“Christ’s Reality”

Matthew 5:1-12

2 February, 2014

the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

Zion West Walworth & East Rochester United Methodist Churches


Matthew 5

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“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 those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.




The question I would like to pose to you today is

“What is real?”


There was, a few years back,

a media effort by one of our local colleges.

I believe it was either St. John Fisher

or the University of Rochester

that placed billboards around the area

and created television commercials

based on the statement

“We prepare you for the real world.”

It was a clever idea,

appealing to the perception

that college life wasn't truly the real world,

and that somehow

the administration and faculty

could do something a little different

at their institution of higher education

to make the student ready for a career

in teaching, engineering, nursing, business, government, or law.

Notably absent

would be the arts, humanities, cultural affairs, or religion.

After all, what can they possibly teach you

or prepare you for in the real world?


One of the perceptions about mainline pastors in general,

is that we don't live in the real world.

Somehow when I abandoned my efforts

to become an engineer at the end of my college sophomore year,

never put to use my undergraduate degree in mathematics,

and chose to enter the seminary,

that I had made the transition

from what is real

into a world of pipe dreams and promises,

where one charges windmills in a surreal dream of  Don Quixote.


The popular assumption that was taught to us,

and that we have ended up teaching our children,

is that the real world

is one in which you can earn a living;

where you can support yourself and your family.

“How are you ever going to support yourself

flipping burgers at Wendy’s,

waiting tables at the diner,

or babysitting other people’s kids?”

For those going to college,

“How are you ever going to support yourself

majoring in anthropology, acting, music, or art history?”


The criteria of success we've established is based on money.

The more you make,

the bigger the bucket of cash you bring home,

the larger the number you report on your W-2,

the more successful you must be.

The real world is defined

by the capitalistic, competitive lens

through which most Americans view the world.


“Pastor, it's a dog-eat-dog world out there,” I've heard it said,

“if you aren't making a profit,

then you’re going to sink.”

“If you don't take every possible dime,

then you've left money on the table.”


The media reinforces our notion of what is real.

If you aren't earning six figures,

driving a  Mercedes, Lexus, or at least an Acura,

then you're an underachiever,

you aren't in the top echelon of the social strata.

We're told that Coca~Cola is the real thing,

that real men carry a handgun,

that drug dealers and sex offenders are everywhere.

We are to believe that prison is the only solution to offenders

and that capital punishment is necessary

to maintain a law abiding society

– especially for half-hearted suicidal people

who threaten to step in front of a speeding freight train.


“In the real world, Pastor,

we need the electric chair and armies,

cops and strategic weapons,

less we become a doormat

for every thug and two-bit dictator.”


In the real world

we believe the homeless exist because they are lazy,

and people on social services

are gold digging,

Cadillac driving,

pandering welfare queens.

We are told that in the real world

we need to have curfews

and ban skateboarding,

that all kids are juvenile delinquents in the making,

and that simply teaching abstinence

will make teenage pregnancy go away.


In reality, we tell ourselves,

all taxes and government are bad,

that Medicaid and Medicare and Social Security

are broke and they need fixed,

and that when mom or dad can't live on their own any longer,

they should just go into a nursing home and keep quiet until they die.

We don't stop for hitchhikers

or for people who are broke down

along the side of the road any more,

because, well, someone is going to pull a knife or gun

and take advantage of you.

Lets face it, in the real world,

Islam is the enemy

and all Arabs are terrorists.


“Get real, would you pastor Todd?”

I look into those eyes

and I know

that the word “liberal”

is just barely under the surface.

I have seen the look.

I know the stare.


And then along comes a Gospel lesson like we have today.

Our Gospel is a new kind of politic;

a different way to rethink reality.

Our Gospel knocks us right between the eyes,

and we know that we'd better pay attention.

The words of Jesus are a wake up call;

and we'd better listen.


Every one of our assumptions

about what is real in this world

are turned on their heads

when Jesus teaches to the crowd

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3).

Whether Jesus is talking about the poor,

the homeless,

the developmentally disabled,

the cognitively impaired,

the lost,

the least,

or the hopeless,

suddenly Jesus is prepared to give them heaven!

