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Matthew 5:1-12

Recently our family got rid of an old love seat that had served us well, but whose time had come.  Before donating it, we took all of the cushions off to clean it thoroughly.  We discovered that a whole ecosystem had evolved from the things that had fallen through the cracks.  Socks and pencils, popcorn and pennies, as well as dark unidentifiable things that no one wants to speak of had made their home, out of sight, under our couch cushions.  All of these items had found a way to move and settle into the deep dark places of our former couch.  The crumpled Kleenexes and rubber bands fallen past the safe, soft surface cushions where everyone rests and sits.  Like the wonderful and terrible things that had migrated under our loveseat cushions, blessing has a way of moving between lines.  Blessing, more than any of our secular or sacred passions, has a way of flowing into the deep out of view places and settling there.

As Jesus delivered this superbowl of sermons from the mount, the people that he saw were hard pressed to settle onto the comfortable cushions of oppressive Roman domination or nationalistic Jewish legalism.  Like my loveseat, to linger very long between these two cushions meant falling into a kind of no man’s land.  If they settled into supporting Roman occupation, they were collaborators and traitors whose livelihood could be threatened because of their lack of religious or patriotic zeal.  If they settled into the “make Israel great again” camp they risked being labeled revolutionaries or terrorists whose livelihood could be threatened because Rome would not tolerate protest and civil disorder.

Like Moses in Exodus 18 and 19, Jesus calls disciples to assist and then sits among the people at the end of Matthew 4, before moving to the mountain in chapter 5.  Jesus becomes the new Moses.  Jesus ascends the new Sinai while the hurting and enslaved people below are ordered for worship.  There, the sick and sinful receive the dignity of becoming true worshipers, gathered to hear from God, and through Jesus receive a new covenant.  Where Moses ascended and reverently received, Jesus ascended and rested, sitting in the presence of the Father.  Like Aaron, the disciples are allowed to approach as Jesus begins to preach.

Makarios, blessedness, or happiness, is truly disarming language.  The eight blessings that Jesus offers are not new laws to be added to the already existing list of burdensome regulations.  At the same time, these blessings do not promise emotional or circumstantial satisfaction.  “Blessed” is how God sees his people whether they feel it or not.  Blessing tells people they are enough, while at the same time inviting them with God’s help to become more.  Alyce McKenzie notes, “The literal translation of the word is “O, the blessedness of . . .” [1]

O the blessedness of the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven – Those reduced to nothing in spirit, Jesus calls blessed.  Pharisaic blame never ceases to remind the poor in spirit that their poverty is somehow deserved.  Those who offer affirmation to the poor in spirit understand poverty of spirit only as a problem to be fixed.  Henri Nouwen observes, “The first of the beatitudes is blessed are the poor, and not blessed are those who care for the poor.”[2]  How often have we come to believe that it is the secular or sacred fixers that are blessed?  The kingdom of God does not belong to DIY self-help fixers, nor does it belong to sacred fault finders.   It is the poor in spirit, the very ones who defy fixing and fall through the cracks that Jesus calls blessed.  It is to these that Jesus gives the kingdom of heaven.

O the blessedness of those who mourn, for they will be comforted. – Those who have lost and are left in grief and mourning, Jesus calls blessed.  Sacred voices often inform the hurting that grief is somehow faithless because in God there should be hope.  Their message is, “have your moment but hurry up and get over it because God is good.”  The hopeless secularists give grief all the power.  They say to the mourning, “you will never get over this, there is nothing more, suck it up.”  Blessing maneuvers between the “you’ll never get over this” cushion and the “hurry up and get over this” cushion.  In the presence of a savior who knew grief and walks with the suffering, those who mourn will find true comfort.

O the blessedness of the meek, for they will inherit the earth – Those who are gentle but bold, mild but confident, Jesus calls blessed.  The conquerors believe that anything good can only be obtained forcibly.  Meekness has no place.  The consecrated voices often agree that this world is no place for the meek, the mild, the quiet, and so they call the meek to wait for God to come and take them away from this dangerous earth.  Blessing offers to the gentle faithful a way to live between the cushions of conquering and escaping.  To those who won’t take by power or run in fear, Jesus will give the earth itself as their inheritance.

O the blessedness of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled – Those who are hungry and thirsty for what is right, who desire righteousness, Jesus calls blessed.  The epicurean consumer finds righteousness simply unappetizing.  For these, blessedness means being filled at all costs and at all times.  Right is irrelevant.  For the self-righteous ascetic, to admit to hunger and thirst of any kind would make them appear weak and discontent.  Righteous yes, hungry and thirsty for it, never because the truly holy should always be filled, right?  Jesus calls blessed those who find righteousness truly appetizing and though sometimes they find their spiritual stomachs empty and growling, they still find a way to desire righteousness.  These will be filled.

O the blessedness of the merciful, for they will receive mercy. – Those who have a right to inflict punishment, justice and retribution, but who don’t exercise their right upon another, Jesus calls blessed.  Political and religious voices alike often spin a narration that says “we should get only what we earn and give others precisely what they deserve.”  This approach makes everyone a judge.  The merciful are those who are fully aware of the consequences of actions and recognize what is just.  However, the merciful also understand the power of giving what is not earned or deserved.  The merciful are blessed by receiving in themselves the grace they have extended to others.

O the blessedness of the pure in heart, for they will see God. Those whose hearts are not mixed but have a single focus, Jesus calls blessed.  There is always the temptation to live with a compartmentalized heart, one that makes many things into little gods.  There are also voices that call for perfect moral practice regardless of whether ones heart is in it or not.  Union with God dances above absurd plurality and lifeless practice.  Blessing belongs to those whose hearts are united with God even if their focus and practice need to improve.

O the blessedness of the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. – Those who love peace and act to bring it about, Jesus calls blessed.  Peace is not won by force nor is it left as a distant unreachable goal.  Peace is not a win or lose endeavor.  Peace is not something we put off as unattainable.  God is the maker of peace.  Those who will be called his children will, like their father, be peace makers.  Not peace fighters, or procrastinators, but those who work daily for reconciliation.

O the blessedness of those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  O the blessedness of you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.   Those who are punished for doing and being what is right, Jesus calls blessed.  The presence of persecution is not proof of righteousness.  Before claiming persecution for righteousness sake we should ask ourselves if