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The Beatitudes

1/22/09 12:34 PM

The Beatitudes Rev. David Rowe N/A Sunday, February 8, 2004

Jesus' most famous sermon is called "The Sermon on the Mount", and the most famous part of the sermon is called "The Beatitudes". A beatitude actually means a "blessing", and blessing leads to happiness which is why The Beatitude begins each phrase with "blessed..... blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, blessed are the merciful, etc" Jesus is saying here's a list of qualities of personal characteristics that lead to real blessings, true happiness. The newer version of the Bible translates it, "how happy...." "how happy are the pure in heart, how happy are the peacemakers, how happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness". The popular TV Preacher, Robert Schuller, wrote a book about "The Beatitudes", and he called it "The Be Happy Attitudes," which I think gets to the heart of it. The Beatitudes are the attitudes we should have if we really want true happiness. "The Be Happy Attitudes". But they're also surprising attitudes. We can accept that the Beatitudes are noble, but happy? It's a big jump from noble to happy. Can you really be meek and happy; persecuted and happy; poor in anything and happy; mournful and happy? That's a surprise! Maybe one way to understand the Beatitudes is to re-write the opposite of the Beatitudes and to see what we make of that. It would go something like this: "Blessed are the haughty and arrogant. How happy are the insensitive and uncaring. Blessed are the pushy and loud. How happy are the holier than thou and self righteous. Blessed are the revengeful and bitter. How happy are the vile and vulgar. Blessed are the war mongers. How happy are the oppressors. We don't really believe any of that, do we? When I was a kid there was a baseball manager, Leo Duroucher who supposedly said, "Wise guys finish last". For a time people accepted that. We assumed that the only way to the top was by backstabbing everyone on the way up. But then people began to realize it just wasn't so. Miserable people who spent their energy being rotten and miserable only ended up miserable and rotten. And people began to realize that miserable people who were successful were successful in spite of being miserable not because of it.

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I once was counseling a great man who had accomplished great things, but he also was a great womanizer, getting himself and his work and everyone around him in a lot of trouble. I tried to talk to him about it, to help, but he accused me of taking away his edge; he needed to live his life on the edge. He said taking these kinds of risks was what kept him sharp, made him great. My answer was simple: it wasn't being a pig that made him great; God made him great. Treating others like dirt, exploiting and abusing others, that's not what made him great. "Imagine" I said, "Imagine what you could be without the baggage". He was like Mickey Mantle, my childhood baseball hero after Ted Williams retired. Mantle was a gifted baseball player, even drunk, even abusing his body, even with a lifestyle that was undisciplined and self-destructive. The lesson was not that bad behaviors made him great. The real lesson, the sad lesson, was what Mickey Mantle could have been!! The Beatitudes are to me ..."imagine what we could be." The world is not like the Beatitudes; the world is not humble, not meek, not peace making, not merciful, not pure, not hungering for righteousness, not sensitive to sorrow. Maybe we ought to try it the Beatitude way. I almost hesitate to mention last Sunday's Super Bowl half-time show. It has been talked, discussed and dissected to death, but may actually turn out to be some sort of a turning point. I have yet to hear a single word in defense of it, of any of it. I'm almost of the opinion that the Justin Timberlake/Janet Jackson thing was the least of it and the logical conclusion to the rest of it. Ages ago two words were created for the express purpose of describing the half-time show: gross and vulgar. From beginning to end, gross and vulgar: The commercials, the singers, the dancers, the men, the women, even the animals...gross and vulgar. Suddenly the "Be Happy Attitudes" look a lot better! A little meekness, a little purity, a little righteousness, a little humility is starting to look pretty good. The toughest Beatitude for most folks is, "Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted". In that old fashioned translation it does, at least seem noble, sort of a "stiff upper lip", "no pain/no gain" kind of thinking. But when we put a modern translation to it, it gets tougher. "How happy are they that mourn"! Happiness implies joy, fun, delight, satisfaction, contentment, appreciation, and we don't associate any of that with mourning, grief, and sorrow. Over the years, however, I've come to two conclusions about that verse. One is my own; the other was taught to me by my friend Tony Campolo. I think they, or we, are both right. My contribution is from a lifetime of sorrow. As a pastor I've officiated at over 800 funerals, 800. Even in India, this trip, I did a funeral. I have a funeral this afternoon. I've already done another funeral last week and on Wednesday, we have Jim Gilles' funeral. Eight hundred funerals, eight hundred times I've sat with spouses, children, parents, friends, neighbors. And one valuable lesson I've learned as paradoxical as it sounds, is how fortunate, how blessed you really are if you have ever loved someone so much that when they are gone, you hurt. There are a lot of people in this world who have never truly loved someone else. Never fully opened up their lives to another person. Never let themselves be truly touched. Never given themselves fully to another. In their isolation they've built a protective cocoon around their feelings. "I don't want to get hurt", people say. To which Jesus responds, "How lucky you are, how fortunate, how happy you should feel, how blessed that you allowed someone to enter your life so deeply, so fully that when they're gone, your heart aches, your tears flow,

