Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
For nearly 2,000 years, scholars and theologians have debated the opening verses of Jesus’ most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount and its practical teachings for life. These opening lines, however, known as the beatitudes, trouble many believers. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, Blessed are those mourn, Blessed are the merciful.” They wonder: Did Jesus intended for these to be a spiritual discipline of character that only the strongest saints in heaven can embrace or did he intend for these verses to be spiritual stepping stones for all believers?
Certainly, the crowds in Galilee who followed Jesus and his disciples to that grassy meadow overlooking the waters of the sea would have heard them differently. The scene was reminiscent of the Old Testament scripture when Moses descended from the mountain and stood before the people proclaiming the Ten Commandments that had been revealed to him by God. Just as these were to be God’s life-giving and life-affirming laws that would guide them and allow them to thrive in the new land, the beatitudes were to be Jesus’ own set of commandments for a more ethical and moral life. After all, can’t we all dare to be a little more compassionate, kind and helpful to those in need? But then how do we reconcile ourselves to Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who mourn,” especially on this All Saints Sunday.
To be blessed is to be happy. That is what the word beatitude means. But who believes that the death of a loved one is a good thing, or that living in poverty is an honor, or that suffering for the sake of your faith is a noble act which brings joy? These are all contrary to the way we have been taught to see the world. No matter how gifted a preacher, I would never be able to convince you that this is God’s promise or blessing. Nor would I be able to persuade you to believe that this is how God shows loving kindness. Yet, Jesus dared to speak to the crowds in the Sermon on the Mount with just such a sentiment.
My friends, I do not believe that Jesus was challenging the crowds with an unsympathetic list of “dos” and “don’ts” for living, nor was he saying, that if you simply follow his words, that you will be blessed sometime in the future. No, I believe that in these opening words of the beatitudes Jesus was proclaiming good news He was beginning his sermon with the great, good news that God is in the world actively blessing those whom the world itself overlooks, brushes aside and simply dismisses. And that good news is intended for you, even as you are mourning the loss of someone you love. But be aware, this God of blessing often goes before you unseen.
Author and publisher Joseph Bayly, who lost three sons in death, described two examples of comfort he had received during his deepest grief: “Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly and said things I knew were true. I was unmoved, except to wish he’d go away. He finally did. Another came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour and more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, and left. I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.”
That is what Jesus speaks of in the Beatitudes. In his simple words introducing the Sermon on the Mount, he says, “How blessed and noble are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Yes, he is stating that God is walking in their midst unseen, actively blessing and comforting those who mourn now, even before they seek him so they can dare to follow and be the light to the world and the salt of the earth.
It’s a favorite story from my childhood, but there was an old man who everyday would take long walks with the Lord. On these walks, he and the Lord would talk about all kinds of things—about the important times in the old man’s life: when he met his wife, the birth of his children, special Christmases, etc. One day while they were out walking for an especially long time, the Lord looked at the old man and said, “We are closer to my house than we are to yours. Why don’t you just come home with me?” And that is what he did! It was a blessing that was unseen by the world. That is how it has been in my life with many of those I have known and loved and lost. In those last hours before death, they were closer to the Father’s heavenly home, than they were to their own. I simply that we were treading on holy, blessed ground.
My friends, heaven and healing come to us in surprising simple moments, often as a silent blessing. That is what God is doing for you today. He knows your sorrows and your weaknesses and the broken places with in you that need healing. Most importantly, he comes to you with his unlimited resources pouring into your life the comfort and healing and spiritual strength you need to live a fulfilled life again. That is the promise of the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” It is why we can dare to follow Jesus and place our trust in him. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.