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January 30, 2011

 

MATTHEW 5: 1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up to 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.”

I’m sure that everyone here recognizes today’s Gospel reading as The Beatitudes.  I remember when I was in Sunday School.  I had a very stern Sunday School teacher who made us memorize the Beatitudes.   We had to be able to recite them in Sunday School class.  I’m sure several of you can relate to that.

 

But what is a Beatitude?  And what was the purpose of Jesus’ giving these eight Beatitudes to his disciples?

 

According to Wikipedia, the encyclopedia, a “beatitude” is the Latin word for a blessing.  Jesus was giving blessings to His disciples.   Contrast this with God giving the Ten Commandments to Moses – a series of “Thou Shalt Nots” – evils one must avoid in our daily lives on earth.  These solemn blessings - The Beatitudes -mark the opening of the Sermon on the Mount – the very first of Jesus’ sermons in the Gospel of St. Matthew.  Jesus saw the crowds of people so he went up on a mountainside and sat down.  It was in the low hills behind Capernaum and the other fishing villages on the shore.  He addressed His disciples and gave them the Beatitudes.

 

Let’s look at the eight Beatitudes – one by one.

 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”   “Poor in spirit” means to be humble.  Blessed are the humble people who do not think of themselves more highly than they might.  Humility is the realization that all your gifts and blessings come from the grace of God.  It brings an inner peace allowing us to do the will of God.  We come with a contrite heart to seek God and gain entrance into the Kingdom of heaven.

 

“Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”

We can all relate to this Beatitude.  When grief or illness happens or those little things in life which upset us, God is there to comfort us – with his all embracing love.  All we have to do is to turn to Him and ask for His help.  God will wipe away all tears and death will be no more in his Kingdom.  A person who mourns feels the suffering and grief of others, and looks to God for His comfort.

 

“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”

Meekness is humility – this is very similar to the first blessing – about being poor in spirit.  A meek person exhibits self-control.  We should be obedient to God.

 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

We are “hungry” to hear about God’s good works and to learn what God wants us to do with our lives.  We are filled with His blessings and with the bread and wine each week when we come to the communion table.  We are hungry to hear of God’s salvation – of His plans for us.  We are filled with His goodness – we have satisfied our hunger each week when we come to church.

 

“Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy.”

A merciful person is kind and forgiving – not hateful toward others.  A merciful person always sees some good qualities in others.  Mercy is the loving disposition toward those who suffer distress.  Be loving – be compassionate and forgiving toward one’s neighbors. 

 

In the Lord’s Prayer, it says “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  If we are merciful to others, our Lord will be merciful with us.  Showing mercy includes forgiving the sinner and having compassion for the suffering and needy,

 

Our congregation definitely shows mercy to others.  We feed the hungry at our walk-in dinners.  We collect food for the food pantry.  We visit and call the sick and those in nursing homes.  We are truly a merciful congregation.

 

“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”

To be pure in heart, we need to fill our minds with good thoughts and to be free of all selfish intentions and self-seeking desires.

 

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”

Our God is a God of peace.  A peacemaker encourages everyone to get along and be friends.  We do not realize that we are peacemakers – we try to get our friends to avoid harsh arguments – we try to maintain the peace.  We should be filled with the blessings of peace by imitating God’s love of all mankind.  We share the blessings of peace with each other every week – asking God to grant Peace to - each of us by saying – “Peace be with you.”

 

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for

theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

We have to stand up for what we believe is right – even if it makes someone angry or upset with us.  Our congregation stands up for what it believes is right in many ways – we hold vigils outside the Elizabeth detention center, we write letters to our congressmen regarding food programs – we are an active participant in social ministry.

 

All of the Beatitudes reflect what our attitudes should be   They refer to spiritual or moral qualities – the character of the true people of God who are part of His kingdom and have the full blessings of His Kingdom to look forward to.

 

Each Beatitude starts with the word “Blessed.”  Each tells us to be joyful or happy.   Each describes a person who puts God’s and others’ interests above his or her own interest.  They tell us to live unselfishly.  They are virtues in life which will ultimately lead us to a reward – salvation – the Kingdom of heaven.  The Beatitudes provide us with peace in the midst of our trials and tribulations on this earth.

 

St. Augustine called the Beatitudes the ideal for every Christian life.

 

If you counted the “Blesseds” in the Gospel reading, there are nine - not eight.  The difference is that the last two verses are different – they do not say “Blessed are they” – but “Blessed are you.”    Scholars feel these last two verses are a clarification of the eighth Beatitude with specific application being made to the disciples.

 

In our second lesson, from First Corinthians, Paul is writing about the power of the cross.  The message of the cross is the power of God.  Paul writes – “Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified.”  We proclaim the power of God and the wisdom of God.

 

Psalm 15 asks – Who shall abide in God’s sanctuary?  Who may dwell on your holy hill?  Those who walk blamelessly and do what is right.  Those who speak the truth – who do not slander – who do no evil to their friends – who do not reproach their neighbors.  Those who honor the Lord.  This Psalm spells out the character of the person God will accept into His Kingdom – a person of justice, sincerity and integrity – a person who lives his life by the Beatitudes. 

 

In our first reading, God empowers the people to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly in God’s service – all traits spelled out in the Beatitudes. 

 

All of our readings today have to do with what makes one Blessed in the eyes of God – how one has to live his life in order to be considered “Blessed.”

 

The eight Beatitudes set forth for us attitudes or standards for living – attitudes or traits on living which will allow us to abide in God’s sanctuary and in His kingdom of heaven.  

 

Amen