Beatitudes: A View from the Hill

Beatitudes: A View from the Hill

Year C: Luke 6:19 – The Beatitudes

Sermon to Pohick February 17, 2018

By The Rev. Dr. Lynn Ronald

I’ve had the joy of standing on that same hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount. Return with me for a moment to that place…

Under the Mediterranean sun, with the scent of bouganvilla, one can contemplate Jesus’ presence, then and now. Jesus wading into all the pain and joy of human lives, then, and over the millenia.

On this hill, there’s an overwhelming sense of seeing what Jesus sees.

To the horizon on the left, is Bethsaida and the headwaters. Just below the hill is Capernaum, Peter’s and Andrew’s hometown where the fishing docks from Jesus’ day still line the shores. Across the shimmering lake are hills where other Gospel stories take place, like Jesus healing the demoniac from the caves.

Those same hills, called the Golan Heights today, separate Israel from Syria, with all its modern-day chaos. In the distance to the right is the mouth of the Jordan River. Nearby is the City of Tiberius, founded by Herod Antipas. Beyond that is the West Bank, where conflict and chaos prevail.

From this hill, Jesus offers a new perspective: the Beatitudes, his extraordinary, paradoxical view of the Kingdom of God. Jesus gives us a lens through which we can see the world as God does – A broader vision with the potential to set us free and transform us. And give us hope for the future.

Luke seems to have a distinct purpose in placing Jesus on a hillside. He also makes a point to say Jesus“looked at his disciples.” Looking and really seeing is about having divine perspective. Jesus sees the people’s pain. He also sees the whole of eternity from an elevated vantage point. He is saying to disciples of every age:

Come up to the hillside with me. See the bigger picture.

“Going to the balcony” is a modern metaphor for a place of perspective where you can “keep your eyes on the prize.” This phrase was quoted in a TED talk by Harvard’s Willian Ury. The idea is to step out of the chaos and confusion and rise above it, to grasp what’s really happening. And to keep the end goal in sight.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus summons his disciples to turn from the tyranny of their present troubles, to focus on what’s really happening. To see the whole picture from an eternal perspective.

According to author Richard Rohr, Jesus is saying: “If you are my disciple and your heart has been transformed, then these beatitudes are going to make sense to you. However, if these beatitudes don’t make sense to you…you haven’t yet experienced eternal life.”

Do the Beatitudes resonate with you? Or do they confound you? Do you find these upside-down blessings don’t sound much like blessings at all? If you do, you’re not alone. So it is with the original disciples.

As Jesus addresses his disciples, he seeks to jar them from their former worldview, using shocking paradoxes:

How happy are you who are poor; for yours is the Kingdom of God. Ironically, if you are free to be economically poor, emotionally vulnerable, spiritual naked, or socially dismissed; if you’re ok without those false supports like wealth and fame that used to protect you — then you’re already living in the Kingdom of God!

Happy are you who are hungry or mourning now; you will be satisfied. Jesus is saying, if you fear starvation, feel empty, less-than, or brokenhearted, these are the moments you find God blessing you in surprising ways: One door closes and another opens, a kind gesture, a loving smile, a victory for justice, a sudden sense of God’s presence and a peace that passes understanding.

Blessed are you when people hate you and exclude and insult you…Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!  Have you ever been rejected, reviled or excluded – maybe chosen last for the playground kickball team? In the news we regularly see racial profiling and hate crimes. We constantly hear polarized arguments and dualistic right-or-wrong posturing. Lately I am struck by the meanness and chaos swirling around the current masks in-schools debate. (I feel for parents and teachers!)

So how do we understand this last Beatitude? There is no other way, than to submit to God’s great reversal! Once we are freed from the false need to win, prove ourselves, or have the last word, then we receive the blessing. Liberated from reacting in anger, hurt and retaliation, we become forgiving, understanding, at peace…that’s when we discover hope and experience eternal life.

How can we tell when we are living in the Kingdom of God?

One sure sign is growing in compassion for others who are poor, hungry, grieving, rejected, or ostracized. Or growing in our ability to receive either criticism or compliments without over-reacting. Letting go of winning arguments. Listening to those who don’t agree.

This lifelong process begins at baptism. We renounce those “woes,” the goals of wealth and fullness and superiority that threaten to block our spiritual journey and stunt our growth. In baptism, we die to our former life. Rise with Christ to a new life in Him. We make vows to follow Christ as his disciples.

In the case of little Dmitri and William today, their parents and godparents will soon make those vows for them.

Baptism is a “passage” seen through the lens of the Exodus, when the Jewish people passed through the Red Sea into the Promised Land. Jesus chose to make an exodus by passing through suffering and death into resurrection. This “Paschal Mystery” was Jesus’ own baptism, signified by his going under the waters of the Jordan. When we go under the water, our baptism signifies dying to what is decaying, dying and dark—and rising to what is renewing, life-giving and light.

That said, baptism is not an end to itself. Not a one-and-done. It is the beginning of a lifelong process. Baptism sets us on a journey of discipleship in two phases:

In the first half of life, we are raised on the Law of Moses, the 10 Commandments. As children, we learn to distinguish right from wrong, really good from really bad.

God starts His children on a diet of milk we can easily digest. As spiritual infants, we establish an identity as God’s beloved, a sense of belonging, an assurance of security. God tenderly offers us the clear boundaries of the commandments.

As we move into “the second half,” God begins to wean us from milk and feeds us a more complex diet. Life happens. Inevitably, we experience sickness, sin, and suffering — and eventually death itself. 

Paradoxically, this is often precisely where we discover true joy and deeper intimacy with God! In our second half, the path to the Kingdom winds through suffering –  just as the Beatitudes suggest.

God has an eternally broader vantage point. God wants us to “climb up on a cloud” with Him and see the whole picture, the broad-brush story of our lives. There we move beyond rules and external appearances. As we let go, we open our hearts to Grace.

Today, we can follow Jesus to the hillside and see with God’s vision. At home, try meditating on the Beatitudes. Perhaps you’ll see what Jesus longs for us to see…

There is grace in paradox. The Beatitudes contain paradox after paradox. It is an upside-down kind of theology. Our challenge is to trust the Lord with all the upheaval. Although we can’t see everything he sees now, in the end it will all make sense. Fr. Phillippe writes:

“When we cease playing at being masters of life, and consent to embrace what comes to us day by day, life becomes full of meaning.”

Jesus also wants us to see that…

Everything is passing.. Those who mourn will be comforted. Those who hunger will be filled. Those who are persecuted will see the Kingdom.

I leave you with some prayerful wisdom from St. Teresa of Avila. Teresa surely grasped Jesus’ vision of eternal life in this world. She wrote:

Let nothing disturb you.

Let nothing frighten you.

All things are passing.

God only is changeless.

Patience gains all things.

Who has God wants nothing.

God alone suffices.                  Amen.