I have preached before here about the Gospel reading we have for today, also known as the Beatitudes which in English means ‘blessings’. The Beatitudes are one of my favourite passages in the whole of scripture. We can gain so many levels of meaning from them and so many degrees of hope and peace. The last time I spoke to the Beatitudes I said that one way of looking at them is to appreciate that we are all these beatitudes at some point in our life. At some point or other in our lives we are meek or peacemakers, or merciful. Given this the Beatitudes become promises from God. If we take away the first part of the sentences, we are left with what God, with Her love, promises to us all. These are the things God, through Jesus, says that you are and what, through love, you will receive. In short, these are the absolute, unequivocal, irrevocable promises God makes to you because of the love God has for you: You will be in the kingdom of heaven, You will be comforted, You will inherit the earth, you will be filled with the spirit, You will receive mercy, You will see God, You are the children of God, your reward shall be great in heaven, You are the salt of the earth, and You are the light of the world. If you are ever in doubt that you are a loved child of God, think about these words and then be thankful for the love God pours on you this day and forever more.
As I mentioned there are other ways of interpreting the Beatitudes and I would like to share one of them with you now. I look at the Beatitudes as a whole way of living. It is a kind of architectural drawing of how one might structure one’s life. However, when you look at this as a blueprint for life, the task seems daunting at best and near impossible even on a very good day. To be meek, peaceful, righteous, merciful, pure in heart, poor in spirit, mournful and persecuted all together all the time is simply beyond me. Desmond Tutu might well claim to have mastered the Beatitudes – and I would not doubt him – but I am no Desmond Tutu; not even on a very good day. What we need to do is approach the Beatitudes as a way of being, a kind of personal mission statement that guides us to do our best. In this way I find it possible to break down the Beatitudes into three broad principles: those being compassion, simplicity and hope. Let us look at each one of these.
Compassion I think is a word that gets played with a great deal, but its meaning is usually formed far to narrowly. Compassion is not sympathy and it is not pity. Compassion is deeper and broader than these two words. Sympathy is an understanding of the trial someone else is going through and perhaps offering some helpful advice. Pity is being sorrowful for the position or plight of another person or group. The theologian Henri Nouwen offered a wonderful definition of compassion. He said, “Compassion grows with the inner recognition that your neighbour shares your humanity with you. This partnership cuts through all walls which might have kept you separate. Across all barriers of land and language, wealth and poverty, knowledge and ignorance, we are one, created from the same dust, subject to the same laws, destined for the same end.” End of quote. Compassion is then the realization that I am a loved child of God and so are you and so is everyone we meet. We are all unique, but we all share being made in God’s image. When I have compassion I just don’t share your journey with you, I walk the journey in your shoes and you walk the journey in mine.
Let me now turn to simplicity. There is a wonderful acronym that spells the word KISS. The letters stand for “keep it simple stupid”. It is a good reminder not to over think concepts that are relatively straightforward even though they may be profound. The Beatitudes are indeed profound, but I think it is very important to be impartial and objective when hearing and considering this teaching from Jesus. That is to say when we look at the beatitudes do not layer upon them our own suppositions including the thought that they are too much for us and unobtainable because of our limitations as humans. When we read the Beatitudes, read them slowly and simply and try to hear every word as if Jesus was speaking to you directly. Indeed, in the Beatitudes Jesus is speaking directly to us and he is saying, 'You will be in the kingdom of heaven, You will be comforted, You will inherit the earth, you will be filled with the spirit, You will receive mercy, You will see God, You are the children of God, your reward shall be great in heaven, You are the salt of the earth, and You are the light of the world’. Hearing these words as they are spoken to you and accepting their clear and yet profound message is a fundamental step in living out the Beatitudes. Keep it real, keep it simple and keep it in your heart and mind.
The last concept I would like to talk about is hope. I don’t know what your week was like, but mine, for some reason, was filled with stories about how some people can be cruel and mean to other people. For me it was not a good week to exuberantly celebrate and affirm the unconditional kindness of the human spirit. A colleague of mine was being cyber-stocked, a close friend was being bullied at her workplace, and another friend of mine was being harassed by his neighbour. If you add to these stories, of which I am sure you have all heard before, the general news of the week, it is easy to see why so many people feel cynical about our world. The cynic in us might say, ‘well there is nothing I can do about it and so I won’t worry about it. There is nothing that can be done anyway”.
However, the Beatitudes offer a completely opposite way of thinking. The Beatitudes offer us hope; the kind of hope that we place on Christ and the kind of hope that Christ instills upon us. In his ministry Jesus provided well being to the stricken, sustenance to the hungry, sight to the blind, peace to the fearful - therefore Jesus in his ministry gave hope to the hopeless. Because of this and because of the teaching in the Beatitudes we can approach the world, our world, with a true spirit of hope, and that makes all the difference in the world. When we live in hope, we live in a world of possibilities. At the end of the beatitudes Jesus says you are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world. That is a statement in fact, that is a statement of truth and it is also God’s invitation to us all to use our gifts and to use our light to make God’s world a better place.
I love Thanksgiving for so many reasons. I love the colours of fall and the change of season it represents. I love the memories it brings of family and friends getting together around a table full of the harvest and rich in conversations and laughter. I also love what it represents, what Thanksgiving stands for. It is a time where we give thanks to God for the bounty of this earth and for the love of God and for the love of each other. But I also love that Thanksgiving allows us, should we so choose to take it, the time and opportunity to reflect upon all the things we are thankful for in our lives. Being thankful we live in a free and democratic country. Thankful that in our history people have stood up and sacrificed for our rights and freedoms. Thankful that we can worship the way that we do. Thankful for our health and that of our family and friends. Thankful also for the difficulties we face for they give us perspective and can help us grow as people, both individually and together. Thanksgiving gives us the time and opportunity to reflect on the broader picture of our human journey. As we walk through the fallen leaves of orange and yellow and gold on the ground, and hear that wonderful rustling and crunching under our feet, we can ponder our relationship with God and the world. As we breathe in the cool and mellow autumn air we can wonder at the profound simplicity that we are the salt and the light of the earth, and with that truth know that our compassion will lead us to the ever-living hope of a new and better world for everyone.
I would like to end with one of my favourite prayers. It is from the BAS and it is called the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving.
Let us pray. Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all you have done for us. We thank you for the splendour of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love. We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side. We thank you for setting us tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us. We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone. Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom. Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know Christ and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.
The Rev. Patrick Blaney