The Cathedral Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, PA
Sunday January 29, 2017
Sermon: Matthew 5:1-12
The Very Rev. Anthony R. Pompa
Our days have been filled with much. Not far from Inauguration day and the days that followed among much newsworthy things were the gatherings of crowds and even some debate regarding the size of such. Whether it be the Inauguration itself or of the subsequent rallies, and marches of protest, including the recent march of the Pro-life movement, or those gathering quickly at airports to protest the latest controversial refugee and immigration policy, we certainly know crowds.
Many of us know these crowds and many of us may have even been part of those crowds. I myself know some who attended the Inauguration, some who marched or participated in rallies following, some who marched in yesterday’s Pro-life March, and I also know through others some who stand outside of airports this very morning.
Ironically enough, or fitting enough, or God moment enough, this very real experience right now for us of crowds gathering helps us meet our Gospel today.
It should be easier for us to imagine the crowds who gathered around an itinerant preacher some 2, 000 years ago, who in a real context of time, offered a compelling hope-filled message that turned up large crowds and began a movement. This is the context in Matthew’s gospel. When the crowds coming to see this Jesus were so large, he invited his disciples to the top of a mountain where they could look out upon the crowds and Jesus could deliver to them what many biblical scholars call “The Messiah’s Inaugural address”.
Like Inaugural addresses we know, we are to see in Matthew, the beatitudes as the very front piece of who Jesus is, What HIS Kingdom is about, and what is required of those who will follow Him.
This Inaugural address anticipates the end game- that is the GREAT Commission, when all who follow him are to be sent into the world baptizing and proclaiming God’s Kingdom.
The Baseline, the foundation, the litmus test, the springboard, the touchstone- the Beatitudes lay out the primary expectations that those who put their faith in Jesus are not simply enlisted as believer, but that their faith must be actualized in their behavior.
Our job, today, in this important time, and in a critical context, is to listen ourselves to Jesus Inaugural address, and challenge ourselves anew to actualize our faith.
Our Lord’s address:
Blessed. Blessed is the translated word to set the stage for what it is to be part of this Kingdom adventure. I know that you know what it is to be blessed. You know that experience in life when your heart, mind, body, and soul becomes aware of the rich deep presence of God. When love overwhelms you, when joy erupts in your heart, when your awareness opens to the reality that in your life you find an abundance of grace, of love, of security. We are blessed.
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit; that is rich in God’s presence are those who are so humbled and aware of how dependent they are on God. Wealthy or poor, middle class, Republican or democrat, Independent or otherwise. Rich in God’s spirit are those who know that all things come from God and all things return to God, and without God we have nothing. With God, we have everything.
Blessed are those that Mourn. That is rich in God’s spirit are those whose hearts are broken when living or looking at deep disruptions to God’s dream of Justice for all people. You see, in Jesus time, the spirit of this beatitude would be found in the broken heartedness of those who mourned over Israel’s disobedience to God and God’s commandments to Love God and one another. A Disobedience that translated in their faith view to the disintegration of a Just and Righteous way of living. Heartbroken for example, were those who watched and lived a rigged system where the poor bore the burden of a tax system designed to appease the Empire and maintain the Religious establishments place of power. A system that saw many poor farmers forced to sell the few possessions they had and even family members into slavery in order to make their way. Rich in Spirit are those whose hearts are broken at such Injustices. The Kingdom of Heaven will have none of it.
Blessed are the Meek; That is Rich in Spirit of God’s presence are those who are humble, gentle, non-violent in their dealings with others. Humbly and faithfully reflecting God’s Character.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. That is Rich in the Spirit of God’s presence are those who may be literally hungry for lack of food or those who hunger for a world where no one hungers.
Rich in spirit are those who are awakened at night because that the core of their being they are troubled by acts and actions that are unjust and deep in their hearts they know it. It awakens them in the middle of the night, like a sharp pain in the stomach or a tightening of a parched throat.
