The Art of Abundant Living:
Counterintuitive Beauty of the Beatitudes

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost • September 3, 2017
Matthew 5:1-12
Anne Hughes-Hinnen

Are you feeling as if you’re just “too stressed to be blessed?”
I mean… after all, what have we been dealing with since last week?
1. Unprecedented flooding in Texas…
2. Another North Korean ballistic missile shot   
     over Hokkaido…
3. The presidential pardon of Arizona Sheriff
4. More changes in personnel in the White
5. Daily stories revealing deeper Russian
    involvement in our presidential election…
6. Reheated battle over transgender people serving in the military…
7. Uncertainty for 800,000 Dreamers, young DACA recipients facing possible deportation.

Add to those your own personal life stresses. Hmmmm….

And yet, this Sunday, we at the Church of the Village begin a series of sermons on The Art of Abundant Living…Does it seem our daily “real life” and the “ideal life” we seek through Christianity is somehow not in the same world?

Doesn’t that duality sound like the Beatitudes we just heard sung?

To me, the Beatitudes, though counterintuitive, are promises from Jesus…
he tells us the truth! So, I want to understand what he meant.
When we read the Beatitudes, we know there is wisdom,
and the depth of wisdom can be releasing if we find the key.
We notice that Jesus acknowledges our challenges at the same time he gives us each promise.
If we don’t acknowledge the stresses of life along with the blessings,
we’re not acknowledging the true lives we live,
and we probably won’t grow through those challenges.

Certainly, we all have feelings of being very human:
we’ve felt poor in spirit,
we’ve all mourned,
we’ve done well but been persecuted for our actions,
experiencing the horrible threatening feelings of being unfairly dissed… even by other Christians.
We seek to be merciful and pure in heart…
we seek to be peacemakers.

Tell me: 
Where is your focus?
How do you view life?
…how do you live your lives?

I’ll share some of my past with you and invite you to identify with the feelings. As is said in 12-step programs:
listen and identify… rather than compare.

I look at my life during the last 30 years.
Do I continue to live with anguish over my multiple losses
and my multiple questionable decisions?
I look back at:
my life-changing coming-out as a lesbian, to myself and others;
my divorce after 20 years of what had been a good marriage
and the heartbreak of no longer living with my children;
loss of my church life and loss of faith;
deaths of many loved ones;
years of addiction;
many stunted relationships; 
my wife’s cancer;
my own cancer;
my degenerative loss of mobility;
our being washed out of our home by Sandy;
and post-traumatic stress after last year’s election and all that’s been happening since…
God, in your mercy...please release us.

These challenges, and others, have all been faced, and some are currently being faced.

But I also have so many blessings:
a beautiful loving marriage with Katie (so you know it’s entertaining),
an amazing family,
including 6 beloved granddaughters and an adored sweet-as-can-be great-granddaughter (SophiAna),
along with a precious dog named Flurry! 
Health-wise, Katie and I are both cancer free,
and I gratefully live with more than 20 years in 12-step recovery from addiction. Along with these blessings, I have you…
my awesome church family here at the Church of the Village
and a growing faith that fortifies my life for whatever is to come.
Thank you, Loving God!

So, where do I live my focus…
To live that life of abundance, we must accept and deal with our conflicts…
and sometimes, getting through those challenges takes a lot of our time and a lot of our energies,
so we need to find a balance.
We keep our eye on God’s promises while dealing with our tribulations – and we don’t blithely erase those times from our memory.
Otherwise, we won’t be able to see the blessings…
and we won’t live our lives in gratitude.

Here’s an interesting thought from Franciscan mystic Richard Rohr.
He says that our learning obedience to the Ten Commandments
got us started in life with the necessary impulse control and containment
… he sees this as foundational to the first half of life.
But he also points out that it’s the Beatitudes that take us to a new realm,
a second half of life spirituality.
It’s in the Beatitudes where a world of grace and abundance is revealed to us!

One of Richard Rohr’s colleagues is an Episcopal priest, Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault,
who has explored Jesus’ eight blessings of the Beatitudes.
I want to share some of what she says about each:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Poor in spirit” has to do with an attitude of receptivity and openness.
After all, as long as we’re filled with ourselves, we’re not open for more…
we’re already full!
But that state of being poor in spirit allows for the blessing…
we are ready to let go and invite the abundance.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
I love the beautiful wording Cynthia Bourgeault uses in her interpretation of this Beatitude.
Think of your own experience of mourning as I share her thoughts,
“When we mourn, we are in a state of freefall,
our heart reaching out toward what we have seemingly lost
but cannot help loving anyway.
To mourn is by definition to live between the realms,
in vulnerability and flow.
Mourning is indeed a brutal form of emptiness.
But in this emptiness, if we can remain open,
we discover that a mysterious ‘something’ does indeed reach back to comfort us;
the tendrils of our grief trailing out into the unknown
become intertwined in a greater love that holds all things together.
To mourn is to touch directly the substance of divine compassion.”

And we are comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Instead of the word meek, let’s instead think, “Blessed are the gentle,”
or “Blessed are the gentled.”
Gentled, as in those who have tamed the wild energies within themselves,
the passions and compulsions that are often so present.
“Within those wild energies are the pervasive sense of fear and scarcity”
that emerge when we function through our egos.
Once gentled, “we are truly able to inherit the earth rather than destroy it.”

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Jesus promises that when spiritual hunger arises within you,
you’re already on the path to being satisfied.
In fact, Jesus is telling us that
“the hunger itself is a sign that the bond is already in place.”

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Cynthia Bourgeault reminds us that
“Mercy is not something God has so much as it’s something that God is.
Exchange is the very nature of divine life;
all things share in the divine life through participation in this dance
of giving and receiving.”

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
In Wisdom teaching (evolution and change of consciousness), the better translation of this Beatitude is, really, “Blessed are those whose heart is not divided.” When in perfect alignment, we are not divided from God…we see God. “Through the eyes of non-duality, we can even say, God is seeing Godself.”

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Once our hearts are gentled and not divided,
what follows is our naturally becoming peacemakers.
We encounter a different world when there are
no good guys and bad guys/ no insiders and outsiders/ no winning team and losing team.
We can experience an inner peacefulness
that naturally flows to others as harmony and compassion.
It flows out into the world as right action.
How else can we discern the best way to lovingly and effectively serve our hurting planet?

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus is telling us about freedom here, not martyrdom.
There is a slightly different wording of this Beatitude in The Gospel of Thomas, which is quite telling:
“Blessed are you in the midst of persecution who, when they hate and pursue you even to the core of your being, cannot find “you” anywhere.” 
Now that’s freedom!

So, the Beatitudes teach us about abundant living, about living fully … no matter what life’s circumstances are. Do we have to learn how to be this free? Or do we humbly open ourselves in vulnerability, touch directly the substance of divine compassion, invite Jesus to gentle us, dance with God in merciful give and take, experience God seeing Godself, come to the inner place of peacefulness so that harmony, compassion and right action can flow in our lives, and find the divine freedom so our souls are not threatened by others’ tyranny.

Let us be open to the blessings of the Beatitudes…because we do not need to be too stressed to be blessed!