8th Grade Celebration, May 2018
St. George’s Episcopal School
Derek M. Larson, Chaplain
Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek, the hungry, the merciful. Blessed are you when people hurt you. Blessed. At the end of every year we gather and hear these words. For some reason we’ve decided that in this celebration and recognition of this class, the beatitudes are what we want to hear. And it makes sense. It’s a great and challenging passage of scripture. It’s one of my favorites. This passage sums up most of Jesus’ message. I often tell people that every Christian should have it memorized. And some of you do! Blessed.
As I was preparing for today I was thinking, though, why is it appropriate for this celebration, in particular. I think one reason is that it’s quite a familiar scene. Jesus is, after all, a teacher. And his disciples are students. And here we have teachers…and students. The passage begins, “Jesus saw the people, sat down, and began to teach them.” I know what that means. Over the last two years I have learned well what it means to teach a classroom full of students. Think about it! What do you think it was like there that day? We see Jesus’ words here on the page, but what did the disciples say? What were they thinking? What kind of expression was on their face? I imagine maybe it was a bit like this:
Then Jesus took his disciples up the mountain, and gathering them around him, he taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are they that thirst for justice. Blessed are you when you suffer. Be glad and rejoice for your reward is great in heaven.”
But then Peter raised his hand and asked, “Are we supposed to know this? And Andrew, Do I have to write this down? And James “Is this gonna be on the test? Can you picture that? And Philip “How much is this worth? And Bartholomew, “Do we have to hand this in? And John, “the other disciples didn’t have to learn this!” And Matthew, “Can I go to the bathroom?” And then Judas, “What does this even have to do with the real world? And Jesus wept. I’m just kidding, but can you imagine the dynamic? Jesus teaching his students out there?
That last question though is pretty spot on. “What does this have to do with the real world?” That’s a good question! What DOES this have to do with the real world? Because when I look out there or turn on the news, sometimes I don’t see very many blessed people. And when I do it certainly isn’t the people that Jesus says are blessed! In this world, it isn’t the poor who are blessed, it’s the rich! In this world it isn’t the mourning who are blessed, it’s the people too privileged to worry about pain. It isn’t the meek who are blessed, it’s the ones who demand what they want and push their way to the front. Who in this world would ever say you’re blessed if you are persecuted for what you believe? What does this have to do with the real world? But the beatitudes are not about the real world. They are about a new world. An imagined world. An upside world. A world to be hoped for.
How many of you got to see our Presiding Bishop give the sermon at the royal weekend this past weekend? Wasn’t it great? And that’s our presiding bishop! He leads all the Episcopal Churches in the Americas and sits on the board of the Episcopal Schools Association. He was once a school chaplain. And by the way, the Biennial Conference for Episcopal Schools will be in Atlanta in November and Bishop Curry will be preaching, so you might want to look into going to that.
At the royal wedding Bishop Curry started his sermon with a line from Martin Luther King Jr. “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way.”
We will make of this old world a new world. THAT is what the beatitudes are about. The beatitudes are not a description of the world as it is, but a call to make it what it should be. To make it what God had always intended for it to be. Through love. We are being called to make the world new, to comfort those who mourn, to stand for peace and justice, to show mercy for those least in society, and to hunger and thirst for God’s way. This isn’t about the real world as it is now. It’s about the world as it could be. It’s about the world as it was made to be. The world that Jesus is making it to be, the world that Jesus is asking us to make it be.
That’s why we’re here! That’s why we call ourselves an Episcopal School! We want our students to not only absorb information and facts about math, science, and English, we want them to grow into authentic human beings bent on making the world a better place. Our mission statement is right there on the front of your programs. “Inspiring children to LEARN with passion, SERVE with respect, LIVE with purpose, and LEAD with integrity.” Right after the Beatitudes Jesus continues teaching and says, you are the salt of the earth! But if salt loses it’s saltiness, what good is it? The whole point of salt is to be salty. The whole point of the human life is to love. What a waste if we make our lives all about me.
It took a while. There may have been questions or people asking for clarification. But eventually Jesus’ disciples got it. Eventually Jesus was able to pass that work onto them and they changed the world. They cared for those who were hurting, they shared the gospel around the world, they stood up for what was right and just even when it cost them pain, suffering, and persecution. It took them a while, but they got it, and they passed these words—this mission—down to us. And in each moment they lived into the words of these beatitudes, the real world as it is, got a glimpse of the hoped for world as it can, and should, and will be.
Today as I look at our 8th graders. They’re getting it. I see their gifts, their passions, their wisdom. Jesus said the kingdom of God belongs to young people and I believe it. These are the people right here that will make that old vision of Christ become fresh and new in the world they live in. These are the people that will come alongside the hurting, show mercy for those in need, work towards peace, and be called God’s children.
So eighth grade, as you make this transition into high school, I have two things to share with you. If you notice, the beatitudes are written as a poem. Each line has two parts. The first part is who is blessed, the second is what they are blessed with. Those who mourn are blessed, someone will comfort them. So these are the two things.
First, know that you are blessed. Know that you are loved. When you feel lost and confused, you are loved. When you cry and mourn, you are loved. When you are pushed around, you are loved. When you are put down for standing up for what is right, you are loved. I love you. This community loves you. God loves you. Remember that. There will be times over the next four years when you’ll need it.
Second, it is your job to bless others. You have that power. You have that gift. Don’t wait for someone else to help a person in need. You can do it. You be the one who comforts the mourning. You be the one who shows mercy to someone who doesn’t deserve it. You be the one to stand up when no one else is standing up and demand a better world where God and God’s love reigns. Too often we adults lose sight of God’s call. We get caught up with our own careers, family, bills, ambitions, societal norms, or whatever else tugs at our attention. I’m sorry, but looking around at the world, you can’t always depend on adults to lead the way. But if you take God’s call seriously. If you stand up and be a blessing to the world. You will find even adults inspired at the way you live and we will come alongside of you and share the load.
You are blessed. You are loved. Be the blessing. Be the love.
May you, as you enter high school, and all of you who will later, and all of you who already have, know what it means to be blessed and loved, and to be blessing and loving. Amen.