It’s Father’s Day, so I get to reminisce a little. I remember a time when I got home from work -- tired and a little overwhelmed by it all. Dede was at a meeting, and so I was responsible for feeding myself and three hungry children. I looked in the pantry and found a couple of cans of Ravioli, which wouldn’t be enough, but then I noticed a can of Spaghetti O’s, and got the brilliant idea to combine them together. Ravioli and O’s, plus some buttered bread and some green beans and you’ve got, what my now-adult children called “the million-dollar meal.” They loved it! A week or so later I was gone for the night, and our children begged Dede to make the million-dollar meal. It was a flop. I guess the recipe was just too complicated for her. Dede is just not a good enough cook to make the million-dollar meal.
I’ve reflected on that many times through the years, and I think I know what made my combination of Ravioli and Spaghetti O’s so much better. It had something to do with me talking about how good it was going to be in advance. But mainly, it was hunger, and the anxiety of thinking that, with me in the kitchen, there might not be anything else. That’s what made it so good that night.
Hunger makes all the different in the world. If you are hungry, food tastes so much better. If you are in a circumstance of life where hunger is a true reality, then food becomes such a blessing. It is not something to take for granted, like so many of us do. This is one reason why fasting occasionally is a good thing. It is good for us to experience hunger and thirst. It opens our hearts to the power of thanksgiving. It keeps us from taking this blessing for granted.
As Jesus proclaimed the ways of God to this crowd before him, he awakened a hunger and a thirst that they may not have even known they had. But as they heard these words, they became hungry for something more than food. I hope that has happened to you, and maybe is happening right now.
Jesus put a name to what we really need to live – and when I say “live” I don’t mean to just exist, but to live life out of the blessings of God. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for “righteousness.” That is the food of life, according to Jesus. John Wesley, in his sermon that inspires us today, says that this term “righteousness” is the sum of true religion. This is the one thing that will satisfy the hungry soul. Righteousness is the spiritual version of steak and a loaded baked potato, with a caesar salad – or whatever your idea of a great meal might be.
So what is this righteousness? True righteousness is a “right relationship” with God, where our life is aligned to God’s love, and we are then able to live by the virtues of God’s kingdom. These virtues are named so often in the scriptures -- patience, kindness, humility, and compassion. Righteousness is a life that bears others up in love. Righteousness is the blessing that will truly satisfy the hungry heart.
John Wesley helps us see this distinction. He points out, as Jesus did so many times, that true religion or true righteousness is not rooted in “outward forms of faith.” Too many people think that to be religious is to look good on the outside. Do a few good things. Go to church. Give. Then maybe you’ll receive a blessing, or at least avoid God’s wrath. That’s the sum of religion for many. Later in the gospel, Jesus compares this to being like a painted tomb – beautiful on the outside, but dead inside. That’s not what God wants for us. Deep in our spirits we long for something more. We long for a right relationship with God where we are able to experience love and peace and joy – not just to know about these things but to know them here (heart). And God makes a promise. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”
Wesley then says this: The more we are filled with the life of God, the more tender hearted we become. That’s his word. We become less judgmental and impatient and condemning of others. We learn true righteousness, and this leads us to the other blessings that surround this one. We might think of this as a “righteousness sandwich,” with the bread around the meat being “meekness” and “mercy.” (Three blessings, with righteousness in the middle...)
First is meekness. Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek.” Some may think of meekness as being weak, or docile or detached. It is not. Meekness is true strength. The meek trust that God is at work, and always abounding in patience, kindness, and steadfast love. Therefore, the meek do not believe that they have to defend God. It is not their job to judge and divide. The meek listen. The meek work to build relationships. There is nothing weak about meekness.
Next is mercy. We read, “Blessed are the merciful but they shall receive mercy.” Mercy can also be portrayed as weakness, but not for Jesus. Mercy also is active love, always willing to forgive and to cultivate relationships that work toward new life, new opportunities, and new beginnings. Mercy is blessed by God. I love this sentence from Wesley: “In mercy, it is possible for us to say, ‘I am so far from lightly believing what one person says against another, that I will not easily believe what one says against themselves. I will always allow second thoughts, and many times counsel too.” I love that line.
Then we are given a promise. “The merciful shall receive mercy.” You may wonder about that. It sometimes seems that the merciful get run over, even by other so-called Christians. In this regard, John Wesley speaks of Christians who are “drunk with the blood of the saints,” and thrive on judgment of others, drawing hard lines in the sand, and making all kinds of ultimatums about what others should believe and do. It is so easy for us to get caught up in that kind of superficial self-righteous religion. From God’s perspective, however, it may be that those who judge will receive judgment. That may be the corresponding truth to what Jesus says here. Show mercy and, at least from God and in God’s kingdom, you will receive mercy.
So, that’s the three beatitudes that we are focusing on today. I hope that you will put these blessings into practice, for that’s when they truly come to life and open up the way of God. Open your heart to mercy and meekness. Open your heart to the fruits of true righteousness, to true strength. May you receive the goodness of God that truly satisfies. Amen.