Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Grace and peace be unto you from God who is our Creator and from Jesus Christ who is our Savior and our Friend. Amen.
Have you ever heard this quote? There are variations, but essentially it is, “Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” The original version is attributed to the Greek philosopher Plato but many writers and speakers have paraphrased it.
A few years ago I experienced the truth of this quotation in one memorable week.
First, I spent the evening with a close friend who talked about how she was still adjusting to her divorce which had taken place over five years earlier. Her husband left her for a younger woman, and the divorce meant she also lost her house.
But she had just learned that week that the courts had ruled that he did not have to support her financially anymore at all, and this was a real blow. In addition, she was dealing with some serious medical issues and trying to decide whether she should leave the city she’s lived in her entire adult life and move to be closer to her family.
She said to me, “Diane, something has to change.”
Then later that same week another friend called, and after we chatted for over half an hour he let it slip into the conversation that he was calling me from the emergency room of the hospital where he had been all night. He came to the hospital the night before with extreme pain in his abdomen, and tests were still being carried out.
This particular friend survived a bout with cancer a few years before, so any kind of medical issue raised the fear that it had come back. It turned out to not be cancer, but he didn’t know that at the time.
Both of these two friends I’ve told you about are people who have their lives together. They have jobs, they have children, they’re well spoken, good citizens, fun to talk to…it wouldn’t be obvious to you, if you met them at a party or a meeting, that they were fighting some kind of battle.
But that’s the point of the quote – everyone you meet has something going on in their lives even if it’s not obvious.
Some people are poor in spirit—beaten down, tired, losing faith or confidence in things they used to believe in. This happens as we get older and we have been burned or disappointed one too many times.
Some people are mourning, sad, grieving for things or people that have been lost or because they are in pain. You might be surprised to know how many people grieve things they don’t talk about, like miscarriages, missed opportunities, or how many people live with exhausting, chronic pain.
Some people are meek, without power, struggling to make it. I think of kids who face bullies, or the gay and lesbian community in countries where they fear for their safety or their lives because of virulent homophobia encouraged by some churches and the government.
Some people, and maybe every person, every one of us, hunger and thirst. What do we hunger for? For…more. For more clarity about the direction of our lives, or for more satisfaction in what we are doing. Behind that is the hunger, the thirst, for connection with God.
We don’t know these things when we first meet someone – divorce, fear of recurring cancer, miscarriages, the threat of violence, or a bone-deep desire for meaning in life – but if we talk to one another for a while, and create a safe place and invite people to speak their truth, then we get to it.
Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Jesus continued with more blessings and said that the merciful are blessed, as are the pure of heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, and blessed are you when you are treated badly for the sake of Jesus.
There are a lot of people in different situations who are blessed in this text, but we’re going to keep our focus on those first four, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because it’s hard for us to think of these situations as being blessed.
Sure, the peacemakers are blessed, we think, and who would doubt that the lives of the pure of heart are overflowing with blessings – those goody goodies, teacher’s pets. But mourning, being meek, being poor in spirit? If I have to mourn in order to be blessed maybe it’s a blessing I can do without, right?
And see, right there, right there, we reveal how we humans think, that everything God does is a consequence of what we do. As if we had that power. We just have trouble with the notion of grace being free. But I’m going to invite you to think about these beatitudes in a way you may never have thought about before. This might blow your mind, and you might have to spend all next week thinking about it.
What if Jesus is not, in these four verses, making an if – then statement? What if he’s not offering blessings as a consequence or reward for our circumstances, like if you are poor in spirit, angry, hurt, betrayed, grieving, being pushed around, ravenous for what you do not have…then…I’ll reward you, or make it up to you with a blessing?
What if it’s just this. You. You. You. In the condition you’re in, whatever that is. You are blessed. Right now, as you are, because I’m here. Because I choose to do it. Because I am God and this is what I do for those whom I love. Blessed are you.
Remember the quote we started with? “Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” Well, who in the world was Jesus talking to, who wasn’t fighting some kind of battle, who didn’t carry grief or wasn’t hungry for food that truly satisfies?
All those hundreds of people who came to hear this prophet? They were poor, and poor in spirit, and they were meek, and they were hungry and thirsty, and Jesus said, “You’re blessed. You’re all those things, and you’re blessed.”
Only God can do something like that. Only God can say the word and make it so, make it real. Out of nothing, something. God said, let there be light, and there was light. God says to you and to me, “You are blessed,” and we are blessed.
You sitting there in your seat. Me, standing here in this pulpit, right now the God of the universe loves you, loves me. God who created you, made you marvelous and complex and beautiful, also blesses you. God has crossed every boundary that we put up and insists on being here and surrounding us with Holy Spirit light.
Does God’s blessing mean that all of a sudden our circumstances change? The divorced couple gets back together, the threat of recurring cancer goes away, miscarriages and other griefs are forgotten? No. Our situations aren’t magically different. But—this is the key—we are different. In our situations, we are different.
God comes to us and loves us, believes in us, listens to us, comforts us, challenges us, and our situation unfolds from there, but in a fundamentally different way than it would have if we were on our own, alone.
And these words of Jesus are words of tremendous promise. You who are poor in Spirit, the whole Kingdom of Heaven is yours. You who mourn, you will be comforted. Those of you who are meek, you will inherit the earth – circumstances will change, or you will change your circumstances, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – you – we – will be filled.
The connection to God is already there. The gifts of God have been given. We who sometimes feel like a bottomless pit, will be filled.
Hear the good news, beloved community. Hear the good news, my sisters and brothers. Hear the words of Jesus all you who mourn, all you who lack, all you who hunger: You are blessed. Blessed are you. You didn’t earn it, and you won’t lose it. God gives it and it’s yours.
This is who God is. This is what God chooses to do. In the name of Jesus Christ, blessed are you. And so we are. Amen.