With many apologies (from Alex Pease) for failing to record this excellent sermon – too much technology to deal with at once!
100 years ago Oswald Chambers wrote that, at first, the Beatitudes appear to be just beautiful instructions for all unworldly and useless people, and of very little use in the demanding world in which we all live.
Apart from me, everyone here today does not look useless. So do these words of Jesus have any relevance for you?
Oswald Chambers went on to say, that, the Beatitudes contain the dynamite of the Holy Spirit. They are not a set of rules and regulations but rather a statement of the life we will live when the Holy Spirit is getting His way with us.
This morning we are looking at the fourth Beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled”.
We all want to live blessed, happy lives. That is normal. This is the one life we have and it makes sense that we want to make the most of it.
So what is this Beatitude saying to us today about how we can be ‘blessed’.
It is the opposite of what we would expect.
What is righteousness?
Righteousness is one of those words that often comes up in the bible, but not so much in everyday life – and to that extent it’s easy to ‘zone out’ when we hear it. One helpful definition is in ‘right relationship’ with God.
So we can read this Beatitude as “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst to be in right relationship with God, for they will be filled”.
What does being blessed and filled mean?
Today in the UK, despite decades of rising wealth, we are not happier. As a nation we are in fact increasingly unhappy. In the 1950s >50% of the population said they were “very happy” and now it is only 1/3. This stat is a few years old and, I expect, we would find even less people are ‘very happy’ today.
Magazines, newspapers, social media all tell us that it is our wealth and possessions that bring us happiness. There is always something else we need. The means to find happiness is: more shopping, dieting, fame, a bigger car, more ice cream. In other words, thinking less of others and more of ourselves. But all these “things” easily fade. They are not lasting.
Ultimately wealth, recognition and status do not satisfy and they certainly do not meet the test of time as countless people have testified throughout history.
As pursuits they are seductive, empty and hollow and they will still leave us feeling restless and somehow incomplete. As it says in Ecclesiastes 5:10, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.” It is meaningless. More recently Van Morrison said that “Being famous was extremely disappointing”; Robbie Williams in his song, Feel, sings: There’s a hole in my soul, You can see it in my face, It’s a real big place; and, around 1,600 years earlier, Augustine famously said that “My soul is restless until it rests in you, O God”.
Contrary to everything we see around us this Beatitude is saying that nothing this world offers will truly fill us. The deepest form of happiness comes when we fix our eyes on Jesus and throw aside all that holds us back in our relationship with Him.
Easier said than done
But that is easier said than done. Experience teaches us that we rarely succeed at things unless we give ourselves wholeheartedly to it. In the Greek New Testament, the word for righteousness means 100% righteous – so to hunger and thirst for righteousness is to desire to be entirely righteous.
We’re not to be satisfied with anything less. It is not enough to live the Christian life when we feel like it and do what we like at other times.
I don’t know about everyone else, but I definitely do not hunger and thirst for righteousness. I am not desperate. I am proud and more indifferent and apathetic than I admit – because to really change my life will cost me something. I might need to change the way I do things – and selfishly am I prepared to do that?
Sandy Millar described how he was praying and said to God he would give all he had, everything. And he heard God say to him, very simply, “all I want is you”.
It is much easier to say to God I will give you this, I will give you that – because that preserves our sense of control over our life. How much harder is it, to surrender our whole self?
It is good to ask ourselves this question: what do we hunger and thirst for? What keeps us awake at night. What do we think about in our idle moments? I spend more time reading about the world in the news than reading about God’s activities in the bible.
I don’t know if anyone here has been really hungry and thirsty, if not, you might have seen Bear Grylls’ Island series where they drop people off on a desert island and they have to fend for themselves and survive. In a situation where there is real hunger and thirst, satisfying that hunger and thirst becomes an all-consuming passion and an overwhelming ambition.
