A Place at the Table

Today, as it was two millennia ago, the Sermon on the Mount is the closest thing we have to a Jesus manifesto. It’s probably the most recognized of his teachings and also the most misunderstood. We’re looking at each beatitude separately to see what Jesus could possibly have to say to us today. To see what we’ve covered so far, check out: You Say You Want A Revolution Out of the Abyss, and Meek and Mighty.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

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

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

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you 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 5:1-12).

My guess is that most of us in the Western developed world don’t hunger and thirst after much. We have not be able to water our gardens because of drought conditions, but clean, drinkable water still comes through the faucet whenever we want. We probably waste more food due to spoilage from languishing in our refrigerators, than some in other parts of the world have to feed a family of four for a month. No, we don’t really know hunger or thirst. from a physical standpoint.

But what about hunger and thirsting for righteousness? This is probably where you’d rather just tune out Jesus. Jesus and his pithy statements. After all, he’s always setting an impossible standard that no one can begin to achieve. It’s probably hyperbole; an exaggeration technique used to get people’s attention. Right?!?

It doesn’t much matter what comes out of Jesus’ mouth. It’s probably going to make someone uncomfortable. Becoming aware and implementing new spiritual practices are not easy. They will become easier, but they are never easy.

The beatitudes are a progression. Each beatitude builds on the previous one. You don’t start out hungering and thirsting for righteousness. In fact, unless you’ve “progressed” through the previous three, hungering and thirsting for righteousness won’t make much sense to you. Recognizing your spiritual poverty is the first step in acknowledging a need for God – much like an addict or alcoholic recognizing their own powerlessness over their addiction. That’s the beginning of the God journey.

Recognizing spiritual poverty, or powerlessness, is one thing. Grieving is another. Even making positive changes in our lives can result in grief. Have you ever made a job change or relocated somewhere new? You’re excited about the new possibilities, maybe even a salary increase. A certain amount of grieving takes place making those changes. The same holds true when beginning a journey with God. You’re changing and what once was fulfilling may no longer be as fulfilling. There’s a different awareness.

That new awareness brings a humility, like Hmm. I never noticed that before. How often have you heard someone say that, although they would never want someone else to go through the horrible experience or receive the fatal diagnosis, they are thankful for that in their own life because it made them a better person (fill in the blank). You begin to see where this is going and can appreciate that God wastes nothing in our lives. It’s all redeemable.

Which brings us to hungering and thirsting for righteousness.

Righteousness is often defined as a right relationship with God. To complicate the issue even more, righteousness in the bible has three aspects: legal, moral, social. Jesus was always contrasting outward righteousness with inward righteousness. Outward righteousness was going through the motions, an external conformity to the rules. Inward righteousness encompasses the mind, heart, and motive. It’s when the internal character informs the outward behavior.

The important aspect about righteousness, however, is that it’s not just a personal, private affair. It includes social righteousness as well. Social righteousness, as we learn from the law and the prophets, is deeply concerned about liberation from oppression, the promotion of civil rights, justice in the law courts, integrity in business dealings, and honor in the home and family. The true believer is committed to seeing these things for the whole human community. That is pleasing to God. Anything else falls short of righteouness.

The beatitudes sound good until we realize that we have a responsibility beyond ourselves. I think the American church overall has a much greater problem with this than churches elsewhere in the world. We bring our rugged individualism to our faith and use it to ferret out what we’ll care about what we’re going to dismiss.

When I was in seminary, many of us took our turns preaching at the recue mission in downtown Denver. That’s when I decided that 8 to 10 minutes was about as long as anyone was willing to sit for a sermon. The seminary I went to was known for producing fine, expositional preachers who preached, on the average of 45 minutes! Way too long for even the most devout, much less someone who hadn’t had anything to eat all day. The rescue mission served dinner nightly, however, diners had to listen to a sermon before they could eat.

I’m pretty sure the message was drowned out by growling tummies. These hungry people were taken spiritually hostage under the guise of righteousness. Not what Jesus had in mind. The Pharisees maybe, but not Jesus. Our hunger and thirst for righteousness won’t be filled if we treat righteousness as a personal and private affair without being concerned for the social aspect. None of us are truly free (or filled) unless all of us are free (or full).

The good news this beatitude is that we won’t be totally satisfied this side of eternity. This side of eternity is a journey, not a destination. That means we will take all kinds of detours, fall down, feel like we’re on the wrong path, decide to take a time out. It’s all OK because once we experience having our hunger and thirst for sated, we want to come back to the table. God never makes us watch everyone else eat or listen to another sermon until we get our act together. There is always a place set and waiting for us. We are always welcome.

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