A sermon by the Rev’d Peter Jin

In the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

When we look at both the short Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6 and the longer more developed Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, we see Jesus delivering the heart of his message. 

Luke’s beatitudes and woes are not to be interpreted as approving of suffering and persecution for the sake of pie in the sky, a heavenly reward in the eternal hereafter. 

In our world, poverty can never and should never be translated into blessing.  I don’t think God commands us to give away our wealth and to be hungry and weep all day long for being mistreated. 

Jesus uses a genre of speech to emphasise a point.  The point is to be blessed by God is to seek nothing but God. 

Let us imagine.  You are not only poor but destitute.  The destitute poor have nowhere to turn but to God.  God expects the entirety of our lives, not only money. 

Luke doesn’t consider those with wealth to be beyond salvation.  There are success stories about the wealthy in Luke.  Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector climbs a tree to see Jesus.  Cornelius, a Roman centurion, was the first Gentile to convert to the faith, and Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, opened her heart to Paul’s teachings. 

The realm of God rests among those who have nothing but God.  The God Jesus speaks of is not always the God we think of and believe in.  Our human nature and tendency is to fit God into our own small definitions, cultures, and places. 

Luke’s Beatitudes strike us at first as a bit counterintuitive.  We seem to be blessed for things we would not expect to be blessed for. 

We sense within ourselves this infinite longing for God, but we attempt to fill it up 

with something less than God.  Thomas Aquinas named four classical substitutes: wealth, pleasure, power, and honour. 

We know that we need God, but we try to top up the void with something less than God, some combination of those four things. 

When Jesus says ‘Blessed are you poor’, he is not idealising poverty nor condemning wealth, but rather leading us towards detachment.  May I suggest we read it in this way.  How blessed are we if we are not attached to material things. 

If we have not placed wealth at the centre of our concern, if the Kingdom of God is our ultimate concern, then we will not become addicted to material things, rather, we will, in fact, be able to use wealth with great effectiveness, for God’s purposes.

Under this same principle of detachment, Let us dig deep to interpret ‘how blessed are those who weep’.  I suggest we understand Jesus’ teaching in a positive way: How happy we are, and how lucky we are if we are not addicted to good feelings. 

Good feelings and pleasant physical, emotional, psychological feelings are wonderful, but they are not God.  And if we turn them into God, we become addicted.  We can see this clearly enough in the drug abuse and pornography and endless consumption in our society.  (See me afterwards if you want to give up at least one of these.)

Again, this has nothing to do with Puritanism or wowserism.  It has to do with detachment.  And detachment will lead us to spiritual freedom.  

Jesus says ‘Blessed are you when people hate you when they exclude you, revile you and defame you’.  We must read this again as Aquinas might.  The call to poverty rules out the addiction to material things, and the call to weep goes against the addiction to good feelings.  So, ‘Blessed are you when people hate you’ gets in the way of that addictive attachment to honour. 

We are hungry for God, but we try to fill the hunger with something less than God, and so without doubt we are frustrated.  In our frustration, we convince ourselves we need more of that finite good that can never make us happy.  And so we strive, and we get it, and find ourselves still frustrated and still not satisfied.  

So detachment is the key to leading a happy life.  Neither money, nor food, nor power, nor honour will make us happy.  No! … Rather … detachment from these things.  

Jesus reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. 

Brothers and sisters in Christ, where is your treasure?  Amen.