February 5, 2023
This time of year, there is a lot of buzz on various talk shows and commercials making guesses about shows and movies that might make an appearance on the different awards ceremonies. It is awards season, so maybe you’ve heard on the radio or seen on a talk show or brief snippet on the news about some movie or show that’s up for a Golden Globe or an Academy Award. Now, some of the shows and movies they keep talking about I have actually seen—but most of the time I haven’t. And somehow, even when very few people I know have seen these shows and movies, they seem to get a lot of airtime. They get a lot of attention. They get a lot of headlines.
It’s funny what and who seems to end up in the headlines, right? I remember for months it seemed like the news couldn’t get enough of talking about the debacle over at Twitter with Elon Musk’s blunders taking over. Or the media buzz that seems to happen with the British royals when Prince Harry came out with a new tell-all book. Or even recently when the headline kept popping up about Tom Brady officially and really retiring this time. There are certain people that our society has decided we need to talk about all the time, the people who are important, apparently, and who should have our attention.
And maybe there’s something to paying attention to big name people. Sometimes those people we keep hearing about do things that end up having real effects on us, too. Whether it’s in politics or business or pop culture, big names seem to drive the conversation. But if there’s anything that we can glean from scripture, and especially from scripture this morning, it’s that Jesus has a particular focus on people who really wouldn’t end up in the headlines. And he reminds us of where the kingdom is found when he starts the famous Sermon on the Mount by the people he names in the great list of the blessed—the Beatitudes—this morning.
And they are not the kind of people anyone then or now would expect—people who have been so ground down by poverty and oppression that it’s been drilled into them that this is all they can expect of life. People who have experienced real loss and brokenness, who have been touched by despair down to their bones. People who are diligent and unassuming, who don’t want the limelight and don’t accept accolades for the good they do. Who physically ache at the injustice of the world, who feel pangs in their gut upon seeing God’s goodness incomplete. Who go against the grain of a culture that prizes retributive violence, settling scores, getting even, manipulating to get ahead. People who value goodness so much that they are seen as a threat, who value the lives of their neighbors enough to be deemed divisive troublemakers and enemies of the social order.
The thing is, Jesus was not naming these abstract categories of people, or even daring us to be like them. He wasn’t putting a challenge in front of us to “act this way, and you will be blessed.” This sermon on the mount took place right on the heels of Jesus experiencing crowds gathering around him, healing their sick and preaching the good news. When he started naming who it was that was blessed, he was talking to the people in that crowd! He was speaking to their real, lived experience of feeling rejected by God, of being so far from salvation because their life circumstances felt so cursed—and asserting that it was they, not the successful or the powerful or the comfortable or the happy, who were truly blessed for the kingdom.
Maybe you have felt the sting of the world’s brokenness lately. Or maybe someone you love. In every community around the world, you will find people who fit this description that Jesus puts forth to the crowd, who feel like they are cursed, or at the very least forgotten by God—the farthest thing from being in the headlines that you can get. You feel that you keep trying to do the right thing, keep putting forward your best efforts, and it feels like everything keeps falling flat on its face. You work so hard to help those in need, to speak up for those unjustly silenced, to draw attention to how God’s kingdom could be breaking into our midst, only to be frustrated by the cynical, well-connected, and unjust ways of the world. You have been hollowed out by grief—a despair that has gnawed at your soul of a loss incalculable to anyone around you, and it feels so lonely and distant in the midst of it. You are the people that Jesus is talking about. You are the blessed. And why?
Because you, more than anyone, know that there is nothing to fall back on. You have lived to experience that, no matter how well you marshal your strength and connections and intellect, you cannot do it on your own. You have found that you cannot provide the relief, the hope, the direction that you know has to be out there. You have experienced disillusionment—the removal of the illusion of your own power to save yourself, your own capacity to overcome and soldier on, your own ability to make yourself whole. And because of that, Jesus knows that you are primed to be ready for God’s work in, with, and through you.
And that is both an exciting and a frightening concept. Because when you have lived as one of the people listed in the beatitudes, you have been burned by trying. You know the frustration, the hurt, the grief, the maddening difficulty of knowing that the world can be better but never, with your own powers, being able to actually make it better like you want. And yet here is Jesus, telling you that yours is the kingdom of God. Yours is the honor and privilege to embody God’s work. Yours is the gift to carry your scars and your hurt and your frustrations into the world, to show all the other scarred and hurt and frustrated people of the world that God is not done yet.
And people like you are not going to make the headlines. You are not going to be the trending topic of Twitter, or the face of a round of talk show interviews. You will not get the accolades or the book deals or the awards with the speeches. But you will get God’s ongoing, certain, relentless blessing. You will get grace upon grace, an endlessly flowing fountain of nurturing hope that doesn’t ask you to pull it together and soldier on, or to forget the hurt of the past because the future is so much brighter, or to pretend the life you’ve lived hasn’t actually disillusioned you. You are blessed because God has seen you, and will make the kingdom known by your lived truth.
So heed that call with worried hearts and cautious uncertainty. Be true to the hurt that you have experienced, so that others can see God through you. Be diligent and dependable, quietly working towards the goal of God’s kingdom without receiving praise or rewards. Be righteous and frustrated and committed and unswerving in your devotion to the Truth and God who brings it, because with your persistence God is revealed to more and more people. Listen to the blessing of the beatitudes, because it is exactly there that God has chosen to begin saving the world.
Thanks be to God. Amen.