At a dinner for officers and their wives, the commanding general of a base delivered a seemingly endless speech. A young lieutenant grumbled to the woman sitting beside him, “What a pompous and unbearable old windbag that slob is!”
The woman turned to him, her face red with rage. “Excuse me, Lieutenant. Do you have any idea who I am?”
“No ma’am,” the man fumbled.
“I am the wife of the man you just called an unbearable old windbag.”
“Oh,” said the lieutenant. “And do you have any idea who I am?”
“No,” said the general’s wife.
“Good” said the lieutenant, getting up from his seat and disappearing into the crowd.
We don’t go around asking people, “Who are you?” all that much, but we do commonly ask, “How are you?” The most common answer is “fine.” I have a friend who never says fine. She always says, “I’m blessed and highly favored.”
We throw around this word “bless” quite a bit. We say it whenever anyone sneezes. There’s even a hashtag. And hats and tshirts.
Maybe the first time I began to see that being blessed meant something deeper than sneezes was at a Tommy Walker concert. Tommy Walker is a Christian singer who leads worship at a church in Eagle Rock, California. He was telling the audience about a song he was about to sing when he suddenly stopped speaking, closed his eyes and smiled. Before he went back to telling rest of the story, he said, “Thank you, Jesus, for that blessing.”
I don’t know exactly what happened to Tommy Walker in that moment, but I know that God was involved. And I know that the more we let Jesus into our lives, the more we experience his blessings. The great reality of being followers of Jesus is that our hearts and minds and lives are different when the Holy Spirit is guiding us. This is the reality that Jesus is describing in the Beatitudes.
They’re called Beatitudes because each statement starts with the word “blessed.” Beatitude comes from the Latin word for “blessed.” There are eight Beatitudes. This week we’re talking about the first three. Next week we’ll talk about the other five. We’re talking about the Beatitudes in this series about vocation because they help us see that God’s call and God’s purposes for us are different than what we might expect. God is less concerned with whether we have prestigious titles or big bank accounts, and more concerned with our relationships with him and with one another. The Beatitudes are one of several ways that Jesus explains this to us.
We so easily get a skewed perspective on reality. We think blessed means having lots of cool stuff, nice houses, easy life. If we haven’t had too much trouble, we say we’ve had a blessed life. The real reality is that trials will come. Jesus tells us that in this life we will have trouble. But in the midst of that trouble, Jesus is with us, and that’s where we find the deeper blessings.
So let’s look at the first three beatitudes:
- Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
- Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Those might sound odd to us. Who wants to be poor in spirit, or mourning, or meek? Aren’t we supposed to be strong, and happy, and assertive? Maybe the words hang us up more than they should.
Instead of “Blessed are the poor in spirit” the New Living Transl. says, “Blessed are those who know their need for God.” And the Message version says:
3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”
When we realize that we can’t do everything ourselves, and we confess our need of Jesus, that’s the first step to becoming part of the kingdom of God. When we answer “How are you” honestly, instead of saying fine, we might say, as we sang just a bit ago, “I need you, O, I need you. Every hour I need you.” Or Jesus, I want you in my life. This takes us across the line into the spiritual realm and allows God to work in us.
The alternative is to try to do everything ourselves and leave God out. Like Oscar. He was nervous about his first airplane ride. His friends, eager to hear how it went, asked if he enjoyed the flight. “Well,” said Oscar, “it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, but I’ll tell you this. I never did put all my weight down!”
There’s a story in the Bible about another man who thought he was in control. Simon the pharisee had Jesus over for dinner. While they were around the table, a woman who had led a sinful life came in carrying a jar of perfume. She knelt at Jesus’ feet and washed them with her tears, and wiped them with her hair, and poured perfume over them.
Simon was offended that Jesus would let this woman touch him. Jesus points out to Simon that his opinion of the situation is upside down. Simon had neglected to wash Jesus’ feet, a common practice when welcoming guests, but the woman was washing them with her tears. Simon had not offered Jesus oil for his head, another common practice of hospitality, but the woman had brought him perfume.
