Isaiah 61

Matthew 5.1-10

Blessed Are the Cheesemakers

Fifth Sunday of Epiphany

Blessed are you who are poor in spirit, for yours is the realm of heaven.

Blessed are you who mourn, for you will find comfort.

Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for you will be filled with it.

What a week this has been.  What a week.  When Skip Weisenburger stood up here two Sundays ago and said one of the things he likes about our church are the topical sermons, he laid down a gauntlet I’m not sure I can lift today, because the topics are too many to count.  It began last Sunday with the Super Bowl – was the Super Bowl only a week ago?  It was followed by Monday’s digital meltdown at the Iowa caucuses, followed by Tuesday’s State of the Union address, Wednesday’s Senate’s impeachment acquittal, Thursday’s National Prayer Breakfast – and don’t get me started on the National Prayer Breakfast, I could go on for a whole sermon on that.  Then on Friday, the Chinese doctor who sounded the alarm on the coronavirus died – of the coronavirus.  And through it all – through it all - Mookie Betts.  Mookie Betts!  How can the Red Sox trade Mookie Betts?  What I said last Sunday still holds true:  move over, Punxsutawney Phil, I’m climbing back in that burrow with you until next winter.

Lynette read one of the most familiar and beloved passages in the New Testament this morning, a series of eight blessings we call The Beatitudes from the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  “Blessed are you poor in spirit… blessed are you who mourn… blessed are the humble… blessed are you who hunger and thirst after righteousness… blessed are you who are filled with mercy… blessed are you pure in heart… blessed are you peacemakers… blessed are you when you’re persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”  And so we strive to be humble, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers; and we take solace when we find ourselves spiritually hungering, or in mourning, or perhaps scorned for what we believe.  Every one of these, Jesus tells us, can be understood as a blessing.

What is a blessing?  In Latin, the word is beat, where we get the word beauty and, yes, beatitude.  Beatitudes are blessings.  But I like the Greek word better, because it is closer to the language Jesus actually spoke.  The Greek word is makarios which is variously translated happy, fortunate, congratulations and privileged.  Happy are the poor in spirit; fortunate are the merciful; congratulations to the peacemakers; privileged are the pure in heart; in fact, I have versions of the Bible on my bookshelves that use these words instead of “blessed.”  But there is another reason I like makarios, because it reminds me of other things that can make us happy.  For example, that same Greek word makarios gives us the word “macaroni.”  As someone who is half Italian, pasta definitely makes me happy – I could easily eat it three meals a day.  Makarios is also related to Macareña, and who doesn’t like to dance?  I know, that’s a stretch, but it is another way of saying that blessings are those things that, even if they don’t make us happy all the time, bring us closer to the joy of God, and put us in a good place in the world.

And that’s often how we hear the beatitudes, isn’t it?  Kind of like a checklist:  if you do these things, then you’ll be right with God, and better people.  “Poor in Spirit” – check!  “Humble” – check!  “Hunger and thirst for righteousness” – check!  “Peacemakers” – double check!!  But there’s another way of hearing them that I’d like to consider this morning.

You may recognize that I stole my sermon title this morning from a line in a Monty Python movie.  It’s from “The Life of Brian,” a film about a neighbor of Jesus who is mistaken for the Messiah.  It is actually a hilarious film, one that is at the same time achingly funny, philosophically wry, culturally savvy, biblically informed and theologically profound, and if you haven’t seen it yet, Don’t.  Don’t.  Because in the midst of all this theological and cultural and biblical perspicacity are a handful of scenes that are decidedly bawdy and off-color, and I don’t want you telling your friends that your minister told you to watch it.  But a good example of its biblical understanding is the scene of Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount.  Hundreds of people gathered to hear him, a crowd so vast that those in the back had a difficult time hearing what he was saying.  It includes a friendly jab at what biblical scholars call the oral tradition, the fact that the Jesus stories were passed down by word of mouth for decades before they were ever written down, and we all know how stories that are repeated again and again can sometimes be misconstrued.  Way, way back in the crowd, Brian and his mother are standing with a handful of Jesus’ followers straining to hear what he is saying, and they can’t quite make out “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  “Blessed are the cheesemakers?” someone asks.  “What’s so special about the cheesemakers?”  And one of the more politically correct hearers replies, “Well, obviously, this is not meant to be taken literally.  It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.”  Which quickly leads to an argument, which quickly leads to a fight, and there are Jesus’ followers beating each other up, all the while Jesus is saying “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  All because they could not quite understand what he was saying.

