As we reflect on what is going on around us, it’s important that we remember who we are as children of God. There will be many of times, like now where there’s uncertainty about what actions to take, however whatever we do needs to be in line with who we are. I wanted to start a conversation about our identity, because that is the very thing that should guide our actions. I want to take us back to the words of Jesus in the beatitudes, where Jesus talks about what he wanted his disciples to look like.
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Even though it may seem counter intuitive our first step is to remember our sinfulness and helplessness. We need to remember that as individuals and as a society, that we are broken, and lack the power to truly fix ourselves. As I reflect on what’s going on, I realize I truly don’t have the power to eradicate hate, and racism, do you? As we continue this movement towards justice that started long before us, we need to remember this first principle, that the power to change man’s heart lies solely with God. When we find our strength in him, we will find that though this task is difficult and might last beyond us, that truly nothing is impossible with God. King used to say all the time that “the arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.”
4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Mourning is the prevailing and natural response to senseless loss of life, and the injustice around us. We mourn our own sinfulness, and we mourn the sinfulness of our community, and society. We mourn the tragedy, and we mourn our own sense of powerlessness. One thing that should distinguish us as children of God however, is how we mourn. Our mourning needs to be filled with hope and not despair. When our mourning is filled with the despair, the end result is riots, and hate, and violence. In contrast, when our mourning is filled with hope we are able to look squarely at the evil and not be intimidated. We protest, and love, and remain non-violent, because we remember our unchangeable dignity and worth comes from the one who created us. We mourn in light of our hope in the one who has the power to wipe every tear from our eye, in this life and in the one to come.
5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Meekness is that gentleness, calm, and confidence that comes from having a clear understanding of your worth before God and others. It’s about coming to terms with your own brokenness, but still remaining hopeful because of the fact that God still loves you for who you are and who he created you to be. Meekness is that sense of security, and humility that keeps you from being defensive when someone points out a possible wrong in you, responding instead with a quick ear, slow tongue, and controlled anger. Meekness is that strength of character that keeps you from internalizing the racist words you hear, and the racist portrayals parlayed through the media. Meekness is that grace that allows you to see the dignity even in your oppressor, because you know with confidence that even they have dignity even if they might be blind to it.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
It’s a beautiful thing to see the hunger for righteousness being stirred up in a lot of us right now. My prayer is that the desire in us for right relationship with god, with each other, and amongst each other will burn bright and steady. If we allow crisis and the media to drive our hunger we will burn out quickly like matches. Our hunger for righteous needs to burn from deep within, it needs to be continually fueled by our relationship with the one who created us. We need that type of fire that can outlast our present darkness, and give light to future generations. We need to have the courage to dream, in spite of our nightmares. That’s the legacy we have inherited, and one we must pass on to those who will come after us.
7Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
I’m in awe of the legacy of mercy that has been passed down to us. Without devaluing our current challenges, I would argue that the generations before us had even more reasons to have been bitter, and unmerciful people. Yet they, in light of their own brokenness and the mercy that God had shown them were able to extend mercy to those who hurt them. They had the wisdom to harness love as a weapon, and see the conflict as not between races but between justice and injustice. In an echo of the words of Jesus, King was quoted as saying
“Don’t ever let anyone pull you so low as to hate them. We must use the weapon of love. We must have compassion and understanding for those who hate us. We must realize so many people are taught to hate us that they are not totally responsible for their hate. But we stand in life at midnight, we are always on the threshold of a new dawn.”
8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
In ourselves we know full well that the human heart is evil, however we are also aware that God has the power to purify the hearts of man. So we cry out like the psalmist for God to create in us a pure heart and renew a right spirit within us, and that his presence will remain with us, and we extend this same prayer to those who wrong us. We pray for actions that come out of pure motives. We participate in this movement for justice not out of hate, or to seek fame for ourselves. We participate in light of scripture, knowing that what God requires of us is to do acts of justice, fueled by a heart of mercy and a humble walk with God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
When we recognize our poverty of spirit, when we mourn our own sinfulness and that of society, when we are true in our assessment of self and others, when we hunger for right relationship between man and god and man and man. When we walk in mercy, have pure intentions in all we do, then we are ready to be peacemakers. Peacemakers are those willing to challenge injustice, even it means by doing so they might create tension. Peacemakers are justice seekers rather than people pleasers. They reject the shallow mist of false peace, for the overflowing fountain of true peace. They echo the words of Dr. King unequivocally when he says,
"If peace means accepting second-class citizenship, I don’t want it. If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I don’t want it. If peace means being complacently adjusted to a deadening status quo, I don’t want peace. If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated politically, humiliated and segregated, I don’t want peace. So in a passive, non-violent manner, we must revolt against this peace."
Peacemakers seek the establishment of God's kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. Peace is when all life is valued, black life, blue life and every other life. Demonstration might be necessary, but we recognize its limitations. Demonstration is not the cause or the cure of any problem, demonstration simply illuminates the absence of peace. Don’t you dare blame demonstration for the cause of police death, but don’t you think that demonstration is going to cure the preponderance of Black Death. Demonstration only seeks to make visible the devaluing of life that goes on in our society, through the various systems and its agents. So as children of God we rightfully challenge injustice, in order to create true and lasting peace.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
It’s inevitable that as we seek to be true peacemakers in this generation, that some of us are going to get persecuted, some of us are going to get in trouble. Even though some of us fear it, getting in trouble is not always a bad thing. Speaking to young leaders in our generation John Lewis encouraged us to learn from the civil rights movement to challenge injustice, to get in trouble. He says,
“I got in trouble. I got in good trouble, necessary trouble. I say to you, you’re more than lucky. You are blessed, and you have to use whatever you see to pass it on to someone else. Bless someone else. Be bold. Be brave. Be courageous. Speak up. Speak out. You must get out there and push and pull and help change things and bring about a nonviolent revolution, a revolution of values, a revolution of ideas... Someone must put out and say what is going on is not right, it is not fair, it is not just, and we are here to do something about it.”
Lewis' words reminds me of Philippians 2, where we are encouraged by the apostle Paul to imitate Jesus and live a life of selfless ambition and true humility. Admonished to live a life that always concerns itself with the wellbeing of others. My prayer for us as this year comes to a close is that we will live out our identity as a children of God, ushering in true peace, hope, and joy to the world. When we lift your eyes to the hills and wonder from where comes your help. Let our hearts rejoice in knowing that our help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.