(Matthew 5: 1-12; Micah 6: 6-8)
Folks, it is almost upon us. We are mere hours away from the sports extravaganza of the year – a cornucopia of commercials, a halftime entertainment bonanza, and, of course, a little football game. Super Bowl 54 is here – or Super Bowl L-I-V, if you’re into Roman numerals. All indications are that it should be a great game with San Francisco’s vaunted defense going up again the crazy-good Kansas City’s offense. Stars abound in this matchup, players with names we know well, like Chief’s quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Niners defensive standout Nick Bosa.
And then there’s Harrison Butker and Robbie Gould. You’d be forgiven if those names didn’t ring a bell. They are the two kickers in Super Bowl 54. Butker, a former Panthers draftee, has had a whale of a season for Kansas City, making 34 of 38 field goals. Things have not gone as well for Robbie Gould, who has struggled in the twilight of his career, battling accuracy issues and injury with San Francisco.
But again, you’d be forgiven if you didn’t know any of this, or if you didn’t really care, because the truth is no one pays much attention to the placekicker. Being a kicker is like being a backstage hand for a Broadway show – you’re definitely part of the whole production, you’re just not on stage all that much.
I had a friend who kicked for Wake Forest when we were in college, and he told me more than once that it was the loneliest position on the team. Unlike running back or wide receiver, there’s only one of you on the whole squad. You’re not noticed all that much – and most of the time that’s precisely the way you want it to be. Because if you are noticed, if you are getting attention, it’s usually for all the wrong reasons. People are much more likely to remember you for the one kick you missed than the dozens you made.
He said that one game, the team was down by two with just a few seconds left, fourth down and in field goal range. No one says a word to him as he trots onto the field; goes through his pre-kick routine. He takes his stance, the ball is hiked and set, he steps forward and swings his leg, the ball soars up, up, up…..and goes wide right. Time expires. Game lost.
One of the linemen is a buddy of his, they’re in Bible study together; he puts his arm around him as they walk off the field, and without looking at him just says, Blessed are the Placekickers.
I’ve never forgotten that – and to be honest, every time I read or hear these Beatitudes, these famous sayings of Jesus, I think of my kicker friend: Blessed are the Placekickers. Sounds like “peacemakers,” I guess:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Just to name a few.
Now countless scholars over the years have wondered exactly what Jesus was trying to get across to the multitudes with these Beatitudes. Interpretations and understandings cover the gamut. Some believe that Jesus was describing the kind of people that could use a blessing, the down-on-their-luck types, those who need a little pick-me-up. Like my kicker friend, for instance.
Then there are others who view these Beatitudes more like goals to attain, and a reward if we attain them – which is a very Western-mindset thing to do, right? So if we become peacemakers, then we’ll be children of God. If we are meek, then the world will be ours. If we are merciful, then we’ll receive God’s mercy.
Kind of reminds me of something I saw on TV years ago, flipping channels. This image pops up on the screen, a book titled: “Guidelines for Living: Becoming the Beatitudes in Daily Life.” Turns out it’s a nine-week study series, one for each Beatitude, about how Christians can take on these qualities in their lives, almost like choosing what clothes to put on in the morning. How to become a Peacemaker. How to hunger and thirst for righteousness. How to be meek. And on and on and on.
And the disheartening thing, as I keep watching this ad and hearing the guy talk about it, is that it really isn’t about becoming a peacemaker or being meek or hungering and thirsting for righteousness or any of that. What it really is all about is getting a blessing.
Which is nothing more than transactional faith, no? We do something, we get something in return. Is that what Jesus was preaching on the mountain?
Let’s take a closer look at that whole scene, shall we? Let’s look at the crowd gathered on the mountainside – who do we see? We see people bearing a collective burden, people living under the tyranny of Roman rule and waiting for their promised Messiah. We see people suffering from the inequity of it all. They don’t need a “how-to” manual for blessed living. They just need to know that their lives mean something.
