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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Epiphany 4, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
January 30, 2011

Micah 6:1-8; Matthew 5:1-12

My happiness’

The beatitudes of Jesus as recorded by Matthew reveal the love of God. One commentator says: “All cohere around the core idea of living in a non-competitive, non-grasping way. To be ‘poor in spirit’, to experience sadness (‘mourn’) because of the present state of affairs, to be gentle and unselfish rather than on the make, to have a passionate commitment to justice, to exercise mercy instead of taking advantage, to be ‘pure in heart’, to be ‘peacemakers’, to endure persecution and calumny for the sake of a right way of life: all these things make one vulnerable here and now, entailing much loss.

The beatitudes of Jesus as recorded by Matthew reveal the love of God. One commentator says: “All cohere around the core idea of living in a non-competitive, non-grasping way. To be ‘poor in spirit’, to experience sadness (‘mourn’) because of the present state of affairs, to be gentle and unselfish rather than on the make, to have a passionate commitment to justice, to exercise mercy instead of taking advantage, to be ‘pure in heart’, to be ‘peacemakers’, to endure persecution and calumny for the sake of a right way of life: all these things make one vulnerable here and now, entailing much loss.

“The second clause in each beatitude states the reason for the ‘blessedness’ in every case. All those passives: ‘shall be comforted’, ‘shall be filled’, ‘shall have mercy shown to them’, and so forth, indicate, in biblical parlance, the [loving] action of God. To live according to these values makes supreme sense if God truly is as Jesus reveals God to be. In the present it may involve vulnerability and loss; in the light of the hope for the kingdom it is hard-headed commonsense” (Brendan Byrne).

That’s one way to receive the Gospel today – to hear the Beatitudes as referring to a future kingdom or kindom. It’s not a simple future, though. It’s not a distant future. “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit: the kindom of heaven is theirs … Blessed are those who are persecuted because of their struggle for justice: the kindom of heaven is theirs.” In other words, the Beatitudes begin and conclude in the present tense.

Let’s take another approach, then, in solidarity with hearers ancient and modern wondering how this teaching applies to them. We can assume that Jesus teaches those he loves in order to help them through their day-to-day existence – to make a difference now as well as later.

My friend tells me she is not a happy person. She writes songs and the songs come from a place she doesn’t call “happiness”. I have resolved to ask her what alternative word she might use to describe the place of creativity she knows. Still, I respect her reluctance to settle for “happiness”. I can relate to that. Life at its most real entails something other than what generally passes for happiness – the pursuit of pleasure and security and avoidance of pain and discomfort.

Jesus begins with “Blessed [or happy] are those who are poor in spirit: the kindom of heaven is theirs”. What is it like to be poor in spirit? It has a risky feel to it, as when someone is at the end of his rope and comes to a realization that his own resources within himself have completely dried up, and it feels like there is nothing left. It is the bottom of the pit, as when someone feels she has nowhere to go. It is dark and boggy, and it can feel very lonely.

“Blessed [or happy] are those who are mourning: they will be consoled.” When you are in the company of someone who is mourning you probably find yourself trying to relieve it, to make it better. To tell them that Jesus says it’s okay and it will make them happy might sound trite and condescending. Mourning is a place of vulnerability and truth-telling. It makes us feel exposed and naked. Mourning over the deep losses in our lives – our innocence, the failures, the loss of hopes and dreams, even having the courage to name them – is risky. What will it say about me? What would others think if they knew? How would I feel if I started to see my own truth?

“Blessed [or happy] are those who are gentle: they will inherit the land.” The first person who is longing for your gentleness is you! You are called within, to turn towards the fear and confront it with gentleness. You can probably relate to this beatitude and even acknowledge that if it were your experience it possibly would make you feel happy. But real gentleness comes after poverty of spirit and mourning. Real gentleness comes after poverty of spirit and mourning.

“Blessed [or happy] are those who hunger and thirst for justice: they will have their fill.” There appears to be a consequential sequence in these statements. By the time you are at the end of your rope, and you know how to mourn over the things that God stirs up for you – which can last a very long time and entail much repetition – and you discover something very small within you called gentleness, you are probably desperately hungering and thirsting for justice. There is a new appetite and longing for the kindom. The things that once made you happy are not so compelling. Their shine has faded. You are becoming more discerning about what is real and what isn’t.

The Beatitudes go on to challenge our ordinary view of happiness – we are challenged to treat others better than they deserve, to allow others first claim on things. We are shown a community of mercy and peace unlike anything we have imagined for ourselves. But it all begins in poverty of spirit. That is the starting place every time, and it is humbling and humiliating. Humility comes from the word humus which means the earth – the place where all living plants begin. That pit we can find ourselves in, the one we fall into when we are at the end of our rope, can become the dark, fertile place of dying and growing.

My friend tells me she is not a happy person. She writes songs and the songs come from a place she doesn’t call “happiness”. I have resolved to ask her what alternative word she might use to describe the place of creativity she knows. Still, I respect her reluctance to settle for “happiness”. I can relate to that. Life at its most real entails something other than what generally passes for happiness – the pursuit of pleasure and security and avoidance of pain and discomfort.

Micah prophesies that God doesn’t want things (sacrifices to balance the scales); God wants us. God wants, for us, transformation, new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). And this creativity (perhaps all creativity) entails returning to the rich, fertile soil, dependent on God for warmth and nourishment.

Jesus spoke to people on a mountain looking and longing for a better life and future for themselves and their children. His words are timeless and he comes to us with the same compassion and offer of real and lasting happiness; or better, blessedness; beatitude.

… Amen.

Draws on reflection by Jill Friebel.