(This is an edited version of what I preached yesterday – close, but not exact. I’ve added in some things after some reflection).
Matthew 5:1-12 – The Beatitudes
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
This past week and a half, I’ve been taking a January term class at the seminary on science and religion. It’s been fascinating. We’ve covered every major scientific topic you can think of. The professor is very engaging – he’s a theologian who has been in conversation with scientists for over 30 years and he know both science and theology very well.
An important point he made during the class was that there are different models for how science and religion interact with each other – some are based on a warfare model seeing that the two are at odds with each other. Other models start with an assumption that science and religion are not at war with each other.
Also during the course we talked about digging down to actual science. Often the debate that occurs is not even about science, but rather, other things. Take evolution for example. There’s the science evolution, and then there is a whole lot of other things that claim evolution as a foundation that have nothing to do with science. A good example would be Social Darwinism. The difference is that science deals with what is. Ideology, philosophy, and even theology deal with what ought to be. Social Darwinism is not dealing with what is, but rather what ought to be by its proponents.
Social Darwinism isn’t really talked about directly in our culture, but it’s been around for some time. It’s an ideology that claims survival of the fittest as its mantra. It believes that might makes right, that the unfit don’t deserve anything and we shouldn’t care for them. I think you could even make an argument that the Prosperity Gospel message is related to Social Darwinism too. The Prosperity Gospel is a message that says that we can see who God has blessed based on the amount of wealth they have.
This whole mindset proclaims a message of what the world blesses – wealth, power, strength, might, force, ruthlessness, conquerors. Want evidence of this? Look at who our statues and monuments are dedicated to – generals and politicians – the “leaders” of our world. We pay the powerful and the mighty a lot of money because our culture tells us that worth and value is measured in monetary terms. And so our VIP’s are worth more than other people.
That’s the world outside the doors of the church. Yet we come inside and hear a counter cultural message today – the Beatitudes. This is Jesus’ sermon to his disciples and those that overhear it on who God blesses. Jesus’ sermon calls us to take this message with us when we leave, and to bless those the world finds unblessable, worthless, not valuable, unfit, and not deserving life.
Do you want to know who these people are that the world has deemed unfit? You don’t have to go far. Head over to one of the local food pantries – there are plenty of “unfit” people in the world’s eyes. There is plenty of judging and condemnation to go around. “why don’t they get a job, or work harder?” “They have it so easy – they are given food.” Let that sink in for a moment – do you really believe that being poor is easy? Do you think anyone in that line really wants to be there?
If the food pantry isn’t your cup of tea, how about a visit to a hospital. The world says that the terminal ill are unfit – they are only sucking up resources that could be used for healthy people. They cost too much.
How about a children’s hospital? I was working out at the Y the other day and the TV’s were on. One station had politics – all the VIP’s making decisions. Another station had sports – all the VIP sports figures making millions. And the third TV has a commercial for a children’s hospital. The children imaged were in wheel chairs, had disabilities, and were deformed. You can bet a politician’s salary that these kids are considered a drain on society according to the world’s standards.
Too sappy for you – how about you head on down to the local nursing home. There are plenty of people who are just sitting around waiting to die, are lost, forgotten.
Don’t like that – how about finding homeless people in any city large or small. You might want to check some of the storage facilities – there are usually some homeless vets who survive in these.
How about the handicapped who can’t work?
The list can go on and on – I’m sure you can add to it if you think about it, especially in light of this past week’s events.
The problem with Social Darwinism, the prosperity gospel, and all of these ideologies that place human value in terms of financial resources or other immaterial things is this – at some point every single person becomes unfit, unblessable, and costing more than they are worth. Every person! This includes those who adopt this ideology. There are no exceptions because are all going to either get sick, get old, get injured, or something else that knocks us down from our prime. That’s the reality of life for everyone.
Thankfully, this false message is not the only message we have. Jesus presents an alternative message – one that is available right now, not sometime in the distance future.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit” – meaning the poor – those having nothing. To be poor in spirit is to recognize that there is nothing we can do or have that will earn us God’s love or salvation.
“Blessed are those who mourn” – You mourn because you have lost something or someone dear to you.
“Blessed are the meek” – Another word for meek is gentle, or not using force.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” – or justice.
“Blessed are the merciful” – those that are compassionate to others.
“Blessed are the pure in heart” – or clean in heart. This is a whole being thing, not just the organ in your chest. It’s the idea that every part of who you are moves towards being pure, not just going through the motions.
“Blessed are the peacemakers” – Those making peace. Again, this is a way of life, not a destination.
Jesus presents us with an alternative, a counter cultural message today, feeds us, and sends us out to bless those whom God blesses, to love those whom God loves and favors. To be a fool in the world – according to St. Paul. Because the beatitudes are foolish if we listen to the world.
But if we listen to the world, we better be prepared to be declared “unfit” or a drain on resources at some point.
Jesus opens his arms to us, calls us in, and blesses us, regardless of our abilities or what the world thinks of us. Because our value is not in what we have or even what we do. Rather our value is in who we are – blessed Children of God. Thank God for that. Amen.