So if these Beatitudes are not guidelines for daily living and not goals to attain, is it possible that they are simply describing who the people already are? People drinking from the glass-half-empty; people who’ve gotten the short end of the stick, people who know what it’s like to be on the outside looking in; who are waiting for redemption and renewal.
And to each of them, Jesus says over and over again not “You will be blessed” but “You are blessed.” Go back and look – you will not find articles of condition, no “if-then,” no verbs of doing or acting. You will only find the verb of being.
You’re blessed, Jesus tells them. You’re blessed – and not because of anything you did, or anything you will do, but because of who you already are. You are God’s children, you are God’s people. You are part of something bigger than yourself, bigger than those who stand against you, bigger than the systems and structures that work against you. Your life matters, just as it is. That is why you are blessed.
That kind of changes how we read these Beatitudes, doesn’t it? Because there’s no way we can earn God’s blessing, no matter how much we wish we could, it doesn’t work that way. And that’s the real scandal of it all. These Beatitudes, and Jesus’ entire Sermon On the Mount, they take our comfortable, cozy existence and turn it upside-down and inside-out. So what we used to consider of great consequence is not all that important. What we once tossed aside is now the thing that matters most to God.
And the people who find themselves at the forefront of God’s kingdom are not the same folks that take center stage in ours. At God’s table, we find not the pious and righteous and holy – we find the poor in spirit, the hungry and thirsty, the meek. And, dare I say, the placekickers.
And so perhaps the real intention of these Beatitudes is to call people of faith to ponder how they will stand with those who Jesus says are blessed, who Jesus lifts up when the world does not. How can we position ourselves alongside the least, the lost, and the otherwise left out in a way that supports and uplifts them?
I wonder if the answer to that might lie in the passage that Rebekah read earlier, words from the prophet Micah; and in particular his three exhortations:
Do justice – Love kindness – Walk humbly with God.
Do justice, Micah says. What exactly does it mean to “do justice?” Perhaps one way to better understand it is to know what it does not mean. I recall something said by Bono, lead singer for the rock band U2, when he was speaking about his support for poverty-stricken Africa:
Let’s be clear about what the problem is and what it isn’t. This is not about charity, it’s about justice. And that’s too bad. Because we’re good at charity. We like to give, and we give a lot. But justice is a tougher standard. It makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.
Do justice, Micah says. And Love kindness. Notice the wording here – it’s not “doing kindness.” That, like charity, is too easy. Doing kindness is an act; something anyone can do. But loving-kindness, that is when we become so infatuated with the notion of kindness that we literally fall in love with it. We pursue it relentlessly And when we find it, we never want to let it go. And, as with most things we love, it becomes part of us.
Do justice. Love kindness. And walk humbly with God. Interestingly, we see echoes of this in the Beatitudes, do we not? There are no heirs about the poor in spirit. There’s nothing fancy with the pure in heart. The meek surely don’t catch our eye. It’s not about them; it’s never been about them. It is about God. In the end, it’s always about God.
So do justice. And love kindness. And walk humbly with God. It is all that easy, and it is also all that hard. There is a song about this easy and hard thing, and we’re going to sing it in a bit. But this is not your typical hymn; it is a round that we’re going to sing acapella. I’m going to teach you your part, with some help from our Trinity Scholars; and then I’m going to step down and lead it. Here’s how it goes….
What does the Lord require of you, what does the Lord require of you
Justice, kindness, walk humbly with your God
To seek justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God
So we’re going to sing that in just a minute – I’m going to bring your part in one by one; we’ll sing our parts together for a while, then I’ll bring your part out one by one. At the very end, we’ll all sing the last line together. Just follow me and you’ll be good.
My hope is that you’ll listen to the words you’re singing over and over again, really listen to them. Let them sink deep into your heart. And as you do, friends, know this: you are blessed. You are blessed! And not because of anything you’ve done, or because of who you are. You are blessed because of what God has done and who God is. Now and forever. And all you have to do to live into that is to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with God. And what is that again? Say it with me: it is all that easy. It is all that hard.
In the name of God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!
* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
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