Editors note: This is the fourth in an Adult Forum series on the Beatitudes, a class with Pastor David E. Mueller. We have been meeting at 10 a.m. on Sundays (between the 9 a.m. service and the 11 a.m. service). The series resumes on Sunday, January 12. Join us in the Great Room for the class!
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)
Our “holy hike” with Jesus Christ thus far has taken us through some fairly deep forest as well as steep incline. We have remained below the tree line, so to speak, but the going hardly has been easy. We were stripped of our typical concerns and attitudes about the world, especially the spiritual ones, and became “poor in spirit.” We attempted to mourn the loss of what and who we may have left behind. We have hopefully gained new insight as we learned the quiet strength of meekness. Obviously most if not all of what we are experiencing on this trip up the mountain is different from and at times in direct conflict with what we have been used to. Yet each step along the way we have been assured by Jesus Christ regarding the “blessedness/happiness” of it all.
We are not quite out of the woods yet and the climbing gets particularly tough today. The incline is steep, even cliff-like. Increasingly we need to hang together, as physical mountain climbers must. Here again we realize that we cannot make this climb alone. Jesus puts us in developing community. We have become poor TOGETHER; faced mourning TOGETHER; realized the power of meekness TOGETHER. Today, therefore, we hear Jesus share, “Blessed ARE THOSE who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
The direction here is clearly onward and upward. “Righteousness” is something to be reached for. There remains a strong temptation to look back and go back down. Righteousness, however, is ahead and not behind. The image is a very natural one. People making a long hard climb become naturally hungry and thirsty, for nourishment, sustenance, a continued filling of hearts left empty at the journey’s beginning.
As is often the case within the Kingdom of God, asking the right questions is far more important than having simple, and often false, answers. A difference between those making this holy hike and those not, may be in our willingness to ask appropriate questions. Please risk looking back down where we had been just this once.
In your past what have been passions for you? To hunger and thirst for something is being driven to it; finding it difficult to deny and live without it.
Many people bounce from pleasure to pleasure, position to position, success to success, cause to cause, etc. to etc. At a distance, it may seem challenging, exciting, satisfying. Up close another story often surfaces. It can be a horror story about people on the run. The running is not so much to the next thing, whatever it may be, as away from the last, having looked for, hungered and thirsted for, perhaps coming close to but never quite having that place or space to call home. It is a tale about those who desperately wish to but cannot stop and genuinely say: “This is it! This is where the running stops. I have found my satisfaction and fulfillment. I am really where I want to be.”
In some ways and to some degree this is about all of us. Granted, age and life-stage may have much to do with this. Chances are, the older one is, the more settled one is. Is settled, however, mere capitulation to reality? The main question remains: Are you settled where you want, need and desire to be? Have you hungered and thirsted for what matters to you and finally gotten satisfied?
We all have our dreams, notions, and images and also fears about the future. It may be in the right lane and not the fast lane that we have been traveling, but it is still an interstate. It is not a relaxing and pretty country drive for most of us. There are those who for various reasons gave up their Eastern or Midwestern roots and moved South or West to find their dream. Some are still in transit! Others have driven off into the sunset and experienced not their dream fulfilled but their worst nightmare revealed.
To walk and climb with Jesus is NOT merely an escape from what was, however enjoyed or detested, but an opportunity to discover something genuinely new and different. It is a chance to experiment with a life style many might think of as strange, but one which can be exciting, challenging, fulfilling, satisfying, even passionate, a chance to be home?
Another way of asking an appropriate question here is: Does what you have committed yourself to satisfy and fulfill you? Honestly? Do those places, people, positions in which you have invested time, energy and money produced the anticipated outcomes?
Is righteousness your primary passion? Do you enjoy the company of righteous people? Clearly at this point in the holy climb, righteousness is up ahead and not yet. It is to be seen but not yet sensed otherwise. But has it become the driving force to go on? Are you weary and famished but aware of the banquet feast soon to be realized? Can you grasp, in deepening as well as heightening faith, that righteousness is well worth having given up all else, that righteousness is the prime thing sought? But what is righteousness in the mind of Jesus?
There are those who define righteousness in moralistic or pietistic terms: good behavior; the avoidance of the nasty, naughty, sometimes truly nauseating behavior all too characteristic of our world. It is deeper than that, however. It is never just personal.
I bow to Martin Luther here:
“That man is righteous and blessed who continually works and strives with all his might to promote the general welfare and the proper behavior of everyone and who helps to maintain and support this by word and deed, by precept and example.” (LW, AE, Vol. 21, Page 26)
He wrote further: “It is not by accident that He (Jesus) uses the term ‘hunger and thirst’ for righteousness. By it, He intends to point out that this requires great earnestness, longing, eagerness and unceasing diligence and that where this hunger and thirst is lacking, everything will fail.” (Page 27)
Finally, he wrote: “The command to you is not to crawl into a corner or into the desert, but to run out … and to offer your hands and your feet and your whole body, and to wager everything you have and can do. You should be the kind of man who is firm in the face of firmness, who will not let himself be frightened off or dumbfounded or overcome by the world’s ingratitude or malice … one that looks for nothing and cares for nothing except the accomplishment and maintenance of the right, despising everything that hinders this end.” (also, Page 27)
Happiness/blessedness eludes most folk because they are looking in all the wrong places, not just morally wrong, but incomplete, unsatisfying. Righteousness is what is lacking and needed most in our world, seasoned obviously with justice. This is what Christians are to long for in the deepest regions of their hearts. We need to talk about love as Christians. Love, without what is right and just, is just another four-letter word and a vulgar one at that. We must speak of peace. Making peace is what the children of God do, but if peace does not come from joy over what is right and just, then it is spiritual hype and not hope.
We need to talk about love as Christians. Love, without what is right and just, is just another four-letter word and a vulgar one at that. We must speak of peace. Making peace is what the children of God do, but if peace does not come from joy over what is right and just, then it is spiritual hype and not hope.
Look at the movement of things here again. Before Jesus spoke of righteousness, we had to shed ourselves of our self-righteous, self-serving, self-satisfying spirits, grieve their loss, accept with meekness the promises of Christ. Then and only then could we open the door to what is truly right.
How about this statement of Jesus not long after the Beatitudes: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew 5:20) One of the revealing observations Jesus made about Pharisees is that they were like “white-washed tombs.” (Matthew 23:27). At least this means that they looked good on the outside but stank on the inside. The righteousness we are to hunger and thirst for is inside/out, where the hunger and thirst exist. How about this one: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
Jesus Christ has put together this journey and has personally invited us to take it with him. Along the way everything is grounded in him and makes utterly no sense without him. We are speaking today of his righteousness. It is not just good behavior but commitment to what God has established as right. It is getting in touch with God and becoming rich in His Spirit and knowing comfort in Him. It is discovering true strength in meekness and not in physical, financial, national, or any other muscle. It is willingness to die for what is right and good and just.
It is willingness to die with fellow righteous seekers within the community of climbers/believers. We are coming to taste righteousness, goodness, love, joy and peace and have plenty left for the rest of the world. We hear the cries from the valley below: “Where is justice? Where is love? Where is righteousness?”
“Here it is!” we call back, “with Jesus and his people. Here is where it is hungered and thirsted for, practiced, fulfilled and satisfied.” Is this what we are saying to our world?
I cannot resist in closing wondering out loud: Do Lutheran Christian people hunger and thirst for a new future which will be “right,” based not on what you want, think, feel, but on what God in Christ knows is right and what is righteous for you? I hope each and all of you are nearly parched and famished for Christ and the future even before you know what it is.