The BeatitudesMatthew 5:1-12 (NRSV)
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“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.”
So, does everyone know what an adjective is? For some of you, you might be learning about them in school this year, or maybe you did a few years ago. But for others of us, let’s just say it was quite a long time ago that we learned about adjectives. So just as a refresher, an adjective is a word or a phrase that describes a noun.
So, let’s think about an apple, for a minute. What kinds of words could we use to describe an apple? Maybe red, green, or yellow. Shiny, or crunchy, or crisp, or juicy. Sweet or sour. Big, or small, or somewhere in between. An apple can be ripe or rotten. It can be squishy, or wormy, or bruised. And sometimes apples are even described as “drops,” meaning that they have fallen out of the tree and were picked up. There are lots of different ways to describe an apple, aren’t there? And apples also have all kinds of names. There’s Granny Smith apples and Delicious apples. There are Macintosh apples and Gala apples. There are Jazz apples, and Cortland apples, and Honey crisp apples, and the list goes on and on!
Now, if you were going to eat an apple, I want to you take a minute to think about what kind of adjectives you would use to describe that apple. Does anyone have any ideas? Would you want your apple to be juicy, red, ripe, crunchy? Now I didn’t hear anyone say, that they would like an apple that was wormy or bruised or dropped. But believe it or not, even those apples can make a delicious warm apple pie or a cold glass of apple cider.
Well, today, in the gospel of Matthew, we heard a piece of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. And in this part of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about people who face difficulty in their lives. And though it may seem as though their lives are not good, like an apple that is wormy or bruised or dropped, Jesus calls them “blessed.” Because Jesus knows that God knows that there is something good inside of them.
Even if they face difficult times, Jesus says that they are blessed. It’s an unexpected turn, renaming these people and their situations in such a way and using an adjective that is usually used to describe something good. But it made me start to think about how wrong we are sometimes—in the way we describe others and in the adjectives that we use. We can look at someone and see for ourselves that they are tall or short, fat or thin, that they have blue eyes or brown eyes or they wear glasses. We can describe them by the length or color of their hair, or the kind of clothes that they wear. But is that really who they are? Sure, that may describe what they look like on the outside, but is that really who they are?
And we might describe them by what they do. Like they are a teacher, or a plumber, or a nurse. Or they play soccer, or softball, or they like to go to the beach. And sure, that may describe what they like to do, but is that really who they are? In our storybook today, Quit Calling Me a Monster, the monster gets upset that because he looks, talks, sounds, like a monster, everyone calls him a monster. But he doesn’t want to be called that. He wants to be called by his name, Floyd Peterson. Unfortunately, because he looks like a monster, and sometimes acts like a monster, people don’t understand that there is another side to him. They assume that they know who is and how he feels, but they really don’t. Floyd Peterson just wants to get on with his life, to do the things that he loves to do and to be the person that he is. Because even though he may look a certain way, he knows inside that he is not that way. He is more than that, and he feels bad when they call him a monster.
The truth is that many times the world gives us names and labels and titles that overshadow who we really are. People judge us and assume certain things about us that simply may not be true.
During the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus renamed situations as blessed, he allowed people to look beyond what they saw with their eyes so that they could see and imagine the blessings that were there. The ones that the world couldn’t see. The truth is we all have blessings within us, that others can’t see. But sometimes we get labeled by society as strong or weak, social or quiet, loving or angry, compassionate or self-centered, just like the apples that were sweet and crisp or wormy and bruised.
One of the reasons why I love having our kids read the call to worship each week is to give them the experience to not only have an important part in worship and to let them know that they mean a lot to us, but also to give them a chance to experience public speaking at a young age, in a safe place where they are loved and encouraged. And I think it’s so important to me because public speaking was something that I always struggled with growing up. I was painfully shy, and I was petrified to talk in front of more than a few friends or family members. I was always afraid that my ideas weren’t good enough, or I’d make mistakes reading, or I would forget what I was supposed to say.
To be honest, that is why I struggled so much as a young adult with my call to ministry. Because though I knew that God was calling me to ministry, there was no way that I was going to speak in front of a big group of people. I was the quiet, shy kid after all. As many of you know I finally went to seminary, to be a chaplain, to offer comfort and a listening ear to those in the hospital. I knew that because of who I was, there was no way that I would ever preach. So, I put off taking preaching classes as long as I possibly could. It’s not that I didn’t know what to say. I could write a sermon, but the delivery was something else.
All my life I knew that I was just the quiet, shy kid. But God knew more. Was I blessed with a call to ministry? Some might say so, and I guess at this point in my life, I too would agree. But back at the beginning, it seemed like more of a curse to me. To be told that the thing I feared most in the world was what I was supposed to do? Something was wrong.
But, at that point, my story wasn’t over. It had far more to say, and my painfully shy moments, maybe they prepared me for it. Friends, many times, we are blessed by things that at times in our lives might seem like curses, because they are not easy. They are not comfortable, and frankly, they can be downright scary. But somewhere deep inside each and every one of us, there is a light and a passion that calls us to something, something that once we figure it out, it not only blesses us, but it blesses others.
The hard part is identifying it, drowning out the old labels and adjectives that have described you all your life, and living into the new you. Because people often only see us from one angle. They only see how tall we are, or what color our eyes are, how long our hair is, or what they have seen us enjoy doing. Like with Floyd, they only see our fangs and hear our roars, or they only see our shyness and our quiet way, and they don’t know about the passions and gifts that we hold inside.
So maybe through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, as he was preaching about the beatitudes, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” “Blessed are those who mourn”. “Blessed are the meek,” and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Jesus was telling us to look beyond what we can see, beyond what we assume, and beyond the labels that the world gives us. Maybe he was trying to say that there are real gifts and passions hidden that we cannot yet see.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, be careful of the adjectives and the labels that you use. And be even more careful with the ones that you accept. Only you and God know that fire that burns inside of you. Only you and God know the gifts and the dreams and the ideas that your heart holds. Remember that your story is not over yet, it has far more to say. So friends, let go of the labels and the words that you allow the world to use in describing you. Find the fire inside you, the fire that God knows is there, and let its light lead you into the next chapter of your story.
May it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!