Jesus says, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47)
Simon didn’t consider himself to be a sinner in need of forgiveness. The woman, on the other hand, felt her need of forgiveness deeply, and received the blessing.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who know their need for God, those who are at the end of their rope, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
This week we heard in the news about two people who were poor in spirit – two people who committed suicide. In telling the stories, reporters were also telling us that suicides have increased 30% since 1999. It’s a sign of how much our mental and spiritual health is in need of attention. I don’t know what all the answers are to all of their problems, but I do know that our hope is found in Jesus Christ. Our job as the church is to help people find and hold on to that hope. Jesus is our lifeline. The kids at VBS this week heard this every day. Jesus is our rescuer. We need to work on helping everyone know that they don’t have to give up hope, and that there is more to life than this life’s problems.
One way we show our hope is in being willing to admit when we are poor in spirit and ask God for help, and let Him help us to ask others for help. (Suicide helpline info here.)
We also show our hope in how we mourn, and that’s our second beatitude.
Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.
We aren’t very good at mourning. When a person dies, we’ll usually have a service, but some don’t even do that. We’re in a hurry to get ‘er done and move on. If we don’t take the time to grieve, it doesn’t make the sadness go away, it just buries it, and then it comes out as bitterness and anger.
There’s a little verse in the book of Job that we often miss that tells what happens when Job first finds out about the deaths of his children. Most of the book of Job describes the conversation between Job and his three friends about why all these bad things had happened to him. But before they started talking, they sat with him in silence.
“Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.” (Job 2:13)
Seven days of sitting in silence. They don’t speak until Job starts speaking. They just say with him.
We live in a different world and time, so maybe we don’t want our friends to come camp out in our living rooms for seven days, but we do need to give ourselves space for grieving when someone dies, or when a relationship or a dream dies, or when a big change happens in our lives. If we will take the time to process our feelings, and let God walk us through it, we’ll find the blessings of his comfort.
Jesus isn’t telling us to go around being intentionally poor in spirit or to find reasons to mourn. He’s acknowledging that we will have those times, and when we do, if we let God in, he will help us through. That’s the blessing.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Our problem here is that word “meek.” It sounds way too much like squeak. Or weak. The word in Greek is praus. It’s the same word that we find in Galatians 5:23 where the Apostle Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit. There it’s called “gentleness.”
It’s not in the least meant as an equivalent to weakness. Instead it’s the exercise of the strength of self-control and compassion. It’s the acknowledgment that it’s not all about us. It’s being humble instead of flaunting power.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
We’ve probably all heard the saying, “Nice guys finish last.” But researchers have found that’s actually not true. In a study of CEOs, they found that the ones who treated people well actually had companies that were doing better. The nice guys finished first.
There was a salesman for Johnson & Johnson years ago who regularly called on a small drugstore. Before he would speak to the owner to get his order, he would take a few minutes to talk to the soda clerk and sales clerk. One day the owner asked him to leave and said he didn’t want to buy Johnson & Johnson products anymore because they were selling too much to the bigger stores and hurting his business.
The salesman left, but later decided to go back and try to explain their position. To his surprise, the owner welcomed him back, and gave him double the usual order. While the salesman had been gone, the clerks had been telling how he was the only salesman that paid any attention to the clerks. Most were too focused on getting to the owner to even say hello. The salesman’s kindness and genuine interest in other people made a difference.
Jesus demonstrated meekness to us in the most dramatic way. Jesus is God and has the power of God, but didn’t flaunt it. When Jesus was in the wilderness, Satan tempted him with power.
“The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (Matt 4:8-10)
Jesus could have said, “I don’t need you. I’m the Son of God!” Instead Jesus showed us the power of trusting God.
Jesus had another opportunity to display his power by preventing his crucifixion. The soldiers mocked him, saying, “If you’re the son of God, save yourself.” (Matt 27:40) He could have. But he didn’t, because he was saving all of us.
Philippians 2:6-8 tells us that Jesus…
“ Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
So….Who are we? We are blessed followers of Jesus!
- Blessed when we admit our need for Jesus.
- Blessed when we acknowledge our grief and find comfort in Jesus
- Blessed when we let the Holy Spirit’s power help us to be gentle and kind.
The reality is that life isn’t perfect, but God blesses us when we trust him to help. The more we receive God’s blessings, the more we help others know God’s blessings, the more we know who we truly are.
 By Rev. Melissa Krabbe, preached at United Presbyterian Church in Sterling KS on Sunday, June 10, 2018.
 Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People