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.
There’s a Hindu parable that goes something like this…
Understanding the problems that might occur should humanity achieve or be given the power or wisdom or capabilities of the divine, Brahma was encouraged by his underlings to hide the power of the divine so that humanity might never be able to reach it. “Hide the divine power atop the highest mountain,” they suggested. “No,” replied Brahma, “for some day, humanity will likely reach the top of even the highest of mountains.” “Hide the divine power then at the bottom of the deepest sea,” they suggested next. “No,” Brahma replied again, “for some day, humanity will likely reach to the bottom of even the deepest of seas.”
Then Brahma had the answer, he had solved the problem. “I know just where to hide the power of the divine,” he told his underlings, “in a place where humanity will never find it. I’ll hide it deep inside the very heart of humanity itself. They’ll never find it, for they will never think to look for the divine power within themselves.”
And I think there’s something to this notion – not only that the power of God can be found somewhere deep within the very hearts of humanity – but that we don’t think or believe or work to find the power of God within ourselves often enough.
And even though we may not always think to see God’s power within ourselves – when we look in the mirror, say – we’re not quite so bad at seeing the power of God in others. So, I came up with a few examples of people who have shared something divine and holy and “like God” with the world these days.
There’s a new restaurant, which is really more like a movement, it seems to me, in Columbus, Ohio, that I just learned about. I heard about the food at a place called Hot Chicken Takeover, before I heard about something even cooler: the mission of the place to hire and care for employees who might otherwise not be able to find jobs, maybe because they’re homeless or just out of prison or for some other reason that most businesses wouldn’t think twice about looking at their resume.
And not only do they hire them, but they care for them with things like a “Matched Milestone Program” that matches money for things like housing, transportation, and education; this restaurant retains counselors for recovery support and short-term counseling; they offer 0% interest loans for emergencies to keep their people from going to predatory lenders; and they’re deliberate about professional development, flexible scheduling, and paying above minimum wage. All of this is part of their mission and business model and it’s about so much more than great fried chicken, which matters, too, of course. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”
Pastor Aaron and I heard Rachel Held Evans Thursday talk about a whole congregation – a church in a denomination she wouldn’t name – that opted to disband and lose its affiliation with its larger church, rather than kick out a gay couple who had joined their ranks. It was a relatively new Christian church who welcomed a lesbian couple into their midst. And when their denomination caught wind of it, and asked them to remove the women and their children from their roster, this faithful gathering of Jesus freaks chose to lose their denominational funding and support, which forced them to have to pack it up and close their doors, rather than kick to the curb two of their beloved, faithful members and fellow children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…
I suspect you’ve heard something about the White Helmets in Syria. (There’s a Netflix documentary about them, if you haven’t.) They are the Syrian Civil Defense crew – known mostly, and simply, as the White Helmets. They are this group of brave, unarmed volunteers, who wait for barrel bombs and other weapons of mass destruction to wreak havoc and destroy public places in their country so they can rush into the devastation and look for survivors to rescue, without regard for race, religion, or politics, knowing of course they’re own lives are at stake at every moment. One White Helmet, named Abed said, “When I want to save someone’s life, I don’t care if he is an enemy or a friend. What concerns me is the soul that might die.” Blessed are the peacemakers…
It’s a short list, I know, just some contemporary examples that came to mind and there are millions more who would fit the bill. But I think Jesus would have counted these folks – and maybe some of the saints on your heart this morning – among the “blessed.” And, again, I think the message of his sermon was not unlike the message of that Hindu proverb: that the very power of God really can be found within the hearts of humanity.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit… those who mourn… the merciful.” “Blessed are the peacemakers… the persecuted… the meek.” We just aren’t always looking in the right places or for all the right kinds of things. Because what blesses us most in this life is that which we’re able to use to become a blessing for others. And that happens best when we live out our lives – as much as we are able – in the likeness of our creator, and in the way of Jesus Christ: with the power of the divine, the heart of God beating within us.
Meekness, purity, peace; humility, mercy, righteousness; gratitude, grace and generosity, don’t all come as naturally or as easily for us as we’d like. They are too often the nature of God that gets buried more deeply within us than we’d like to admit or are able to find or even always willing to admit.
But blessed are those of you who've prayed over and sacrificed for the sake of your commitment to this ministry – financial and otherwise – and who gather here to offer it with thanksgiving and generosity; and blessed are all those who benefit from it and those who've yet to enter into our midst…
Blessed are you who've stocked our food pantry or helped to deliver food and friendship through the Agape ministry; and blessed are those who've receive all of that grace and good news and nourishment…
Blessed are you who teach our children, and each other, about God's Word for our lives; and blessed are those who've learned from you…
Blessed are those who will travel to Haiti to build and paint some houses next week; and blessed are those who will call those houses “home” …
Blessed are those who add music to our worship; who work in the office; who clean the building; who pray for each other; who serve on ministry teams; who share communion out there in the world; you get the idea…
In Jesus, God invites us to more than we could ever muster on our own - meekness, mercy, purity; humility, gratitude, generosity and so on down the list - because when we live that way we see ourselves - and one another - more clearly as children of God. We see God more often in the world around us. And we experience more fully the kingdom of heaven that is alive and well within and among us.
When we live that way we see our blessedness in a new light – as fuel and fodder for blessing the world. And we see ourselves as harboring in our hearts – not hiding there – the very power of the divine… the power of God’s love and grace and hope for the sake of the world.