Sunday, February 18, 2024
Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 & Matthew 5:5
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce

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Today we begin our sermon series for Lent on The Beatitudes. This list of blessings begins Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. What Jesus lists, however, are things that don’t naturally come to mind when we think of the word: “blessed.” How is it a blessing to be poor, mourning, or meek? 

When we think of the term “blessed,” we tend to think of anything that makes life more comfortable. A new job, a new big and beautiful home, or the means to take a wonderful vacation. These images are usually tagged with “#blessed” in our social media feeds. 

There’s also a trend of words as wall art in home decor, and one of the most popular examples of this is, you guessed it, “Blessed.” This picture of a beautiful and pristine dining room with the “Blessed” sign on the wall sums up what comes to mind for most of us when we think of what it means to be blessed. Money to afford beautiful furniture and a house big enough to have a room where no one actually lives because if people actually used this room there’d be piles of papers, phone chargers and a cat or two on the sideboard. Well that’s what my house looks like anyway.

To understand the Beatitudes we have to understand the word. 

Jesus uses the word Beatitude for blessed. There are two Greek words that are translated to “bless.”  Eulegeo and Makarios. I realize this may be a repeat for some of you who were at the Ash Wednesday service. Eulegeo means to bless someone or something to ask God’s blessing, what we usually think of when we think of what it means “to bless.” Jesus does not use this word. Instead he uses the word Makarios which means “a state of blessing.” As in you are already blessed and living in a blessed state. Biblical scholars have taken to using “bless-ed” instead of “bless” to get this point across.

Because Jesus says to the crowd you are already blessed we can’t read the Beatitudes as a formula. In other words if you do Y you will get X. I’ve wrongly understood this passage to mean if I’m mourning or poor then I will be blessed. 

What Jesus is actually saying to his audience is that you will be comforted when you are poor in spirit, when you mourn and when you are meek because you know God and you are therefore in a state of blessing. Jesus’s words are for those who already know God. For lack of a better phrase it’s sort of “insider-y” language. It starts with those who already know God, but it’s meant to expand beyond to those who have yet to know Jesus. And Jesus wants to use us to do just that. 

Jesus desires to encourage his followers, as they are in need of hope. They know that life is not what it should be. They know they are not what they should be. Because they know God, they know that the world is not how God intended it to be. This causes them to be poor in spirit and therefore they know their need for God. They mourn because death, loss and grief was never part of God’s plan for the world. Yet because they know God they should also know that God will comfort and restore them because that is who God is. This is why we observe Ash Wednesday. The ashes on our foreheads remind us that while we will all inevitably die and experience pain, we also know that death and pain never have the last word because of what Jesus’s resurrection. We are bless-ed to know that Jesus – not pain nor death has the final say. 

I want to spend time on what Jesus meant by “Bless-ed are the meek.” Meek who inherit the earth. Israel knows what it’s like to have their land taken away from them. They live under the oppression of the Roman Empire. It is the meek, not the powerful, i.e. the Roman Empire who will ultimately inherit the land. 

There are two words used for “meek” in scripture. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for meek means to obediently accept God’s guidance and will. The Greek word for meek in this passage refers to the relations between people. Both definitions have equal weight in the Beatitudes. Those who are obedient to God’s will know that God’s will is for all people to live lives free of oppression, war, or violence. But that’s not the world the Israelites live in. That’s not the world we live in today. 

Biblical scholar, Ken Bailey, describes the meek as those who grieve and are angry that humanity does not live in harmony with God and therefore do not live in harmony with one another. The meek, because they are obedient to God and God’s will, use God’s definition of justice to measure injustices in the world. When God’s justice isn’t evident in the world it should make us angry. This, however, isn’t license for us hotheads to go around raging in anger. That isn’t God’s will for us, as the wrong kind of anger eats us from the inside out. As Ken Bailey writes: “The one who is truly meek is the one who becomes angry on the right grounds against the right person in the right manner at the right moment and for the right length of time.” 

This reminds me of what John Lewis, who was a civil rights activist and senator, describes as “good trouble.” In 1965, Lewis along with 600 others met for a brief time of prayer at a downtown church in Selma, AL before setting off on a 54-mile journey to the state capital of Montgomery. They were peacefully protesting the violation of voting rights of African Americans. They never made it out of Selma. As they approached the end of the Edmund Pettis Bridge, they were met by a wall of armed state troopers who attacked the protestors with bull whips, clubs, and tear gas. One person died and many others were injured including Lewis who sustained a skull fracture. It came to be known as a “Bloody Sunday.”

It was because of Lewis’s faith in Jesus Christ that he felt called to act. From a young age he practiced preaching to the family chickens and eventually became a Baptist Minister. Because of his faith he advocated for people to get into “good trouble,” where there is a disruption of the status quo, such as the march in Selma, to shed light on what is broken and sinful. On the things that have no place in God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Instances where people are treated unjustly because they are seen as “less than.” To be meek is to struggle for God’s justice, which is justice for all people. 

The Beatitudes give us a picture of God’s kingdom and how to catch glimpses of it here on earth. To know and follow God’s heart, justice and love for the world is to be bless-ed. With that comes heartache, as we are sinful and broken and therefore our world is broken. The Beatitudes give us hope in the midst of this, however, as Jesus assures that those who are bless-ed are comforted by Jesus himself.

The justice of God will not be fully realized in this world until Jesus returns. That doesn’t mean we sit and do nothing until Jesus comes to repair everything. My prayer for us as bless-ed people of God is that we would say “yes” to however God is calling us and empowering us to be a part of God’s justice, love, and mercy today. In our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our places of work so that the world looks more like the world God meant for it to be. Even if that means getting into “good trouble.”