The Beatitudes-we know them so well! Those familiar
Blessed are the . . . lines have comforted folks over the centuries. Maybe you can recall
a sermon on the famous lines. Even Simon and Garfunkel captured the spirit of the
beatitudes in song: "Blessed are the sat upon, spat upon, ratted on." None of us
are untouched by these beautiful words of Jesus. Theyve got to be some of the most
inspiring words in literature.
and Luke's Warehouse
A sermon based on Luke 6:17-26
by Rev. Tom Hall
But heres my discovery-we have not one, but two experts on the Beatitudes-Matthew
and Luke! We normally go to Matthews version when we need some southern comfort.
Thats where we meet the traditional Beatitudes. But today we meet Lukes
Beatitudes as well.
What well need to recall as we proceed this morning is that the gospels of
Matthew and Luke werent just free-floating leaflets left on every doorstep in the
Roman Empire. They were-at least originally-connected to specific worshiping communities
located in specific places in the world. So based on the Beatitudes alone, what was
Matthews and Lukes congregations like? How did they hear these words of Jesus?
So lets go church hopping! First, well hop over to Matthews church
and then well head on over to Lukes. That way we can sermon-taste and see how
each tell us about the Beatitudes. Remember, were only tasting, not feasting!
Were only listening to the Beatitudes, not to the entire gospels. So our first
impressions will not be completely reliable. But I think we may become aware over the next
few minutes how very different the Beatitudes can be heard and who knows? Maybe those
words will trigger a new way of thinking about life.
The only directions to get to Matthews church are a roadside sign. Reads simply,
"up the mountain." Notice the sign in front of the church: St. Matthews
Church of the Poor in Spirit." Its Beatitude Sunday and upon entering we hear
their favorite Aramaic gospel song-Blessed Assurance.
Now the sermon. Like a good preacher, Matthew first sets the context. Tells us that the
story begins atop a mountain. That should trigger everyones memory about mountains.
Mountains are the places where God comes down to people. Where was Abraham when he was
about to sacrifice Isaac? A mountain. And where was Moses when God gave him the Law? A
mountain. And where is Jesus when he speaks these words? A mountain. That means that
were prepared to hear words on this mountain that will parallel and actually
supercede the mountaintop experiences of Abraham, Moses, and Isaac. But instead of some
harsh, "Thou shalt nots" we hear instead these words:
Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed . . . who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for there is the
kingdom of heaven.
First point in the sermon: "Jesus said, blessed are the poor in
spirit." "That means," Matthew informs his congregation, "when
youre running on empty. When youre spiritually bankrupt. When your passion for
God is below zero-Celsius, not Fahrenheit." We gather from this first point that
Matthews congregation values deep spirituality. Relationship with God may well be
the most important relationship in life. "So take care of your spiritual life above
everything else," Matthew proclaims, "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
(Amen---yes, Amen! Hallelujah! Come on now!)
Second point: "Jesus said, blessed are those who hunger and thirst after
righteousness." "That means deep hunger pangs," Matthew explains,
"for Gods ways. You cant be one of those poor in spirits and disregard
Gods ways." The point is clear here and throughout the gospel of Matthew.
Whoever listened each Sunday to this gospel also valued clearly defined, God-pleasing,
straight and narrow living. So Matthew encourages his congregation on this day to read,
What Color Is Your Parachute and to listen discover personal mission in order to please
Third point: "Jesus said, blessed are you who are persecuted for
righteousness sake." "That is, when we suffer for doing the right
thing-Gods thing-we are highly treasured and loved by God," Matthew concludes.
Throw in a few examples and illustrations and a conclusion, and you have heard
Matthews version of the Beatitudes.
We need to attend Matthews church more often. For in Matthews church
youll discover the importance of relationship with God, small groups and Bible
studies everywhere. Youll be hustled to spiritual retreats and mountaintop
experiences. And youll leave Matthews church deeply marked and shaped by the
quality of spirituality that we hear in his Beatitudes and gospel.
Now lets hop over to Lukes church. If Matthews church is located
"up a mountain" somewhere in the Adirondacks, then Pastor Lukes church
might be found in Detroit or London or Sydney or Calcutta. Imagine, for the sake of
comparison, a Luke congregation as it begins worship. We are struck immediately by the
stark difference. This congregation worships in a huge warehouse long since abandoned by
Campbell Soup Company and has been patched up and used by this urban group of Christians.