This happens with us sometimes as well, and rather than pick a fight with you, I’d rather take a look at the Beatitudes from a slightly different perspective than we usually do.  To begin, I’m going to skip the first and the last beatitudes for a moment, Blessed are the poor in spirit and blessed are you who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and focus instead on the middle six.  Each of them is arranged in a deliberate pattern:  Blessed are… for they will.  The first is a present reality – blessed are the mournful, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart – and the second is a future promise – for they will find comfort and fulfillment, they will be earth-carers and God’s children.  When we read Jesus’ words, our tendency is to focus on the first, on the present reality, and we’re content to let the future promise live, well, out in the future somewhere.  But I have two questions:  the first is, what if the future promise is not in the future at all, but also a part of the present reality?  And second, if it is, what if both parts of each beatitude are equal blessings?   In other words for example, with Blessed are you peacemakers for you will be called children of God, isn’t being a child of God every bit the blessing being a peacemaker is?  Isn’t inheriting the earth a blessing equal to living humbly?  On Thursday, when Diane Adams and I led worship at Chesterfield’s, I read the Beatitudes from Matthew, but instead of preaching about them – the wonderful folks at Chesterfield’s would much rather hear Diane sing than listen to me preach, and I can’t say I blame them – instead of preaching from Matthew, I just walked around the room and used Jesus’ beatitudes as blessings.  But I didn’t use the present reality as the blessing – I didn’t go around and say “May you be poor in Spirit, May you be meek, May you mourn.”  Instead the blessings were the future promise:  “Be comforted.  May you inherit the earth.  Receive the mercy of God.  You are a beloved child of God.”  These too are the blessings of the beatitudes.

And what compels me to say this is that the middle six beatitudes are framed by, or housed within the shelter of the first and the last.  The first and last beatitudes are slightly but significantly different from the middle six, because they both invoke what Jesus calls the “kingdom of heaven,” or the realm of God, which he says again and again throughout the gospels is not a future promise, but rather the realm of heaven is a present reality.  The kingdom of heaven, the realm of God, Jesus repeatedly reminds us, is at hand.  It is here.  It is now.  The middle six beatitudes follow the “blessed are… for they will” pattern.  Not the first and the last though:  The first is, “Blessed are you poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven;” and the last is, “Blessed are you who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.”  The present reality of heaven’s realm is the frame upon which the rest of the beatitudes are built, it is the house in which they live.  Or to put it simply, you and I already live and move and work and play in God’s realm.  Ours is the kingdom of heaven, we are the beloved community.  We are blessed.

And it’s not just us – it’s not just the church.  We do not sit here happily content that we belong to God and leave it at that  If God’s realm is already present, we all live within it and we are all blessed, in no matter what circumstances we find ourselves.  We may be poor in spirit, we may be in mourning, whether it is the loss of a loved one or the loss of civility and compassion among some of our neighbors, we may feel like we are being, if not persecuted, at least looked upon as somewhat strange or credulous because we think it’s important to make peace, to show mercy where perhaps few others will, to hunger and thirst so much for what is right and true in the world that we are willing to be both public and insistent in our witness.  And we are bold to do this because we know that the blessings of God don’t belong to us; once we receive them – or, once we recognize we already have them, or they already have us, we don’t hold on to them tightly. They are given to us so we can give them to others.  They are given to us so we can give them to others.  So those blessings our children gave us this morning, I want to invite you to share it with someone this week.  Give your blessing away to someone who would appreciate knowing that they too are beloved of God.

It turns out that it doesn’t matter how wearied or overwhelmed we may have been by the events of the past week.  Maybe we are feeling poor in spirit; maybe we are mourning the loss of something we feel is really important; maybe our hunger and thirst for what is right and true has not yet been filled the way we had hoped it would.  But this morning’s passage tells us two things:  we are blessed, and one of those blessings is that we are part of a beloved community where we can bring all of these things and find in them a blessing we can share with others.  Blessed am I. Blessed are we.

Amen.

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