They Will See God

Scripture  |  Matthew 5:1-16

Now when Jesus saw the crowds he was gathering, he went up on a mountainside and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. He began teaching them, saying:

Blessed are those whose spirits are low, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are people who grieve, because they will be comforted.

Blessed are those who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed till they’re satisfied.

Blessed are those who show mercy, because they will also be shown mercy.

Blessed are those with pure hearts, because they will see God.

Blessed are people who make peace, because they will be known as God’s children.

Blessed are the ones who are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is already theirs.

Blessed are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of evil and untrue things about you, because of me.  Be full of joy and be glad, because your reward in heaven is great. People harassed the prophets who came before you the same way.

 “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. 

You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. And no one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.

* * * * *

The Sermon on the Mount is a concentrated collection of the teachings of Jesus. In Matthew’s Gospel there are five such groupings, and this is the first, and the foundation. Professor Tom Long calls it the church’s Constitution, and the Beatitudes are the Preamble. These words are meant to form this new society of these early Christians: the laws, the customs, their practices, and the truth in which they are rooted and grounded and grow. [i]

And all of it is diametrically opposed to the world in which they live. And, I would say, the world in which we live as well.

Blessed are the poor in spirit? Really? Blessed are the confident, the self-assured, the ones who have control over their lives and their destiny!

Blessed are the meek? Seriously? Blessed are the powerful, and the power-brokers, and the ones who control the assets.

Blessed are those who mourn? No! Blessed are those who have found love; blessed are those who have solid marriages and reliable friends; blessed are those who don’t have to deal with heartbreak.

Blessed are those who are persecuted? Are you serious?

If you are the kind of person who is looking for health, wealth, and happiness, the Beatitudes are not great advertising for becoming a Christian. These are not exactly “10 Steps to Success”. This isn’t “5 Ways to Take Control of Your Life”. This isn’t “A Thinner, Smarter, Wealthier You in 30 Days”.

Who would want to hear a message like this?

Well, maybe someone whose life is crumbling.

Maybe someone who feels powerless.

Maybe someone who mourns.

Maybe someone who is on the receiving end of hostility because they are trying to do the right thing and it doesn’t go down well with the people in charge.

Or maybe someone who is deeply troubled by the way the world is, who longs for real peace and justice, who refuses to believe this is as good as it gets, who is worried not so much for their own immediate future, for their own health and happiness, but for their community or their country or the world.

Maybe this word is for them.

Maybe the kingdom is for them.

Do you suppose that’s what Jesus had in mind?

 

It’s not that God wants people to be in pain. It’s not that God desires that people be harassed. It’s not that God wants us to be worried, or distressed. But if we are there, then God wants us to know that God sees it, sees us, is with us.  

Tom Long puts it this way:

In the first beatitude (Matt. 5:3), the blessed are the “poor in spirit,” which could be paraphrased, “spiritual beggars”…. [T]hose who have come to the end of their own resources, who know that they cannot sustain hope and purpose out of their own strength, and who have thrown themselves on the mercy of God will not be abandoned. They have already been given… the kingdom of heaven.

Maybe it’s only when we reach the end of our ropes that we reach for God.

I remember a friend of mine who went through something like this. He had been a wildly successful businessman, until the company changed hands and he was suddenly out of work. He had always been confident – maybe even cocky, he would say – and this threw him for a loop. It wasn’t just the change in status or the unnerving in-between that got to him, or even the financial uncertainty – though all those were real and big.  But it was like his very identity was in question. He didn’t know who he was anymore. He had always been Somebody, and now he wasn’t so sure.

At first it was terrifying. But then something started to shift. He’d always been a praying man, and felt like his faith was solid. But he started to pray in earnest, he said; heartfelt, vulnerable prayers. He was vulnerable. He felt like he needed God in a way he never had before.

And God was there for him.

What he discovered may sound strange – and I’m not sure my words can do it justice. He felt like he was living in the presence of God. He felt like he had discovered a whole new universe, that had been there all the time, but invisible to him. Suddenly he was there. In this universe, there were different rules. In this universe, love ruled. People weren’t measured by success or failure. Kindness mattered. Showing up mattered. So did understanding, and real connections. Strength and courage mattered – but a different kind of strength, one that didn’t take advantage of other people. It was like a parallel universe, like he had finally found his way home.

He was living in the kingdom of God.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world….” This is the light we need to share with the world. This light. This truth. This presence. The kind that comes from beyond us; the kind that comes from God.

One final note – I was reading the paper last night, and there was an interview with the actor Irrfan Khan – he’s a Bollywood star who’s made it in Hollywood, too. He’s 51 years old and was recently diagnosed with cancer, a neuroendocrine tumor.

What was fascinating was what he talked about with the writer. It wasn’t about his work but about his life, and what he is discovering in this journey.

There are challenges which life throws at you. but I have started believing in the way this condition has tested me – really, really tested me in all aspects: physical, emotional and spiritual. It has put me in a rapture state.

Initially, I was shaken… I was very, very vulnerable. But, slowly, there is another way to look at things that is much more powerful… and trustworthy…. The way it is opening your windows to look at life. I would have never reached that state even if I had done meditation for 30 years…

Clarity came like lightening… Life offers you so much. That’s why I feel like I have no other words but thanks. There are no other words; there’s no other demand; there’s no other prayer.[ii]

And I thought to myself, he’s living in the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those whose spirits are low, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are people who grieve, because they will be comforted.

Blessed are those who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those with pure hearts, because they will see God.

Blessed are we, who live in the kingdom of God.

Rev. Karen Chakoian
First Presbyterian Church
Granville, Ohio

[i] Thomas G. Long, Matthew, Westminster Bible Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 46-47.

[ii] Lindsey Behr, “Q & A – Irrfan Khan: Cancer modifies Bollywood star’s outlook,” The Columbus Dispatch, August 4, 2018, F3.