Rev. Stephen Baldwin
NT: Matthew 5.1-12
A sermon introduction is supposed to hook the audience. Grab their attention. Make them yearn for a holy word. So today, I would like to introduce the Sermon on the Mount with…verb moods. Doesn’t that sound like fun?! Let’s talk about verb moods!
You know all about verbs. They are action words, right? They express what we do. I wore shorts on Saturday. On Wednesday, I pulled six layers of flannel out of the drawer. I walked outside Thursday morning. My eyelids froze together. I walked back inside. Verbs! Action words.
But did you know that they have moods? Verbs don’t have moods like we do. Happy. Grouchy. Grumpy. Dopey. They have moods that show a certain type of action. Most verbs are in the imperative mood. That means verbs that command. Don’t sleep during the preacher’s sermon. Kiss the baby. Pet the puppy.
Some verbs are in the subjunctive mood. They express possibilities or “what ifs.” If you forget to cover your mums, they will die.
Finally, other verbs are in the indicative mood. They state facts. Once the calendar turns to November, you can listen to Christmas music. Fact.
So verbs have three moods–imperative (commands), subjunctive (what ifs), and indicative (facts). Here’s the point of our little English lesson. In which mood are the beatitudes?
Most people think they are imperative. Commands, as if they were saying, “Be meek, be merciful, be pure in heart, be peacemakers.” But the beatitudes are not imperatives, not laws telling us how to behave.
The subjunctive mood would be the next best guess. The what if’s. May you be meek, may you be merciful, may you be pure in heart, may you be a peacemaker. That is nice, isn’t it? But the beatitudes are not in the subjunctive mood.
That leaves us only one option. The indicative mood. Facts. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers…blessed are you.” In the Greek language of the New Testament, the verbs for blessed are in the indicative mood. That means that Jesus is not commanding us how to behave. He is simply describing the facts.
We have a saying for that in today’s world which my wife uses all the time. “It is what it is.” In other words, that’s the way of the world. Whether we like it or not, whether we condone it or not, whether we participate in it or not, that’s the way things are and it isn’t going to change anytime soon. “It is what it is.” Your boss changed the dress code. The market went down. Prices keep going up. It is what it is. Nothing you can do to change it.
But if the beatitudes describe the way of the world, what world is Jesus talking about? Certainly not ours. Blessed are the poor, says Jesus, yet in our world we demonize poverty and silently cast out those who are poor from our neighborhoods, our teams, and even our churches if they don’t fit in. Blessed are the meek, says Jesus, yet in our world those who don’t scream the loudest are never heard. Blessed are the merciful, says Jesus, yet in our world those who show mercy are considered soft or weak.
In the beatitudes, Jesus states the facts of life…as he sees them. Not as the world sees them, but as he sees them. Which leaves us in peculiar place.
One famous theologian says we as Christians are “resident aliens.” In other words, Christians live here for now, but we do not belong here. We belong to God in a world where the rules are different, where the last are first and the first are last.
The beatitudes state, as a matter of fact, that God blesses those whom the world curses. But who exactly is that? Who did Jesus bless on the mountain that day, and who does God bless today? The answers can be found in the details of our story.
The disciples were on the mountain that day because they followed Jesus from their jobs and their homes. The crowds were on the mountain with Jesus that day because they saw him do amazing things, and they followed him. He hadn’t spoken but a few words to the disciples, and he’d never said a mumblin’ word to anybody in the crowd. Yet they followed him to the base of the mountain to hear him preach a sermon. Why? Because they saw something powerful in his life, and they followed him to learn more.
When he did begin to speak, they hung on his every word like frost on the windshield. He called them “blessed,” and they surely cried tears of joy. They’d known so much grief and heartache, their hearts had been broken so many times, they probably didn’t think there was anything left to break or to mend. They were the lowest of the low in their society—poor, immigrants, disabled, diseased, outcast. It would be like Jesus calling migrants in a refugee camp or people living in a homeless shelter blessed today. They would be overwhelmed to know that someone loved them.
After he sits down and begins to speak, Jesus says something blissfully surprising: “Blessed are you.” They knew what it was like to be blessed out, but not this. Jesus embraced them just as they were, wrinkles and warts and all, and it had to be overwhelming.
We celebrate All Saints Day in worship today, and that too can be overwhelming as we grieve the loss of loved ones.
What is All Saints Day? A long-standing tradition of the Christian church which provides a time to celebrate the saints of our lives over the years. Not the New Orleans Saints. Not the saints of stone statues. But saints in the sense of the people who we look up to. Resident aliens who have made their mark on this world and now live in the next.
Today, we bless them in the indicative sense. As a fact of life. We’re going to gather around the communion table. We’re going to speak the names of the people we love and miss. A bell will toll. A candle will be lit. And their memories will live on, just as they live on in the life to come.
Grieving is a lifelong process that unfolds in all kinds of unexpected ways. There is nothing normal about it. It is what it is. But it is through grieving that we heal. Through blessing that we are blessed. Blessed are the saints. Blessed are those who remember them. Blessed are those who learn from the meek, the merciful, and the loving. Blessed are you. Amen.