I never cease to be amazed at how God chooses to reveal His Word to us. As I have studied for my sermon this week (on the first three beatitudes in Matthew 5; "blessed are the poor in spirit... blessed are thos who mourn... blessed are the gentle") God has chosen to show how His words spoken two millenia ago are still relevant today.
About once a week I make a trip to a little coffee shop in Victoria, Virginia (Uptown Coffee for my fellow caffeine addicts) to enjoy a sandwich and a great cup of coffee. This week as I sipped my coffee and put some final touches on my website a couple of guys came in. They were dressed in the spandex outfits of byciclists and looked like they hadn't shaved in weeks. A quick glimpse outside revealed two Schwinn 10-speeds loaded down with the modern-day equivalents of saddlebags. I asked the two travellers where they were from. "San Antonio," was the reply that started a pleasant conversation between them, the waiter and myself. They had decided to spend their entire summer biking up the eastern seaboard hopefully as far north as Boston, which, to a Texan, is a foreign country. Eventually our waiter asked what they did for a living to help fund this trip. Their answer was both humorous and thought-provoking. "We're professionally poor," was the quip by these two college students.
My mind, consumed with all the theological nuances of the beatitudes lit up with an epiphany of sorts. As I watched these carefree trekkers who were spending nearly every last dime they had on this trip, I realized they were happy. "Blessed are the poor in Spirit."
Today I made two visitations. The first was to an elderly lady in a nursing home. The facility has been her residence for the past 9 months, and she does not like it. She has no surviving family to visit her, and thus she depends on caring people from her congregation to keep her updated on the events of the world. I could tell by looking at her that she was afraid. Afraid of ending up unable to sit up straight or to communicate the simplest of thoughts. Afraid of dying alone. She was mourning the loss of her freedom and individuality. As I held her hand and prayed with her, all I could think of was, "Blessed are those who mourn."
My second call was to the home of an older couple that are very active in the church. The wife was recently diagnosed with cancer, and the prognosis is not good. As I watched her husband feed her and care for her I was struck by his gentle demeanor. Here is a man who has worked his own farm for nearly 50 years. In fact, when I visited a couple of weeks ago, he had just gotten in from making hay on over 100 acres of land. Yet here he was, as gentle as could be, helping his wife by feeding her one spoonful at atime. He never complained, in fact he seemed more than content to do it. "Blessed are the gentle."
Now we look at the beatitudes, and we often list them as qualities we should embrace (but how does one embrace mourning?). But as I looked at these very different people in very different circumstances, I was struck by the fact that Jesus was using these qualities to illustrate that the kingdom of God was available to all people. Whether you feel like "the professional pauper" or are mourning the loss of something/someone dear to you, or are a practitioner of gentility in the face of death itself, the Kingdom is for you. This was my epiphany in the coffee shop: if we look at the beatitudes as merely a list to conform ourselves to, then we commit the sin of the Pharisees and begin a whole new practice of legalism; but if we look at the beatitudes as the extent that God's blessing can reach, we can be assured of being a "blessed" people, no matter our circumstance. No longer are the poor to be considerd poor, for God can bless them despite their poverty. No longer should the mournful be pitied, for God's comforting hand can reach them, even from beyond the grave. The meek in heart are no longer to be considered weak, for God's blessing is giving them the strength to be gentle.
Truly God can bless any person in any circumstance.
This was Jesus's message in the beatitudes.
This should be our message to the world.