The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents
"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."
My guess is that these words fell as hard in the ears of Jesus’ first hearers as they fall in ours. The characteristics Jesus describes in what we have come to call The Beatitudes are traits that our personal experience tells us are those of, at worst fools and dupes, and at best decent, loving clueless people who are easy marks - victims. Jesus’ words compare present hard realities of human life as we know it with God’s purposes. Seeing that difference between what we know and what Jesus describes, our experience suggests that our spiritual sightedness derives from self-delusion more than hope. Every trait is followed by a future tense verb, except “persecuted,” which is followed by a present tense verb. The final sentences say that our “reward is great in heaven,” and knowing for certain that we’re not in heaven now, an implied condition results from what Jesus describes….if this, then that….quid pro quo.
These are erroneous impressions, friends. They are false conclusions drawn, in anxiety and hurt and exhaustion, from data not in evidence; they make assumptions that Jesus neither suggests nor intends. Jesus, true to form and His loving nature, is giving good coaching about how to live the life God envisions for us. And that’s all. Our beleaguered hope and our tired, numbed endurance make assumptions when we join what Jesus says about the here and now to something else. Jesus is loving and a realist, and His loving encouragement is that, far from love and the gritty present tense being mutually exclusive, love and realism are essential to one another.
Jesus holds a mirror to us at our best- the way God loving knows we are or can be. Jesus is not describing a transaction; He’s describing a faithful person. Jesus describes faithfulness as the end, not the means. Period. Faithful people are people of hope because they trust first and foremost in the Word made flesh, right here, right now…and not in the sweet by-and-by. Hoping in the Word made flesh leads us to the sweet by-and by, not the other way ‘round. Right now is what we have and where we live. Jesus knows that. Our drooping spirits and flagging strength want relief; the incessant mundane tedium of life, stretching away from us toward a grey, opaque horizon, wants relief. That relief is the Word made flesh, today…in the here and now.
Jesus describes how faithful people look in this World and how they look at this World, not the next. Goethe said: “Where the light is brightest, the shadows are deepest.” Our present realities confirm his wisdom in so many ways. Faithful people do not blithely ignore the darkness around them; to do so is delusional, and is itself dark. Seeing the darkness for what it is, their hope is simply to stand unafraid and not alone in it, and that is what the proper preface for Epiphany describes when it says, “in the mystery of the Word made flesh you have caused a new light to shine in our hearts.” Faithfulness is Light. Understanding that physics is just theology using a different vocabulary, we know that Light goes where it will and does so faster than anything else in the Universe. Faithfulness is Light- when it is most needed, it is most easily seen.
Darkness may well overcome the World, and if not the whole World, perhaps our personal and collective circumstances. But it cannot overcome us. Jesus has said so, and I believe Him. Faithfulness makes no arrogant assertions about its supremacy; it simply dares to be someone around whom darkness must go, since there is no place for darkness to live in them. Faithfulness is not an affected behavior, but rather an authentic reality…. faithfulness is not what we do, it is who we are. Faithfulness is not so much resistance to darkness as it is the Presence of Light….a loving Presence annoying to the darkness that howls and thrashes around it impotent, senseless rage. The Word made flesh is the one we see in Epiphany- manifested to us and through us to the World.
Epiphany indeed. Love you. See you in Church.
FBC3+, 29 January 2017, being The Fourth Sunday after The Epiphany
 The Book of Common Prayer, pg 378