Blessed are Those Despised

February 2, 2020 | Matthew 5:1-12; I Corinthians 1:17-31

When I was 25 years old, I moved from Tucson, Arizona to the East Coast to begin my new job as a librarian in New York City.  Since I didn’t yet have an apartment in the City, I moved in with my sister and brother-in-law.  He was the pastor of a Hungarian Reformed Church in New Jersey.  They lived in the church’s old Victorian parsonage with their two children, two seminary students, and a formerly homeless Czechoslovakian man named Frank.  On Sundays, I worshipped with these Reformed Hungarians who always served delicious homemade raisin wine for the Lord’s Supper, and always fasted in preparation for the Supper.  For twelve to fifteen hours before receiving the consecrated bread and wine, they had nothing to eat or drink.  They wanted to come to the Communion Table feeling their hunger and thirst.

In the very first sermon Jesus preaches in Matthew’s gospel, he says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for what is right, for the way of life that God intends for humankind—blessed are they, for they shall be filled.”   And as I thought about all of these people whom Jesus calls blessed for different reasons, I began to see two quite distinct groups who are joined together in their mutual hunger and thirst for righteous.  They need each other. We need each other.

The first group is those who are poor in spirit, the mourners, and the meek.  Jesus is speaking about people who are poor in spirit because of their perpetual material poverty and oppression.  They are empty-handed and broken-hearted.  Suffering and grieving.  Meek because they are dishonored by those who are honored for their success and place in society.  They are beaten down and feeling hopeless.

When Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourners, and the meek, he is not praising them for for having some kind of spiritual virtue or proper humility before God.  And Jesus is not saying this is how everyone should be if they want to please God and follow Jesus.  Jesus lifts them up to point to what is wrong in the world.  Jesus is spotlighting the people in every age who know first-hand how things really are and who don’t have the luxury of living in denial.  They hunger and thirst for a different world and different lives.  They hunger and thirst for the commonwealth of God, the justice of God, the peace and the wholeness that God intends for all people.  But they lack the social, political, and economic power to get what they long for.

Jesus calls them blessed because God is especially on the side of those who live on the underside of history. God sees what is wrong. God grieves with them. And, in love, God labors to make things right.   Blessed are those who are in this first group, who have been hurt, wronged, excluded, despised, humiliated.  And blessed are those in the second group who haven’t experienced first-hand this degree of suffering, yet don’t live in denial of the truth.  Blessed are those who see the suffering and see the wrongs and use whatever power they have to do something about it, even though they too may suffer for what they do.

Blessed are you who dare to let a hunger and thirst for what is right gnaw at your gut and burn in your throat.  It is the hunger and thirst of God that you feel. It is the love of God that you feel.  This is what moves us and confirms that we have been pulled into the life and passion of God.   Blessed are you who let yourselves be drawn into God’s reign.  Blessed are you who choose mercy and compassion, who live with open and undivided hearts, who seek peace, and create communities in which all people are honored and embraced.   These are the means by which God’s reign breaks in and confronts every other human alternative.

Matthew’s gospel is clear.  From beginning to end, there is opposition to God’s commonwealth becoming flesh in Jesus.  At Jesus’ birth King Herod tries to kill him.  During his ministry, the religious powers oppose him.  In the end, they conspire with the Roman empire to persecute, shame, and crucify Jesus.

The opposition and resistance to God’s reign are real.  Real in our societies, and real in us.   And the commitment to be merciful and compassionate, the commitment to love with undivided hearts, the commitment to wage peace in the face of violence—well, it’s pretty much foolishness.  So says Paul in his letter to the Corinthians.  The cross is the unmistakable sign the cost of self-giving love.  It is foolishness.  But God’s foolishness is wiser than the world’s best wisdom.  Because only love, non-violent, community-creating, life-restoring love can satisfy our hunger and thirst for the kind of world that God is making here and now.

Some of you will recognize the dirty, ragged, crazy-looking fools pictured on our bulletin this morning.  They are the actors from the drama “Fool’s Mass” that we have been hosting for several years.  The story of these fools is the story of God’s love in the flesh.  These people are the so-called idiots of a 15th century village.  Poor in things and poor in spirit.  Mourners who were daily mocked or overlooked and turned away.  Meek people, dishonored and beaten down.  There was a priest in that village who saw them.  Who felt their hunger and thirst for what is right, for home, for food, for worth, for love, for welcome.  In mercy and compassion, the priest welcomed them.  With an undivided heart he loved them.  In all their craziness and chaotic existence, he embraced them with the peace of Christ.  He taught them to sing the Latin Mass and light the candles.  Every week he fed them with the good news of a God who was on their side, and he placed in their open mouths, the precious body and blood of Jesus.   He used his power to empower them.

And so it happens in this little drama, that one Sunday morning, the fools arrive at church to discover that the priest who welcomed them has died.  In grief and confusion, they tried to send those of us who were sitting in these pews home.  But we held our seats and watched as theses once-hopeless fools became priests of Jesus Christ and led us in worship.  Haltingly.  Chaotically.  Beautifully.  When the time came for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, one of them stole the communion bread, and stuffed it under her ragged, filthy skirt.   Eventually, that loaf of bread was recovered, then lifted high in the dirty hands of another fool and broken open to be shared with us.

These filthy fools ran up the aisles, full of delight, eager to feed us the Body of Jesus.  They shoved huge chunks of bread into our mouths and into our hands.  They gave us the bread of mercy.  The food of compassion.  The taste of pure-hearted love.  The feast of God’s peace-making, community-creating reign.  Then each of us had to decide whether we were willing to eat this bread from the hands of these people.

Jesus says, “Blessed are you who come to this table hungry and thirsty for a different kind of world.”  Blessed are you who receive this holy Supper.  Blessed are we whom the Spirit gathers and nourishes as one body in which foolish, divine love becomes flesh in us and through us.

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