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April 26, 2003

Living the Beatitudes

(Matthew 5:1-11)

We gather this morning for a day of prayer and pilgrimage of prayer for peace, from Chimayo to Los Alamos, under our theme, “For the future of earth’s children,” in a plea for the abolition of war and nuclear weapons.

For me, Jesus’ whole life is about peace. He is the incarnation of the God of peace and nonviolence. Gandhi said he was the most active person of nonviolence in the history of the world and the only people who don’t know Jesus was nonviolent are Christians. He calls us to love one another and love our enemies, to put down the sword and take up the cross of nonviolent resistance to imperial warmaking, and to walk with him on the road to peace, on a permanent pilgrimage of prayer for peace for the rest of our lives.

I’d just like to say a few word about these beautiful Beatitudes of Jesus, which begin the Sermon on the Mount, the summit of his teachings of nonviolence. One way to begin to understand the Beatitudes of Christ is to look first at the what our culture of war blesses. If we reflect on our culture of war and violence, we discover the culture’s anti-beatitudes of violence and war.

First and foremost, the culture of war says: “Blessed are the rich; the reign of this world is yours.” The rich rule the world; the poor get poorer and disappear and die.

“Blessed are those who cause others to mourn,” the nations proclaim. “Blessed are those who kill; who support killing; who wage war; who pay taxes for killing; who build and maintain nuclear weapons, who murder of people on death row.” In other words, “blessed are those who do not mourn or grieve.” In their time of trial, they shall not be comforted.

“Blessed are the violent,” the culture of violence declares. “Blessed are the proud; the arrogant; the powerful; those who dominate others; who oppress the poor; who support the systems of domination.” They supposedly own everything. They shall inherit nothing.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for injustice,” the system of structured injustice tells us. “The reign of this world is yours.” The world belongs to those who support, promote and benefit from injustice, from the sufferings of the poor. Because of their desire for injustice, they shall not be satisfied. They shall not find meaning in their lives.

“Blessed are those who show no mercy,” the world of revenge teaches, “No mercy to the victims, to children, to the poor, to women, to the elderly, to the homeless, to social outcasts, to the refugee, to the hungry, to the enemy, to the unborn, to those on death row.” Yet the world does not tell us the inevitable spiritual consequences of mercilessness: “They shall be shown no mercy.”

“Blessed are the warmakers,” the military and its chaplains announce. “Blessed are those who support militarism; who make the weapons; who pay for the weapons; who seel the weapons; who use the weapons; who direct the Pentagon; who send our young people off to war; who bomb and invade and massacre, who nuke our enemies, who blow up marketplaces and villages in the name of democracy and liberation and God. They shall be called the sons and daughters of the idols of death, sons and daughters of the Bomb.” They are children of the deadly gods of war, not the living God of peace.

Finally, the world declares: “Blessed are those who are not persecuted for justice, who are comfortable, safe and secure; who do not get involved in the struggle for social change; who remain silent; who turn a deaf ear to the cries of the poor; who fund and participate in systemic injustice. The reign of this world is theirs.” The spiritual consequence of complicity with systemic injustice is clear: “the reign of God is not theirs.”

St. Francis says that Jesus turns the world upside down. Jesus’ Beatitudes are the basic guidelines of his upside down ethic of nonviolence.

First Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Not the rich, not the powerful, not those in control, but the poor of spirit! They receive the first and greatest blessing--entrance into God’s reign. Let go of your possessions, your power over others, your prestige, Jesus urges us, and in your emptiness, discover the reign of God. The poor in spirit have learned this first of all. They understand nonviolence by heart. As we share our lives with the poor, with the children, Jesus explains, they share with us the one thing they have: the reign of God.

“Blessed are those who mourn,” he continues. Millions of people in our world mourn because their loved ones, their children, have been killed by war, starvation or injustice. Do we grieve for those who die in war; for those incinerated by nuclear weapons and bombs; for the 60,000 who die each day from starvation; for the half a million Iraqi children killed by our sanctions? Do we allow the sorrow of the world’s poor to touch our hearts? Do we look the suffering of the world in the eye, and take on the task of ending injustice, or do we turn away in denial, and thus postpone our own inevitable confrontation with grief? According to these beatitudes, peacemaking begins with poverty of spirit and grief and mourning. As we mourn the death of our sisters and brothers around the world, as we enter their struggle for justice and peace, Jesus promises, God will console us, and we will find a peace.