Were also struck by the ethnicity of the congregation-Parthians, Medes, Elamites,
and Phrygians. Holy melting pot! White latex letters splatter across the glass front. The
outer walls of the church still retains the graffiti. Even the church name is intriguing.
Instead of Church of the Poor in Spirit," Lukes is simply "Church of
the Poor." Theyve made the most of the old warehouse. Part of it is sectioned
off for childcare; the AAs and Al Anon use the upstairs on Thursdays and Saturdays.
Several retired teachers help Campbell Soup employees retool their lives in a jobs
training programs and yet another room is filled with dry goods and baby food.
Worship even feels different in Lukes church. Maybe even some alcohol and weed
odors waft amidst the body smells and stale air. People are still arriving when Luke
stands up to preach on Beatitude Sunday:
Youre blessed when youve lost it all-Gods kingdoms here for the
Youre blessed when youre ravenously hungry-Thanksgiving dinners
Youre blessed when the tears flow freely-joys gonna come with the morning.
Count yourself blessed everytime someone cuts you down or throws you out, everytime
someone smears your name to discredit Jesus. You be glad, here me? Skip like a lamb, if
you like, because all heaven applauds you.
Okay, theres a few differences-like stomach-numbing hunger instead of spiritual
hunger and shameful poverty instead of spiritual poverty. But otherwise weve heard
this sermon before. So were about to leave when the usher sits us down.
"Preachers not done yet," he whispers. Then with a baritone voice at full
throttle Luke shouts with a tinge of anger in his voice:
But how miserable for you who are rich, for you have had all your comforts.
How miserable for you who have all you want, for you are going to be hungry.
How miserable for you who are laughing now, for you will know sorrow and tears.
How miserable for you when everybody says nice things about you, for that is exactly
how their fathers treated the false prophets.
Ouch! Blessed Disturbance! These Beatitudes disrupt and reverse fortunes. Lukes
Beatitudes tell us what God is doing in the non-spiritual world-compassionately aware of
those who have received little blessing from life and beholding those sit Sunday after
Sunday smug in their wealth and spirituality, and who feel no obligations but to love God.
Many of Lukes congregations must have been very, very poor. Such does the
Luke-Acts accounts suggest. Can you imagine a church full of people who have fallen
through the cracks? Look across the pews in Lukes church. Theres a poor woman
just diagnosed with breast cancer in a world that caters to those who can pay for relief.
And two pews in front is a young person who suffers silently from anorexia-shes
believed the lie that looks are everything. Near her is a working mother who holds her
last paycheck, and a pew up is the student on academic probation who gets a lousy grade in
chemistry and then over there is a wino whos made a slobbering mess of his life, but
he wants to try again.
Lukes Jesus is very near to these people. Lukes Jesus doesnt stand
alone on some mountaintop but comes out from behind the altar and walks among the people.
"Blessed are you who weep now," he says, "for you will laugh," he
promises. "You will laugh because God is at work getting ready for another
resurrection of a failed life." In Lukes church life is so uncertain that
theyve learned not to cling to anything too tightly.
Those of us who have grown to comfortable with Matthews Beatitudes need
Lukes church. Spiritually poor is one thing. Just plain "poor" and
"poverty" is another thing. Luke wraps the spirit and the body in the same human
paper so that being spiritual often means feeding the stomach of those who dont know
where their next meal is coming from. It may mean standing with those in the unemployment
lines, or sending our bodies and not just our checks to spend time with the poor.
Just this week, a colleague of mine spoke to our congregation. Shane was interviewed a
couple of weeks ago on National Public Radio as one of the great agitators and advocates
for homelessness in America. What an interesting mix of Matthew and Lukes churches
he is! On one hand, Shane spent some time with the late Mother Teresa in Calcutta cleaning
and caring for lepers, but on the other hand he has served as an intern at Willow Creek
Church in Chicago-Americas prosperous and wealthy burb church.
Standing in front of our congregation, Shane said, "The poor dont want your
money, they most need your presence. Too easy to write out a check and forget about them.
You hear what Im saying? They need to be with you-and you need them." So
were starting a ministry that will bring Lukes and Matthews spiritual
together into new dialogue.
Which version of the Beatitudes do you need to hear most at this time in your life?
Matthew confronts us with relationship-asks how our relationship with God is getting
along. Are we studying and praying scripture? Do we honestly thirst for the living God?
Luke, on the other hand, wants to know if were honest about our pain. About
injustice. About the poor. Listen to both Reverends-Matthew and Luke and youll own a
faith and spirituality that is both relational and social. Amen.