“Blessed are the Meek, Hungry and Thirsty ”
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
November 12, 2017
University Baptist Church
We are in the second week of a month-long journey with the Beatitudes as our scriptural companion. The Beatitudes begin Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount. The entire sermon is filled with reversals. It sets the world on its end and points us in God’s direction. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted and ridiculed. Blessed are those whom the world shuns. Maybe they are more in touch with God. They certainly need God more. We ought to be with them. That’s why we’re here Sunday after Sunday. We’re looking for that magic key to the commonwealth of God.
As I said last week, these are not independent statements but rather stepping stones for a more serious religious life. The climax comes in verse 9, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God. But you can’t be a peacemaker without first being poor in spirit—recognizing that you are in need of God to help you. Some of us feel that way when we mourn the loss of a loved one. And so we mourn, the second beatitude. And we mourn not only for ourselves but we also mourn for a world gone awry. Many have taken their mourning and transformed it into action. The result is the legislative victories for so many good people this past week. People have mourned and then organized. That’s a hopeful thing.
Next week, we’ll look at the merciful and the pure in heart, essential steps on the journey to becoming children of God. But before we get there, we have to look at some interim steps. Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth and blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the meek? For they shall inherit the earth? Seirouysly? It seems to me that we do not value meekness as a society, at least among men. We value strength, power, decisiveness, not some mamby pamby vertabreless insipidness. Meekness has too often been synonymous with weak, harmless, spiritless and boring. These days, it seems that the meek get walked on and the strong and dominant ones seem to inherit everything.
But consider this: the Bible identifies only two people as meek: Moses and Jesus. Few would call them weak. What did they have that others did not? Maybe their meekness had something to do with their lives being in God’s hands. When they knew that, then they could access true power. How’s that for a reversal? It might make you hunger and thirst for a world made right. For what do you hunger and thirst? Hold that thought.
A meek person is not a passive sufferer, but one who knows that his or her life is in God’s hands and submits to God’s will for their lives. These are people who pray the Lord’s prayer, but linger over that line, “Thy Kingdom come, THY will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Meekness is about knowing where your power comes from. People confuse power with domination. Power used to hurt or abuse someone else is not power, but domination. Power, true power comes from God. I appreciate the many women, and some men, who have found their voices and have taken great risks to tell the truth about people who have abused their authority, in the sexual arena. These people recognized that their abusers while acting like God, did not have ultimate authority. They garnered their courage and told the truth. That’s a meekness that I find truly noble.
I also appreciate the moment of meekness that comedian Louis CK displayed this past week. When accused of sexual misconduct, he did not obfuscate or make excuses or blame the accuser of being too sensitive or outright lying. He said,
"These stories are true. All of them. At the time, I said to myself that what I did was okay because I never (exposed myself) without asking first, which is also true…But what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your (nakedness) isn't a question. It's a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly." He said he was "remorseful" for his actions and that he had "tried to learn from them". He also indicated he would now "step back". "I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want. I will now step back and take a long time to listen."
While admirable, he wouldn’t have said any of this had women not come forward and told their truth. That’s the meekness that I celebrate.
This statement does not excuse his behavior, but it does go a long way to start the process of healing. It starts by not blaming the victim, but realizing that you are on the wrong side.
Dominant don’t inherit the earth, the meek do. They are the ones who are worth it. They are the ones who deserve it. The dominant destroy the earth. The Meek make it possible for us to inherit the earth because they recognize its value. A meek person lives with integrity and knows where true power comes from. One who fights against one who is truly meek, fights against God. Meek people are open to God’s teaching. They are willing to engage with the scriptures and argue with them.
Here’s a paraphrase of the first three beatitudes for you to consider:
- Blessed are they that admit they are ignorant, for theirs is the learning.
- Blessed are they who are concerned enough to enroll in school for they shall be taught.
- Blessed are they who submit to the teacher, for they shall inherit his or her wisdom. Of course the teacher here is God.
And once you meekly and I mean committedly and powerfully submit to God’s will over your life, you will begin to want more. You will start to hunger and thirst for righteousness.
This beatitude moves from the internal to the external. It’s important to deal with our internal life first. That way, we are doing the external things for the right reasons. Later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.”(6:33)
The kingdom of God or the commonwealth of God is a reign of righteousness. Righteousness is also translated as justice. The first thing that Jesus tells us to do after we have recognized our poverty of spirit, mourned for the difficulties in our own lives and the lives around us, and embraced meekness as a lifestyle, is to look at the lack of justice or righteousness in this world and it ought to make us hungry and thirsty until we can find ourselves filled with hope.
Hunger is a natural reaction to a void. As children, we feel it especially strongly. It’s only as we get older that we learn about diets and controlling our hunger. But it’s counter-intuitive. We long to satisfy the hunger. Jesus is saying yes, we are hungry and thirsty. But if you are poor in spirit, if you mourn for the condition of our world, if you are so meek that you see God in control and not yourself, then you are going to be hungry for the right things.
Now, back in Jesus’ time, righteousness was measured in different ways. All of the life of the people was centered around the temple or the synagogue. No one missed a Sabbath. Anyone who was anyone was involved in the life of the synagogue. Your righteousness was measured by your attendance, your contributions, and your obedience to the rules, precepts and traditions which were handed down over the generations.
Soon, life in the synagogue was cold and dignified. Nobody really liked it, but they wouldn’t criticize it. It’s no accident that this epic sermon of Jesus happens outside. Blessed are those who really hunger and thirst for real righteousness. For they shall be satisfied. Jesus spends almost a third of the Sermon on the Mount telling people to get rid of their hypocrisy and so embrace the transforming reversal that is central to the Gospel. Don’t hunger and thirst for being accepted. Hunger and thirst for righteousness, and then and only then will you be filled.
This world seems to have lost its moral center. It has embraced meanness as a value, turns a blind eye to racism and accepts sexism as a given. But we can already see those who are hungering and thirsting for something better. They are telling the truth and demanding justice.
A person who hungers and thirst for righteousness is a person who will help bring about a more just world. Think about hunger and thirst. They are there because there is some deficiency. Kim was talking last night about pregnancy cravings. Your body is sending its energy toward this fetus growing inside of you. It’s using calcium and salt. So it sends out a message: “We need calcium and salt down here stat.” The expectant mother translates this into I need ice cream and pickles—as much as you can get me as fast as you can. We who live with them know not to mess and we dutifully obey.
I imagine someone who hungers and thirsts after righteousness as someone who is deprived or sees our world as deprived. This person sees a world that is craving righteousness. And is not satisfied until it is there. That’s the kind of people I want in my movement. Or better yet, I want to join their movement.
For what do you hunger and thirst? I for one hunger and thirst this week for sane gun policies that protect people from mass shootings.
My good friend Dave Bienhoff died this past Wednesday morning. It was important for him to be here in church. He never missed a Sunday, unless he was in the hospital. It was essential to his healing.
He hungered and thirsted for relationships.
He hungered and thirsted for joy.
He hungered and thirsted for people with mental illness to be treated with compassion.
So, he told his long stories. He played his piano, or someone else’s piano if it was in his proximity.
He took people on adventures to the Boundary Waters, the North Shore, Over and Back shows in Northfield, even to Scotland.
He never did this to toot his own horn. He loved to rejoice in another’s triumph. And didn’t rest until he was satisfied. Some call that stubbornness. But stubbornness for the right things is a good thing.
Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be satisfied.
And blessed are we all when we are in their presence, for we have seen a glimpse of God.