“Blessed are the meek,” Jesus teaches. “They shall inherit the earth.” This is the biblical word for “nonviolence.” Though the world praises the violent, the arrogant, the proud, Jesus invites humility, gentleness, and nonviolence. He challenges us to renounce every form of violence in our hearts and in our world. As we enter into his spirit of creative nonviolence, we receive the blessing of creation itself. We inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice,” Jesus insists. “They shall be satisfied.” Be passionate for justice, he tells us. In other words, resist injustice with every bone in your body. How much do we crave justice? To the extent that we struggle for justice, Jesus seems to say, we will find meaning and purpose in our lives. In the struggle itself, Jesus explains, speaking from his own experience, we find true satisfaction.

“Blessed are the merciful; they shall be shown mercy.” While we struggle for justice on the one hand, Jesus instructs, we offer mercy with our other hand, especially toward those who have hurt us and seek our forgiveness. Mercy is the very heart of God. Thomas Merton described God as “Mercy within Mercy within Mercy.” Be as compassionate, as merciful, as God, forgiving ourselves and everyone we meet. Instead of seeking retaliation or revenge toward those who hurt us, we offer forgiveness and compassion. As we share mercy, we sow seeds of mercy, and on the last day, we will receive God’s own mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart; they shall see God.” To be a person of nonviolence, for Jesus, is to be at peace within ourselves, to live with disarmed hearts, to root out the violence within us through prayer, to allow the God of peace disarm our hearts of our inner violence and become people with sacred hearts, fashioned after the heart of Jesus. As we cultivate nonviolence of the heart, and root all we do in our relationship with the God of peace, we begin to see God everywhere--in the poor, in children, in the struggle for justice and peace, in our communities, in the gifts of bread and wine, in creation itself, in our enemies, in one another. We will see God face to face.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus teaches. Jesus wants his followers to make peace, to end war, to address the conditions for war. He wants us to reconcile with everyone--in our families, our neighborhoods, our cities, our nation and the world. To make peace, he calls us to renounce war and nuclear weapons, seek disarmament, and persistently reconcile with all peoples. He wants us to love our enemies, beginning with the people of Iraq and Palestine. The powerful lesson here is that our work for peace is the key to the spiritual life. If we help make peace, we will be like God, and be called God’s very sons and daughters of God.

“Blessed are those persecuted for the sake of justice, for My name’s sake. Rejoice and be glad!” This last instruction may be the hardest of all. Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement noted that we can measure our discipleship by the amount of persecution we undergo. For Jesus, the greatest blessing comes in the struggle for peace and justice, in suffering for justice and peace. If we get in trouble, we can rejoice because our lives will bear fruit, because we are really following Jesus who was always in trouble until they finally killed him. Ultimately, peace and justice come about through our participation in the paschal mystery, in his cross and resurrection.

So today as we walk the road of peace, I invite us to be people of prayer and nonviolence, to ask God to disarm our hearts, disarm Los Alamos and disarm the world. And the last thing I want to point out about the Beatitudes and the spirituality of nonviolence, is that if you read them carefully, you see that God is hard at work doing thing among us.

According to Jesus, God takes the initiative. God is blessing us. God gives us God’s reign; God consoles us; God gives us the earth for an inheritance; God satisfies our longings for social justice; God bestows mercy upon us; God shows God’s face to us; God calls us God’s sons and daughters; God gives us joy; and God offers us the fullness of life in heaven. God is active.

For the rest of the day and the rest of our lives, let’s be people who live out these Beatitudes, who walk the road to peace, who share in the nonviolence of Jesus, who live at peace with ourselves and with God, with our families and spouses and children and parents, with everyone in our communities and our country and the whole world, and find out want it means to be blessed, to be sons and daughters of the God of peace.

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