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so deeply, so fully that when they're gone, your heart aches, your tears flow, your spirit quakes. That's a beautiful thing. You're blessed!" Tony Campolo adds another dimension. When we were working together on Habitat for Humanity and dealing with issues of grinding poverty and injustice he explained the scripture to me one day: "How fortunate you are when you let your heart be broken by that which breaks the heart of God; how blessed to cry at what makes God cry". All the Beatitudes are like that; there is a kernel of truth in each one if we'll just dare to dig for it. As you entered church today, you received a wonderful paraphrase of the Beatitudes and the author, Katie Cook, gets at the kernel of each Beatitude. She really captures the "Upside Down Kingdom" Jesus was describing. Look at one of the toughest ones on the top of the second column; we know it as "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake", and historically we have imagined happy martyrs full of faith singing as the lions entered the coliseum and having happy visions of heaven as they are burned at the stake. We imagine great martyrs languishing in prison suffering with a wonderful nobility proud and strong to the end, pleased as punch to die for God. But that's not our times. So Katie Cook peels away that layer to reveal a kernel of truth we can relate to: "Joyful all you who meet with hatred, because of your stand for justice.... Now see what she says: "Joyful, but your reward will not be the punishment of those who abuse you. Instead you will long for their redemption. You will see God's justice ruling all of creation. You will know the endless dominion of love." That's a joy we can imagine, a happier blessedness, not in the destruction of our enemies, but joy in the victory of your cause, a victory so complete, so happy, that even the opposition, the persecutors, the enemy are convinced. They join you in the joy of your victory! This week a friend of mine died in India and it was her life that led me to think about the Beatitudes. Dr. Vasanthamma was my friend's name. She was an OB/Gyn with her own hospital in a dusty, out of the way city. I first met her in 1989. She asked me to pray on the one year anniversary of her husband's death; she was a widow prosperous in many ways. Her son, a successful man here in America, her daughter, a doctor, but when she took me to her house, I met her other son, Danny. He was about 18 at the time, mentally retarded, birth defected; he was kept locked away in a back room. Dr. Vasanthamma was worried about his life wasting away in nothingness and his fate after her death, and she was worried about all the other kids, unwanted, frightened and frightening living out their lives in nothingness. But Dr. Vasanthamma had a dream, a vision; she wanted to build a place, a nice place where all the mentally handicapped kids could come, all the kids locked away in back rooms chained to the walls, a source of fear and shame, a burden to family. She wanted to build a beautiful place where kids would come from all the surrounding villages to learn to walk, to talk, to take care of themselves, to work, to play, even to pray. A place with physical therapy and occupational therapy where an atrophied leg could be strengthened and an atrophied mind could be enriched and atrophied lives could be resurrected. One day she invited me to a great celebration at which she announced that they had agreed to have FOCI raise the funds to make her dream come true. That was the first I'd heard about it! She was a tough customer: bold, determined, focused, strong, energetic, visionary, committed, and stubborn. What drove her

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The Beatitudes

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focused, strong, energetic, visionary, committed, and stubborn. What drove her were the Beatitudes, plain and simple; she knew the poor and needy intimately. In her life as a doctor she had seen first hand the plight of the poor, the sorrow of the grieving, the inequities of injustice, the price to pay for ignorance, superstition, the cost of oppression and corruption. She knew about the mistreatment of women, the neglect of the handicapped, the suffering of the forgotten. And so she dedicated her last 15 years of her life to celebrating the poor in spirit, to comforting they who mourn, to affirm the meek, to extend mercy, to embrace the poor in heart, to be a maker of peace, to give freedom to the forgotten, and above all, this great lady lived out her vision. She "hungered and thirsted after righteousness"; she did that literally. She lived her life for the sole purpose of loving those mentally handicapped children. She hungered for justice in behalf of each child, each struggling overburdened overwhelmed family. She thirsted for them to have joy and hope and love in their lives, and she succeeded; she was victorious. And what became of that all those kids, once forgotten, once despised, once neglected, once destroyed? Now, because of her, they have succeeded; they are victorious. Together they built a beautiful palace of healing, a true oasis of love with a flowering garden, and thriving children, and loving families. In Katie Cook's version of the Beatitudes she teaches, "Joyful are those who respond to others in need. Joyful are those whose hearts break whose spirits groan for justice, for their quest will be accomplished and their dreams will come true." Before Church today I checked the sports page for the latest scores. I found the game I was interested in and the final score was this: Dr. Vasanthamma 10, Super Bowl Halftime Zero! Sometimes the good guys finish first!

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