How many of you have been to the top of Pinnacle Mountain? This mountain is dear to me. I grew up being able to walk out my front door and see this mountain. To share one memory, football season at Joe T. Robinson began with the coach taking us to the foot of this mountain and then giving us 20 minutes to make it to the top. That was … not fun, especially if you had not stayed in shape through the summer. Other than that, I have many fond memories of climbing Pinnacle. From the top of this mountain, I can see my home where road and river are interconnected and in relationship. I can see the lake, fed by the river, that provides water to so many. I can see important places in my life and how they connect together. It is a good thing to stand on the top of a mountain and see things from a higher perspective.
We just read the Beatitudes, once again. These words begin what we call the Sermon on the Mount. At one level, this title simply speaks of where Jesus delivered his message – from the mountain. At another level, this is a sermon “on” or “about” the mountain. Throughout scripture, the “mountain” represents being closer to God. From the mountaintop, our imaginations are awakened and we are able to envision our lives as a part of God’s big kingdom.
From this mountaintop, we see the better way. Instead of trying to build ourselves up, we discover the joy of caring for others and building them up. Instead of focusing on gaining all we can in terms of possessions and power, we see, from this mountain, that we are poor in spirit. We are all in poverty, every one of us. We don’t have the resources within ourselves to give greater meaning to life or to connect our hearts to eternity. We learn to receive this blessing as a gift. That’s just a couple of the blessings we have heard these past couple of weeks.
Today we once again take our place on the mountain with Jesus and discover more about how to love others. Love is at the heart of all of these beatitudes. They can all be summed up with this word -- Love. According to Jesus, Love is the end or purpose of all blessings from God.
And so we ask today, what allows this love to flow through us? If it is true that God’s love comes to us on its way to others (as we say so often), how can we cultivate this movement? How do we keep this flow of love from being blocked?
The answer is found in the phrase “purity of heart.” “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Let’s think about purity for a moment. I Googled the words “purity” and “faith,” and the first things that popped up were articles about sexuality, and advice mainly to youth. Purity, as one article said, means to “pace your passion,” to resist feeding your fantasies, to acknowledge the presence of God on every date. It’s not bad advice. But it is too easy for us to compartmentalize purity into this one dimension of life. We don’t get off the hook that easy. Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in HEART.” Heart is a metaphor for what is at the center of your life, at the core. The call here is to keep our hearts pure of all pollutants that might block or contaminate God’s love – selfish pride, greed, anger, envy, lust. When our hearts are pure, the way is cleared for us to see God, and to see God’s hand over us for good, guiding us into the heights and depths of God’s love. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” We can think of what we are doing here as we worship, and pray, and receive God’s word as a filter that removes contaminants that cloud the way to God. Here, we are being cleansed from the inside out so that we can see God.
Next, we read, “Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called children of God.” Often times in our world, peace is used to describe separation. “You stay on your side, I’ll stay on mine, and we’ll have peace.” That’s not what Jesus has in mind as he gives us this mountaintop perspective. The word that he uses implies coming together in harmony. It implies active good-will to others. That’s what children of God do. And not only to family and friends, or those in our own party. As John Wesley says, we must “step over all these narrow bounds.” Peace-makers “endeavor to calm the stormy spirits, to quiet turbulent passions, to soften the minds of contending parties, and, if possible, reconcile them to each other. That’s peace-making.
And then we come to the last beatitude. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” These eight beatitudes end with this. It is a hard word to hear. In a sense, I believe Jesus is leading us down the mountain at this point and into the reality of the world. Down here, we must confront the lies that are told every day. We hear them all the time. These lies are the opposite of the beatitude given to us on the mountain.
Blessed are those who have it all together. Blessed are those who focus their lives around power and wealth. Blessed are those who protect the status quo. Blessed are those who divide and conquer. Blessed are those who spend their energy building walls around their heart.
We could go on and on. We know the lies. We may even still hold some of them dear to our hearts. Those who hold on to the lies are not going to like it when they are challenged with a higher way. Persecution will come – perhaps in the form of ridicule or perhaps in the form of extreme hatred. And yet, we are called to the witness of these beatitudes, because as we share these blessings, transformation will come as well. Our witness in the midst of the lies will lead others to open their hearts to the love of God. That’s the greatest blessing.
This summer, I suspect that many of you will find yourselves on a peak somewhere, where you will be able to see our home from a higher perspective. In fact, I would encourage you to do so, if not physically, then in your imagination. And from that place, remember the words of Jesus and the higher vision that he gives. It is the way of true blessings. Amen.
Benediction: We have been to the mountaintop. We have seen the glory of God. We have been given the truth that will set us all free. Therefore, as Jesus says at the end of these beatitudes, “Rejoice and be glad.” As we live these blessings and give witness to them in the world, our reward is great in heaven, even as we experience heaven right now ... May we all come down from this mountain and go into the world to strengthen love and to serve with gladness of heart ... Amen.