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The Beattitudes: Matthew's Burbs
and Luke's Warehouse

A sermon based on Luke 6:17-26
by Rev. Tom Hall

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. They’ve got to be some of the most inspiring words in literature.

But here’s my discovery-we have not one, but two experts on the Beatitudes-Matthew and Luke! We normally go to Matthew’s version when we need some southern comfort. That’s where we meet the traditional Beatitudes. But today we meet Luke’s Beatitudes as well.

What we’ll need to recall as we proceed this morning is that the gospels of Matthew and Luke weren’t 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 Matthew’s and Luke’s congregations like? How did they hear these words of Jesus?

So let’s go church hopping! First, we’ll hop over to Matthew’s church and then we’ll head on over to Luke’s. That way we can sermon-taste and see how each tell us about the Beatitudes. Remember, we’re only tasting, not feasting! We’re 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 Matthew’s church are a roadside sign. Reads simply, "up the mountain." Notice the sign in front of the church: St. Matthew’s Church of the Poor in Spirit." It’s 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 everyone’s 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 we’re 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 you’re running on empty. When you’re spiritually bankrupt. When your passion for God is below zero-Celsius, not Fahrenheit." We gather from this first point that Matthew’s 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 God’s ways. You can’t be one of those poor in spirits and disregard God’s 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 God.

Third point: "Jesus said, ‘blessed are you who are persecuted for righteousness sake.’" "That is, when we suffer for doing the right thing-God’s 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 Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes.

We need to attend Matthew’s church more often. For in Matthew’s church you’ll discover the importance of relationship with God, small groups and Bible studies everywhere. You’ll be hustled to spiritual retreats and mountaintop experiences. And you’ll leave Matthew’s church deeply marked and shaped by the quality of spirituality that we hear in his Beatitudes and gospel.

Now let’s hop over to Luke’s church. If Matthew’s church is located "up a mountain" somewhere in the Adirondacks, then Pastor Luke’s 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.

We’re 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," Luke’s is simply "Church of the Poor." They’ve made the most of the old warehouse. Part of it is sectioned off for childcare; the AA’s 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 Luke’s 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:

You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all-God’s kingdom’s here for the finding.

You’re blessed when you’re ravenously hungry-Thanksgiving dinner’s coming.

You’re blessed when the tears flow freely-joy’s 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, there’s a few differences-like stomach-numbing hunger instead of spiritual hunger and shameful poverty instead of spiritual poverty. But otherwise we’ve heard this sermon before. So we’re about to leave when the usher sits us down. "Preacher’s 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. Luke’s 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 Luke’s 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 Luke’s church. There’s 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-she’s 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 who’s made a slobbering mess of his life, but he wants to try again.

Luke’s Jesus is very near to these people. Luke’s Jesus doesn’t 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 Luke’s church life is so uncertain that they’ve learned not to cling to anything too tightly.

Those of us who have grown to comfortable with Matthew’s Beatitudes need Luke’s 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 don’t 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 Luke’s 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-America’s prosperous and wealthy ‘burb church.

Standing in front of our congregation, Shane said, "The poor don’t want your money, they most need your presence. Too easy to write out a check and forget about them. You hear what I’m saying? They need to be with you-and you need them." So we’re starting a ministry that will bring Luke’s and Matthew’s 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 we’re honest about our pain. About injustice. About the poor. Listen to both Reverends-Matthew and Luke and you’ll own a faith and spirituality that is both relational and social. Amen.