I’ve been tempted before to pick a sermon series, like the Beatitudes, and re-preach it every year. I think it would be successful. Chances are that what we’ve talked about last year has already been forgotten, ignored, or discounted. On top of that, there is such depth and beauty to these teachings of Jesus that they necessitate our frequent study. We would, I’m convinced, be wiser by spending more time in them.
And while so far it has been somewhat unintentional, I find it helpful to perhaps at least revisit what we talked about last year, or at least the image I used.
Last Lent when we worked through the Beatitudes, and we came to this particular saying, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” I used the example of a ham sandwich and a steak.
First, I made the ham sandwich, and there was nothing wrong with it. By all sandwich standards, it was perfectly acceptable.
But after handing that out, I moved on to my grill and began to cook a steak. For the rest of the sermon you all sat engaged, not at me but at the grill. Half of you left with drool running down your shirt after twenty minutes of smelling that filet mignon, and one of you left with the satisfaction of getting to eat it.
And since then, I’ve been asked to redo that sermon, though I don’t think it’s because the content of the sermon was all that great, but because one of you wanted another chance to eat a steak in church.
And I’ve thought about that sermon this week as I’ve readied myself for this week’s sermon, and I even debated pulling it out and reusing it: after all, much of what I said has probably been forgotten in the last year.
But as I sat thinking about it, I realized that something else is going on in this passage. Yes, it is about hungering and thirsting for God’s way of life, yes it is about being filled with the Spirit of God, and yes, I think this passage is still about our need and desire to follow after the life that God has desired and created for us.
Because I don’t think the analogy is a ham sandwich or a steak, it’s not primarily about good and better.
I think instead it’s about quantity.
It’s the difference between nibbling and feasting.
We’ve even had to distinguish that in our own house. “Hungry” means ready for meal. “Snacky” means grazing, and usually not good stuff. It usually goes like this:
“Here. Let’s have dinner. How about some chicken and rice? We also have some broccoli.”
“Ummmm…..no thanks, I’m not that hungry.”
“You said you were…”
“Well, I’m not super hungry, I’m just snacky.”
“So how hungry is snacky.”
“I guess I’ll just have cake and fruit snacks.”
You can see that we are world’s apart in what ‘hungry’ means.
Similarly we also like to play a game to see who can one up each other.
“I’m so hungry I could eat a pig.”
“Oh yeah! I’m so hungry I could eat a cow.”
“Well I’m so hungry I could eat a buffalo.”
“I could eat a dinosaur I’m so hungry.”
And so on and so forth until dinner is ready.
I think about those two differences: between being ‘snacky’ and needing a whole dinosaur to eat, and I see more clearly what Jesus is talking about.
Too often, we treat this beatitude like a snack. Blessed are those who are snacky for righteousness.
The reality is that the opposite is true.
Blessed are those who are so insatiably hungry for righteousness that they could eat a whole dinosaur.
What is your hunger level for righteousness? Are you snacky or starving?
“Righteousness” properly understood is about justice and God’s covenant faithfulness. In the Hebrew Scriptures, we see the story of God calling people to his standard and way of being: they were given commands to be loving, forgiving, and accepting. They were charged with looking after the poor, the disenfranchised, and the outcast. They were to be marked as holy, set apart as special for God to work through. Though Jesus uses the phrase, we see it throughout the Old Testament: the people who choose to follow God should act as his salt and light in the world, living as a visible representative of what God is like.
And if we read that story, we see that the people of God fail to live up to that standard. Instead of honesty, they are rife with deception and lies. Instead of faithfulness, they are unfaithful and wavering in their faith. Instead of looking after the poor and outcast, they exploited them and made the problem worse.
And for that, there was consequences. The people experienced exile. Instead of safety and security, their day was filled with war, famine, and destruction.
But through it all, we see an exercise in the faithfulness of God: he was with them and ultimately restored and redeemed them.
So when Jesus takes center stage in the New Testament, this is the story he is telling. The Jewish people of his day know of their ancestors and how they nibbled justice: they would do it when it was convenient. They would be nice if it wasn’t too hard, they would share their food if that had too much, and they would help the poor if someone was watching who could praise them for it.
But Jesus, as always, called them and now us, to a new standard. No longer will we be allowed to be people who only snack for justice. No longer can we define ourselves by half-hearted attempts to help those around us. The message of the Sermon on the Mount was given to disciples, to the followers of Jesus and it is, in a nutshell, our “Code of Conduct.” Want to know what is expected of you? Read the Sermon on the Mount? Confused how to act or behave? Follow the Sermon on the Mount. Need to know how to handle a difficult situation? Consult the Sermon on the Mount.
God was so moved and concerned by sin that he left heaven to pursue you, some of us here won’t even get off the couch to help our neighbor in need.
So Jesus enters the stage, the divine drama that God is telling, and tells his followers that the only way to experience God is to be insatiably hungry for righteousness, for experience God’s justice, for finding ways to promote the health and well-being of others that they are moved to action.
We must be mirrors of God, imitators of him. That is what the name “Christian” means: someone who is a ‘little Christ.’ Jesus was so moved by our plight and situation of being stuck in sin that he abandoned heaven and all his rights and responsibilities of running the universe and came to earth. God himself set aside deity and put on flesh. His righteousness moved him to action.
Similarly, God’s righteousness must move us to action. God was so moved and concerned by sin that he left heaven to pursue you, some of us here won’t even get off the couch to help our neighbor in need.
Because we’ve been content for far too long with just ‘nibbling’ after justice. Donating money without having personal buy-in. Praying for someone but never calling them or sharing our faith with them. Attending a program but doing so for what we can get out of it (free food or an enjoyable time) and not for what we can give to others (our time, affection, or undivided attention).
Sitting at a table with our friends during a ministry event is nibbling justice. It is showing up to get something, but never giving. God’s standard for the church, for his people, is hungering after righteousness. It is showing up to serve, to love, to bless, to draw others towards salvation in Jesus. It is movement, like that of God from heaven to earth. For us it is off the couch, off the sidelines, off our comfortable vantage point and into the muck and mire of sin, calling people out to find redemption, salvation, and hope in the name of Jesus.
For the true follower of Christ, complacency is not an issue. Sitting idly by is not allowed. “Hoping for the best” is not in our vocabulary. We must be defined by our action, by our hospitality, by our insatiable desire to set the world back to God’s standard. It is the ability to not only perceive the problem, but the fortitude to do something about it. To invite your non-Christian family members and friends into the story that God is telling. It is the compassion to reach across the table and share your faith with someone that you don’t know. It is the pursuit of righteousness, the very heart of God, that compels us to step out of our comfort zone and help those around us, even when it is inconvenient, awkward, or uncomfortable.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
If you’re sitting here today and you aren’t full, chances are you aren’t hungering, you’re nibbling. May we be the type of people who are hungry, and not snacky.
Question: How have you been guilty of only nibbling after justice? What are ways you can step out in faith to be hungry and pursue God?