Sermon: January 29, 2023

On Thursday this past week, when both my children were finally back in school after 10 days of illness and I was trying to awaken my own illness-recovering brain, I spied an email sent to me by someone I hadn’t heard from in a long time (not anyone from St. Andrew’s). This person was sending me a sermon they really liked whose topic was Matthew’s Beatitudes, our Gospel reading for this Sunday. I don’t normally read other people’s sermons when preparing my own (I read commentaries and the like) but I was having trouble getting my brain back into motion after being sick for so many days, so I thought, “Why not? Let’s see what this preacher has to say. Maybe it will inspire me in my own sermon writing.”


I was disappointed. Actually, I was downright ticked off. The gist of the sermon was this: The Beatitudes are an instruction list from Jesus about how we are to live our lives. If we follow his instructions, we will be blessed in this life and go to heaven in the next life. If we don’t follow his instructions, we will be cursed and go to hell when we die. Now keep in mind I was a little cranky. I can get that way when I am sick and haven’t been out of the house for a few days. But I want to share my cranky thoughts with you anyway. Just try to ignore the crankiness.

Really? We are really supposed to actively seek to be poor in spirit? What does that mean anyway, ‘poor in spirit?’ Does it mean depressed? Anxious? Poverty-stricken? Whatever. Jesus really wants us to seek these things? Or mourning? We all have mourned and will mourn, but I can’t really buy the idea that Jesus wants us to go around seeking out loss and death. It will come to us, true, but seek it out? Now, maybe I can buy actively trying to be meek, seek righteousness, be merciful and pure in heart and seek peace. Those seem like things Jesus would want us to strive for, but I have to say that I don’t see a lot of evidence that it is the norm in this lifetime for people who seek these things to be filled, receive mercy, or inherit the earth. Indeed, as I read the newspaper, I see the exact opposite. Just today for example I read the following headlines:

“Memphis to Release ‘Appalling’ Video of Officers Beating a Black Man”
“As the Colorado River Shrinks, States Battle Over Drops of Water”
“Russian Shelling Killed Eight Civilians Near the Front Line in Eastern Ukraine”
“’Tragedy Upon Tragedy’: January Brings Dozens of Mass Shootings So Far”
“Women in South Korea Are on Strike Against Being ‘Baby-Making Machines’”

Not many blessings for those at the bottom of the heap. But those at the top of the heap, world leaders, wealthy businesses, and anyone else who possesses privilege and power in the world because of race, gender, sexual orientation, socio economic status and the like seem to continue to receive worldly blessings. So, we are just supposed to accept suffering in this lifetime hoping that it will get better in the next? Really? God just sits passively on the sidelines while people experience enormous suffering right here and now and we are just supposed to say, “don’t worry, just believe in Jesus and be a good person and you’ll get what you deserve when you die.”

If this is what Jesus was on about then I don’t see much Good News. And his message is supposed to be Good News. Actually, if these words of Jesus are simply instructions for good living, then I think I would have to say that Jesus was wrong.

Indeed, if I were to write out a list of blessings as I see blessings actually happening in the world, the Beatitudes would look like this:

Blessed are men, for they will have full control over their bodies.
Blessed are white people, for they will never be judged by the color of their skin, and they will never be beaten for being white.
Blessed are the young, for the world will consider them to be more valuable than those who have lived for a long time.
Blessed are those who the world considers beautiful, athletic, and thin, for the world will open doors for them and admire them.
Blessed are the physically, mentally, and neurologically abled, for the world has been designed for them.
Blessed are the wealthy, for in this world wealth creates more wealth for the wealthy and those with wealth control the world.
Blessed are the heterosexuals and cis-gendered, for the law will protect them and favor their relationships and very being.
Blessed are the intellectually gifted and well-educated, for the best jobs will be theirs.
Blessed are humans for they will dominate the earth and all other creatures will bend to their will.

Told you I was in a cranky place. I really think the sermon I read missed the mark. I don’t think the Beatitudes are a guide for good living. I don’t think they are a description of what we need to do to get to heaven.


I do think they are Good News. Actually I think they are the Best News.

What if Jesus isn’t describing earthly blessedness but instead the mind of God. And heaven is not some place we go to after we die (though it is also that), but is God’s space, where full reality exists, close by our ordinary (‘earthly’) reality. And God’s reality and earthly reality though not one, are interlocked. In the mind of God, those who are blessed, are exactly those the world sees as cursed. In the mind of God, those who are blessed are those the world frequently looks down upon and despises. God does not see with the same eyes that we see the world. God does not value worldly power. God values communal wholeness rooted in the liberation of the oppressed. In God’s realm those who are relationally focused and seek the best for all are blessed. And this is God’s dream for our world too. Jesus is trying to help us to see the world with God’s eyes. Jesus is trying to turn our vision upside down and inside out.

And this is no easy task. It is hard to let go of the ways we are used to seeing the world. It is kind of like trying to look at a stereogram. Do you know what those are? They were really popular in the 1990’s and every coffee table seemed to be graced with a book of stereograms or “Magic Eye” pictures. Those are the pictures that look like a bunch of blurry patterns, unless you can figure out how to look at them the right way, and then a 3D picture pops out at you. I was never very good at them, but on the rare occasion when I could contort my eyes in the right way and see the 3D picture, I couldn’t unsee the picture. My vision of that particular picture was forever changed.

Well, it is the same with seeing with God’s vision. Once you are able to see even for a moment with God’s eyes you can’t unsee what you’ve seen. For me this has happened in the area of white privilege. Once I really grasped what it is and how it pervades all of our lives and all the structures of our society, I couldn’t unsee it and I began to live differently. I began to listen more closely and patiently to the voices of people of color. I began to speak up when I saw white privilege in operation. I began to unlearn all the falsehoods I had learned over the years in order to look truth plainly in the face. And I began to understand that God sees people of color differently than I did and that if I were truly seeking to follow God, I would need to see them differently too.

And Jesus is sharing the Beatitudes with those who follow him for two reasons. First to give hope to those at the bottom of the heap: the poor, the mourning, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted. The world may treat them as less than, but God does not. Second, we who are made in the image of God and call ourselves followers of Jesus, are to strive to see with the eyes of God. We are to be a blessing to those the world does not bless. We are to be a blessing to the poor, the mourning, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted. And we are to do this, not to earn our way into heaven, but because when we do a little bit of the mind of God, the love of God, the dream of God, the heart of God, will break through into our world too. And this is Good News. Amen.