July 5, 2020

“The Blessing of a Different Perspective”

Matthew 5:5-6

A sermon for Hawaii Kai UCC by Janice Ogoshi

July 5, 2020 (Pentecost +5)


For most of July, we’re focusing on the Beatitudes, the first major teaching by Jesus in the gospel of Matthew.  Some people have described the beatitudes as Jesus’ way of turning the world upside down.  But I think Jesus was really turning the world right-side up.  What he was doing in the beatitudes was showing us a different perspective than the world’s, the perspective of the kingdom of heaven.  


One day a mother took her baby on a walk.  She pulled up next to a fence, wanting to show the baby the cows that were grazing in the pasture.  She talked to the baby, expecting some kind of response, but the baby didn’t react at all.  Then the mother knelt down next to her child to point to the big, beautiful animals. When she knelt down, she realized that the baby couldn’t see past the fence.  From his seat in the stroller, all he saw was the fence.  She picked him up, and then he was able to see beyond the fence and responded with delight to see the cows.


By lifting up the baby, his mother was helping him to see his surroundings from a different perspective.  When Jesus lifts our eyes up to the kingdom of heaven, our perspective changes, and we can see that the life described in the beatitudes as blessed.  


If you read the beatitudes from one perspective, you might think that the blessings Jesus spoke of weren’t really blessings, but rather curses.  Wouldn’t you want to be rich rather than poor?  Or happy rather than mourning?  Powerful rather than meek?  But a change of perspective, like the baby being able to see beyond the fence, helps you to see being poor in spirit, or mourning, or being meek or merciful as true blessings.


Today we’re focusing on the third and fourth beatitudes, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” To see how meekness and hungering for righteousness are blessings, we need a different perspective, the perspective of the kingdom of heaven.


Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.


There is a novelty toy called a finger trap.  You stick your fingers into the ends of a woven tube, and the challenge is to remove your fingers from it.  The first impulse most people have is to pull their fingers away from each other.  But the more you pull, the tighter the woven tube gets, and the tighter it gets, the harder it is to pull your fingers out.  How do you get your fingers free?  You relax, push your fingers toward each other so that the tube loosens and releases them.


In the world, meekness is a counterintuitive way to get what you want.  We are used to thinking that wielding power is the way to get what we want, even if our intention is for good.  That’s how it was in Jesus’ day.  But in the face of great power—the power of the Roman empire and the power of the religious authorities and the Temple—Jesus was meek and humble.  He yielded and didn’t fight.  And while he suffered terribly and was crucified, in the end God’s love prevailed when he was resurrected.


As with the finger trap, instead of pulling with force, Jesus yielded, and was released from the bonds of sin and evil.  In the kingdom of heaven, those who are meek are blessed.


Meekness isn’t just about not using force. Meekness comes from knowing our place before God.  When we stand before almighty God, the creator of the universe, our creator, we are humbled.  In Psalm 131, David, the king of Israel declares:

My heart is not proud, Lord,

my eyes are not haughty;

I do not concern myself with great matters

or things too wonderful for me.

But I have calmed and quieted myself,

I am like a weaned child with its mother;

like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord

both now and forevermore.


This is the declaration of one who is meek because he knows his place before the Lord.  He knows he is loved and cared for by God, and is content because of it. And he encourages the nation he leads to place their hope in this God, to trust the Lord and follow God’s ways, even if those ways are counterintuitive.  It is the way of love.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  When we put our trust in the Lord, the kingdom of heaven is ours to live in.


Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

The other day I got so involved in my work at the office that I forgot to eat lunch.  I finally stopped to eat at 3 pm.  I usually like to have my meals at around the same time every day.  My stomach usually reminds me that it’s time to eat.  It was unusual for me to be so caught up in what I was doing that I didn’t feel hungry.


This week was the first time I stopped to consider Jesus’ use of the imagery of hungering and thirsting in relation to righteousness. We know what it feels like to hunger for food and thirst for water.  Jesus wanted us to think about being hungry for righteousness.  Knowing that we lack it, and need it to the degree that if we don’t get it, we will die.  In the same way that water is so very basic to sustain our lives, we need righteousness. We crave it when we don’t have enough of it. 


So then, what is this righteousness?  It’s being in right relationship with God.  This right relationship is not only as individuals with God, but humanity and all creation.  All of creation needs be in right relationship with God in order to thrive, in order to be all that God created us to be.


We have been given a vision of this harmony, this right relationship with God.  In Genesis 1, the story of creation, we read about how creation came into being.  And when it was all done, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”(Genesis 1:31a).  Everything God had created was in its place, from the sun and moon to the earth and plants to every creature, including humans.  It was all good!


We see the goodness of creation.  And we look at the world around us, and while some of it still looks good, as God created and intended, much of it is not good.  We have not kept up with our responsibility to take care of creation.  We have not tended to our relationships with our neighbor.  We have turned away from God.  So things aren’t good anymore.  


But we know that God created all to be good.  We have been blessed with a vision of creation as God intended it and we yearn to return to that goodness.  We hunger and thirst for righteousness.  And Jesus says that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who realize they need this right relationship, those who know that we are sustained in our lives by this right relationship with God, are blessed. They will be filled.  Our hunger will be satisfied with God’s righteousness. Our thirst will be quenched with God’s grace.  There will be a day when the vision for God’s good creation will be fulfilled again.  


This is Jesus’ call to us to pay attention to our hunger.  See the world in all its pain—the pain of injustice, the pain of racism, the pain of inequity.  Cry out your hunger for God’s righteousness to become manifest.  Pay attention to the hopelessness and despair of your neighbors, and feel the thirst of the world for the living water of Jesus Christ.  


God is at work to redeem all of creation.   We who are blessed with a thirst for righteousness are called to join in God’s mission to bring healing to the world’s alienation from God.  We are called to join God in making the kingdom of heaven more visible so that others will want it too.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.


This is the perspective of life in the kingdom of heaven that Jesus lifts us up to see through the Beatitudes.  To be meek:  to know our place before God and to yield to God’s will, to relax into God’s love brings a blessed life.  And to see how God is at work to restore and redeem creation, to hunger and thirst for a right relationship among God, all people and all of creation.  


With the beatitudes, Jesus is lifting us up to see life from a different perspective; the perspective of the kingdom of heaven. And he is calling us to live in ways that reflect the kingdom of heaven here on earth, now.  May we see from this perspective and receive Jesus’ blessing. Amen.