Blessed are the Hungry & Thirsty (part 5 of 9) – Matthew 5:6; Psalm 42

We’ve been working our way through Jesus’ teachings called beatitudes – the attitudes, characteristics, and relationships that build in people in God’s kingdom.  We have seen that Jesus’ words seem up-side-down, counter-intuitive in our culture and world.  This morning we approach the 4th beatitude we begin to see a pattern – these first four speak to our involvement with God in a broken world, similar to the first part of the 10 commandments.  But these are not laws, yet as we make them a part of ourselves they transform us and change our behaviors.   The beatitudes remind us of God’s promise through Jeremiah: “I will write my law on their hearts” –changing us on the inside.

Jesus words seem radical because in our world it’s all about materialism: how much money can we make so we can feel successful and good about ourselves?  How much prestige and power can we amass in order to feel secure in our world?  How much control of people and our life situation can we get so you don’t have to worry?  It is the story of nearly every advertisement, every competition, every social game of one-ups-man-ship.  How is it working?  Are we generally a secure, happy, contended, fulfilled,  and self-confident people?  Is that what you see when you look around? The amount of anger, depression, panic attacks, anxiety, stress-related diseases, broken relationships and suicide in our culture continues to grow.  We spend literally billions of dollars on medication to control our lack of emotional and spiritual health.

Jesus calls to us from a mountainside: to be happy, content, less stressed, and feel the closeness of God we need by being poor in spirit.  We need to understand that God’s gifts include everything we are and have.  Our job is to receive, enjoy, and use those gifts the best we can as his stewards – building with what God has given us for our families, for using our gifts in the world, for his kingdom.  We know it all comes from him, and in response to our stewardship he gives us joy, security, more blessings, even eternal life.  They are all gifts from him.  It changes the way we feel and behave.

Jesus said that those who see reality for what it is, who mourn and grieve the brokenness, the injustice, the sin, the pain in our world; and who grieve their own sin – missing the mark in loving God above all and loving people as ourselves – we are blessed with personal salvation in Jesus Christ.  And God gives us a community within which we work together to impact that world for him.  Again, he is the one who gives so our needs are met. And we find health in seeing the truth and experiencing the healing, redemptive power of his love as his people, his children, his ambassadors in the world.

Blessed are the meek, the people who are not filled with anxiety because they do not need to be the center of their universe, because they don’t need to be in control, because they do not need to control how everyone thinks about them, because they do not need to impose their will on others – blessed are the meek because God will give them a clear sense of themselves and a feeling of being at peace in their skin.  They know the source of their security, and they begin to experience their own version of God’s presence in the land – in their own version of Canaan.  The meek know the health of a quiet spirit, the ability to listen to others, and the joyful freedom of knowing it is really not all about us.

We begin to see a pattern – not only of attitudes that we who love the Lord and are a part of his kingdom are growing toward (I doubt that any of us are ready to say we have arrived), — but we begin to see that Jesus is talking to us about both emotional and spiritual health for those who are a part of God’s kingdom in a broken and uncertain world.  And we see a pattern that each of these are about responses to God as well as what he gives.

Blessed, happy, contented are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.  We could spend days on the word “righteousness” alone.  It is used 442 times in the Bible.  Let’s struggle a bit with this together.  What does it mean that we are hungry and thirsty for righteousness?  Does this touch our experience at all?  Allow me to ask you some questions.

As you look out at the world and as you see what is going on —  perhaps when watching all the bad news and destructive behaviors on TV or reading the newspaper – do you sometimes feel just tired of it all?  Do you sometimes see things about the way people relate in the church, or even more, do you sometimes look at the struggles in your own life as you try to get rid of the attitudes and sins that just keep sticking their head up, do you just get sick of it?  Do you get tired of seeing the injustices in our world, tired of exploitation of people who cannot defend themselves?  Do you get tired of people hurting each other – tired of gossip, of fighting, of hating and being hated?  Do you get sick of the exploitation of sex everywhere we look?  Do you get sick of listening to political campaigns that have little to do with real politics and everything to do with ½ truths and mudslinging?  Do you get tired of hearing about war, and racial hatred, and religious hatred?  Do you get sick of people acting as less than human image bearers of God?  I suspect that if we feel this kind of weariness with the world we are in fact hungering and thirsting after righteousness.  Do we get tired of those honest moments looking inside and seeing in ourselves the things we dislike in other people – realizing that we react negatively to others because we see in them a little of ourselves that we hate?

Where do we find something that will begin healing, begin to make some changes, begin to energize us with hope?  We know the answer is not found in another self-satisfied religion – not a “health and wealth” gospel, not American civil religion where we make believe salvation is tied to a country or social system or economic system, not another legalistic set of rules that attempt to make us look superior to others while we find the loop holes.  The answer is not found in another self-help program.  The answer is not found in another violent power struggle between people or religions so we can impose our rules on others.  We hunger and thirst for righteousness.  What is righteousness?  Let’s search the scripture together.  Looking at various places this is used we see three manifestations of or three parts to righteousness.  Let’s try to take them apart.

