Reverend Philip Stringer
LET US PRAY: Enlighten our hearts, O God, through the hearing of your word and the meditations of our hearts, that we may be strengthened in faith and bear a bright witness to the world, through Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. Amen
I recently returned from a trip to Florida with my daughter. It was wonderful. I saw family I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. I took my daughter to places I haven’t been in 30 years. We even worshiped in the congregation where I was baptized. I haven’t been there in more than 50 years! It was a wonderful, joyful trip.
But, of course, a lot has changed in the course of those years. The trip underscored for me a truth of which I know you are familiar: nothing stays the same.
My uncle was a big man— 6’4”. A citrus farmer in central Florida, growing oranges on thousands of acres. He planned wisely, worked extraordinarily hard and built his groves from the ground up. He is now in his mid-80’s and those years of hard work in the sun have taken their toll. He is shorter than I now, frail and barely able to walk.
Uncle Bob’s two sons— my cousins, Ben and Robbie, gradually took over management of the groves. Robbie died a little over a year ago. Ben is doing fine, but the citrus industry in Florida appears to be gasping for its final breaths. A virus has been moving north, ravaging groves and efforts to stop it so far have failed. Groves that were once lush and green and covered with fruit are now stunted, sickly and filled with dead wood. A juice facility in the area last year processed only 1/10th of the oranges it did just 10 years earlier.
My other cousin, Mary Margaret, is the same age as me. She was 35 the last time I saw her. She is 59 now. The kids are grown and she is fighting the many-faceted battle of lupus.
And I could go on with all the things that have come and gone. All of the things that have changed. It is a natural thing, but brings to the front for me the mystery with which we all live:
That all of these places and things we can touch are temporary and do not last.
But those things we CANNOT touch— relationships and in particular, love— continue on.
What we can touch is not real. What we cannot touch is.
Today the Word of God comes to us to show us a truth even beyond this mystery: That out of great and perfect love for you and me, Jesus gave himself to secure for us a place of belonging in God’s eternal presence— and that this new life we live in Christ brings a deep and beautiful purpose to our short time on earth.
People were coming to Jesus by the thousands— clamoring to be near him because he was healing them and feeding them and satisfying all of their earthly needs. The verses immediately preceding our gospel text read,
“Jesus[c] went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news[d] of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, people possessed by demons or having epilepsy or afflicted with paralysis, and he cured them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.”
He could not help but have compassion for them— but his works were merely a sign of love for them and his lordship over all creation. In other passages we read that the people wanted to make him king— “he is giving us everything we need— food and water and wine! He heals the sick, cures the lame, resurrects the dead. He satisfies our every need!”
Jesus knew how short-sighted was their vision. All of these physical satisfactions— these solutions they clung to— they were all merely signs; temporary.
Those who were fed would be hungry again.
Those who were sick or lame would grow weak again.
Those who were raised would one day die.
Did the people merely want him to keep satisfying these needs over and over? Jesus came for more than this.
“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…”
In Matthew, Jesus does not deliver his Sermon on the Mount to the crowds. He speaks it specifically for his disciples. He seems to know that a crowd is a mob, and mobs don’t listen or reason. They cannot understand.
Our text for today is commonly referred to as “the Beatitudes,” and in it, Jesus speaks to his disciples about purposes that go beyond satisfactions of the moment like full stomachs and healthy bodies. He speaks to them about the permanence of love and how it stands in contrast to satisfactions of the flesh. He speaks to them about a truth that is foolishness and a stumbling block to those who think only in terms of the moment.
What he teaches them — and what is proclaimed to us today — is that
Love is not weak.
Love is not passive.
Love is active.
Love is strong.
God is love.
God is active and strong.
For you and me who have been gathered up in God’s love through our baptism into Christ, this means that God’s love at work within us is also active and strong.
Perhaps the contrast between our new reality in Christ as compared to the old reality of this world is expressed best through Jesus’ words in verse 9:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Isn’t that sweet. Except consider what that means.
He did not say, “blessed are the peace-lovers.”
He did not say, “blessed are the peaceable.”
“Blessed are the peace-MAKERS.”
A friend of mine reflected, “The peacemakers are the ones who put themselves in harm's way. Think of a non-peaceful place. Got the image?
Is it Ukraine?
Is it a violent neighborhood?
Is it your home, with people you love hurting each other?
Is it this nation?
Is it a work place where sexual harassment persists?
Now... what would you have to do, what would you have to risk in order to make peace happen there?
Who would no longer love you?
What would happen to you physically?
Who would threaten you?
Would you lose your job?
This peacemaking is not just being nice.
This peacemaking is risky and terrifying... and Jesus says, "Blessed are those who put their bodies, reputations, wealth at risk in order that peace might replace pain.”
Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Jesus put himself in harms way for you and me. He did this because he loves you. The love of God is at work in you and me. You and I— as those who live a new life in God’s love— are called to work with God to heal the world. To make peace— in big ways and in little.
“Oh, why bother? This world never changes. Peace never lasts. Why bother?”
Why did Jesus feed the hungry when he knew they would be hungry again, and cure the sick when he knew they would fall ill again?
Because he loved them. Because even though those tangible expressions fade away, the love from which they come will not. “Love never ends,” wrote Paul. And God is love.
Today, God’s Word speaks to us and calls for our lives— our hopes and dreams and actions— to be built upon what is real, and in doing so, to express the eternal in this temporary world.
The love of God is active and strong in you. Blessed are you who live and move and act in this love.