Pastor Elisa Lucozzi has created a 2-part worship series based on The Beatitudes. During her break this week, four lay leaders (two current—Fred Breunig and Cheryl Redmond—and two former—Bev Langeveld and Dunham Rowley) present the first part of the series. The choir, led by Andy Davis, will sing two anthems, “Restoration” (Come Thou Font of Every Blessing) from the Original Sacred Harp, and “Let Us Get Together,” by Rev. Gary Davis. Hymns include “Breathe on Me Breath of God,” “May the Blessing of God,” and “Blest Are They,” by David Haas, which is based upon Matthew 5:1-12. Scripture readings include Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians and the Gospel according to Matthew. Pastor Elisa will be in the pulpit next Sunday and is asking members of the congregation, if they wish, to write their own Beatitudes which she will collect and read in Part 2 of this series next Sunday.
Be Attitudes, by Rev. Elisa Lucozzi
This summer I have taken a bit of a departure from the lectionary because I believe it is important for us to look more carefully at the core of what Jesus was trying to teach us. Why now? Because we find ourselves at the crossroads of critical time in human history – a time that requires and demands much of us if especially if we are to truly call ourselves Christians. This morning we begin a two week mini sermon series on a part of Jesus’ most famous sermon – the Sermon on the Mount. The section we will look more closely at is the section known as the Beatitudes. Even if you hadn’t just heard them read to you, I bet many of you could have rattled off several if not all of them because many of us learned them in preparation for confirmation or as some other part of our Christian education.
In the book The Beatitudes of Peace: Meditations on the Beatitudes, Peacemaking & the Spiritual Life by John Dear he recounts a visit to India specifically to the ashram where Gandhi lived and studied. It was there that he found out that Gandhi read the Sermon on the Mount every morning and evening for nearly forty years as part of his prayers along with selections from the Hindu holy text the Bhagavat Ghita and selections from the Koran. Gandhi said of the Sermon on the Mount: “I saw that the Sermon on the Mount was the whole of Christianity for those who want to live a Christian life.”
His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, has written a book called The Good Heart in which he gives commentary on many of the gospel scriptures including the Sermon on the Mount. He likens the beatitudes to a famous Buddhist prayer the Shantideva Prayer which Roshe read at my ordination and that we will revisit together next week.
So what are these little phrases and why are they so important to who we are as Christians?
Beatitude comes from the Latin word beatitudo, which means blessed, happy, or fortunate.
Each Beatitude consists of two phrases: the condition and the result. In almost every case the condition is from familiar Old Testament context, but Jesus teaches a new interpretation. Together, the Beatitudes present a new set of Christian ideals that focus on a spirit of love and humility different in orientation than the usual force and exaction taken. They echo the ideals of the teachings of Jesus on mercy, spirituality, and compassion.
Maybe one of the problems is that the Beatitudes seem strange and even sappy to contemporary ears, or as small comforts to big problems. Another may be that few Christians, including myself, are able to even begin to live according to them.
The idea is that if you live the way Jesus lays it out, you will be truly happy, truly fulfilled. But, as you know, the best things in life always demand the best we can be and the greatest effort we can put forth. The life of beatitude to which Jesus invites us demands no less.
The original listeners may have been greatly taken with the poetry, but being realists, almost all turned down the invitation to that kind of life. The risks were too great. We who know from the record what happened to Jesus for following his own advice, could not blame them. Could we? When you think of it, there have been relatively few people who have accepted Jesus’ invitation to the life of beatitude. But if it were not for those few, we would have lost confidence in the human prospect. We would also have lost faith in the God of life.
Author and scholar ― James Mikołajczyk,
“The Beatitudes correspond to the Decalogue [Ten Commandments], with blessings in lieu of the forbidden.”
“The Beatitudes are no spiritual “to do list” to be attempted by eager, rule-keeping disciples. It is a spiritual “done” list of the qualities God brings to bear in the people who follow Jesus.”
― Ronnie McBrayer, How Far Is Heaven?: Rediscovering the Kingdom of God in the Here and Now
“When God wants to sort out the world, as the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount make clear, he doesn’t send in the tanks. He sends in the meek, the broken, the justice hungry, the peacemakers, the pure-hearted and so on.”
― N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is
As Jesus is so fond of doing – he takes conventional wisdom and turns it on its head. He turns it upside down in doing so he creates a deeper meaning.
“When Mary asserts explicitly that God is on the side of the poor, we can understand it within the tension of what it means to be blessed as the poor in spirit. Rather than elevating poverty to a form of righteousness, Jesus is instead calling for a revolution of imagination around the nature of what we consider true blessing. Jesus is here declaring that the humble and repentant heart is the fertile soil of his kingdom.”
― Jamie Arpin-Ricci, The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis and Life in the Kingdom
“For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course, that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.”Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!”
― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country
The principles of the Beatitudes are missing in the contemporary Church, regardless of affiliation. They are missing in the world which I think it the point Vonnegut was trying to make. It reminds me of a favorite quote, attributed to the British writer G.K. Chesterton, who reportedly said, “Christianity isn’t a failure; it just hasn’t been tried yet.”  In this great cultural monolith that we call Christianity, which has guided the course of western history for more than two thousand years, have we really yet unlocked the power to deeply understand and follow this Jesus along the radical path he is calling us to? . . . .
I see the Beatitudes as being revolutionary. They are antithetical to conventional wisdom or common sense in our present culture. The Beatitudes are not mere rhetoric, but apply to every area of life, from poverty and one’s attitude towards money and things and how we care for those who have less to our relationship to the earth, to matter itself and to ecology. They are opposing conventional wisdom or common sense in our present culture. Whether we are talking about poverty and our attitudes towards money, our capitalist society, how we care for those who have less, our relationship to mother earth, the sacred feminine etc….
In addition, I see the Beatitudes are also about receiving the understanding that in our own poverty of brokenness in all our lack of power and our ache for justice we can hear if we are really listening with an “open fist” the amazing, revolutionary forward thinking that I believe Jesus was getting at.
The Beatitudes, far from being a new set of virtues that further divide the religious haves and have nots, are words of hope and healing to those who have been marginalized.”
The beatitudes invite all of us to examine – poverty of spirit.
They should BE the ATTITUDE of everyone who calls themselves Christians or who claims to follow Jesus.