SCRIPTURE READING Matthew 5:1-12
“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely 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.”
MESSAGE “Digging Deeper, Going Further” Rev. James R. Renfrew
Can anyone recite the Preamble? You know, the Preamble to the US Constitution: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. Written in 1788 The Preamble of the U.S. Constitution—the document’s famous first fifty-two words— introduces everything that is to follow in the Constitution’s seven articles and twenty-seven amendments. It proclaims who is adopting this Constitution, it describes why it is being adopted, and it describes what is being adopted.
Can anyone tell me what an overture is? It is the opening piece in a musical production that sets forth some of the themes that will be found in all of the music that will follow, the joy, the sadness, the hopes, the wonders.
This morning we have heard the opening verses of the most well-known sermon ever, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. These verses are like the preamble or the overture for the Sermon that follows. These opening verses are frequently referred to as the Beatitudes, based on the Latin word that begins each verse, which in English is translated as “blessed” or “happy”, though those words barely scratch the surface of what Jesus means. Let’s dig deeper!
While in Seminary I began to study Spanish again, for the first time since my Junior Year in High School. One day we read this passage from the Sermon on the Mount in Spanish and I was struck by how these verses were translated. Not “blessed” or “happy”, but “buenaventurada”, which means “let’s have an adventure” or “let’s go adventuring” or “good adventure to you”. I love this word because it packs so much more than blessed of happy, let’s go adventuring. It suggests that happiness or blessedness don’t just drop out of the sky into your lap, but happen as you begin your adventure. The blessing and happiness are not what you find at the end of the journey, but what you find as soon as you start.
But let’s not stop there. There’s more to discover here. I listen to a Blues program on Saturday nights from Toronto on FM radio 91.1 while working on sermons and one song that is frequently played is by Cheryl Lescom, a woman who sings about a “soul-shaking romance”. So there’s “romance” … and then there’s “soul-shakin’ romance”. “Soul-shakin’ romance” takes regular romance to another level, and that’s what Jesus is saying when he says ”blessed”. There’s “blessed”, and then there’s the “soul-shakin’ adventure of living as a Christian. So I imagine a good translation in place of “blessed” or “happy” would be “Are you poor in spirit, down in the dumps? Well God is about to take you on an adventure that will shake your soul.”
What kind of shaking are we talking about? The kind where someone bigger and stronger than you grabs you by the collar and starts shaking you? There’s a lot of talk these days about how tough times require tough leaders, so I took the liberty of translating Jesus words in that vein to see if this is the kind of person Jesus is.
Here’s what people might expect a tough guy to say: Are you poor in Spirit? Tough! Are you weeping? Get over it! Are you meek? Man up! Are you hungry or thirsty? Stop your whining! Are you merciful? You’re a fool! Are you pure in heart? What a waste of time. Are you a peacemaker? Pathetic. Do people hate you and push you around? You deserve it! The world’s a nasty place, stop feeling sorry for yourself, and hit your enemies hard!
But Jesus speaks in a way that no one would have expected. He’s not a tough guy, but he speaks with power because the words he speaks turn our world, my world, your world, upside down. It’s not about the toughness we might have expected, it’s about understanding the way God works, and then getting on board with the adventure. So as a preamble or overture, Jesus is telling us to get ready to have all of our thinking upsidedownified, to have our souls shaken, and to prepare for the adventure of our lives. I’m ready, are you ready?
The Bible is a book of course, but it is a book that will shake your soul and draw you into an adventure when a verse or even a few words from it intersect with your life.
Blessed are the meek. It’s not about weakness or powerlessness, it’s about being comfortable with what you are, authentic in heart and aware of opportunities to help others.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. When your spiritual tank is running on empty, it means that God has so much more to give, something we might have missed if we make the mistake of congratulating ourselves for filling our own tank.
Blessed are the merciful, they will obtain mercy. It’s simple and radical: what you give is what you receive in return. Give love, offer peace, extend joy, and these are the things you get back.
Here’s the verse I read at my Mom’s funeral: “Buenaventurada los de corazon limpio, porque veran a Dios” Good adventure to the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Purity is not perfection, it is simply the desire to get closer to God. We all need some of that! Que Bueno!
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you. We hope and pray that no one will do these things, but as we take risks for Christ in troubled times these may be on the near horizon and we need to be ready.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. In times when people are only concerned with themselves, Jesus draws our attention to the margins, to people without food, without shelter, without homes. These margins, the needs we try not to look at may be the very heart of what Jesus is drawn to in this world. So if we’re looking to find Jesus, meeting the hungry and the thirsty are the best places to find him. If we push them away or ignore them we are ignoring and pushing away God. Never underestimate what the Bible message can inspire in you.
In studying these simple Beatitude phrases we get clued into the things that disciples do. You don’t have to embrace all of them at once. Try one on for size, make it tomorrow’s adventure. Try living with one of these verses for a day. Take a closer walk with Jesus with some of these words. Do you end up seeing the world a little differently than before? Let one of these verses grow on you. It’s a new attitude, it’s a new approach, it’s a new understanding. Not pushing other people around, not thinking that the world owes you something at the expense of others, not thinking that the purpose of faith is privilege and power over others.
Jesus spoke these simple phrases, a preamble, an overture to the sermon that follows. We’ve been digging deeper, so we can his words further. Try them on and he will shake your soul! Maybe these verses will serve as the preamble or overture to the next adventure in your life!
Prayer: Dear God, what Jesus teaches is not easy. “Blessed are the poor”, Jesus says, but we are far more interested in accumulating wealth. “Blessed are the meek”, Jesus says, but we have far more respect for the powerful. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst”, Jesus says, but we prefer to blame the poor for their own poverty. “Blessed are the peacemakers”, Jesus says, but we prefer to trust in strength of arms. In so many ways, what Jesus teaches is actually the opposite of how we live. We need his help! We’re praying in Jesus’ name. God loves us when we are not loving. God loves us when we are not lovable. God loves and forgives us even when we are at our worst. More than that, God gives us the power to love others when we do not feel like it, to say kind words to people we do not like, even to take care of others when we are tired and want someone to take care of us. When God’s power works through us, we are surprised by what can happen! We dig down deep, deeper, deepest with the Word of God framing our lives, and giving us fresh direction. There are many things we know, but many things we have yet to learn. It could be a chore or drudge work to dig deeper, but we prefer to consider it an adventure in the Spirit. We’re packed, we’re ready. Going with Jesus. Amen.