HAPPY ARE YOU IF…
5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 Then He began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the Earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are thee pure in heart, for they will receive God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 ‘Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Summer is a time for relaxation and leisure; a time to get away from stress; but what has our world served up to us? Incredibly, ISIS, the Taliban and Boko Haram continue their destabilizing quest to upset the normal order whatever that may be. Many wise pundits suggest that the party in power requires the fear factor to stay in power. But Peter suggests a better way:
1 Peter 3:14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated.
Yet we simply want to be content not fearful and downtrodden. When Steve Jobs decided to do something different in launching Apple he used the motto: Think different. Not ‘differently’ which we would have expected but different. Most of all “Think Different” channeled Apple’s counter-culture vibe. Jobs had lured the Pepsi president John Scully to Apple in 1983 with a famous challenge: “Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?”
“We’re hear to put a dent in the universe, “ Jobs once said, “Otherwise why are we here?” Jesus wants to put a dent in the universe and suggests why we are here. So it becomes important for us to pay attention to what Jesus says about living in this world.
What astonishes us about the beatitudes are the startling pronouncements Jesus makes without qualification. There are no ‘shoulds’ or ‘oughts’ or conditions placed upon the hearer. Rather the force of the words simply states a condition in the indicative mood. “Blessed are...”pure and simple. For us this raises the question of what is meant by the ‘blessed’? In classical Greek the word used described good fortune or even at times expressed the ‘rich’. If that meaning be taken, then the sharp paradox in Luke’s Gospel, “Blessed are the poor” becomes even more shocking. Our friend from down under at Laughing Bird expresses if this way: “blessed are the poor, they have it made”. Which really does capture the gist of it. Some simply interpret the word to be ‘happy’.
As a new ministry begins here on Amherst Island, there is a need to embrace a state of blessedness. For Jay, you are blessed to be here on this island with this people; for St. Paul’s, you are blessed with a new minister. On this day, there are no conditions, no hypotheticals ‘if, then...’ Rather you are in a state of blessedness. Like a marriage, the challenge is to remain in this state of blessedness, to actualize all the potential that is here as you engage in ministry to the entire island and surrounding mainland.
A brief summary of the word blessed may prove helpful.
Gen, 12:3 “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the Earth shall be blessed.”
When Isaac is duped by Jacob to receive the parental blessing before he dies, Isaac reacts: Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? —Yes, and blessed he shall be!” Gen. 27:33
In reply to a question by John’s disciples: Lk.7: 23 “And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”; Lk. 11:27 “While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised a voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!’ 28 But he said, ‘Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it!’” The Psalmist observed; Ps 1:1 “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; 2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law they meditate day and night.”
So you see the incredible range of meaning of the word ‘blessing’. It is certain that we cannot exhaust it, nor encapsulate it in one English word. The beatitudes are more descriptive than prescriptive. In other words they are not imperatives, but rather describe an existing state – a state of blessedness. But did the disciples really understand this? In the book, “How Your Church Family Works”, the author describes the reaction of the disciples to the beatitudes:
Simon Peter asks: Are we supposed to know this?
Andrew said: Are we supposed to write this down?
James said: Will we have a test on this?
Philip said: I do not have any paper.
John said: The other disciples did not have to learn this.
Matthew said: May I go to the boys’ room?
Judas asked: What does this have to do with real life?
And the Pharisees asked to see Jesus’ lesson plan and the objectives in the cognitive domain.
And Jesus wept. p.19
Well might we ask, who are the poor (in spirit)? How are we to understand the hungry? Do the promises that attend each blessing link to the future or are they a present objective reality? Finally we need to ask, Has Jesus got it wrong? What types of blessedness do the poor really enjoy?
Several years ago, Hanna Gartner interviewed Getty, the HIV patient who had received the marrow of a baboon, on CBC television. In this fascinating interview I was struck with his testimony. He had been a yuppie and enjoyed the fast life until he contracted HIV. Since then he led a very different life. He described it as a more significant spiritual life. His joy was to work for the cause and assist his friends who were dying round him.
