Let us pray: Gracious God, teach us that our judgment and yours are not the same, and so awaken us to all you are able to do, through others and through us, however unlikely it may seem. Always to the glory of your name. Amen.
I never thought I would be quoting from the comedian, George Carlin, in a sermon. He became famous for his routine, “The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television.” Lest you worry, this is not a list of seven words you can’t say in church. Instead, George Carlin has come up with a list of imponderables. Or topsy-turvy if you will. Here are some of them. Why do we say something is out of whack? What's a whack?
If a pig loses its voice, is it disgruntled? Why is the person who invests all your money called a brok-er? Why do croutons come in airtight packages? Aren't they just stale bread to begin with? If lawyers are disbarred and clergy defrocked, doesn't it follow that electricians can be delighted, musicians denoted, cowboys deranged, tree surgeons debarked, and dry cleaners depressed?
If Fed Ex and UPS were to merge, would they call it Fed UPS? Do Lipton Tea Company employees take coffee breaks? If it's true that we are here to help others, then what exactly are the others here for? No one ever says, "It's only a game" when their team is winning. My favorite one is: Why do people drive on parkways and park on driveways?
I like these kinds of word plays. I do these for a point, however. Whenever we take the time to ponder the Beatitudes, I’m struck by the fact that they are also rather topsy-turvy. The word, blessed in the Bible, means profoundly happy. Nothing could be better than to be blessed.
If you ever have taken the time to listen to them, think about what the Beatitudes say: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Wouldn’t this make more sense if it went like this? Blessed are those who are rich in spirit, for they know about the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Wouldn’t it be better if we could say: Blessed are those who have suffered no loss, for they have no need of being comforted? Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Ever see a meek candidate run for office? Maybe you have. But the better question is this. Ever see a meek candidate win an office? The list goes on. And in every case, as you read the Beatitudes, we might ask the question: So these are blessings? They are, but they remind us that the way of God is not the way of humanity; and the way of God often appears to be topsy-turvy to us. The thing that makes the Beatitudes the Beatitudes is that they are topsy-turvy from the way of the world; however, they define Christianity at its core. Jesus, to make the world a more godly place hung out with the most ungodly people of all. In the parables, it’s always the underdog who is the hero. What do we do, in Christianity to receive? We give. What do we do in Christianity to truly live? We die. Christianity, at its core, is a contradiction.
And the reason is usually simple. When we are rich, when we are happy, when we are not suffering in any way, shape or form, we have no need of God. If you want to get a person away from God, away from church, make that person rich and successful and make the person highly accomplished in the world. They will have no need of God.
When things are going great in the world, church attendance goes down.
It is only when things are not going well, when our worlds turn topsy-turvy, that we begin to recognize that we need God, profoundly. It is then, and only then, that we see that we need God, and we find ourselves greatly blessed.
On the Christian calendar, November 1st is All Saints Day. On the first Sunday of November, in our lectionary we always hear the beatitudes so it must have something to do with what makes us saints. All of us. Because we are reminded, even in the midst of grief, even in the midst of our losses, that which is topsy-turvy, when those seeming curses of this world, are best seen as great blessings from God.
Nice sentiment, Jesus, but it’s just not the way things are done now days. Live that way and you’re going to get beat up.
Jesus speaks a word of blessing to the crowds who have gathered, and we have to admit – it seems –Jesus is way, way off base. Blessed are the poor in spirit? The meek? Those who mourn? You’ve got to be kidding! We all know what blessing looks like, and Jesus isn’t even close. In Monty Python’s “Life of Brian,” a group is at the fringes of the crowd when Jesus is giving the Sermon on the Mount. From where they are, it’s a bit difficult to hear. “What did he say?” someone asks. Someone closer to Jesus replies, “He said, ‘Blessed are the cheese makers.’” And the first person’s response is, “Well what makes them so special?”
