What you are about to hear is Jesus' mysterious message of salvation, a new way of understanding how to be spiritual in a world that would like to devour you with messages that say you aren’t measuring up.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he began to speak and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Salt and Light13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 People do not light a lamp and put it under the bushel basket; rather, they put it on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
The Law and the Prophets17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
If you’ve ever felt poor in spirit, you know it’s a hard sell in that moment to believe you are blessed. At midnight this past Tuesday, a stomach bug hit me hard and wiped me out for a good 24 hrs. When I “came to” on Thursday morning, still pondering the meaning of this week’s scripture: “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, I laughed out loud. How is that possible? It’s hard to even feel human when your spirit is so low, let alone feel worthy of God’s presence.
And that’s when it clicked for me. I don’t have to “feel” God’s presence for it to be real. Maybe it’s most real when we don’t have the energy to even think about reaching out for God. You know that Footsteps in the Sand poem? It gets a bad rap in some ways for being overly sentimental, but I think it holds truth. “My child, when you see only one set of footprints, it was I that carried you.”
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus knows suffering, even at the point of preaching this sermon, he knows what’s at stake for his future. And that moment he’s on the cross and cries out, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” That's when our salvation becomes real. It’s those moments of experiencing “poor in spirit, mourn, meek” that open us to the reality that we need a savior.
It’s not about what happens after we die so much as it is about how we live today…accepting the gift of faith that rises to meet us in our greatest suffering. How so? Because Jesus, in those final moments on the cross, declares it OKAY to question God and still, God’s love for us remains.
That’s what it means to be blessed, to be God’s beloved. We’re not special or unique, God’s blessing is for all…but it does require us to be vulnerable, to ask for help, to say, “God, I can’t do this on my own.” And Jesus knows it takes a meek, poor, grieving, hungry, thirsty spirit to be open to such faith.
I am profoundly moved by the testimonies of faith I’ve heard from each of you. I know you trust God with difficult things, because I’ve gotten to share many stories of suffering alongside you. You’ve heard many of mine. A refrain I often hear in these stories is, “I don’t know how people get through hard times without faith.” Amen. This week as every cell in my body rebelled against my best attempts at health, I had to rely on God more than ever- even when I didn’t have the strength to pray. I had to trust every part of my work that went undone into the hands of the one to whom we as a church belong: Jesus, the cornerstone. We worship a God who knows what’s on our hearts even before we utter a word. And with that same tender attention, Jesus is able to turn suffering into something sacred. Like a shared connection with another, a moment of inspiration is someone else’s journey, a confirmation of God’s healing touch.
I will live on this faith until the day I die, and I’m honored to share this life of faith with you in this season of my life. Our blessing is not always in the flesh, it is in what lies deeper still, a spiritual stirring that enables us to give salt to the earth and light to the world, even amidst the darkness of our own experiences. So shine your light, be salt for this earth in the unique ways only you can. We all need that from you, just like you need it from us. And in the work of amplifying God’s righteousness, we begin to see more clearly our own paths unfold with goodness. May your journey with Christ continue to be illuminated by acts of love.
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Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.