Blessed: The Persecuted - Matthew 5:1-12
We have been talking for two months now about Jesus turning our world upside down. Remember, as kids we enjoyed looking at the world upside down, but as grown-ups—not so much because when our world is turned upside down, we want to do everything in our power to get it righted again. Our world’s get turned upside down not because we've decided to hang off the couch, a chair, a pull-up bar, or even a trapeze. If we, as youth and adults, find our worlds turned upside down, it is usually because something drastic has happened that causes us to shift our world view. Either a joyous or tragic event in our lives, such as the birth of a child or the death of a loved one, a promotion or a lay-off at work, to someone reveals to us that what we have thought to be true, just really is not true. It is this final revelation, this final world-flipping scenario that we have been hearing from Jesus—and the truth of the matter is, society has not changed that much. The world flipping way he changed things for those in the first century are the same world flipping ways he connects to us and calls us to change the way we look at the world.
Jesus has reminded us that those who are blessed to find themselves called the people of God are those who find their identity in God and God alone…they don’t depend on their jobs or careers, their bank accounts, cars, or houses, or anything else to provide them with an identity…they look to God.
Jesus has reminded us that those who are blessed because they will find themselves comforted are those who mourn the way the world looks and operates today…not because of some frustration because of who is in office and how they are handling their job, but because they look at the world and see the hurt and pain…and their comfort will come as they see God and his people at work revealing the Kingdom of God in this world.
Jesus has reminded us that those who are blessed to be promised a place in New Jerusalem when the New Heaven and the New Earth come as one and God’s people are in God’s very presence are not those who rely on their physical strength or their military might, but those who have the God-given spiritual fortitude to live meekly, reflecting the very life of Christ.
Jesus has reminded us that it is not those who are satisfied with how the world is working who are to be considered blessed, but those who are well-off, those who are privileged, are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. They, Jesus reminds us, are the one who will be satisfied because their efforts to bring God’s righteousness into view will be successful as they use their gifts to reveal God to those around them as they feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, and work to touch the lives of all who are oppressed.
Jesus has reminded us that those who are blessed are not the ones who are able to carry out vengeance and get-even, or even celebrate someone “getting what they deserve.” Jesus says the blessed are those who know they will receive mercy from his Father because they have offered mercy, undeserved forgiveness, to those who have wronged them.
Jesus has reminded us that those who are blessed with the assurance that they will see God are those who, with a pure heart, have put God first above all else—above their jobs, above their recreation life, above their families, and most especially above themselves.
Last week Jesus reminded us that it the peacemakers, and by peacemakers we don’t mean those who try to get everyone to compromise until they have nothing to say they believe in, but those who, like He did with his very life, offer themselves as instruments to bring people into a relationship with Christ, that they may no longer stand estranged from God with the danger of his wrath being poured out upon them, but have been brought near to God and coved in His grace. These are the ones who will hear, like Jesus heard, “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter, with you I am well pleased.
I have shared with you in a previous week, but I’ll share with you again, as we have traveled this journey since July 8th, I have found myself, rather than feeling blessed, feeling challenged. What Jesus has offered in these Beatitudes are a description of what it looks like to live as a disciple of Christ…and I realize that I fall far short.
Yet it is this final pair of Beatitudes that work together that I feel stands to challenge us more than anything. How many of you like to have folks mad with you or upset with you? How many of us want to be so unpopular that compared to us, the most disliked kid in school would be the most popular? How many of us would be glad to say that a bully picked on us today? How many of you like having your livelihood or even lives threatened?
Jesus comes into our world where we generally would like to be seen as the person that gets along with everyone and says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake…blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” Hearing these words of Jesus, if we are popular we might want to be wary.
I had a professor once say to me, “if everybody likes you, then you’re not doing your job.” He meant that as applying to pastors in a church saying that we would surely upset someone in the church at some point…even making one group happy makes another group unhappy. If you don’t think so, take on something as simple in the church as regulating the heat or air conditioning in the Sanctuary or a Sunday School classroom. However, I think this professor’s words go far beyond the scope of a pastor in the church, but apply to Christians in the world. If everyone is happy with us, then most surely we are not doing our job because at some point, as we seek to live our lives like Jesus lived His…if we simply seek to live our lives in accordance with the Beatitudes, then we are going to rock the boat and make those around us a little uncomfortable, or even angry to the point that they turn on us.
Knowing that we would be called a chicken or a coward, would we be willing to walk away from a verbal or physical assault without responding? What if we knew we could take the person down, either figuratively or literally and by walking away knowing that we would have to face the same ridicule every day?
Knowing that we have a family to feed at home, would we be willing to put our job on the line to confront an employer who is overcharging his customers?
Knowing that we would have to give up our yearly trip to the mountains, would we commit ourselves to a week of repairing homes damaged by hurricanes?
Knowing that our family would disown us, would we reveal secrets of abuse that have been kept hidden, especially with others at risk of the same abuse?
Knowing that we would probably be kicked out, would we take the hungry person living under the bridge who hasn't bathed in a week with us to the country club for a meal because we were told we could bring a guest?
Knowing that we would be ridiculed, would we work to protect the illegal from being scooped up and sent away without every seeing his or her children before being deported?
Would we publicly declare Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior in a room full of atheists? Would we publicly declare Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life if that statement were declared to be a hate crime because it diminished other faiths? Would we publicly speak the name of Jesus if we knew could be arrested? Would we proclaim the Gospel if a gun were placed against our head and we were told to recant our faith? What if that gun were held against our spouse’s head? Our child’s head? Our grandchild’s head? These last few make all the other “persecution” look inconsequential doesn't it?
The irony is, my brothers and sisters, that we live in a country where the threat of death for our faith is not common…yet the church is dying because we are afraid to lose our jobs, upset our family members, get picked on or shunned by the popular crowd, give up some vacation time, or even be late to lunch…yet in the parts of the world where the threat of death at the mere mention of the name of Jesus is real, the church is thriving and growing. Jesus says those who are persecuted are the ones who are blessed, which in turn implies that the rest of us, who strive to have everyone like us, are the ones to be pitied.
How do we prepare ourselves to find blessing in the persecution? How do can we be ready to be bullied, unemployed, laughed at, or killed? It is in the blessing! Those who are persecuted have a great reward waiting in heaven…for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven…not that theirs will be the kingdom of heaven, theirs is the kingdom of heaven…it is not a coming thing, but a present reality. We've heard that before…we have come full circle…for the poor in spirit…those who find their true identity in God—who for them God is their all in all, nothing else matters, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. We find ourselves able to endure what persecution we are to face when we have given up letting anything or anyone define us but God…when we realize that no other relationship matters if it compromises our relationship with God…when we realize that nothing in this world can separate us from the love found in the one who declared these beatitudes…we are simply called to give our life over to God, walk where Jesus walked, that one day we may walk where Jesus is…
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.