Sunday Message: “Gifts of Hunger”

   Text: Matthew 5:1-12

   Liturgist Text: Micah 6:1-8

Purpose: the purpose of this message is to recognize and embrace gifts which come from ‘hunger’ or ‘wanting’ in the spiritual quest for life.

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There are gifts in ‘hunger.’ It is true that there are many ‘have-nots’ who want to ‘have,’ but there also those who ‘have’ who nostalgically yearn for the ‘hungry years,’ when life was simpler, less complex, centered on what truly matters. The beatitudes Jesus teaches celebrate the gifts inherent in the human search for the living God…

     Neil Sedaka released a song in 1975 called, “The Hungry Years.” The lyric includes these words: “How could I be so blind not to see the door closing on the world I now hunger for, looking through my tears, I miss the hungry years. I miss the hungry years, the once upon a time, the lovely long ago, we didn’t have a dime, those days of me and you, we lost along the way…”

     There are gifts in hunger which we often do not recognize, until they are lost to us. The hopes and dreams we had then may seem illusive to us further down the road, and we find ourselves yearning for the innocence and idealism of that ‘once upon a time.’ But it doesn’t have to be that way. The Apostle Paul wrote of ‘learning to be content in whatever circumstances in which he found himself,’ and we can learn that gift as well. ‘Hungering and thirsting for righteousness, according to Jesus, is a great posture to have.

     When we prepare for the seasons of advent and lent, this is a great lesson in which to lean. We travel with Mary and Joseph as they search for shelter even as a world yearns for deliverance and peace. We follow Jesus as he goes to the desert to fortify himself spiritually for the incredible ministry he is preparing to launch. There he encounters temptation–the lure of an indulgent life, the flattery of celebrity status, the intoxication of power and influence over others, all of which are poor substitutes for following the will and purposes of God.

    To be sure, trusting God would prove costly. He would not marry and taste the gift of family as many of us have. He would never live in his own home or drive his own chariot. He would never know where his next paycheck was coming from, nor would he live long enough to require Medicare or social security. He would never find time for a cruise to Aruba, nor would he die in a comfortable bed with the comfort of a nurse and the help of morphine.

    Instead, he would help the lame walk, the blind see, and the deaf hear. He would feed the hungry, deliver troubled people from evil and offer hope to those with little reason to live. He would forgive what others could or would not, teach an ethic of compassion, and guide the world to a noble dynamic of social responsibility. He would save us from ourselves, not only in the ancient world, but also in the modern world. We benefit from his time in the desert, every bit as much as his disciples and neighbors in Capernaum.

     With that in view, we do well to pay attention to the opening words of his Sermon on the Mount as recorded by Matthew or his Sermon on the Plains as recorded by Luke in the sixth chapter of his gospel. We call them the Beatitudes, or, if we follow the interpretation of Robert Schuller, the ‘Be-Happy Attitudes.’ In preaching these words, though, Jesus calls us to something much deeper than ‘mind over matter’ or the power of positive or possibility thinking.

     He invites us into the depths of God’s design, where roots are nourished by living water, where branches reach upward in praise of God, and where fruits of love are always in season. Let us then, briefly survey these gifts of hunger…

     Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Another translation substitutes “hopeless” for “poor in spirit.” In this gift, Jesus offers a vision which redefines the hopeless reality in which many find themselves. It is the anchor, for example, of the lion’s share of African-American spirituals. Those enslaved envision the ‘Great come-and-get-it-day,’ when work is over, equality is championed, and dignity restored. But Jesus’ offer isn’t meant to be ‘pie-in-the-sky;’ it is a reality to live into now, a heaven of the soul even when we find ourselves in a hell on earth. Some call it ‘a peace which passes all understanding.’

     Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted. Jesus doesn’t offer insulation from trouble, a quick glance at the cross suspended from the chancel ceiling is quick witness of that. But he does promise the gift of accompaniment: “Surely I will be with you ‘til the end of the age.” When a child scrapes his or her knee, the best place in the world is the comfort of a trusted mother’s or father’s lap. The intimacy of such a healing moment is profound.

     Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. What an extraordinary claim! Powerful leaders and people seek to take dominion over the earth, but it will never belong to them. It belongs to God—always has—always will, and God entrusts it to those engaged in earthcare, the meek who heal rather than subdue. If we continue to use the earth without regard to stewardship, there will be nothing left for our children to inherit.

     Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. There is a time for moderation, but this is not that time! God wants us to earnestly hunger and thirst for righteousness. I believe that means we are to never stop growing into the fullness of love’s intent—not the poor substitutes of love’s expression that may be shot from Cupid’s arrow, but the unfailing, courageous love which seeks growth in the life of the beloved. It is a kind of love which sacrifices—not for the beloved’s indulgence, but for their edification and growth as a precious child of God. John Wesley called this ‘entire sanctification,’ and it is the pinnacle expression of what a person may become.

     Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. All of us, at one time or another, find ourselves wanting to get ‘even’ with someone who has wronged us. Even Jesus, I suppose, in his defense of God’s sacred space, got even with the money-changers by overthrowing their tables. But when push came to shove, and certainly the crucifixion was such a time, he prayed, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” When we find ourselves accountable with no defense, we are grateful for a merciful judge and forgiving spirit. If we refuse to give it, how can we ever expect to receive it?

     Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. How can we ever expect to see God as God really is if we cannot see ourselves as we really are? The gift of hunger which Jesus offers here isn’t about our attempts to be perfect; it is about our attempts to be honest, with self, others and God. King David speaks of this in psalm 51, after he shattered his life and that of others in a spectacular way, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”

     Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. This gift of hunger isn’t about peace at any cost, for there can be no peace when tyranny rules. It recognizes, however, the image of God (Imago Dei) in every living soul and yearns for harmony in relationship. It is willing to forgive for the sake of reconciliation. That is what restores God’s family here on earth.

     Last but not least, Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus began with the gift of God’s kingdom and he ends with the gift of God’s kingdom. To receive God’s kingdom, we must first recognize that it is not our kingdom. We do not sit on the throne; God does. And when we do God’s will, there will, at times, be pushback. An employer won’t be happy that we refuse to lie for them. A child may be upset when we hold him or her accountable. A debt may need to be paid for doing the right thing. A friend may be angry with us for speaking the truth. The silver lining is in the fact that we will be able to live with our conscience in God’s kingdom, both on earth and in heaven.