Which takes us to our reading today. It comes the mountain top in Matthews gospel. Word has gotten out about this guy Jesus, who speaks about the scriptures in a new and powerful way. He’s saying stuff that touches people’s hearts. And his friend list growing exponentially. People have come to discover that Jesus doesn’t shun or discriminate, nor does he send them away when he just wants to be alone with his disciples. Instead Jesus blesses all who gather around him.
Read Matthew 5:1-12
The beatitudes, as they are commonly known in the church, are these “short, two-part affirmations that sum up common knowledge about the good life. Blessed are those who floss, for they will have good teeth.” (Taylor) But up here, on this mountainside, Jesus does something different. His blessings are equated with things people worked hard to avoid – poverty, suffering, hunger, and persecution. I imagine those who listened, did so in shock as their world was turned upside down.
As far as we’re taught, blessings given are to those who succeed. To be poor in spirit or meek will get you nowhere in a culture that is grounded in competition and fear. But to Jesus, who sees the world with God’s eyes and loves others with God’s heart, he blesses those who know what it’s like to be excluded and the ones who don’t make it to the top of the ladder. His blessings may shock some, yet they give hope to all. For the way things are…is not the way they will always be.
Barbara Brown Taylor describes it like a Ferris Wheel, where “those who are swaying at the top, with the wind in their hair and all the world’s lights at their feet, will have their turn at the bottom, …while those who are down there right now, where all they can see are candy wrappers in the sawdust, will have their chance to touch the stars…This is simply the truth about the way things work, pronounced by someone who loves everyone on that wheel.”
How does knowing this about God change the way you see yourself or your current life circumstances? Are you grateful in your own hunger or poverty? Or let me ask it this way: how blessed are you that God sees you differently than you see yourself?
I am grateful to know that no matter how far I stray from doing what God has called me to do, I’m never beyond the boundaries of God’s love for me in Christ. I believe the same is true about whatever mess you find yourself in. No matter how many times the world drags you down, God always draws you up?
Let us count it a blessing that God sees our real worth no matter how much money we make or how far down the ladder we have fallen. God does not focus on our poverty or deficiencies but on the wealth we produce loving and caring for one another. Blessed are you who takes the time to be present when a friend really needs you to be there; or you who stands up for someone being picked on at school, for you are worth your salt in the kingdom of heaven.
I count it a blessing that God sees through the costumes and masks we think we have to wear to make it in this world. I am grateful that God loves me just as God made me. Real. Divine. True. We can lie to ourselves and try to fool the world, but we cannot hide or conceal ourselves from God who knows the secrets of the heart. And loves us anyway.
So blessed are you who strive to do good, you who seek to cooperate instead of compete or fight, for you will be called first to sit on the lap of God in heaven.
So how blessed are we? Very blessed said Jesus, who reveals our future to us by giving us a foretaste of it today; blessing us so that we can go and bless others in his name.
Why is this important? Because the world blesses those who build their fortune and fame on the back and expense of others. The world idolizes power and strength, it loves to flex its muscle with acts of aggression, war and violence. It promises salvation through favoritism and consumerism, bought by those who can afford it. Enslaving others who cannot.
In Christ, God disrupts the way things are going on in our world and transforms them to the way things are to be in God’s world. Those who are last will be first. Those who hunger will feast. Those who are persecuted will live forever in the kingdom of heaven. That’s how it’s done by the God who has loved us and blessed us from all eternity.
In Christ, God reveals the truth about who God is, and who we are in God’s eyes and heart. Through him, God turns our world upside down to help us see the world and ourselves differently so that we might know wherever hunger is, wherever pain or injustice is inflicted, or tears are shed, God is there…making some kind of blessing.
So let us count it a blessing that our God saves us when this world fails us? And that God loves us enough never to give up on us? Blessed are those who understand this and invest their life in imitation of Christ, for they will be worth more than any earthly treasure.
I invite you to take the time each day to count your blessings. Write down in a journal or note pad all that God is doing for you, out of great love for you. It might be something as simple as a good night sleep, or to have a great cup of coffee to wake up to. It might gravity, puppies, health insurance, comfortable shoes, or a Super Bowl championship. The more you practice living in gratitude, the more you realize it’s easier to count your blessings than it is to resist them.
I know there will be things that happen that will make it seemingly impossible to be grateful for. It would be remiss of me not to address the tragic death of Kobe and Gigi Bryant, and the seven others onboard that helicopter which crashed a few miles away from here. Where is the silver lining in that?
During an interview at Friday’s Laker game, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers said something to the affect that Kobe had a special way of uniting different races, ethnicities, and social classes. He did it by giving us hope when things seemed hopeless. In a single game Kobe could transform enemies into friends, and bring us together as one family. “Even in his passing,” Flea said, “Kobe continues to unite us.” I was grateful to hear that, and to see the truth in his words.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” I believe this to be true.
“The way things are… is not the way they will always be, and no one gets to stay at the top of the wheel forever,” writes Barbara Brown Taylor. “What goes round, comes round. Neither the going up nor the coming down is under our control as far as I know, but wherever we happen to be the promise is the same. Blessed are you who lose your grip on the way things are, for God shall lead you in the things that shall be.”
Let us pray:
God, a wise person once said, if the only prayer we offered was thank you, that would suffice. And so thank you God for the endless blessings you pour out upon this world. May we never lose sight and always be humbled in gratitude. Amen.
Taylor, Barbara Brown. Home By Another Way. (Lanham: Cowley, 1999) pp. 51-56.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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