February 2, 2020 — Rev. Paula Norbert
This morning, we heard a reading from a section of Matthew’s Gospel that we have come to know as the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew collected the sayings of Jesus, and he includes them in this one great Sermon, a portion of which we listened to this morning. Jesus went up on the mountain where he sits down and preaches to the crowd gathered to hear his teachings. The Sermon comprises chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew’s Gospel and begins with the Beatitudes, a wonderful set of saying of Jesus. The followers of Jesus often addressed him as Rabbi or teacher and that was certainly one of the most important roles that he had, to teach and preach the Good News for various groups of people who were yearning to hear something new that would help make sense of their lives, help enrich their spiritual understandings, and provide comfort to them during often difficult times. Let us pray, O Sacred Teacher, speak to our hearts this day and continue to help us be open to new learning throughout our lives. Amen.
The Beatitudes may be called attitudes of the soul, characteristics of the soul, inviting us to think about how the deepest part of who each of is responds to the world and receives the world. Jesus was inviting his listeners to take on these ways of seeing the world, to look at the way he looks at the world and to embrace that new vision as we embrace one another. The Beatitudes turned things upside down in a way, both for the hearers of his day and for us today. Why would it ever be blessed to mourn or suffer or be poor in spirit? We might wonder what Jesus was trying to do in offering this special Sermon, but I trust that those who were listening that day heard themselves, their lives in this message and it brought them hope and meaning despite their circumstances or especially because of them. Some are easier to grasp than others, but I’d like to provide just a couple of examples of individuals who may help us understand a little better and to think in new ways about these sayings.
Blest are they, the Poor In Spirit…There are certainly many ways that we might think about being poor in spirit, but perhaps Matthew is speaking about people who have a sense of humility about themselves, who have an attitude of openness to the gifts in their lives. We’ve certainly met people like this, who haven’t been given a lot in life but are blessed in the way they continue to want to love and learn and care about others. I was thinking about an old friend, Kathy, whom I first met when I traveled to Central America many years ago. Kathy has devoted much of her life to working in and among the poor in Latin America. When I first met her, she had just lost her husband in a bus accident and she was trying to cope with three young children in a time of tremendous grief. Years later, she would lose her second husband, Ron, to a malaria that he caught while working in Africa to bring potable water to folks through his amazing pottery filter. Kathy is probably one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. In spite of her great suffering, she has remained devoted to the work she has embraced as her life’s vocation. She is a positive, beautiful and deeply inspiring person. Her faith and her spirit have been challenged often, but she has persevered always and when I have seen her at times over the years, she has remained so optimistic, loving and generous with her time and her love. And Jesus said, Yours is the Kingdom of God…
“Blessed are they that mourn”. We might think about Abraham Lincoln in these divisive times in our nation’s history once again. He wept over the brokenness of our nation and his face displayed the sorrow he felt about what unfolded during his time as President. His face reflected all the awesome responsibility he felt and the tremendous grief he carried with him, both from his personal life and in his role. I understand that he was also a very funny person. He was a deep, thoughtful individual who truly carried the weight of the nation on his shoulders. And Jesus said, You shall be comforted.
I’d invite you to think of other people in your lives or in history that are examples of these wonderful teachings, individuals who, through their lives, lived out these attitudes of the soul, if you will. And too, we think about our own lives and times when these words brought comfort or meaning or strength to our own lives. These lovely sayings describe who Jesus was and why he had such a profound influence on those he met along the journey. He was an extraordinary teacher and a moral leader, demonstrating through his own life what he most hoped would be embraced by those who followed him or had the opportunity to hear his words. May we continue to be open to the lessons he taught and the lessons shared by people who inspire us by their moral leadership, their compassion, and their beautiful attitudes of the soul.