Light It Up!

beatitudes-1

Matthew 5:1-20

I believe one of the reasons that some Southerners yearn to see some snow, at least once a year, is because of the sheer magic of it. In an article for the Farmville Enterprise I quoted J.B. Priestly: “You go to bed in one kind of world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?”

Then I wrote:

One day Stantonsburg Road was littered with empty Natural Light cans, leftover trash from Bojangles and McDonalds, and the carcass of a possum or two. The next day it was a majestic, untarnished pathway through a winter wonderland.

One day my lawn was brown, covered with ugly winter weeds and strewn with fallen tree limbs and dog droppings that I have been too lazy to pick up. The next day it was glistening white, void of a single blemish.

One day the flaws and faults of this fragmented world were all too apparent. The next day everything seemed to be forgiven, blanketed by grace. And although the world was still a very dangerous place to drive and to even walk, the hopeful wonder and potential beauty of the world was obvious (from: Snowflakes from Heaven).

Snow in the South is like a fairytale. But a few days later, the sun comes out, the rains fall, and it quickly melts away bringing us back to the real world, where we see the harsh, uncovered reality of it all. And the winter wonderland that once was seems to be a distant magical dream.

Have you ever considered that we might have it all backwards?

What if the fairytale is the littered highways and the brown lawns with ugly winter weeds?

What if the magical dream is the uncovered, unforgiven, graceless, and fragmented existence?

What if reality is the winter wonderland? What if reality is the world that has been blanketed by grace? What if reality is the world where hopeful wonder and potential beauty always exist?

I know what you are thinking…“Oh my goodness! Somebody call 911 ‘cause the preacher has lost his mind!”

But what if I have not lost my mind, and in fact, right now, my mind is as sane and as sharp as it has ever been?

I have said before that Jesus spoke less about sin and more about our inability to see. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see…” (John 9:39).  He continues throughout the gospels:

Do you have eyes and fail to see (Mark 8:18)? Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye (Matthew 7:3)?  Blessed are the eyes that see what you see (Luke 10:23)! Prophets and kings desired to see what you see but did not see it (Luke 10:24)!

Over and over, Jesus talked about importance of seeing something that most have difficulty seeing. I believe this is what Jesus meant when he said that he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). Not to get rid of it, but to bring it back into focus, to help us to truly see the purpose within it.

This is why I believe he said: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

To see anything, light is needed; thus, one of the main purposes of Jesus is enabling people to see, to see the real world, to see reality.

And what is reality? What is it that we have so much trouble seeing? What is it that God wants us to see?

I believe the answer is in Jesus’ first recorded sermon. Jesus went up on a mountain, and after he sat down, his disciples came to him, and taught them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).

God favors the “poor in spirit.” Not the religious, the devout, the pious or even the spiritual. Not the pastors, the elders and the deacons, not even the church member who serves in the soup kitchen. No, God favors the ones who have come to be served at the soup kitchen. They are not the ones with something to give. They are the ones with nothing to give. Jesus says the ones who are blessed, the ones who are blessed by God are those who, spiritually speaking, are completely destitute and needy. Their very spirits have been broken. And notice that Jesus uses the present tense. Not will be blessed. Not might be favored. They are, right now, right here, blessed. This is reality. And their future is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).

God favors the mourners. Not the faithful who can understand what the Apostle Paul was talking about when he said we should “give thanks in all circumstances” (I Thessalonians 5:18), or “rejoice even in the midst of suffering” (Romans 5:3-10), but the ones who are not just complaining about the pain in their life, but they actually in mourning over that pain. They look at who they are, and who they have become, and they grieve. They look in the mirror in utter despair, and Jesus calls them blessed and promises comfort.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).

The meek, the gentle, the shy and the timid are favored. Not the strong. Not the ones with the personalities or the confidence to overcome all sorts of adversity and somehow still make it to the top. Blessed are the ones who have never conquered anything, not even their own fears. It is the weak, says Jesus, not the strong, who survive and inherit the earth.  

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled (Matthew 5:6).