The first is legal righteousness – being right with God.  This is justification – being put in a right relationship with God.  Jesus and the New Testament authors talk a lot about people who work hard in the attempt to keep enough laws and rules to be legally righteous, to be OK with a Holy God.  It is all an attempt to do it ourselves, to be good enough, to be righteous.  The problem is that it all becomes external because we cannot be holy, because our thoughts are polluted and our motives mixed.  After a while it takes on a strange kind of fundamentalism—trying to force others to follow our rules, and is self-justifying as we look at how much better we are than others.  The Bible is full of pointing out that this does not work.  Read Romans 9 and 10.  Jesus said in Matthew 6:33 (in a discussion about worrying) “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

How do we do that?  Seek his righteousness? Here we face Luther’s dilemma – how do we keep the law.  We cannot.  We can only receive God’s gift through faith in Jesus’ Christ just like in the previous beatitudes.  As the Apostle Paul looked at this in his own struggle he said:

(Philippians 3:7-9) ”But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ –the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”

Again in Romans 5:1 he said, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…”  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  How?  Through the atonement of Jesus Christ – his righteousness is God’s gift if we believe it, if we are willing to see ourselves and hunger for his victory in our losing battle with being good enough.  We need only to embrace him to be filled.

Along with the legal righteousness there is moral righteousness.  That refers to our character and conduct which pleases God.  Right after stating these beatitudes Jesus goes on to compare kingdom righteousness to that of the Pharisees – the religious leaders who we would look at as leading admirable lives. In Matthew 5:20 Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Why would he say that?  They were trying hard. A study of the gospels reveals that their “righteousness” was a false one – it was about religious rule keeping and not about living within the covenant relationship with God.  It was about doing it themselves, about the competition of who can do it the best, who can look the best, who can come up with the most God-talk, about all the anxiety and stress that create emotional and spiritual sickness instead of the healthy humanness of intimacy with God – and having that transform our character and conduct.  In Matthew 23:15 Jesus makes the shocking statement that in all their religious efforts and outreach the Pharisees were only really making converts twice as much sons of hell as themselves.

So how can our righteousness be superior to that of the religious leaders around Jesus.  He gives examples of that later in the chapter.  The law is not about superficial obedience.  For example, when God commands us not to kill, it is not just about not doing away with our enemies; it is about valuing people, about building bridges to people.  The covenant intent is renewal of people, restoration of community, peace – shalom with God in community.  It is about being fully human in covenant community with God.

Adultery in God’s kingdom is not just about having sex with someone else’s husband or wife, it is about lust, it is about looking with intent, it makes everyone guilty.  It is about pornography and sexually objectifying people as opposed to dignifying others in all our thoughts and deeds, serving them and not ourselves, benefiting the community.  He goes on, it is all about covenant life, about moral righteousness.  And again, we first recognize that by ourselves we are not better than the Pharisees, but then we again see the gift of God in all of this.  Jesus did not say, “Blessed are those who are righteous,” he said, “Blessed or happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”  If we seek it, if we depend on the Lord to help us, if we pray for the Holy Spirit to empower us we will be filled with the comfort of forgiveness and the joy of seeing growth, and the peace and health of the kingdom of God.  All of this is first of all about changes inside – changes in our hearts and minds, in our character and attitudes, in being transformed by the righteousness that is God’s gift through faith in Jesus Christ.

Finally there is hunger and thirst for social righteousness.  We have talked a lot about that recently – the injustice, the greed, the sickness, the sin we see in our world resulting in untold suffering.  Our hunger and thirst for being right with God in the way people deal with each other in our world overwhelms us until we see God’s gift of giving us a covenant community within which to support each other and to practice together our giving, our learning, our reaching out to the powerless and hurting, our hunger for righteousness.  Again, being filled is God’s gift of righteousness now (his seeing us in Christ and loving us where we are in the struggle) and the future of his eternal kingdom where love and justice and wisdom will rule.  We are God’s kingdom representatives in this world.  Peter said it this way: (1 Peter 2:9) “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  Together we seek social righteousness.  Last night Sandy and I heard Greg Mortensen, author of Three Cups of Tea, speak about building schools in Afghanistan, and building relationships in the communities.  This Lutheran guy from Minnesota, who everyone said was naive, is not a consultant to the US military because he has the most significant relationships.  Social righteousness!

Again we see that God offers his joy, his blessing, his happiness and fulfillment and health to us – not because we have arrived, but because we hunger and thirst to be people and for a world that is right with its creator.  Our desire, our intent, and our openness to his using us for the growth of his kingdom are enough.  We are his people, people served and saved through the righteousness of Jesus Christ who IS THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD.  Are we hungry and thirsty for righteousness, or do we get lost in the rat race?  We come now to accept his gift again, and recognize that we are tired of a broken world and want his kingdom to come.