October 29, 2008

Blessed Are They

by Erin Martin
(Matthew 5:1-12) This year for All Saints’ Sunday, I am hearing differently Jesus’ famous Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. In previous years, I would quickly leap to associating the saints who have gone before us with those whom Jesus calls blessed. My line of thinking would go something like this; it is the witness of the faithful in the history of Christianity and in our lives that demonstrates to us what poverty of spirit and meekness look like. It is the peacemaking “giants” of the past and present who show us what it means to be children of God. As disciples we are simply called to follow their example, to cultivate within us the attitudes these saints so courageously exhibit, and we too shall be called blessed. This year, however, I am hearing Jesus differently.

When Jesus teaches the disciples on the mountain who receives the favor of God and by implication who does not, Jesus isn’t so much urging the disciples to “go and do likewise.” Instead, Jesus is announcing God’s jubilee much in the same way he does in Luke 4. Jesus proclaims the good news of the Beatitudes. God’s favor is upon the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the mourners, those who hunger for righteousness, the purehearted, the persecuted and those who make for peace. When Jesus points to the crowd drawing the disciples’ attention to the man in rags or the woman bent low, Jesus is teaching the disciples to see the world as God sees the world. To embrace as blessed those whom the world curses. To favor as God does those whom the world rejects.

The first calling of the disciples may simply be to rightly recognize the difference between the truly blessed of God and the falsely blessed of the world. Only then can we sincerely devote ourselves to the work of God.

It was a hymn suggestion for All Saints Sunday this year that brought this idea to mind for me. In the worship planner, the hymn, “Christ for the World We Sing,” was suggested. In reading the first verse, it occurred to me who the saints of God are. The verse reads, “Christ for the world we sing, the world to Christ we bring, with loving zeal, the poor and them that mourn, the faint and overborne, sin sick and sorrow worn, whom Christ doth heal.” The saints are those whose message is “Christ for the world,” and whose labor is to bear to Christ for healing the very blessed of God. What a potential waste of time it could be for rich North American Christians to spend their lives attempting to cultivate within ourselves a “meekness” or “poverty of spirit.” The saints among us, and those who have gone before us, seem to have known this fact. Instead, they devoted their lives to seeing rightly who the blessed of God are in the world, and their ministry was to carry those blessed into the presence of God, to be in communion with them, to sit at table with them. In so doing, the saints became blessed themselves.

The heavenly banquet, then, is the culmination of this life’s work, to commune with the blessed of God at Christ’s table for eternity. Vincent Harding describes the scene in this way. “Well,” he writes, “here we are, all present and accounted for. What a gang! What a table! What a host! What a chance for holding and being held, for feeding and being fed, for giving, receiving, and being the light.” This year, the saints teach me that blessed are they who see rightly the blessed of God and live on behalf of them.

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