We are blessed when our circumstances make us open to God’s life-giving energy
Sermon by Andy Wurm, Epiphany 4, 2nd February 2020
St. Paul sums up a problem many people have with Christianity: the message about the cross is foolishness. To Christians, however, he goes on to say, it is the power of God.
Whether or not the cross is foolishness depends on what it stands for. If it stands for Jesus taking our place on the cross to pay God for our sins, then to me it would be foolishness and to be rejected. If, however, the cross stands for the generous, gentle and loving nature of God, then that’s worth paying attention to.
In today’s gospel story, we hear that Jesus saw the crowds (and) went up the mountain. That’s code for Jesus seeing into the lives of the people and knowing their experience and then teaching them where God is in all that. What he saw was the poverty of their spirit, their grief over losses, their vulnerability, their hunger to live good lives, their kindness, purity and so on. In his comments to his followers about those circumstances, he shows how alongside the hardship of all those circumstances, God is there, and that makes all the difference.
Jesus begins with ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’. To be poor in spirit is for your energy for life to come not so much from yourself, but from God within you. It’s that combination which takes a unique form in each individual, and enables us to become what we were born to be. And it is that which provides the vision and strength necessary for being of service to others. To be poor in spirit is a blessing because it is being open to God, the Source of Life. It is something that requires significant humility and trust.
Then Jesus says ‘blessed are those who mourn’. It’s not something I would say to a person grieving something or someone who is precious to them, however, it’s a good thing to store away in our thoughts. Mourning involves accepting loss, and when we do that, it opens the possibility of what or who was lost, taking on a new significance. The pattern of resurrection promises new life of some sort from situations of death. How that can be, is usually impossible to imagine. Perhaps Jesus is reminding us here that because life has many disappointments and some great losses, we should value and give time to mourning those things, in order that we can receive what God might be able to give us out of them. It’s not so much a matter of ‘moving on, or letting go’, but finding a new significance for what is lost or who has gone.
Then Jesus says ‘blessed are the meek’. What’s the blessing in meekness? When you look at the world, it’s not the meek who come out on top. Those who do come out on top, appear to have the power and most of the goodies, but do they have fulfilled lives? For some, the only way to be happy is to own and rule their part of the world. For others, it’s simple things, such as getting on with family, having friends, being reasonable to people and doing your best in your job or whatever else you do. The blessing that comes with meekness is finding contentment in simple things. It’s having all that money can’t buy.
Then Jesus says ‘blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’. Righteousness is being right with God. It’s being able to sit in God’s presence and be comfortable with yourself. It’s about having integrity, and not wasting your life, but living to the full. No-one achieves that completely, but God is merciful, so it doesn’t matter. The blessing comes from your hunger and thirst, which is your drive to live to the full, to be fully human, with all its ups and downs. The point Jesus is making is that regardless of shortcomings, the best you can do is keep trying, because then you are open to new possibilities. If you take the opposite path and focus on your failures, you won’t ever transcend them. Jesus says that if you ask God for something, you will receive. That doesn’t mean you will receive what you want, but you will receive something. Having a hunger and thirst for righteousness is asking for what is good, and asking is being open to God.
Then Jesus says ‘blessed are the merciful’. The blessing of being merciful is that it also involves being open to God. Being merciful towards others is being a channel of God’s love for them. If you channel God’s love, it is available for yourself as much as others. That’s a kind of chicken and egg situation, as love for others and love for yourself come from each other. You can’t be truly merciful for others if you aren’t for yourself. True kindness for others is rooted in kindness for yourself. Any other source of kindness for others is manipulation. Forgiveness is another aspect of being merciful. Like love, forgiveness is an essential part of a life blessed by God, and like love, you are incapable of receiving forgiveness from others or forgiving yourself if you do not forgive others, for the same process is involved. To be forgiving then, is a blessing, because it allows us to accept forgiveness.
Then Jesus says ‘blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’. Jesus also taught his disciples that if they wanted to see God (‘the Father’) all they had to do was stand in his place. In other words do what he did. Be like him. Or as it says in the Eucharistic prayer ‘do this, in remembrance of me’. To be pure in heart is to love. When we can appreciate people, despite their flaws, and be generous and compassionate, our experience of others brings us close to God.
Then Jesus says ‘blessed are the peacemakers’. Peacemakers are blessed because they already have peace in their hearts. You can only make peace if you have it in your heart already, so inner peace is the blessing peacemakers acquire. Arriving at that requires significant effort though. Adam Goodes, one-time Australian of the Year, said there was a long process of inner work behind the moment he chose to confront the girl who made a racist comment at him during a football game. Inner peace also brings the blessing of strength – strength to act, even in the face of fear.
Then Jesus says ‘blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake’. This is an unfortunate sign that you are on the right track, if your cause is truly good. Also, ‘blessed are you when people … utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account’. It means you have hit on a truth. People only respond with evil and falsehood if there is no truth that can be raised against you. When individuals, nations or groups begin to fight dirty, it’s because they have no truth to fight with. The blessing here (which is a mixed blessing!) is that it confirms you are right. Violence is often only a last resort for those who exploit and oppress, because it exposes the false nature of their cause. At the end of his life, Jesus allowed those against him to do what they wanted to him. Their violence towards him only revealed their cause was evil and without truth.
Jesus shows that in all these circumstances, there is an aspect of transcendence, in the sense of something more to the picture, possibilities which may not be obvious. Another way to speak of those things is to consider them ‘God energy’, that is, God’s presence which transforms circumstances in subtle ways.
When we humble ourselves, when we suffer, when we endure hardship trying to make the world better, our reward is not handed out to us in the afterlife, like an Oscar at the Academy Awards, but there is an inherent reward or blessing in our action, because of God’s presence there.