January 29, 2017
Anthem: Wade in the WaterSenior Choir
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
As we have done in the past with such words as dignity, humility and witness, this morning I want us to explore the word “blessings.” And to do that, we turn to the list of blessings in Matthews Gospel, sometimes known by its Greek name, the Beatitudes.
Our list in Matthew seems to include two kinds of conditions. The first four include places people find themselves in whether they want to or not:
- poor in spirit,
- hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
Sometimes we are poor in spirit despite our best efforts. We mourn not by choice, but because we lose what we love, we lose who we love. Meekness in this instance refers to those who are familiar with the underside of another’s boot, those who have been trampled. And if we feel we are dying from a lack of righteousness…well, that is going to require some work. What in the world is “righteousness?” How can we hunger and thirst for it? We will get to that in a moment.
The second part of the list seems to be things we can choose to be a part of, or not.
- Being merciful.
- Having a pure heart.
- Being a peacemaker.
- Being willing to be righteous even in the face of threats of persecution.
There is righteousness again.
Sometimes we use righteousness to mean goodness, or holiness, or following the rules. Or we mean being upright and pious and religious. On its own we might picture those who are self-righteous, who are holier-than-thou. And some say that the righteous will be blessed, and by that they mean those who follow the rules will get rich. Job would argue that is not how it works. And the Bible speaks of righteousness in specific ways, different from the world.
Abram, the great, great grandfather of our faith, trusted in God. And it says that his trust was “reckoned to him as righteousness.” Biblical righteousness begins and ends with God, and with trust in God.
Have we ever hungered and thirsted for more trust in God? Times when we have longed to have the faith of others we have seen? Times when we wanted to trust in God, but did not seem to have enough?
Righteousness is more than just trust or faith. It is an ethic. An ethic just means that it is something we do, and we do it for a reason. And the “why” we do it is just as important as the “what.” Biblical ethics, whether we are talking about the Ten Commandments or the Gospels, center around covenant with God and trust in God.
Or to put it another way: we should act towards one another, towards creation, as God does. The simplest statement about this is perhaps also the most profound:
‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ Jesus said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ (Matthew 22:36-40)
This is Biblical righteousness: being a part of a community and caring about the wellbeing of the community. We see some of this around here with #CharlotteRising and the revitalization of our community. We see it in our ReVision work and our plans for the Bostwick Commons.
But the Gospel adds a twist, doesn’t it? Following Jesus means caring the way Jesus cares, and for the ones Jesus cares for: the widow, the orphan, the leper, the prostitute, the sinner, the tax collector, the Samaritan, the possessed, the unclean, the ailing. Jesus spends most of his time on those who do not enjoy the benefits of the community. Today this might mean:
- People who cannot get a job,
- People who are hunger for healthy food and thirst for clean water,
- People who live in the woods behind St. Mary, behind the fairgrounds, under the Interstate, on their cousin’s couch, or in their car, even in the dead of winter,
- People who know the hours of Eaton Clothing and Furniture, Helping Hands, St. Vincent DePaul Society, community dinners, because that is how they survive,
- People who have a criminal record and are trapped. If you tell the truth on a job application, who will hire you? If you leave it off you can be fired for lying on the application,
- People who are addicted to meth, or heroin, which is making a scary comeback, or who find making or selling these drugs to be better money than working,
- People who cannot read, or cannot read well,
- People who are struggling on Step 3 of a 12 Step program and are scared to death they will drink again…
These people hunger and thirst for righteousness. They long for the care of the community than can help when they have too far to go and their emotional bank account is already way overdrawn.
With Jesus, there is no righteousness that does not include caring for those at the margins, the immigrant, the refugee, the poor, the hungry, the desperate, the other.
And the blessings Jesus speaks in Matthew do not mean “Don’t worry about them, they are gonna get blessed somehow anyway.” Nor does he mean, “this life stinks, but when they get to heaven, they will be blessed.”
Jesus speaks something new into being. God’s favor is upon
- those who are poor in spirit
- those who are mourning
- those who are trampled upon
- those who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness,
because a community that begins and ends with its trust in God will recognize that they are to care for these as well and they do so.
And God’s favor is upon:
- those who practice mercy,
- those who seek to let God’s perfect love cast the fear out of their hearts,
- those who seek to create shalom and wholeness and welcome for the outsider
- and those who are willing to do these things even when, especially when, it is difficult or unpopular or dangerous or defies the powers that be.
This is Biblical righteousness: to care for our community, but especially the least of these in our midst as Jesus did.
And this is what blessing means: God’s favor is upon those who care for the least of these in our midst and upon those who need such care.
Let us be a church that is blessed because we seek to be righteous.
Thanks be to God.