Revelation 7:9-14; Matthew 5:1-12

We’ve placed mementos and written names of our saints who join us at this Communion Table.

I have 16 more names to add to the Communion Table. They’re not this congregation’s, but they’re saints with us today. I was just at a conference on the mission of the church with people in the first third of life, and we were invited to bring the names of our youth and young adults into the conversation. At the end, we took other names home with us. I bring these home with me: Tyler, Andrew, Sara, Michael, Grant, Adam, Jen, and Adam; Caydie, David, Mark, Elma, Volt, Kyle, Rion, and Jackson; and I affirm our spiritual connection with them. I pray that they come to know God too. I don’t know why their pastor or youth worker named them. They may know something rich about God that we need to learn; they may be desperately hungry for an affirmation or a healing. Their names, and our faces, are with us when we read the Beatitudes.

So hear those Beatitudes again, this time from the NIV. Listen for Christ speaking to you. This is the first teaching in the Gospel of Matthew:

“[Happy] are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [Happy] are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. [Happy] are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. [Happy] are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

Be challenged by all that, by the way. I kept the Good News Translation’s word ‘happy,’ because they got it right that time. But what kind of joy is this? Mourning is mourning, after all. What if Kyle mourns? (Some of us do, I know.) You don’t say “How happy” to him – he’s too deep in the hard truth of life to hear our platitudes. But there’s a blessing in that state of mourning, even a kind of real joy. We understand life, we know ourselves, more honestly in pain than in many other states.

Then Jesus’ tone changes. That was all situation, but this is attitude:

“[Happy] are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. [Happy] are the pure in heart, for they will see God. [Happy] are the peacemakers, for they will be called [children] of God. [Happy] are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Isn’t that beautiful, isn’t that joyous! God has promises for God’s servants. And we know this to be true – God is always faithful in the long run, and the joy is even greater for those who are faithful to God now. Our souls rejoice, even now, when we’re devoted to what God ultimately wants from us and for the world through us. There’s a present reality of joy.

So tell me, why is this so hard for me? Why is it so hard for all of us? Why do we shy away from the hard work of mercy, peacemaking, and righteousness? Oh, right, the persecution. Jesus gets at that briefly, then he brings it home:

“[Happy] are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

What joy for you when you’re persecuted, martyred, and cast out of the world because you refuse to bow to the world’s false gods! How marvelous to seek peace when that makes you look like a traitor! How lovely to find a role in world that makes your soul come alive, even if you have to work elsewhere to pay the bills. Isn’t it fun to sit with your homeless brothers and sisters, to stand up for the unpopular people, to confront unjust but powerful people, and suffer the consequences? Jesus shows us even more than he tells us: the first four beatitudes are a consequence of the second four; live like a merciful peacemaker, and sooner or later you’ll mourn and plead for justice.

I know I’m woefully unready to commit to Jesus’ program. I seek any excuse to say that I’ve done my part. I fret daily about what I hear from God’s more-demanding Voice. It’s not like I have to take my firstborn up Mt Moriah – it’s not that I’m hiding from any spectacular act of self-sacrifice – it’s mostly about the picayune ways I could be more faithful. So I’m not (today) feeling like I’m far from God’s plans. It’s more like my soul is dying by a thousand cuts, all those places where I’m not honest with myself and my God. It’s the days when I pray a dozen times and never truly hope well for others. It’s the days when I read news of war and just hope it never gets to me. We all have these days, the days when we just can’t get on board with Jesus.

Why not? For me, I tend to count the reward of discipleship in human terms. I know that serving, praying, and mattering to people make me feel good, but I stop at the level that strokes my ego and answers the needs I feel. I shy away from the level that puts me to death and raises me to a greater life. So I share my resources, but only so many of them. I weep with those who weep, but I hold my own tears back. I forgive, but only if you ask nicely. Jesus promises more than good feelings – he invites us into a transformed life – but I struggle to trust God’s provision, either now or into the future. Jesus invites us to follow his path of self-giving, but to what end?

To be fair to myself, I can call some of this struggle a fact of my life stage. I’m too responsible to be radical, and I’m not yet old enough to know the deep truth that there’s no regret in doing what God calls of us. Many of you are closer to that truth than I am, and I have much to learn from you. But really, none of us is that old. In terms of the Christian tradition, we’re all greenhorns. God’s truth makes sense in a thousand years, not a hundred. So the tradition has always taught something beyond us – that there really is happiness in sorrow, joy in doing right – and we can’t know that truly in our human situation.

That’s why the saints who went before us light the path. That’s why the saints-to-come inspire us. Christ’s life is something bigger than us, and Christ’s joy is something more than good feelings or comfortable living. Jesus lays out the path of abundant happiness, the happiness of looking back at the end of this life, at the threshold of eternity, and saying “yes.” Our saints invite us into this truth. We find it in their lives. We know, even beyond what we can trust, that this is how we will want to have lived.

I can’t say that properly, but these saints can. These future saints will be able to. And you know it already, because you’re already called to be saints. You hear these words and a new life leaps inside you. A bell rings in you no matter how hard the world tries to dampen it. These words are true, so trust in them again: Happy are you when you have nothing left to lose, when you’ve lost or mortgaged it all. Happy are you when your life makes no sense except for the radical claim that Christ is risen. That’s when God’s reality shines through your life. So may it be.