pleased that after the many years of right-to-life activity here in Orlando the proactive pressure worked, because the Planned Parenthood clinic on Tampa Avenue closed.  This was Justice for the most vulnerable members of society- the unborn.   

And in the midst of all of the trials of life, each of us has been hurt- hurt by family members, employers, neighbors and friends.  Just as we expect God to be merciful to us in the face of our failings, so also we need to be merciful to those who offend and hurt us.  Hence, “Blessed are the merciful”.  In a sense, those who are merciful achieve a special level of happiness.  Because they let go, rather than hang on to anger and hurt.  Holding on to anger and hurt never makes one happy.  Jesus says that merciful people will receive mercy.  Indeed, God is merciful to those who show mercy to others.   

Next we have “Blessed are the clean of heart”.  Ah, yes, the heart.  Where your heart is, so also is your treasure.  The heart is how we really feel about things.  It’s where our real relationship with God is.  We cannot hide or deceive God, who knows what is in our hearts.  And things that derail the purity of our hearts are lusts for things of this world like power, money, relationships, things.  If these are the focus of our hearts, rather than our relationship with God, then God knows it.  Also, people would be uncomfortable looking into the eyes of an all good God in the face of their own impurity.  But those who are pure of heart are ready to see God.  

 “Blessed are the peacemakers”.  That’s a really tough role, isn’t it, being a peacemaker.  We all tend to want our side; understanding how to defer to another is hard.  And for those things that go on around us, well, it’s prudent to just stand by and let other people deal with a situation.  Why get involved?  Well, because we are called to be peacemakers- in our families, in our jobs, in our community.    When people know you are the real thing; if they know that you are pure of heart and not biased, then they will honor you when you fill the role of peacemaker.  

Those who are peacemakers are truly the children of God, they are a reflection of God himself, projecting love and a true spirit of kindness., just like their Father.   

And lastly, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness” or “for my sake”.  Indeed, a real Christian cannot go through life without being attacked by the devil and his minions.  It’s a multi-pronged attack of ridicule, insult, avoidance, pain, suffering, and all kinds of evil.  Because when you are doing the right thing, you are an obstruction to the plans of those who run the world.     

But the reality of life is that all of us will suffer.  Jesus Christ suffered a horrible passion and death for the sake of his Father and for the sake of righteousness.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called and destined to experience the same.  But this life is only a stepping-stone to eternity.  And those who hold firm will be rewarded with the Kingdom of God.   

Earlier this week I visited a man in the hospital who had a horrible disease.  He was a man of great faith.  He was covered with festering sores all over his body and was in constant pain- pain that no medication could control.  This condition has lasted now for 2 years.  He knows he will not survive; but he is having a problem dealing with the pain and the effect on his family.  I could do nothing but pray for him, this modern-day Job.   But then I suggested he offer it up to God and told him he would constantly be in my prayers.   

In one way or another, all of us have to deal with pain and suffering.  It is part of life; and its duration can be indeterminate.  God tests those he loves; and sometimes we cannot know why.  But the Kingdom of God is there for all who endure this suffering with dignity and grace.  And that Kingdom will be ours for ever and ever.   

And so, the Beatitudes are a script for those of us who live normal lives.  Se are all called by God to do his will and to live life to the fullest.  God loves each of us.  None of us has been favored by God when he created us.  Rather, we were all created in his image and likeness, and each one for our own special life with our own talents and limitations.  Some people are called by God for special tasks.  But the overwhelming majority of us are called to “Be fruitful and multiply.”   

When Jesus Christ looked out over the massive crowd in Galilee, some 5000 families, He preached to them how they should live their lives.  He preached the Beatitudes to them.  It is Jesus’ script for how they could be happy and achieve everlasting life with him.  And it is just as applicable to us today.