When Jesus saw the crowd, he went up the mountain. He sat down and when he saw his disciples, he began to speak and he 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 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."
The last time I referred to Seinfeld’s “Bizzaro World” episode had to do with Christ the King Sunday – not Jesus and his beatitudes – and it was before we had the capacity to watch TV clips in worship, so when it came to mind this time around, I couldn’t resist.
I couldn’t resist, because I can’t help thinking of this upside down, backwards kind of world that Jerry describes, when I hear the upside down, backwards kind of world Jesus describes, in his Sermon on the Mount. For Jerry – or Bizarro Superman, as it were – “yes” means “no,” “black” is “white,” “Hello” means “Goodbye,” and so on. And in the Bizarro Seinfeld world, Bizarro Jerry is kind and considerate, and a good friend. (Even though we like Jerry, it’s funny to remember that he was really none of those things…kind, considerate, and so on.) And Elaine’s new pals – counterparts to the George and Kramer I suspect most of you remember – live and behave in ways opposite from what Elaine would have expected, too.
But, as funny as all of that was, if you remember it, I don’t guess many people were laughing on the hillside with Jesus in this morning’s Gospel, if you can imagine it.
Because I think Jesus was proclaiming and promising nothing less than a new world order, if you will. Much like we hear from the Old Testament prophet Micah, with his talk about “doing justice, and loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God,” Jesus was proclaiming and promising that everything was to be different – that everything was different – that everything is different – in the Kingdom of God. And “different” is “difficult” for most of us, it seems to me.
Now, these “bizarro” blessings we hear about in Jesus’ sermon are pretty familiar to many of us. They’re popular enough that we’ve heard them before, if not in worship, or through whatever Bible studies we’ve been part of, we’ve probably heard them or seen them out there in the world at some point or another.
And because we’ve heard them so many times before, it can be easy to take their meaning for granted, or to forget how revolutionary they were – how powerful they are – for those who hear the fullness of the truth they mean to convey.
But, I think the most common misunderstanding about these beatitudes – and a trap I fall into myself sometimes – is to assume Jesus was laying out a list of pre-requisites for those who wanted to receive the blessings of God in their lives, as though God’s blessing is conditional upon however much purity, meekness, and hunger or thirst for righteousness a person could muster; as though Jesus is saying, “If you’re meek, then you’ll inherit the earth.” Or, “If you’re hungry, then you will be filled.” Or, “If you mourn, then you will be comforted.”
But the grace of God isn’t about pre-requisites. The grace of God is about promises. And Jesus is reminding his disciples – and he means to remind each of us – that the natural result of kingdom living, the natural consequence of hungering and thirsting for righteousness, of meekness, of peacemaking, of persecution for the sake of righteousness, even – the end-result of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God – the end-result of lives lived in the ways of Jesus will be blessing, somehow, no matter how hard that is for us to believe.
And that’s hard to believe, because we live in a world where meek is not a winning characteristic. We live in a world where making peace means packing more heat or building a bigger arsenal. We live in a culture where we don’t even agree about what it means to “do justice” and where loving kindness and walking humbly are not admirable, or safe, a lot of the time.
And I can’t think about any of this these days, without thinking about the state of our nation’s politics right about now. And please bear with me, because there is a message here for every single one of us; it doesn’t matter if you were celebrating last Friday afternoon at our new President’s inauguration or if you were marching on Saturday in opposition to the new administration – there is room and reason for each and every one of us to heed these beatitudes, these instructions for Kingdom-living, as we move forward into whatever the future holds for us, as God’s people trying to figure things out with some measure of faith.
I saw a sign recently – I think it was on the wall in a teacher’s classroom, or on the wall of someone’s Facebook page, maybe – that asked: “Before you speak…Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?” I like that, for the classroom, for Bible study, for around the dinner table, and for anything we post on social media, too.
But I wonder if we couldn’t use Jesus’ beatitudes in a similar, more powerful way, yet, to inform our conversations and to guide us and to inspire us and to give us hope as we live into these days TOGETHER. Because, who among us doesn’t need a little guidance and hope and inspiration, right about now?
(And I think we’d be better off taking our cues from Jesus – not Kellyanne Conway or Madonna; Bill O’Reilly or Anderson Cooper; Tomi Lahren or Trevor Noah.)
So, “Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?”, yes. But even more…as we support our new President or challenge what he’s up to – and I think we should all be doing our best to do both of these things – support AND challenge – and I don’t believe that “supporting” and “challenging” need to be mutually exclusive endeavors. As we deliberate on our own or debate with our friends and family; as we discern what’s best, what’s next, what’s kind, true, necessary, whatever, let’s imagine ourselves on that hillside with Jesus and let’s ask ourselves, and each other:
Does it do justice? Does it love kindness? Does it walk humbly alongside our God? (And am I…doing justice? …loving kindness? …walking humbly?)
Does what we’re up to – as individuals, as a church, as a nation – comfort those who mourn? Is it meek and merciful? Does it hunger and thirst for righteousness? Does it make for peace? Does it lead, even, to our own persecution and suffering and sacrifice for the sake of what is right?
Because, unless our deliberations and our decisions, unless our policies and our practices lead to the blessing of others, they are not the ways of Jesus. As hard as it may be to hear… as counter-cultural as it is, in this day and age… the way of Jesus has never been a “me first” or a “we first” way of being. And yes, this is an upside down, backwards, “bizarro” way of life to which we are called. It is different. It is difficult. And it is not for the faint of heart.
But it is no more difficult… no more different… no more bizarre and backward than the abundant grace that is offered to the world, through the death, resurrection, and new life of Jesus Christ – where down is up; poverty is wealth; sins are forgiven; and light shines in the darkness; and death leads to life.
And when we can manage it – this kingdom kind of living – this humility, this mercy, this peace and justice, this loving kindness – we are blessed, much to our surprise, in ways that bless and change the world in his name.