November 5, 2017 Sermon
Matthew 5:1-12/ 1 John 3:1-3
Blessed Are Those…
This past week, we went through Halloween and All Saints’ Day. While doing nothing Halloween-y except for watching a surprisingly scary children’s movie, I thought of how our society/ pop culture takes Christian holy days and make them an occasion for fun and money making. On Easter, we hunt for Easter eggs because according to one TV comedy, “Easter bunny died for our sins.” On the day we celebrate our Saviour being born among the marginalized of the world to proclaim God’s kingdom of equality and justice, a jolly fat guy brings gifts, children from richer families receiving fancier gifts to the poor children’s dismay. On All Saints’ Day, we remember the saints who have left us, and their legacy, and children dress up and beg for candies. I find some of these interesting and some others bitter, Halloween being the interesting one.
Some say they believe in ghosts and some say they don’t; but we as Christians believe in the spiritual world, and that death is not the end. A lot of cultures believe in ancestors’ spirits and how they look after their living descendants. In Korea, on major holidays, non-Christians offer sacrifice to honour their ancestors; not the killing animals kind of sacrifice but ordinary human food. They even say that after the sacrificial ceremony, the taste of the food changes, making us think whether our ancestors actually came and ate the food. That is my spooky Halloween story for you. In a lot of African cultures, not all dead people can become ancestors; the departed ones must meet certain criteria. For example, those who died too young cannot become ancestors in the afterlife. Those who led a morally bad life cannot either. These African ancestors are divine beings but lesser than the supreme divine being that we call God, and they watch over their descendants. Essentially, in those African cultures, ancestors are angels.
Therefore, we can learn that it is not only in the Christian belief that this mortal world and the world beyond death are thought to be connected. The kingdom of God that I have been preaching is the combination of the mortal world and the afterlife world that Christians generally call “heaven”. When Jesus teaches about God’s kingdom and says things like some people entering or not entering the kingdom, it is not only about going to heaven after they die. Kingdom of God is a community of the disciples whether they are alive or dead. Those who belong to the kingdom of God live a kingdom lifestyle here on Earth; they strive to live by the teachings of Jesus, his teachings of unconditional love, compassion, and justice.
The gospel text we read today is commonly known as the Beatitude, because it’s about blessing, and it illustrates what kingdom citizens are like. But this blessing is not a future hope. It is not, “You shall be blessed in the future if you do this and that”; it is a proclamation of the present state. These blessings are said in an exclamation after a Hebrew and Aramaic rhetoric without a verb. When our English translation says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, it is actually saying “O the blessedness of the poor in spirit!” These blessings are about the state of the disciples who have already entered God’s community called the kingdom of God. The Greek word used for “blessed” is makarios, which specially describes gods. In Christianity it means godlike joy. This is the kind of supreme joy that surpasses life’s conditions. It’s like when Jesus says in John’s gospel, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” The peace that belongs to the divine realm is different from the peace of the world; it doesn’t depend on the state of the world. Likewise, the joy that belongs to the divine realm doesn’t get affected by what goes on in the world and in our lives either.
Disciples are blessed and full of divine joy because we belong to the divine realm and power. We belong to God. We belong to God’s community. Therefore, we are blessed and joyful by default. Disciples are poor in spirit because they do not obsess over the worldly and material things. Disciples mourn because the suffering of others is their suffering too. Disciples are meek because God is meek. Disciples hunger for righteousness because they care about the well-being of our world and its people. They are pure in heart and peacemakers because they learn from Jesus who inspire them to be so. And sometimes they get persecuted for speaking out and working for justice. According to the worldly standards, what I just described is not considered a state of happiness and blessedness. Because God’s kingdom has a reversed value from the mortal world, disciples rejoice in living a kingdom lifestyle even though it is not always an easy or comfortable one. By belonging to God’s kingdom, we learn to be like God. Our children grow up learning our values, habits, and so on because that’s what they observe and experience growing up. In my family, I grew up surrounded by avid readers and scholars, so I grew up thinking that reading, learning, and intellectual curiosity were of a high value. We live in God’s community among Jesus’ teaching and God’s people, and we will learn to be like Jesus. 1 John chapter 3 verses 2 and 3 say, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this; when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” God is pure; we will become pure. Jesus is meek; we will become meek. Jesus loved and rejoiced even in persecution, poverty, and suffering; we will learn to love one another and rejoice in our humble and righteous community. If we belong to God, we will learn to be like God.
When I shared the story of my grandma’s ring with Father Jim, he smiled and said, “communion of the saints.” This ring is how I remember my grandmother who had strong faith and didn’t have the privilege to see me becoming a pastor. This ring is how I connect with my grandmother and receive courage to do my ministry. We remember saints of the Church and in our lives in different ways; but there is one thing that is universal about our remembrance of them. We are connected through our relationship with God, living in the kingdom of God. Communion of the saints, our communion with the saints happen because we follow their legacy of faith and strive to live out our faith.
Today we remember the saints of the Christian Church as well as the saints in our personal lives. As long as we remember them and live out the faith that we inherited from them, we are with them. Alive or dead, because we belong to God’s kingdom and learn the kingdom values of compassion, humility, and justice, we are by default blessed. Blessed are those who have received God’s love and invitation to the kingdom. Blessed are we who learn from our ancestors in faith, and carry on with God’s community of love.
Rev. Sunny Kim