Blessed are the merciful; that is Rich in God’s Spirit are those who know compassion and forgiveness, who live it and offer it without fear or reservation.
Blessed are the pure in heart; that is Rich in God’s Spirit are those who know Psalm 51, asking God continuously to create in us a clean heart, to renew a right spirit with us. A heart that helps us to see the world with the purity God intends for us to see it, and in seeing it clearly, seeing its hunger clearly and responding to it.
Blessed are the peacemakers- that is Rich in God’s Spirit are those who devote themselves to the hard work of reconciling hostility toward individuals, families, groups, nations. Rich in God’s spirit are those who work for the biblical Shalom, which is to be understood as harmonious cooperation aimed at the welfare of ALL Persons.
Finally Jesus concludes his Inaugural address by reminding those with ears to hear, that if one who puts their faith in this world view, this way of being, one who actualizes in their behavior their faith in these beatitudes, then one will certainly know they will be persecuted.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake and those who are called out because of their faith; Rich in God’s spirit are those who take the heat because we know what is right and are willing to act for it, speak to it, stand up for it. Expect to be called out by powers who don’t want to hear the contrast in your speech and in your action.
Brothers and Sisters- Can you imagine with me in such a way that you can hear and receive this Inaugural address anew? Can you hear with me what I and other faithful leaders of this thing our Presiding Bishop calls The Jesus Movement, believe stands in stark contrast to the messages and actions we are watching take place before us? You see I believe the Gospel gives us the challenge to look for the contrast and questions are hearts and souls to respond to it.
Please know that when Jesus delivered this address in the moment and time he delivered it; this teaching stood in stark contrast to the worldly message of his time. We know also from history that time and time again the truth of the Gospel has stood out in stark contrast to worldly messages that called many to fear, instead of hope, many to build divides instead of work for shalom, many to cast others aside, instead of show compassion. We also know from history, that sometimes that contrast has been overlooked, ignored, or just simply denied.
Beloved, Can you join with me again, and with our Lord, and live again in openness to what we find in our Lord’s Inaugural address? Might we put our faith in Jesus, allowing ourselves to be challenged by Pope Francis’ reminder yesterday, that putting our faith in Jesus, means not only believing but actualizing our belief in our behavior. A perfect challenge in response to the beatitudes, Francis challenges us, that if we are to call ourselves Christians, we must live the beatitudes.
I believe our Lord’s Inaugural address paints a sharp contrast in our current context I pray you will consider. This contrast has moved me to act by shortly sending to you all a pastoral response where I will make known that this Cathedral stands with our denominational leaders, our Presiding Bishop, our President of the house of deputies, and faith leaders from many denominations, making it known that we will continue to be a place that seeks to live the beatitudes.
Specifically, I believe the beatitudes speak directly in a contrasting and challenging way to the policy decision to ban on refugees. First, the spirit and rationale given for this ban is foreign to this communities’ first hand experience of refugee ministry. Second, that Jesus people do not stand for adding already to the burdens of those who have been burdened most. Our first hand experience with resettling a family from Syria helps us to incarnate the reality of this unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe. Those closest to this ministry can tell you that the vetting process for refugees is as rigorous as there is on this planet. The vetting process for the family we have welcomed among us was rigorous, extensive, and took nearly two years while they waited in a refugee camp. We also know sadly a bit more about terror. The terror this refugee family has experienced chased from their homes with a terror that resides in psyche and soul of experiencing bombs exploding outside their homes and outside their school while children hid under their desks. The sudden pronouncement of this ban seems to me, does not in anyway measure up to any standard of the Gospel we know. It is immoral, unethical, and callous. There is no blessedness in it.
I pray that we will continue to be a place where our faith is actualized by welcoming, loving, and advocating for the most vulnerable. Whether they be homeless men who speak many languages and whose stories of whoa humble all of us, or loving a family who had experienced more than any of us can possibly imagine or want to imagine, find their way without prejudice and fear, to living a dream most of us take for granted.
Blessed are we, followers, believers, actualizers of Jesus dream.