During Super one Super Bowl Media Day, a boy had fought through the media throng, was face to face with Pete Carroll, and asked if the coach had any advice. “Wherever you want to go, you just keep battling and fighting and hanging onto what you want. If you keep competing, you know you’re going to get what you want.”
Coach Carroll, and thousands of motivational speakers at leadership conferences tell us how to live the successful life. Two ways – two conflicting ways. See John Brueggemann, Rich, Free, and Miserable: The Failure of Success in America. Tony Robbins, self-help guru and self-made millionaire, says that the one trait that makes people successful is “hunger.” How ironic. “Hunger?” Really? “You have to become a master of your ability to turn on your determination, or your creativity, or your hunger,” Robbins says. I call this the anti-gospel.
Call it the Clash of the Beatitudes:
“Happy are the ambitious, assertive, pushy people: for they get on in the world, and get out in the nick of time with a golden parachute.” “Happy are the hard-boiled and the hard-nosed: they hurt others, but they never let life hurt them.” “Happy are the powerful; they can stomp on people and destroy people without consquences.” “Happy are the slave-drivers and workaholics: for they get results.” “Happy are those who never give an inch, make no allowances, accept no excuses, never say, ‘I’m sorry,’ never forgive a slight, and do whatever it takes to succeed: they will be number one.”
“Happy are those who help themselves instead of others: they will be known as people who know how to get the job done.”
These are the Beatitudes of a different God: The Market God from big-time sports to Hollywood to too big to fail mega-banks, to giant soulless, bottom-line, bottom-dwelling corporations, to Washington, D. C., to individuals who will do anything to get to the top. John Brueggemann in Rich, Free, and Miserable: The Failure of Success in America says, “The market culture of our society is becoming a Death Zone within which our old commitments are eroding and human decency is thinning.” When a major Wall Street investment firm was caught cheating, the CEO said, “We are going God’s work.” The Market God is undermining the quality of life and yet so many remain committed to the beatitudes of the world.
So let’s give the Beatitudes of Jesus a chance:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The Sermon on the Mount is the life of Jesus put in words. This is the rhetorical form of an actual life that imitates God’s own life. Therefore the Sermon on the Mount is to be the form of our lives. The beatitudes are descriptions of the lives the people of Jesus live every day.
What does it mean? It means we are the Beatitudes – God’s sacrament to the world. In other words, the Beatitudes require a church – these are churchly commands. The world needs us to live the Beatitudes. If we are not living the Beatitudes the world has no alternative to the violence hidden in our fear of one another and our anger at one another.
For example, we are to be the merciful. Novelist Reynolds Price: “If I have a moral purpose for writing, it is to elicit understanding of and mercy toward as much of creation as I can present, and you the reader, can manage” (The Christ-Haunted Landscape). He also says: “Well, it’s the great thing that institutional Christianity fails to do – that is, to remember Jesus’ saying, ‘Do unto others,’ or when God says, ‘I will have mercy and not sacrifice,’ or ‘Vengeance is mine,’ says the Lord, “I will repay.’ Christian churches seem to be too busy getting vengeance on and sacrificing other Christians, not with mercy and forgiveness.
Many Christians sit at the table of the nations of the world and say, “We will not have mercy. We are putting you on notice. We are giving you a heaping helping of vengeance and punishment and anger.” God says, “Vengeance is mine,” and we hear that and think that since we are allegedly God’s people that God has given us the license to wreak vengeance on all those we choose as deserving of it.
Paul echoes the Beatitude of being merciful: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.” “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ 20No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
The object of the beatitudes of Jesus is to create dependence; it is to force us to need one another. It teaches us to depend upon one another to be the people we claim to be. “Sounds un-American,” you protest. After all, we have centuries of individualism stuffed into our religious DNA like a Thanksgiving turkey. We have been taught to take care of ourselves. “God helps those who help themselves” we mutter, but Jesus says that God helps the helpless. “Independence”, we cry. “Dependence”, Jesus preaches.
In The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell dismantles the illusion that extremely successful people achieve greatness through intelligence, ambition, and independence. Gladwell argues that the true story of success has to do with such things as family, birthplace, and birthdate. He multiplies examples to show how often there is this dependence that makes all the difference in the world. Gladwell attacks the citadel of self-made philosophy. Self-made persons are usually poor sorry building projects without the foundation to handle when the rains fall and the winds blow.
In Full House, Stephen Jay Gould, biologist, argues that progress is an illusion in evolutionary theory and also in human life. There’s more dependence than we like to admit. Without forming symbiotic partnerships with other species that are different, we don’t survive as a people.
I am trying to teach you to think like Christians rather than thinking like free, independent Americans who claim to be Christians. We cannot live by the demands of the sermon on our own. Without one another, we are a leg trying to run a marathon; we are a car with only two tires; we are a football team with only three players; we are a general without an army. We might as well be sent naked into the cosmos as to try to live the Beatitudes without a church. Within the church, some will be poor, some will mourn, some will be meek, some will hunger and thirst for righteousness, and some will be peacemakers. The beatitudes are a gift and each gift means diversity will be present in the community. We are dependent on those who possess gifts we may not possess.
So Jesus gives us the beatitudes so that his church can bless the world. This takes us all the way back to Abram whom God told, “I will bless you so that you can be a blessing to the nations.” If we are God’s people we now own this promise/command. God promises to bless us so that we can be a blessing to the world. Do you think we are being a blessing to the world?
A lot of people are real big on God blessing America as if this is a one-way street. If all we are concerned about is our getting the blessing, about us being safe and secure, about us being powerful and number one, then we are accepting the promise of God but refusing the command.
I am suggesting that the church live the Beatitudes in the world filled people that are by nature violent, lost, and living in darkness. We are the sacrament of Jesus to a violent world. And this means we can’t do this awesome work without one another.
What a powerful claim: We are the Beatitudes in flesh and blood. This is who we are. We are the church of the Beatitudes. Later in the sermon Jesus will announce, “You are the Light of the world.” Not you should try to be light but “You ARE the light.” So go ahead and be what you already are – the beatitudes for the world.
So, here’s Jesus with his beatitudes. We are his disciples. Let anger die on our lips before the sun goes down. Let violence find no supporters in our midst as we leave vengeance to the Lord. And as we leave the church today, don’t forget the words of Jesus, repeated again and again: Blessed . . . are you. Blessed are you. Blessed are you. Go and be a blessing.