Hungry and Thirsty Blessings

“Hungry and Thirsty Blessings”

Matthew 5:1-7 (5:6) – July 31, 2022

Have you ever been really hungry? I mean, have you ever gone without food for more than a day? Longer than that? Hunger can be an ache inside, an actual pain inside your abdomen. Being physically hungry and thirsty can be dangerous for people’s health. Yet, food is not all that people hunger for.

Our Lord Jesus wanted to specifically mention those who were hungry and thirsty. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Yes, we can think of people who are actually, physically hungry and thirsty. That is a real need, and it’s a need for individuals and families all over the world.

Let us take a step back, and consider actual, physical hunger. What is that like? I have had the blessing of steady employment at a decent rate of income for several decades now. I do not recently have the first-hand experience of going to bed hungry, with nothing to eat in my kitchen. Not a can of vegetables in the cupboard, not a package of food in the pantry.  

My friend Rev. Dr. Marilyn Pagán-Banks is the director of A Just Harvest, located right next to the Howard Street El station, in that congested and now gentrifying area on the far north side of Chicago. A Just Harvest is a nonprofit organization. Their summary statement is “Breaking bread, restoring community – every day. One meal at a time. One job at a time. One change towards wellness, peace, and justice at a time.”

After the Covid shut-down in March 2020, St. Luke’s Church was still receiving baked goods on Saturdays from Meier’s Bakery. Except, the men’s residence at the McGaw YMCA in Evanston – where I donated the baked goods – shut down, too. That meant NO more deliveries or donations, for many months. I had to quickly pivot, and so I gave a quick call to my friend’s organization, A Just Harvest. Part of their outreach is a food pantry; an industrial-service kitchen that provides a complete hot meal for free, between noon and 2 pm, 365 days a year. That is every day, even on bank holidays and major holidays, when other service centers are closed.

The Community Kitchen was overjoyed to hear about all the baked goods! So, for each weekend for over a year, I would take the baked goods from Meier’s on Waukegan to the Community Kitchen after church on Sundays. Until, Meier’s sadly closed for good in April 2021.

It is a marvelous thing to share our resources with others who do not have enough. That is part of what our Lord Jesus was getting at!

Yet, Jesus also mentioned “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” That adds a whole deeper layer to being hungry and thirsty. (as if regular “hunger and thirst” were not significant enough!) Yes, many people who followed Jesus were very hungry. They needed a secure food source. But, many people in Jesus’ day were also hungry for justice.

“One understanding of “righteousness” is justice. God’s justice means we make sure everyone has what they need. When we partner with God to bring justice to the earth, we are working toward a world where living things live in right and healthy relationships.” [1]

I know that sometimes, people get really caught up in their own lives, their family challenges, their health problems, and yes, financial difficulties. It’s really hard to focus on other people and their deep needs when you or I have some very deep needs of our own.

The same was very true in Jesus’s day, as well as all the times in between the first century and the 21st. We have talked about this before, how a huge crowd gathered around the Rabbi Jesus, and He saw their hurts and pains and cared for them in all kinds of ways. Yes, Jesus physically healed many! And yes, Jesus also saw each and every individual as worthwhile, as blessed, and as created by God.  That is a big reason why He preached about God’s kingdom, where there is abundance for all. More than enough honor, food, money, love, power and resources for everyone to thrive.

“A lot of things were not right for the people listening to Jesus. In that time, some people had a lot of money and power. They used what they had to dominate other people. Some people were poor and felt powerless. Jesus speaks here to the people who feel that ache for a better world—God’s kind of world. Jesus knows their hearts are hungering more and more for relationships and systems to be fair and right. Just like we need food to live, we need love, hope, and healthy connections with others. Jesus understands and cares about all these needs.” [2]

Bringing in God’s kingdom is not just a task for our Lord Jesus. No! He has given that task to each of us, to each of His followers. That is what the Beatitudes are all about. It’s a commission, a charge for all of us, to go out into our own communities and put these tasks to work. Each idea from our Lord Jesus, each and every day.

We can even call the Beatitudes directives from God. Yes, each Beatitude holds a personal blessing, and each Beatitude holds a direct charge or task for each of us to complete. When we look at this list of blessings from God in this way, it can be incredibly daunting! Yet, with God’s help, all things are possible.

We all have the opportunity to fight for justice in many different ways. Are there particular issues that you and your family engage in? Do you hunger for environmental righteousness? Racial and gender equality righteousness? Food security righteousness? Senior care righteousness? Employment righteousness?

If every person in this world knew what it was to truly “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” there would be no danger of fighting or war, no need to fear bombs or muggings or name-calling or any other destructive behavior. Herein lies the way to true peace and justice on a horizontal plane, with our fellow humans, and true fellowship with God, on a vertical plane.  

I ask again: what would Jesus do? How would Jesus bring about justice in a tangible way? Go. Do that. And, be blessed, for yours is indeed the kingdom of heaven.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent Summer 2022 family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

[2] Ibid.

