I have started and stopped this blog post more times than I can count, and I just can’t find the idea. You know – the idea. The one that is worthy of publishing in a blog post, the one which will make people stop and think and go ‘wow, I hadn’t seen things that way before’.
I know why it is, of course – I’m coming off the back of six intensive weeks of work (involved in organising Burning Church and the Festival of Dangerous Ideas here in Austria) and am mentally exhausted. It’s to be expected. And yet the deadline remains. I can’t keep swapping the deadline around until something plops out of the vacuum like a seagull dropping on a cold winter’s day.
So, lacking in interesting words of my own, I’m going back to an old word. To the Beatitudes. Spoken by the Word.
It’s always interesting to think about who Jesus spoke these words to. At the end of Matthew 4, he has been going around, healing, casting out demons, teaching the good news of the Kingdom. And this kind of liberating news unsurprisingly draws a crowd. Jesus sees the crowd, goes a little bit up the mountain, and then begins to teach.
Which must mean that he is teaching to the same people that he has just been healing and restoring. Dallas Willard comments that these probably weren’t people who you would expect to have their spiritual life in order. They aren’t people who you would ask to lead a prayer meeting or start a small group or cover for the preaching. They were the messed up, washed up, used up and fed up.
And Jesus looks at them and announces God’s pure, unmerited, unconditional grace. He calls them blessed – not a statement of their inherent morality, but a description of God getting down in the dirt with them, calling them by name, rolling up his sleeves and being God for them. Blessing. The statement that God has entered the game and everything changes.
Blessed are the poor in spirit
Theirs is the Kingdom of heaven
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
They will be comforted
The beatitudes often fall prey to our desire to tidy up Christianity. To neaten its edges, to domesticate it, to make the announcement just a little bit more tame. And so we rip the words out of their context in this mass of humanity and insert them into more pleasing, more appropriate contexts.
A liturgy, perhaps. Or a fridge magnet. I mean, whoever started a riot with a fridge magnet.
We slip so effortlessly from being those who experience God’s unmerited grace to being those who patrol the boundaries, who are the spiritual experts. To being those who insist on order and neatness.
How would it be if we instead learnt to hear these words afresh, in all their invitation and all their threat to the world of religious organisations.
Blessed are the weak
Blessed are the lonely
Blessed are those with no plans, but many disappointments
Blessed are the forgotten, the elderly, those who forget
Blessed are the asylum seekers
Blessed are the justice seekers
Blessed are the thrill seekers
Blessed are the burned out
Blessed are they, whose love has grown cold
Blessed are the abused
Blessed are those in chronic pain
Blessed are the hopeless, the childless, the sleepless
Blessed are the misunderstood – and those who misunderstand
Blessed are those who want to follow Jesus, but can’t get on board with the church’s teaching on sexuality
Blessed are those who can’t dream any more
Blessed are those who feel they need to drag themselves to church with a perfect Christian mask
Blessed are those wrestling with problems that no-one can begin to imagine
Jesus calls and justifies and sanctifies and glorifies normal, imperfect, weak, fearful human beings. Always has. Always will. Ain’t nothing we can do to tidy up this outrageous grace.
No great ideas for this blog post. But a great trust that this outrageous Jesus transforms lives, announces new beginnings and sits down in the dust with us, calling us blessed.
Maybe that’s the only word that needed to be written today.