Having recently witnessed the life of four babies, I realise we can learn an important lesson from them. When a baby is hungry and thirsty, what do they do? They cry out for help – and they do not stop until the help arrives. That is a natural, normal reaction. If we were physically hungry and thirsty, we would cry out for help. And this is what we must do.
Because we can’t strive to hunger and thirst for righteousness by ourselves. It just is not possible and recognising that we can’t do it by ourselves is completely liberating. The bible tells us again and again that it is God who renews our hearts, who breathes life into dry bones. And this is my experience through my life.
However weak or strong our desire may be it is the work of the Holy Spirit in us that will enable us to seek God with a whole heart, to hunger and thirst for righteousness.
I can’t give an undivided heart to God – I’ve tried, it is completely contrary to my nature. It is impossible for me, but, God will do it.
This is the wonderful news of the Gospel and Grace. Jesus came to help those who were lost, those who were struggling, those who doubt and question – put simply, people just like all of us.
There is no point trying to cheat ourselves from the truth about how we are living our lives – a life that no one else will live. It could be that we recognise our need, our emptiness or, equally, it could be that we really don’t know that we do need Him. We just need to turn to Him and pray an honest prayer.
As with anything challenging, it is all too easy to wash over it and carry on as before. And, for me, this is the temptation when reading this Beatitude this morning.
They are nice words but, in my heart, I’m tempted to say: it’s not for me today (maybe tomorrow), but not today. Life is simply too busy, there are 101 things to do and I don’t have the time to engage with this.
In other words, this verse risks becoming of very little practical use in my life. I’ll walk out of the door in 20 minutes and carry on as before. I’m unlikely to change as it is not a priority.
However, I need to constantly remind myself when reading this verse that these are Jesus’ direct words to me. This is His longest sermon and the bible is meant to be applied in our lives.
Jesus is clearly describing the lifestyle He wants us to live. This is His teaching on how to conduct our lives – and it is no wonder then that the Beatitudes have been called the Magna Carta of the Kingdom.
So to conclude
As Oswald Chambers wrote, this beatitude is dynamite. It is about hope and the discovery that:
- Firstly, the root of deep happiness, the root of joy and contentment – which we are all after – is not about the ‘things’ that we accumulate through life such as wealth or status. It is found only when we are in a right relationship with God.
- And secondly, we cannot achieve this righteousness by ourselves. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to hunger and thirst for right relationship. This Beatitude is a statement of the life we will live when the Holy Spirit is getting His way with us.
I am going to close with a quote from the 18thcentury theologian, William Law, who said, “if you think and wonder why it is that you’re not as holy or as godly or as purposeful as your predecessors, you will conclude upon reflection that it’s because you never thoroughly intended it.”
For me this is deeply challenging. I know all the heroes of faith Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Esther, Mother Teresa –– were people just like all of us. But they thoroughly intended to pursue God.
For any of us who are feeling empty, alone, restless – there is the promise we will be filled. Jesus said: let anyone who is thirsty come to me. God is longing for us to come to Him.
As in the parable of the Prodigal Son, He is a loving Father who waits patiently and then runs with open arms to hug his returning and beloved child – a child who left him and rejected him to pursue his own life.
So my question for myself, and for anyone who will receive it too, is what do we intend to do. What are we chasing and pursing? Life is increasingly short. Am I willing to bear the potential cost of change? Of giving my all and asking the Holy Spirit to help me.
I know I can’t give God an undivided heart. I know that I live in just a fraction of the fullness, the freedom, the joy of the life that God has promised. There is so much more. I still have doubts, I am full of pride, I have fears and worries. But God is greater than my weaknesses – what a relief.
Let’s prayand have a moment to wait on God. I am going to pray for myself and please do the same in your heart if you would like. And remember that it’s normal to ask for help.
As Paul prayed for the Ephesians:
“Father we ask that you give us your Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we may know you better. We pray that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened so that we may know the hope to which you have called us”.
Come Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus, and fill us now. Help us to hunger and thirst for you. Amen.
5 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 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 Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 5:1–12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.