Matthew 5:1-16 Heart and Soul October 6, 2013
Have you ever lost your credit card, or misplaced it for a time?
You kind of start to panic, don’t you?
If it’s not in my wallet, I start to think back over the day, retracing my steps, trying to remember when I used it last, and I might go and re-visit those places, thinking that maybe I left it there, and hoping beyond hope that I can find it.
There’s a sense of urgency when I can’t find my credit card, because I know that if it’s really been lost, I’m in trouble.
If my credit card gets in the wrong hands, someone could really do a number on my identity, on my credit, they could really do some damage, couldn’t they?
Most of the time I take my credit card for granted.
Most of the time I can assume that I know where it is, and that it will be there when I need it.
But when I reach for my credit card and I realize it’s not there…then finding it becomes my priority, as it should.
I’ll drop whatever I’m doing, and I’ll take the time I need to find it, because I know it’s that important.
Well, I want to argue this morning, that I could say all the same things about our souls.
(do I need a disclaimer about salvation?)
It’s easy to treat the soul like a credit card. I don’t mean racking up debt with it…I mean it’s easy to put it in a safe place and kind of forget about it. It’s easy to take the soul for granted, and it’s often not until we reach for it in a time of need, and discover it’s not where we thought it was, that we start to panic, or start to desperately search for it.
I’m talking about the feeling you get when your ‘heart’ just isn’t into something anymore, or when you have ‘nothing left’ for a project, or a work assignment, or when you really need some inner resources to get through something, but you find that you keep coming up empty.
It’s not a ‘blessed’ feeling, is it? In fact, ‘cursed’ might be a word that better describes what we feel when the soul seems distant but life continues anyway.
We might end up going through the motions, but we’re not really present.
The Psalmist puts it like this “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).
I suspect a good many of us know what it is to seek, to thirst, even to faint for God in a dry and weary land.
I’m here to suggest that’s a soul thing more than it is anything else.
And when was the last time you paid real attention to your soul, anyway?
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s been a long time.
I spend so much time on what’s ‘urgent’ that I tend to ignore what’s ‘important’; anyone else?
As a preacher, the temptation I faced as I worked on this sermon was to turn the beatitudes into laundry list, or a checklist, or a ‘roadmap’ to the kingdom.
But I’m not going to do that, because I don’t think that’s what Jesus ever had in mind when he proclaimed these blessings such a long time ago.
This isn’t a list that describes the perfect Christian, and it’s not some kind of roadmap that we can use to get to the kingdom. The beatitudes aren’t something we carry around with us and check off the tasks one by one as we meet the criteria…”poor in spirit…check!” “mourning…check!”…”meek…check!”
Rather, more than anything else, these beatitudes describe the heart and soul of God.
And when the reality within us reflects the heart of God, the only result can be blessing, or a state of ‘blessed’-ness.
Not only for ourselves, but for the people around us too.
Therefore, “blessed are the poor in spirit”. Not because they will be blessed, but rather because “theirs is the kingdom of heaven!”
In other words, the poor in spirit aren’t blessed just because they’re poor in spirit. It’s not that they have attained or acquired or earned any special blessing as a result of their humility or their poverty or their self-effacing manner of being in the world…it’s rather that they are blessed because there’s an aspect of their soul that is at one with the heart of God, such that God’s kingdom actually belongs to them!
That doesn’t happen by trying to be humble, or self-effacing, or ‘poor in spirit’.
It happens when you get in touch with the utter, wretched, soul-thirst that lives within us, and you realize that nothing…absolutely nothing in the world is going to satisfy that thirst. It happens when you take the time to really dig down and let yourself feel and experience the abject poverty that lives within you, and you refuse to try to fill that spot with activity, or food, or money, or any of the quick fixes that are so cheap and easy.
It’s down there, in the ache of your soul, where God can work. He can work down in there and change your desires on a fundamental level, so that your soul and his heart become more and more in tune with each other.
That’s what it means to be poor in spirit.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn.
When you let yourself feel the full, unfiltered weight of your soul-thirst, when you allow yourself to experience true poverty within your soul…I think this will lead to a kind of mourning.
We all mourn death when it comes too close for comfort, but I don’t think that kind of mourning is all Jesus had in mind.
When the chemistry of your soul begins to change in God’s hands, when you realize that so many of your wishes and desires and wants aren’t necessarily in tune with the heart of God, there’s a mourning there that needs to happen, right?
When you spend years of your life dreaming about the perfect job, or the perfect spouse, or the perfect family…and when you finally come to realize that it just ain’t gonna happen how you always thought it would…you have to mourn that loss, don’t you?
You have to, because it’s a kind of death that you’re dealing with. The alternative to mourning these losses is just white-washing tombs.
Jesus says you are blessed when you mourn those dreams…because you will be comforted. Not just by other people…in fact, at least in our experience, other people tend to be fairly insensitive, often making mourning more difficult…but rather, you will be comforted by the Holy Spirit who does live within you, even when it’s hard to know that.
Blessed are the meek.
Can you see the progression here?
When you mourn the loss of how things were supposed to be, eventually you get to the place where you can meekly step into the new reality.
The meek shall inherit the earth.
And then they will begin to hunger and thirst for righteousness, because as your soul becomes more and more attuned to the heart of God for his creation and his people, the more you will be able to sense, and cry out for, and hunger and thirst for the righteousness that God requires…as Micah puts it, to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.
When your soul is tuned to the heart of God, there’s a transformation that happens.
But it all starts by digging down and allowing yourself the time you need to touch the thirst without trying to fill it.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful; if you allow yourself all these other things, you will no doubt become merciful, no doubt more merciful than you are right now, because you will know first hand how transformation works. You will know not just in your head, but also in your soul, how slow and how painful a journey of the soul can be.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
There are at least a couple ways of seeing, aren’t there?
You will see God, not with your eyes, but with your soul.
Because a soul that has seen, grappled with, and come to terms with it’s own mortality is a soul that can withstand even the sight of God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
That’s a good Mennonite verse, isn’t it?
It’s no wonder to me that through this transformative process, the capstone, if you can call it that, is peacemaking.
Because as we tune our souls to the heart of God, what can we do but work towards peace?
What can we do but reconcile ourselves to other people as we reconcile ourselves to God?
For as Jesus himself says elsewhere “Love the Lord your God with all your being…and love your neighbor as yourself.”, and as John writes (or was it James) you cannot say you love God without loving your neighbor.
Blessed are the peacemakers…it’s a family tradition!
As I close this morning, I’d like to offer you a challenge. There are two parts to it, and I think it’s important to do both.
It’s as much for me as it is for anyone else…but take some time this afternoon, or this evening, and try to get in touch with these beatitudes.
Try to read them as a process of transformation, and try to put yourself on the map, so to speak.
Ask the Holy Spirit get in there and get to work, and allow yourself to feel it.
And after that, feed it.
Feed your soul.
My dad used to come home after work sometimes, after a long day when you could tell his soul took a beating (he was a social worker, so I’m sure he saw some things sometimes that dented his soul)…and every now and then he’d come home from work, he’d go into the bedroom, lay down in the dark and listen to jazz for 20 minutes or half an hour.
He would never put it in these words, but I think he was feeding his soul.
Allow yourself to go there, to get in touch with the thirst that’s there in the center of your being…but be sure to feed it too.
If you’re into jazz, then listen to jazz. If you’re into riding your bike, take a bike ride, reading, writing, baking…napping…whatever it is that feeds your soul, do that.