Jesus is going to hand it over;

lock, stock, and barrel!

What is real,

is that the Heavenly Father

created each of these people in His image,

and that it is God's will

to give them the kingdom.


The kingdom goes to those with an empty bucket,

not to those with buckets full of cash and success.


Jesus is telling

the one who would visit the residents

of Monroe Community Hospital, 

an ARC home or program,

the county jail,

the state penitentiary,

or the Rochester Psychiatric Hospital:

“This is what is real. These are the people who are authentic.”


Jesus draws us

to the bedside of the bedridden nursing home resident,

forgotten by their family,

rolled periodically just to prevent bedsores,

whose dementia has stripped them of their former identity,

and He whispers into our ear,

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)


“But the earth belongs to sovereign nations,” we protest.

“to people who hold deeds,

to corporations that purchased mineral rights!”


Jesus takes us into the group home for unwed mothers.

He leads us to the Battered Women's shelter.

He brings us into the refugee resettlement camps in Turkey and Jordan.

He points us to the killing fields

of  Rwanda, Auschwitz, and Cambodia.

He insists that we accompany Him to Juvenile Hall.

And He tells us,

“to these people I leave the world, and the fullness thereof.”


Jesus is giving them my place on the lake and my nice car?



He is.


We think that having our stomachs full

is something noble and true

– even expected and ordinary.

Yet Jesus tells us today

that in His real world

the hungry and thirsty are the ones who are filled.

Those of us who might want to split hairs

- “who hunger and thirst for  righteousness” we say

- might want to take note:

it is starting to look like God's kingdom,

that is, the real world,

is a whole lot bigger than our sorrowful perception of reality.


“Blessed are the merciful,

... the pure in heart,

... and the peacemakers,” (Matthew 5:7-9) 

Jesus tells us, “for they will receive mercy.

They will see God.

They will be adopted by God and called God's own children.”

The real world isn't defined

by the terrorists who straps plastic explosives to their vest

any more than it is

by the soldiers firing blindly into a hostile crowd.


God's reality is at the Syrian and Iranian negotiating tables,

is working to bring potable water and effective waste treatment

to developing neighbors.

God’s reality is in every prayer said,

every dollar given,

every heart warmed

in every effort to bring food and supplies

for Philippine survivors of typhoon Haiyan.


In God's reality bridges are built,

physically and metaphorically.

Walls are broken down and fences are destroyed.

Arabs and Israelis are brought together,

dialog between Islam and Christianity

welcomes everyone to the same table,

and the privileged

are those who volunteer in soup kitchens and shelters.


If we insist in living in the old world reality,

then we'd better be prepared to become really good at grief.

Bishop William Willimon wrote,

“If this world is only a veil of tears,

and life in this world is merely solitary, poor, brutish, and short,

then there is no end to the mourning.”

(William H. Willimon, Pulpit Resources, 1/30/05)


The Sermon on the Mount,

starting with these Beatitudes,

is the landscape Jesus paints for us today.

It reveals to us that

Jesus is leading us towards a whole new reality,

a whole new kingdom

and that it is up to us to follow.

In a way,

the Church serves as a point on the new beachhead;

we are the first wave of God's effort to establish a whole new world.

The new reality isn't coming like Noah's flood,

 to wipe the slate clean and to make a fresh start.

The new reality is what we fervently pray for

when we speak the words of the Lord's Prayer:

“Thy Kingdom may come, on earth as it is in heaven.”

It is the establishment of God's kingdom,

where time is eternal,

where peace and justice become one,

where Christ and His ways become what is real,

and all the former things,

“crying, and mourning, and pain

will be past away.”

(Revelations 21)


“What is real?” I ask you this morning.


“Where do you stand?

Are you on the beachhead,

the front lines of God's emerging Kingdom, as Jesus describes?

Or, are you desperately holed up

on a sinking ship

frantically lashing together repairs for the old reality?


Walking humbly with our God,

as the prophet, Micah, would phrase it,

means that today is the first day of the rest of our lives.

This is the day

when we

take part in shifting the world from it's axis,

and by taking our first steps into God's new kingdom,

we will truly become the people

God created us to be.


My beloved,

our God

is what is real.


Thanks be to God.