Not the ones who are righteous, but the ones on whose behalf the prophet Amos preached: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). These are the ones who have been unjustly judged, mistreated, shunned and bullied by society, even by communities of faith. They have suffered grave injustices because of their race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, mental and physical ability, socioeconomic level and political or theological background. They have been beaten up so badly by the world that they hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness, like a wanderer lost in a hot desert thirsts for water. Jesus says that they are blessed and they are favored and they are the ones who will not only be satisfied, but will be filled, their cups overflowing.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy (Matthew 5:7).

Not the perfect and the proud, the boastful and the arrogant. But God favors the ones who are fully aware of their imperfections, the ones who have made mistakes, terrible mistakes. Thus, when they encounter others who are also suffering from unthinkable errors in judgment, they have mercy and compassion, and in their hearts, there is always room for forgiveness. They give mercy, because they need mercy for themselves. And because they are favored by God, they will receive it.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:8).

Not the pure, but the “pure in heart.” Not the ones who, on the outside, appear to be straight and narrow, the ones who seem to have it all together, whose characters appear to be flawless. No, God favors the ones viewed by the world as abominations. We are reminded of the words of 1 Samuel “for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). God will see the hopeful wonder and the potential beauty of who they are and they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9).

Not the ones who have necessarily found peace for themselves. But the tormented, disturbed and restless, who, because they are so continuously in chaos, seek to make peace whenever and wherever they can. Blessed are those who are without stability, but seek it, because they will find a home, a place of security, rest and a peace that is beyond all understanding, within the family of God.[i]

This, Jesus pronounces, is not a prescription of how things should be or how things could be. Jesus asserts that this is how things are! This is not some enchanted dream or magical fairytale. This is reality. This is truth. And Jesus announces: “I have come as light, as the Light of the World, to help you see it, to give all who are blind to it, sight to really see it as it really is.”

And not only that, Jesus says, you, who seek to follow me, you, who seek do the things that I do, go to the places that I go, you, who want to be my disciples, are also the Lights of the World. And you are called not to hide your light, but to shine your light on what is reality, what is true, so all may see it the way God sees it.

And we are to light it up in the same manner Jesus lit it up.

In Matthew 4 we read after James and John, Peter and Andrew left their fishing nets to follow Jesus, they proclaimed “…the good newsof the kingdom by curing every disease and every sickness among the people…those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them” (Matthew 4:23-24).

We are to shine our lights by lifting up, accepting and caring for all people, especially those the world leaves behind. We are to light it up by loving, accepting, and caring for the least among us: the poor, the weak, those who need mercy, the marginalized who hunger and thirst for justice, the obviously flawed but pure in heart, and the troubled who yearn for peace.

Will we look like fools? You bet. Will people say that the way we accept and love and affirm others is socially and even theologically unacceptable? It’s likely. Will we be demeaned and even persecuted by others in the community, even other churches? Perhaps.

But here is the good news: Jesus also said,

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you [notice the change in person] 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 (Matthew 5:10-11).

So let the rest of the world live in their enchanted, dreamlike, fairytale existence where the rich, the prosperous, the powerful and the strong are blessed and favored by God.

And let us commit ourselves to living in reality, in the world created by our gracious God, in the world that Jesus, the Light of the World, came to help us see, in the world where the Holy Spirit reveals the hopeful wonder and potential beauty in all things and in all people, in the world that has indeed been blanketed by grace, like a 4-inch snowfall in the South.

And let us, as lights of this world, for the sake of this world, keep lighting it up, until the day comes when the eyes of all are finally fully opened. Amen.


[i] Words on the Beatitudes were inspired by Frederick Buechner. Whistling in the Dark: An ABC Theologized (New York: Harper Collins, 1988), 18.           

 

COMMISSIONING AND BENEDICTION

Go now into the world and light it up!

So the poor will know that they are blessed.

Light it up!

So that the weak will know that they are favored.

Light it up!

So that those who ache for justice will be satisfied.

Light it up!

So that the obviously flawed but pure in heart will see God.

Light it up!

So that those you yearn for peace will know security as God’s beloved children.

Light it up!

Knowing that if you are persecuted, yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Light it up!

Until the day comes when the eyes of all are finally fully open, and all may know love of God, the grace of Jesus Christ and the communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

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