Shortly after in a barbershop, we were discussing computers, and he informed me about his new acquisition: a sophisticated setup with a very costly program enabling him to follow the stock market all day. He suggested that there was nothing that could give a person a greater high. I asked him: What about helping people? And I told him about the interview with Getty. He said he had often heard things like that, and he supposed if he were dying he might say some similar things. I was somewhat bemused. Does he really think that we are not all dying? But I realized right then, if I could have explained the beatitudes to him, he would have burst out laughing, they are so ridiculous. The poor do not get highs – they get lows. They are not blessed; they are miserable. The meek do not inherit the Earth – they get dumped on. If you experience persecution, you are to be pitied, and will not experience a state of blessedness.
Craddock helps us to understand the meaning of blessed. “However, it is more appropriate to translate Jesus’ words so as to convey God’s favorable behavior towards those addressed. Hence “blessed” or “favored of God are those who” conveys the understanding that such favor is both present and future. The language of a blessing is also performative; the pronouncement of blessing actually conveys the blessing.” That is why Isaac could not take his blessing of Jacob the deceiver back.
How can Jesus turn us on our heads so easily? Maybe, just maybe, we have got it quite wrong. How many of us really hunger and thirst after righteousness [another word for justice]? If we did, how important would our pursuit of security really be? Would our fears not dissipate? Would we not utilize our time differently? So you are too busy. Too busy for what: to hunger and thirst after righteousness? No wonder life does not fulfill you. Guess what, we often fill our time with even more stuff that does not satisfy, and like money it lets us down in the end.
In the Star, there was an article entitled “Happinessism.” A great Chinese philosopher states: “Happiness is the absence of striving for happiness.” Happiness is a distressingly difficult concept to define. If I were to ask you this afternoon, ‘Are you really happy?’ how would you respond? Maybe it depends on how well you slept, whether you have a cold or the flu. Did you just get laid off work? Did you get a poor diagnosis at your last doctor’s visit or do you even have a doctor? In general religious people tend to be somewhat happier as do married people. But the range is infinitesimally small. The happiest people cannot explain why they are happy. “Trying to be happier is like trying to be taller.” Jesus simply states in the indicative mood: Happy, fulfilled, are you. Period. Full stop.
Today you are blessed. Blessed by a caring congregation and blessed by a new minister. Friends, if we are to continue in this state of blessedness, a state where we understand that life is good and purposeful, we will have to pay strict attention to the beatitudes. For Jesus Christ opens us to the pathway to understanding what life is meant to be. Fred Buechner suggests the one good for becoming a Christian is just this: “that in this man [Jesus] there is power to turn goats into tigers, to give life to the half life, even to the dead; that what he asks of us when he says follow me is what he also has the power to give, and this is the power of God that he has, that he is, and that is why we have called him the Christ.” p.246 “Listening” by Buechner.
Does this possibility not loom ahead for you? The potential to have this congregation become an increasingly dynamic living force on this small island, serving all ne matter who they are.
As we worship together, the awareness dawns, it is not because of who you and I are that we experience the grace of God. Rather it is God’s graciousness that enables us to remain poor in spirit, too discover deep within a hunger and a thirst for righteousness. Because of God’s revelation in Christ we wish to become peacemakers and we love to do deeds of mercy. What does this look like with the challenges ahead?
Let us celebrate the joy we have for we are among all people most blessed. Remember, in conveying the blessing, Jesus has already conferred upon us the reality of the condition. We are in a state of blessedness. In Christ, we are part of God’s family, so we greet one another as blessed brothers and sisters in Christ.
On the occasion of Barack Obama’s inauguration the benediction included these words:
“And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance. And as we leave this mountaintop, help us to hold onto the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of the family. Let us take that power to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques, or wherever we seek your will.” –Jeremy Lowery.
Jay Brennan you are blessed. St. Paul’s Presbyterian congregation, you are blessed. Together let us celebrate that in Jesus Christ we are of all people, most blessed. Enjoy your ministry together.
GOD BLESS YOU!