In the world we live in, “blessed are the cheese makers” makes at least as much sense as “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
No Jesus, that’s not the way things work. The real beatitudes for our day should be more along these lines: ~Blessed are the rich, for they will always be catered to. ~Blessed are those who laugh, for they have a good time at the expense of others. ~ Blessed are those who are strong, for they will be able to fight their way out of most difficult situations. ~Blessed are those who have it made, for they will never be hungry or thirsty. ~ Blessed are those who are tough, for they will never let anyone else push them around? ~Blessed are those who can shrewdly climb to the top of the ladder, for they are self-made men and women. ~Blessed are those who exact revenge, for they will show others who has the upper hand. ~Blessed are those who don’t let themselves get pushed around, for theirs is the prize to claim. ~Blessed are you when people revile you and spit your name in anger, for they are merely being jealous.
This is the way things really are – isn’t it? These are the truths we hold to be pretty much self-evident, aren’t they? These are the values we live by; we really live by – aren’t they? Now Jesus is not giving us a list of ought-to’s: you ought to be peacemakers, you ought to be meek, you ought to seek righteousness. We are not to aspire to mourning. Jesus is simply telling it like it is, describing what really counts in God’s kingdom. Fred Craddock points out that Jesus is blessing the victims of society, not calling people to be victims. He is saying that those who give away their coat, who love their enemy, who turn the other cheek are no longer victims. They are God’s people. They are the true saints. What Jesus says, essentially, is this: “In the kingdom of God, things are valued and people are valued that this world doesn’t give a rip about. Jesus is not saying that it is better to be poor than rich, or better to be lowly than powerful.
Barbara Brown Taylor says, “In (the Beatitudes), Jesus does not tell anyone to do anything. Instead he describes different kinds of people, hoping that his listeners will recognize themselves as one kind or another, and then he makes the same promise to all of them: that the way things are is not the way they will always be. The Ferris wheel will go around, so that those who are swaying at the top, with the wind in their hair and all the world's lights at their feet, will have their turn at the bottom, while those who are down there right now, where all they can see are candy wrappers in the sawdust, will have their chance to touch the stars. It is not advice at all. It is not even judgment. It is simply the truth about the way things work, pronounced by someone who loves everyone on that wheel.”
OK, so Jesus blessed those who seem to be more losers than winners. OK, so God cares about those at the bottom of the Ferris wheel. How does this blessing work out? How can we really call these people blessed by God? This morning each of us as Christians must ask himself or herself: “How does my internal disposition and consequent behavior distinguish me from a non-Christian? How do my thoughts and behavior reflect Jesus’ most important teaching: His teaching about true happiness? What changes in my life and thinking would be required for me to become a genuine Christian disciple? We don’t call ourselves followers of Jesus just because we observed all the big commandments and only committed a few respectable minor violations. We instead should ask ourselves: “Have I been a true and recognizable disciple of Jesus this past month?” We want to discover whether our hearts and our behavior have been that of a disciple of Jesus. And so we ask: “did I struggle to live the Christian life as outlined in the Beatitudes?” How was I poor in spirit? How was I meek? What does the word “meek” mean in the Bible? Did I hunger in my heart for righteousness? Did I really have a merciful heart for folks in trouble whether I like them or not? Was I single-minded in seeking God and his will? Was I at peace in my heart and with others? Was I a peacemaker in tense situations? Why didn’t anyone persecute me? Is it because I don’t take a stand for what I know to be right? How do we obtain God's blessing? Well, the answer, of course, is that it's not something we obtain – it's not for sale. It's something he has already freely given to you, but which you can only recognize when you accept it as a gift. It's something you can only take up when you are willing to lay everything else – all your striving, all your hard work, at his feet; when you can come to him with empty hands and an open heart, ready to accept his love as a gift to you. When you finally understand that, and can accept it as just that, and begin learning to live in the freedom of that gift, then he will turn to you, and finally tell you what you've already come to know, but your ears had to become ready to hear – those wonderful words, "Blessed are you."
Let us pray: Gracious God, you have blessed us in so many ways, help us not to look at what we are, nor what we can do, but rather at what you can achieve within us by your grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.