Mourning Blessings

“Mourning Blessings”

Matthew 5:1-5 (5:4) – July 10, 2022

Is it safe to cry? Are you comfortable being sad? What about mourning? Showing grief? For many, many people in this society here in North America, mourning and grief is something to be hidden away, even to be embarrassed about. Do you feel free to mourn? Or, is this raw emotion one to be hidden, not allowed out in public except at funerals?

Our nation was horrified to hear that instead of a Fourth of July parade enjoyed by families and participants alike, someone shot over 60 bullets from a rooftop with a high-powered rifle on Monday. In nearby Highland Park, scene after scene of horror and tragedy played out. So many mourning and grieving! This is yet another tragedy local to the Chicago area, and yet another in a series of mass shootings nationwide in recent weeks.

Let us look again at our Scripture reading for today. For these past weeks, in fact. Our Lord Jesus gives us the Beatitudes from a mountain in the north of Galilee to the largest of His crowds to date, near the beginning of His public ministry.

We have discussed how our Lord Jesus already had a budding reputation as a miracle worker, healing dozens and dozens of individuals from their physical diseases and afflictions. Jesus not only displayed power in casting out demons, but was gaining a reputation as a brilliant teacher. He was also quite able at dialoging with the Jewish legal scholars and other rabbis.

It’s all very nice to think about this historical person, the Rabbi Jesus, and about a historical event that happened 2000 years ago, the Sermon on the Mount. But, what does this have to do with the shooting that happened so near to us just a week ago? How do you and I wrap our heads around such evil and horror and go forward without trauma and pain and continuing sadness? Can you remember a time you cried? Did you cry on Monday, hearing about this extreme tragedy that happened only a few suburbs to the north? Yet, our Lord Jesus states “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

What a time of tragedy! And, what a time of mourning! Lord Jesus, do you hear countless people crying? Grieving? Mourning? Not only for those shot, wounded or murdered in Highland Park, but for the dozens shot, wounded or murdered across the Chicago area over the past week. And, those in Uvalde, Texas. And those in Buffalo, New York, before that.  

Similar to the first Beatitude about the poor in spirit that we examined last week, this serious statement of our Lord stands out and marks someone as different, as quite unlike worldly people. Yet, how, Lord?? What we do know is that the world system today tries its hardest to avoid mourning and grieving. The whole world system with its concentration on pleasure, on entertainment and money – tawdry “bling” and frivolity – are constantly diverting attention from mourning. Grieving is the last thing that the world system, today’s society wants us to focus on.

In the first century just as today, many people were taught that crying was shameful, that grown-ups didn’t cry, that mourning and grieving showed weakness and made people too vulnerable. Do you know people who try their darnedest not to show emotion, and not to cry or mourn? Oftentimes, these are rich and powerful people who gather money and control. That way, they do their best to feel strong, unshakeable, in control of people and events [1]

And, what does our Lord Jesus do right at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount? He speaks to people who mourn and cry and grieve, and praises them! Jesus highlights them in all their grief. One large reason Jesus does this is because God gave all humans emotions. Mourning, grief and crying show we all are alive and aware. Instead of being ashamed of crying, crying shows we are brave. “Crying shows we are willing to feel pain—our own and someone else’s pain. You [and I] are not trying to block the pain around us or keep our distance from it. Tears and crying are important.” [2]

Instead of being superficial and seeking only pleasure and surface entertainment, Jesus lets us know that God honors us when we mourn. God embraces us wholeheartedly when any of us grieve. You and I do not need to block pain or pretend nothing has happened, show a stiff upper lip or keep our distance from crying, because supposedly “grown-ups don’t cry.” No, tears and crying are important. When a loved one cries or grieves, it is a privilege to come alongside and to mourn with them. To sit with them as they cry, especially in times of pain or difficulty. Especially when it is so hard to hold that grief, so difficult that it almost makes a person fall to pieces.

This blessing of Jesus, blessing those who mourn for they shall be comforted, shows that we connect with God. This Beatitude shows that God actively comes alongside those who are actively mourning and comforts them.

I follow a Mister Rogers Twitter account. Yesterday morning, there was such an apropos tweet posted, a quote from Fred Rogers! “People have said, “Don’t cry” to other people for years and years, and all it has ever meant is “I’m too uncomfortable when you show your feelings: Don’t cry.” I’d rather have them say, “Go ahead and cry. I’m here to be with you.”

Perhaps God comforts those dear grieving ones through others. Perhaps God sends relatives, or friends, or strangers to come alongside of those who are deeply mourning, and sits with them in silence, or gets them a cup of water or coffee, or brings over a casserole or does a load of laundry. Whatever we do, whatever it takes to show God’s presence and our caring, Most important, this is a way to show we share in God’s heart, in God’s caring and love.

