November 1, 2020 Chapel by the Sea Worship via Zoom
Matthew 5:1-12 A sermon byThe Rev. Dr. Flatley
These nine blessings or beatitudes begin what has come to be known as the Sermon on the Mount. It’s also known as the Greatest Sermon. Not my greatest sermon but Jesus’ Greatest Sermon. A wise preacher, Chuck Smith, the founder of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa where we used to live was asked. “Chuck, how long does it take you to prepare a sermon?” He replied, “It takes my whole life!” Great answer!
Jesus’ whole life is the sermon. Jesus is the sermon made flesh. We are probably familiar with this part of the Sermon on the Mount, The Beatitudes, and we last read them together way back in February of this year on Ash Wednesday. We read the three chapters that make up the Sermon on the Mount in ten readings. I remember that in-person gathering because it was one of our last get-togethers before we had stay-at-home orders because of the pandemic. So while this sermon doesn’t have the impact it did with Jesus’ first disciples and hearers, we pray that through the Holy Spirit it may have some surprising things to speak to us today.
When Jesus lifts up the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted and reviled, these conditions are not requirements to receive God’s blessing. These were the conditions of the Jewish people in first century Palestine; the conditions of those living under Roman rule. The meek are the powerless and poor, the righteous are those actively seeking God’s will and being persecuted for it. They were all in mourning: mourning the loss of their nation, mourning the loss of their tribes, mourning the loss of their kings, mourning the loss of freedom,
Unlike the first audience we are not living in an occupied territory but we are experiencing similar feelings that occupy our minds. This pandemic feels oppressive, it’s depressing, and we feel a loss of freedom, restricting our social lives. Our world has been turned upside down; lost lives, lost businesses, lost jobs. We are mourning. There is so much grief, and so much fatigue: fatigue with Zoom, fatigue with computers, election fatigue, fatigue with this pandemic. We are frustrated, disappointed, and angry that life is not going our way. How are we to receive these beatitudes as blessings for us today?
A blessing, a Beatitude, comes from God, the source of our being. The word itself does not come from the word attitude, although attitude towards God is involved. Beatitude comes from the Latin word beatus meaning blessed. The Greek word makarios is sometimes translated as happy which doesn’t quite express what Jesus intended here.
The original Hebrew word for blessing ashar is more helpful. The literal meaning is “to find the right road”. We need to find the right road through the mess the world is in right now. Who can lead us? Well we have an election coming up? We look to our leaders to govern, and as people of faith we look to Jesus, our ultimate authority. On this All Saints’ Day we also look to the saints who’ve gone before who found the right road and inspire us with their example of life well-lived on earth. Their lives are now perfect in death and they rest from their labors. They are the saints triumphant. It’s also a time for us to remember our dead, our heroes, those family members we’ve lost this year or in our lifetimes. November 1 is my father’s birthday. He died in 2012. My sister and I were remembering him yesterday on our long distance call and we made plans for a family reunion in 2022, the 10 year anniversary of his death. We mourn now for plans which had to be cancelled this year but in a few years we will meet again.
Several churches will toll bells today for our loved ones. One church began tolling bells last week, one for each of the over 220,000 who have died from the Coronavirus. Their lives mattered, we remember them and they are precious to God. Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.
It’s not that we have to be worthy of all the blessings Jesus gives here. The blessings say more about God than they do about us. These conditions and behaviours speak to where we are today. We were in a state of mourning about the condition of the nation and the world before the pandemic hit: climate change, wars. Our prayer right now is for civility not a civil war. Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God. We are all called to be peacemakers right now even if you are at odds with your friends or someone in your own family. Find the right road and bless them. We are blessed to be a blessing.
These blessings of God assure us of the generosity of God and God’s steadfast love. The blessings given are unconditional blessings and each one has a promise. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled and so on. The promise is that God is present with you now and in the future, in this kin-dom and the next.
So I encourage you this day, even under this Spirit of oppression that some of us are feeling, remember you are blessed by God. St. Paul wrote in Galatians, “don’t grow weary in doing good” and again in 2 Thessalonians 2:13 “Now Brothers and sisters do not be weary in doing right” Blaise Pascal the 17th century French theologian said, “it is good to be weary and worn out… so that we may open our arms to the redeemer” We are blessed to have such a savior and redeemer who opens his arms to embrace us in this life and welcome us home to the next.
We know we live in a broken world for we are both saints and sinners in need of God’s redeeming love. Jesus is our all in all and we praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Blessed are you, for doing your part. We are all on this journey together. This is a journey of lifelong discipleship, and outward incarnational focus: when we become a sermon for someone else through our caring relationships, when we bless our neighbors when they mourn, when we bless someone who is physically hungry, when we bless the world with peace. We can only offer Christ’s peace and blessings when we know Christ’s peace and blessings ourselves.
The kin-dom of heaven is at hand, it’s here and now, and here and there, and all those places where you are today, and in the future when it’s our turn to join the Communion of Saints.
Blessed are you for your eyes and ears have seen and heard these things. Amen.
Sources: Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4
New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII