Summary: The Beatitudes are the declaration of God's blessing in our lives
“Be” – Matthew 5:1-12
Confess that I am intimidated to preach about the beatitudes, because it does feel a bit like climbing a mountain, and I know how out of shape I am. Where do you start? How will we make the journey? These simple words are profound in their depth and their impact, and it’s hard to imagine that saying more words about them would make them any more powerful.
This passage is perhaps the one most people associate with the teachings of Jesus more than any other except for the Lord’s Prayer. The two passages are definitely related, as both come from the Sermon on the Mount. The beatitudes paint a picture of what the world would look like when the Lord’s Prayer is answered, “thy kingdom come; thy will be done.”
The word “beatitudes” has nothing to do with our attitudes. It comes from a Latin word meaning blessings. Some would translate it as happy but that word does not suffice. The word is better understood as “fortunate” or simply “blessed.” The greatest temptation we face in reading the beatitudes is to think they are a list of what we should aspire to become or do, but Jesus is not saying, “you will be blessed if you are poor, if you mourn, if you are hungry…” He is saying that those who are poor, mourn, hungry.. are blessed… right now, this moment. This is not a to do list. It is Christ blessing the least, the lone, the left out, and the little.
It’s worth noting that the first teaching of Jesus in the New Testament is a blessing on the least among us. He declares that the kingdom of heaven has come to earth in and through their lives and their suffering. People in His day and ours assumed that the most religious, the most devout, the most faithful, the most prosperous, the most powerful were surely the ones who God would bless, but once again Jesus turns everything upside down, or should we say, right side up!
It is just like we American Christians to read the words of Jesus and think of them in terms of what we must do, to make them a formula for success in the Christian life. We are hard-wired to think in terms of achievement and accomplishment. For some of us it may in fact be quite disturbing to realize that Jesus proclaimed that we are loved and accepted by the Father just as we are, just because we are. There is nothing that we can do to make God love us any more or any less.
I think we come to a passage like this with the default setting in our minds, “what do I have to do to be blessed?” So we read and think about these sayings of Jesus looking in them for a prescription for a blessing. What must we do? How can I be blessed? Many of us will find it unnerving and will not at all be satisfied with the answer… you are blessed.
Knowing that we won’t be satisfied without an answer to the question, “what must I do to be blessed,” I will offer a suggestion… be. Just be. Let go of the temptation to do something to make God pleased with you. Let go of the guilt of believing that God is not pleased with you because of something you have done. Just be. “Be still and know that I am God.” Are you beginning to see why I said this passage feels like climbing a mountain? How hard is it for us to just be? To be still? To rest in the presence of God, in the love of God without feeling the urge and impulse to do something or feel guilt over something?
What does it mean to just “be”? First of all, I think it means to be with God. To know and enjoy the presence of God all around you. The challenge is that we feel so isolated and distant from God so often in our lives. One of my favorite authors says, “God is not impossible to find. God is impossible to avoid.” God is all around us and in us. Contrary to what some might think, we do not have to conjure up God’s presence through ecstatic worship or ritual prayer. If you want to experience God’s presence, let go of all those impulses to do something, let go of your guilt, and just be. Let the presence of God surround you. A Celtic prayer that has been very meaningful and helpful to me is:
Christ, as a light
illumine and guide me.
Christ, as a shield
Christ under me;
Christ over me;
Christ beside me
my left and my right.
This day be within and without me,