“Jesus promised God would bring comfort and make things right for all the people listening who faced injustice, shame, trauma and poverty which caused them to cry and grieve. One way God brings comfort is through us. (Hold your hands out with palms up.) When we offer our hand or loving words—especially to someone who is sad—we are God’s comfort to that person.” [3]

What a blessing to others! And, what a blessing when each of us mourn. And to that, we can all say alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

[2] Illustrated Ministries, ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Blessed Poor People?

“Blessed Poor People?”

Matthew 5:1-5 (5:3) – July 3, 2022

What do you do when a friend or loved one has big feelings? I mean, when someone you love is super sad, or super upset, or super angry?

So many of us feel overwhelmed sometimes. Feelings can be oversized, huge, bigger than big! Overwhelming emotions and feelings can make a person feel like a ton of bricks has just fallen on them. What is a person to do? Does your family have a special remedy for this kind of huge, overwhelming emotional impact? What do you do if your child – or grandchild – is feeling really down and has huge feelings they don’t know what to do with?

Our Lord Jesus talks about just this kind of feeling when He gives us His first Beatitude. You remember the Beatitudes, the first part of the Sermon on the Mount, early in the Gospel of Matthew. The Rabbi Jesus has just been getting a lot of press about being a miracle worker and a marvelous teacher, and people have been flocking to hear Him and see Him from miles around.

When the Lord Jesus has the big opportunity to teach a large crowd, what does He lead off with but “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Now, wait a minute, Jesus! I kind of know what blessed means, and I understand that there are poor people in the world, but what kind of a topic sentence is that? What do you mean, leading off Your big sermon with a confusing idea like this? What gives, Jesus?

Our summer sermon series is called “Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus.” That title certainly applies to this first Beatitude! How on earth are poor people blessed? But, wait. Jesus didn’t say “poor people.” He said people who were (are) “poor in spirit.”

Have you ever had a time when you were down and just wanted things to feel better, for just a little while? I suspect we all feel poor in spirit sometimes.

Our Lord Jesus was well aware of the hurts and pains of the people listening to Him. Not only their physical hurts and pains, because Jesus was a marvelous, miraculous healer! But, also their mental, emotional and psychological hurts and pains, too.

Our Lord Jesus did not place these Beatitudes in a random, haphazard manner. He was very deliberate in the order, in His placement of the different blessings God bestows. We may say there is a logical order in these Beatitudes. Jesus tells us about the kingdom of heaven, and this first blessing is a key to all that follows.

We can think of a “kingdom” as the way the world (or the country) works or is set up. In God’s kingdom, there is abundance! Everyone has more than enough honor, and food, love, power and resources for everyone – that means every single person – to live and thrive.[1] What’s more, according to our Lord, all who enter into the kingdom of heaven are poor in spirit. That means an emptying of sorts.

As the wonderful theologian and preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones tells us, being poor in spirit “is a fundamental characteristic of the Christian and of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven.” [2] In the Beatitudes, Jesus shows His listeners how to be filled with the manifestation of heaven – of God. But, how are we to be filled with heavenly things if we are not first emptied of worldly things? The worldly, self-centered, all-for-myself attitude?

Jesus and the other citizens of Palestine of the first century were definitely oppressed. The Roman empire was ruling over them, and the people in charge of the local and regional government demanded a lot of taxes. This was not only the money the common folk earned, but also the crops the Jewish people grew and a share of the animals they raised. People were already struggling to provide for themselves and their family. Plus, when they could not pay the taxes the Roman government expected, the Jewish people lost most of what they owned. [3] They were an oppressed nation under an oppressive regime.

Have you ever felt trapped, sad, worried things might never get better? Worried that tomorrow would be just like today, or maybe even worse? That sounds so much like what the people in first-century Palestine were dealing with, every day! Little wonder so many people flocked to hear the message of hope, healing and blessing from the Rabbi Jesus!

This Topsy Turvy Teaching of Jesus is just the beginning of the Beatitudes. Sure, Jesus tells us that the poor in spirit are truly happy, the ones who are truly blessed by God. Not the people who in this world seem to have it all, know it all, or have all the power. Those worldly, puffed up, self-centered, power-hungry people are going to be skipped over by God.

Try clenching your hands to make fists. A fist is a sign of power and strength, isn’t it? But, when our fists are closed tight, we cannot receive anything new, anything of positive value, anything to nurture and to help grow. However, let us open our hands on our lap with palms facing up. This is a physical way to remind us all that we are open to God. [4] We depend on God, and need to be open to learning, growing and changing. We need to empty ourselves of worldly, puffed up, self-centered and power-hungry attitudes that are so common in the world today.

What would Jesus do? Would Jesus be selfish, self-centered and grasping for power and attention? How would Jesus treat the people on the edges of society, the single moms, the elderly without children, the outcast ones, and the friendless? How does Jesus treat you and me? Jesus welcomes the poor in spirit. Jesus welcomes you, and He welcomes me, too.

For ours is the kingdom of heaven. Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

[2] Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Wm. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids MI, 1971), 42-43.

[3] Illustrated Ministries.

[4] Ibid.