By The Rev. Sherry Crompton

January 30, 2011

Read: Matthew 5:1-12

In the midst of this snowy winter, I want to talk about birds. Specifically a bird called a nuthatch. A nuthatch is a small bird that is about as long as the spoon you use to eat your cereal (5 to 6 inches long). There are different types of nuthatches, but they all have one interesting thing in common. Instead of climbing up the trunk of a tree, like other birds, a nuthatch can climb up and also down. When it climbs down a tree it goes headfirst. The nuthatch can also move about on the underside of a branch rather than walk on the top of the branch like other birds do. So, we might call the nuthatch an “upside down” kind of bird. The nuthatch moves around on a tree in this unusual manner looking for insects, nuts, and seeds to eat. Because they move in an upside down way they find food that other birds miss.

There is a lesson to be learned from the nuthatch. Sometimes certain things in our world seem upside down. We see people who are sad, people who are hurt, people who are weak, people who are hungry, people who have such difficult lives. We may even be one of those people. Yet, we want everyone to be happy and well and we may question the fairness of it all. But, sometimes the difficulties people experience allow them to see blessings that more fortunate people miss.

Today we heard from Matthew what is called, the Beatitudes. And in in the Beatitudes, Jesus turns everything upside down. If we were to write the Beatitudes, we would say:

Blessed are the wealthy,
because they can buy anything they want.
Blessed are the powerful,
because they can have things their way.
Blessed are the beautiful,
because everybody wants to be their friend.
Blessed are the retired,
because they don’t have to punch a clock.

But Jesus turns it all around. He says:

Blessed are the poor in spirit…
Blessed are those who mourn…
Blessed are the meek…
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…
Blessed are the merciful…
Blessed are the pure in heart…
Blessed are the peacemakers…
Blessed are those who are persecuted…
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you….

It isn’t easy to believe the Beatitudes, because they turn our world upside down. Jesus tells us that the world has it all wrong — and that the world has us badly fooled. In the Beatitudes, Jesus calls us to love things that we hate and to hate things that we love. It isn’t surprising that many people imagine the Beatitudes to be a bit crazy. But, like the nuthatch, if we open our eyes and look at the world with a different perspective, we may just find things that many others overlook.

In our reading from Matthew it begins with Jesus seeing the crowds and then going up the mountain. Mountains, at that time, were consider places to encounter God. Perhaps Jesus looked at the crowds, and was inspired by them. Jesus wanted to teach his disciples about what he sees when he sees the crowds, the brokenness in people, in us.

God began the Ten Commandments with a grace note — a reminder that God brought the Israelites out of slavery. The first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2), is foundational in the sense that the person who is unfaithful to the first commandment will have little inclination to honor any commandment, but the person who is faithful to the first commandment will try to honor them all.

In a similar manner, Jesus begins the Beatitudes with the grace note of blessings, and the first beatitude is as foundational as was the first commandment. The poor in spirit, those who stand in total dependence before God, are also disposed to mourn for a Godless world — and to approach others in a spirit of gentleness — and to hunger and thirst for righteousness — and so on.

The Greek word that is translated “poor” is ptochos (p-to-chos) which means abject poverty. True poverty is a cruel thing. It breaks people. They suffer. Confronted daily with their own helplessness, they know the difference that even a small act of mercy can make. They watch eagerly for a gesture or a glance that might promise help. They long for a bit of kindness. They crave a bit of dignity.

Standing before God, the poor in spirit are like that. They know that they bring nothing in their hands that God needs and nothing in their hearts that compels God to accept them. They bring their poverty, hoping for sustenance. They bring their brokenness, hoping for mending. They bring their sin, hoping to receive forgiveness. They bring their grief, hoping to be comforted. They bring their illness, hoping to be healed. They do not come bargaining, because they have nothing to offer. It is precisely their humility, their openness that makes them fertile soil to receive God’s blessing.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” – blessed are those who come to God on their knees. But that isn’t our preferred mode of travel –– on our knees. We prefer to be in control. We prefer to pay for what we get. We prefer not to be in anyone’s debt. We prefer to walk up and lay cash on the barrelhead.

But Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit….”
We fight hard not to be poor in spirit. We try to get the best grades we can –– so that we can get the best job that we can. We work as hard as we can –– and do the best that we can. We try desperately to be in control of our lives.

But Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit….”

We are proud –– so desperate to be in control –– so desperate to do it our way. And so we spend so much energy on trivial things. We work long hours –– to buy things that we don’t need –– to impress people that we don’t like. Why do we do it?

That word, blessed, can be translated as fortunate, or happy. It doesn’t mean feeling good though, as we think about happiness. It goes deeper – to blessed is to be the recipient of someone’s care and willing, loving help. For Jesus to call the meek, the hungry, the mourners as blessed counters the first impression others may have of them, and they of themselves. Yes, the road has been rough, but all is not lost, because God is on their side and is paying attention and is coming to their aid with a blessing, a gift of grace. They are not forgotten and their story is not over. WE are not forgotten and OUR story is not over.

The Beatitudes are language of “pure promise”. The promise is this. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Notice that Jesus does not say, “theirs will be the kingdom of heaven.” He says, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We do not have to wait for the kingdom. Jesus says that it has come near. We can enter it now. We aren’t able to see all that God can see. But, God promises that in the kingdom of heaven all will be made right. Amen.

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