Resurrection Beatitudes (Fourth Sunday after Epiphany)

Sermons on YouTube…

Superbowl Sunday is all about the winners.  The winner of the AFC plays the winner of the NFC. And everybody tunes in to see who wins the big game.  Whoever wins gets a party, celebrity endorsements and a bunch of superbowl rings!  And whoever loses – well, they get forgotten pretty fast.

And so it’s sort of ironic that on this Superbowl weekend, we read the Beatitudes – a series of sayings that talk about how blessed people are when they lose.  Blessed are you who are poor in spirit.  Blessed are you who mourn. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you.

Really?  This is not the kind of blessing I hope for when I look for blessings from God.  It’s not the kind of blessing I want for others.  It’s not even the kind of blessing I want to think about.  Like many others, I’d really rather watch someone win.

Yet while we often sentimentalize the beatitudes as pious sayings which promise pie in the sky for those poor unfortunate souls (who hopefully are not us!), the Beatitudes of Jesus aren’t what they may first appear to be to many people.

I don’t know about you, but over the years as I’ve heard people talk about the beatitudes, I’ve often heard some odd and unsatisfying interpretations.  Sometimes, people read these sayings and think that they’re:

  • Some kind of deep and profound philosophy that somehow, someday, everything will be made right; and there is some truth to that.  After all, Jesus does promise a reward that’s great in heaven.  But that, in and of itself, doesn’t make suffering and losing a blessed thing right now.  Indeed, if that’s all it is, the Beatitudes ring hollow in the same way as someone who tells you that somehow “this is all part of God’s plan”…
  • An appeal to some kind of masochism – you know, suffering is good for you, and you’re supposed to enjoy it.  And if you’re not suffering in the right way, it must mean you’re a lousy Christian.  After all, suffering builds character, right?  Gee thanks.  But I’m enough of a character already.  Besides, I face plenty of suffering and challenges without seeking more out.  And if the Beatitudes were simply about smiling while you endure suffering, then they aren’t really any different than the all the “positive thinking” stuff that’s out there…
  • Proof that Karl Marx was right – religion is the “opiate of the people”.  And in Marx’s view, religion was just the way that rich people got to tell poor and oppressed people to suck it up and serve the rich until they died and went to heaven.  It’s a cynical misinterpretation.  But it clearly wasn’t what Jesus had in mind when he uttered these words.

So what are these words about?  Why did Jesus say them?  And more importantly, why did Christians remember them and write them down?  It surely wasn’t because of any of those reasons.

For me, anyway, here’s the key to understanding the Beatitudes: they only make any sense if you read them from the perspective of the Resurrection of Jesus.  I suspect that these Beatitudes made little sense to most people when they first heard them.  But from the perspective of Jesus’ Resurrection, the Beatitudes remind us that:

  • God wins – Jesus actually rises from the dead.  And that means that “reward in heaven” isn’t just a pious wish for someday.  It means that God’s power to give and restore life really is more powerful than all the stuff that causes pain, suffering and mourning.  God really can and will undo the worst evil the world can dish out.  If the Beatitudes were uttered by somebody who got chewed up by the system and killed, then they were the fantasy of a crazy person.  But if they were uttered by somebody who endured all the suffering he spoke of and then rose from the dead, then there’s real and living hope beyond the suffering.  The first Christians experienced the Resurrection of Jesus, and knew that “reward in heaven” wasn’t just a pious hope or a figure of speech; it was already becoming a reality in their lives…
  • Acting in faithfulness is worth doing, even if it results in pain and suffering, because we’re participating in something that lasts and has meaning and purpose.  It’s one thing to say you’re going to act on principal and die trying.  It’s another to know that that principal will win out, even if you don’t make it through.  People saw Jesus making God’s kingdom a living reality in their daily lives. And that task wasn’t in vain, because in Jesus’ rising, they knew that God’s kingdom was going to continue to happen in their lives, in spite of the pain and suffering around them; and so living into that coming kingdom right now is worth the investment …
  • Pain and brokenness are not signs of God’s absence, but the places where the living Jesus meets us.  The Resurrection reminded the first Christians that just as Jesus met them alive at the tomb, Jesus had first met them in the midst of disease, isolation and death.  When everyone else said their pain was a sign God had abandoned them, Jesus showed them that their pain was the place where he met them and made God’s presence a living reality in their lives…

And so I think the first Christians remembered the Beatitudes because the Beatitudes reminded them of the reality of the Resurrection.  And it means they read them – and we should read them – kind of like this:

Blessed are you when you’re poor in spirit or mourning – because that’s where the living Jesus promises to meet you.

Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness – because you’re investing yourself in something real that’s going to outlast all the pain and brokenness.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you – because even if they do those things, you know Jesus’ Resurrection.  And that means that God wins in the end, and that winning will include you.