Blessed are those…


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 145, Exodus 32:1-20, Colossians 3:18-4:6 (4:7-18), Matthew 5:1-10

Today’s passage from Matthew is commonly known as The Beatitudes. The word “beatitude” means supreme blessedness or happiness. Jesus is telling the people that God does not just sympathize with those who struggle, but places them first.

The words of The Beatitudes are famous well beyond Christian circles. “Blessed are the meek” and “Blessed are the peacemakers”  would be cliché if they weren’t still radical statements.

The Beatitudes describe a world where an oppressive imperial society (Roman or otherwise) is turned upside down by God’s love. We perceive them as blessings, but to anyone holding or seeking power over others, they are almost threatening. No wonder Jesus warns us those who benefit from the status quo or fear God’s justice will revile and persecute and slander the faithful: his message says that not only is their power illusory, they are ultimately irrelevant to us because our only dependence is on God.

Some critics of Christianity use texts like The Beatitudes to paint Christians as passive and long-suffering. The meek, the mournful, the poor, and the hungry – not anyone most of us would aspire to be. Even the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers can be caricatured as mere do-gooders or pacifiers.

The truth is, each of these states represents an active engagement in the world and a refusal to accept less than the fullness of God. Mourning is not mere sadness, but grappling with a world steeped in pain. Meekness is a choice of community over self. Peacemaking is a dangerous profession – ask any police officer called to a domestic dispute.

The Beatitudes spell out how we are to be in the world but not of it. We are not called to suffer for suffering’s sake, but may be called to do so when life in the kingdom of God clashes with the expectations of the world. How such persecution can be a blessing is a mystery, but no more a mystery than how the world can turn a deaf ear to God’s call to justice and love. Which of these mysteries do we want to live in?

Comfort: God’s ways are not the world’s ways. The poor in spirit have the kingdom of heaven.

Challenge: What do you think it means to be poor “in spirit?” Read this article and have a conversation with friends about it.

Prayer: Lord, I depend only on you for my spiritual wealth, only on you to satisfy my hunger for justice. Amen.

Discussion: How might it be spiritually dangerous to assume we are persecuted simply because we are Christian?

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Losing Power


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 108; 150, Job 11:1-9, 13-20, Revelation 5:1-14, Matthew 5:1-12

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us the Beatitudes – blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, etc. He concludes them by saying: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” When this happens do we feel blessed? Do we act blessed? Or do we want to dispose of our persecutors – and therefore our blessings – by legislating them away?

To follow Christ is to set oneself apart from the world in significant ways. When refer to the United States – or any country – as a “Christian nation,” we seriously dilute the meaning of what it means to be a Christian. A Christianity wielding secular power is no longer the persecuted – it becomes the persecutor. Forcing a society to conform to our beliefs is not spreading the gospel. Rather it turns a message of hope and salvation into a system of threats and artificial piety. Jesus asked God to forgive his persecutors, “for they know not what they do.” Saint Stephen, as he was being stoned to death, cried out “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” If headlines of the twenty-first century are any indication, Christians seem less interested in forgiving our enemies than in forcing creationism into science textbooks and Merry Christmas into commercial transactions. So many people understandably believe we are about forcing others to be like us, and it’s our own fault.

But the Beatitudes are still waiting for us.

We can be meek without compromising how we live our own lives. We can be peacemakers without being appeasers. We can be merciful to those who don’t seek our mercy. We can accept that being persecuted is part of the being the last, and stop worrying about making Christians the first in everything. But we can only do these things when we are less interested in maintaining power and more interesting in sharing Christ’s love.

The Sermon on the Mount ends with instructions about loving our enemies. We can’t offer them a hand while our boot is on their neck.

Comfort: You aren’t responsible for the behavior of other people.

Challenge: Over the coming week, keep a journal of opportunities you had to share the gospel, and how you chose to do so.

Prayer: Gracious and merciful God, help me to live the Beatitudes. May my life be an example of Christ in the world.Amen.

Discussion: In many place in the world, Christians really are persecuted for their faith. What should be our response?

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