The Be Attitudes

[audio]Marthame: A few months ago, I sent a note to our regular liturgists asking them if they wanted to do different parts of worship leadership. Within minutes, I got a phone call from Reyn. He said, “Preaching. Cool. I want to do that!”

That’s how this morning started, with a leap of faith to try something new. Since then, we’ve met and talked several times about how he and I might preach together this morning. And when we met, we read this lesson from Matthew together and talked about its meaning. Out of those conversations, a couple of things struck me right away.

The first, as always, is that there is more to this lesson than we can exhaust this morning. Matthew records nine Beatitudes; our Thursday night Connect group spent the better part of an hour and a half touching on as many of them as possible. Reyn and I cannot do them full justice this morning.

The second thing that struck me is how much we can all learn from each other as people of faith. If we are willing to spend some time together and have an honest conversation about what faith means in our lives, we all grow.

And that’s the essence of church. We’re not individuals isolated in individual relationships with God. Our culture reinforces the idea that faith is our business and nobody else’s. I love this response to that from Jim Wallis: “Faith is always personal, but never private.” In other words, it is ours; but if it’s really faith, it impacts the way we live our lives. As a church, we are a community in relationship with one another as well, with wisdom to share with one another and plenty of room to grow.

Matthew’s lesson this morning comes from the start of the Sermon on the Mount, which is like Jesus’ state of the kingdom address. They’re called the Beatitudes – that’s one word, not two. But Reyn, it was you who pointed out that you could also write it as two words: the “Be” Attitudes. And when you said that, a light bulb went off for me. Each one is, in a sense, an attitude, an approach, a way of being in this world.

Each one begins with “Bless-ed are…” That’s one of those words you almost have to put on your church-y voice to say: “Bless-ed.” You can also translate that word as “Happy.” And what a perfect place for us to start, Reyn, because you have always struck me as a happy person. Is that a fair statement?

Reyn: Yes. I’m an extremely happy person.

Marthame: What makes you happy?

Reyn: Being around positive people, such as the people in this congregation, makes me happy. I like doing new things, adventurous things.

Marthame: Well, you can’t get much more adventurous than this. Supposedly people’s biggest fear is public speaking, that’s before fear of death. Are you nervous?

Reyn: I’m not nervous being in front of crowds. I love sharing my happiness with other people.

Marthame: So would you rather be with people, or by yourself?

Reyn: I am happier when I’m with people than when I am alone. Because if I were by myself, what would I do? Talk to myself?

Marthame: I suppose you could, but it sounds to me like you’re a hard-wired extrovert. The other thing I would say about you is that you’ve never met a stranger. Would you agree with that?

Reyn: You know the saying “Grass doesn’t grow under my feet?” I’ve never met a stranger. The other day when we were walking over at Oglethorpe University to pass out the posters for the blood drive, we ran into Heather who works over there in one of the offices. I know her from the YMCA in Decatur where I work.

Marthame: I know – I was feeling pretty irrelevant then…So you’re generally a happy person. Do you ever get sad?

Reyn: I do get sad, like when there’s a death in the family. But I will usually pick myself up off the floor and think of happy things. I’ll think to myself that the person who died is doing these cool things with me, whether I’m preaching or skydiving.

Marthame: So, you’re not alone when you’re up here…You know, in church we talk about the “great cloud of witnesses”, or the “communion of saints” – that we are never alone as children of God, because we are part of a larger community, even of those whom we don’t see. I like that.

I think the hard thing, though, is explaining any of this to people who don’t go to church, or who think that faith or God or Jesus is irrelevant to their lives. And that’s more and more the case with the society we live in. So, how would you try and describe God to someone? Let’s say they find out that you go to church, or that you believe in God, and they ask you “What do you mean by God?” How would you answer that? What is God like?

Reyn: If someone asks me what God is like, I would say that God is like them. For example, I think that because I am happy, God must be happy, too. I would try and find something positive in that person that I can say God is like.

Marthame: That reminds me of the creation in Genesis, where God makes male and female in God’s image. Each human being has that image of God within us; each one of us has something in us that says something about the way God is. We’re not perfect, by any stretch, but there’s always something we can find in others that shows us the way to God. There are, of course, those people who make it pretty hard to find!

But when you get back to the lesson we read today, the Beatitudes, it is Jesus who is representing God to the people. Who is Jesus to you? What is Jesus like?

Reyn: Jesus is a caring person. And so, I try to be a caring person. I like to help feed the homeless. I enjoy helping people if they get sick or injured. The other day on Martin Luther King Day, I was volunteering with Hosea Feed the Hungry. I was helping serve some hungry people. This homeless man came up to me and told me that a few years ago he had lost his job. He was trying to get by. He told me he appreciated me being there that day.

Marthame: Because Jesus is caring, we should be caring, too. Has anyone ever cared for you?

Reyn: There was this one time. I was with my mom, my dad, and my sister Katie. We were traveling up to Richmond, Virginia, to see my grandmother. So we are driving. I had to be about 8 or 9 years old. So you know how little boys can be curious? So we pulled into this rest stop in North Carolina. I saw a tree. It had a huge hole in it. So I stuck my head in. I could not figure out how to get my head unstuck!!! I started screaming, “Help! Help!” So my mom and dad helped me get my head out of that tree. They were dying laughing. They thought that was the funniest thing since sliced bread. To this day we still laugh about that story.

So that is why when we are curious and we get ourselves stuck and into trouble, God can help get us unstuck.

Marthame: That’s fantastic. I think the truth is that, no matter how old we get, we all do things that, if we’re really honest, are embarrassing. Some of them are truly funny, like getting your head stuck in a tree; many of them are much more painful, things we like to keep hidden from others, things we’re afraid they’ll find out about anyway. But if we really take seriously the description of God as our parent, then we know that no matter where we might get stuck, if we call out for help, God is always willing to pull us out.

And that’s the pattern that we see in the Beatitudes: they’re promises. They’re not “if/then” statements, with God waiting for us to fulfill our side of the contract so that God can reward us. They’re promises about the here and now! Mercy, as the Beatitude says, is something that we give and receive. And happiness, blessedness, is what happens when we are in such a relationship with God and others.

Is there one of the Beatitudes that you particularly like?

Reyn: I like the one that says, “Blessed are you who mourn.” If you’re feeling sad, then you should go be around positive people. And also, if you see someone mourning, then you can be that positive person for them.

Marthame: So it really is a relationship. Sometimes we’re the one who mourns; sometimes we are God’s hands and feet and are the ones who comfort.

What about you? Is there one of the Beatitudes that you find particularly compelling or challenging? Who would you have a conversation with about them? Or is there even someone you feel like you can talk to? If the answer to that is “no”, then take a look at our Connect small group offerings. We offer them at various times on various subjects to make it as easy as possible for us to be the church: to connect with others around faith, that we might grow together in Christ.

So let's read through these Beatitudes again:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
  • Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.